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Written by Sender Rozesz. Sender Rozesz is a practicing attorney with a background in Jewish pluralistic education for adults. Sender Rozesz is Jewrotica’s resident Double Mitzvah columnist. The views reflected in his writing represent his own personal views, and are not intended to reflect the views of any organizations, institutes or associations with whom he may be affiliated.
How well do we really know each other?
The human brain is unfathomably complex, and so are our personalities. Our personality and behavior are guided by conscious decisions, sub-conscious routines, reflex, instinct, environmental influences, past experiences, and a whole host of other ingredients.
In fact, our motivations and driving factors are so complex and diverse that it’s a wonder that we are even capable of forming deep relationships at all.
When we do, though, how well do we get to know the person?
At least with children, parents get to observe and guide their child’s development on a day-today basis. While even the best parents cannot capture all of the subtle micro-influences in their child’s life, they do have front row seats when it comes to watching their child grow and evolve.
But how about adult relationships, when we meet someone for the first time after he has already lived and experienced all that a couple of decades of life has thrown his way? How about spouses and significant others? By the time that the words “I love you,” or even “will you marry me?” come out of our mouths, how well do we actually known the person that we are talking to?
Not much, I suspect.
And yet this lack of knowledge doesn’t stop us from committing to each other, from tying the knot, from seeking the most intimate of connections.
This fascinating phenomenon is particularly evident in orthodox circles, in which a couple may go on fewer dates than the fingers of one hand, and then, after having met only two weeks ago, having had no sex, and not having ever seen each other naked, they announce their engagement.
And I’m not talking about arranged marriages or child betrothals, by the way; I’m talking about adults, sound of mind, who make what is possibly the most important decision of their life — their choice of life partner, with whom they will have and raise children — despite a stunning luck of knowledge regarding the inner psyche of their chosen mate.
Incidentally, I’m not sure that a more casual or mainstream dating scene provides any significant advantage in terms of getting to know the other person. In those scenarios, the information and clues about the other person that we tend to focus on is fairly specific, and often eclipses other important areas of a personality. For example, physical attraction may blind us to a person’s deficiencies in conflict resolution. An artistic talent may overshadow an uneven temperament. Just because we spend more time with someone — or even have sex — does not necessary mean that our true understanding of that person is any more robust.
So why do we do it then? Logistics aside, why wouldn’t we insist upon fully knowing a prospective mate before committing to sharing a life together?
The answer has to be that, at some point, we recognize the other person’s core. A living, dynamic core. We may not recognize the nature of the myriad layers surrounding the core, but we do recognize the core. And then we make our decision. If the core is desirable, compatible, a foundation upon which we will be able to build, then we head for the jewelry store and buy a ring (or leave loud hints that one would be accepted if offered).
Everything else, all that other stuff, either flows from the core, and is therefore equally good, or conceals the core, and can be discarded. We will have time to fully explore each other, learning more each day about which is which, penetrating the depths of each other’s soul, gradually peeling back layer upon layer of each other’s personality. So long as we secure that core today, we can spend a lifetime learning about everything else.
This is a lesson taught by this week’s Parshah, Ki Tisa.
The Jewish people had not yet received the Torah. They heard the Ten Commandments in a dramatic light and sound show at Mount Sinai, but they didn’t really have anything tangible that constituted the Law, anything to learn from. Yet when Moses told them that G-d was going to give them the Torah, they famously said: “We will do and we will hear”; i.e. we are committing to do what G-d asks, even before we actually hear what it will be. Why would they do that?
When [G-d] had finished (כְּכַלּתוֹ) speaking with him on Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, stone tablets, written with the finger of God.
The Midrash comments on the unusual spelling of the Hebrew word כְּכַלּתוֹ — “when he finished.” Usually, this word would be spelled with an additional letter Vav, like this: כְּכַלּוֹתוֹ. Without the additional Vav, however, it is spelled as if to be read: כְּכַלָּתוֹ, which would mean “like his bride” (remember, the Torah scroll itself does not contain any vowels, punctuation, or cantillation).
This alone might have been a sweet and romantic characterization of the open love and affection that G-d and the Jewish people had for each other at that time. But the Midrash continues to explain in what way, precisely, the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people was like giving a bride to a groom:
“Because [otherwise] he could not have learnt it all in such a short time.”
In other words, Moses accepted the Torah on behalf of the Jewish people, despite the fact that he could not possibly have learned all that it contained. As stated in Job regarding the Torah: “Longer than the earth is its measure, and wider than the sea.” Yet, despite the vast amounts of Torah that he/we did not know, the core of our relationship with G-d was there. We trusted that whatever it was that He would give us, whatever mission He would entrust to us, it would be good, and we would fulfill it to the best of our significant ability.
The Torah was like a bride; a precious bride, with a beautiful core; and we, the lucky and excited bridegroom, eagerly anticipating unwrapping her after the marriage, and spending the rest of our life plumbing her depths.
 Exodus, 24:7.
 Exodus, 31:18.
 Midrash Tanchuma, Ki Tisa 18.
 Job, 11:9.