This week, two friends of mine will be married.
While I am filled with deep joy for them and wish nothing but blessings upon their marriage and life together, I have to admit that I am a little stunned.
Their courtship has been… unconventional.
In a world of text messaging, Skype, Facebook, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that my friends met while playing a massive online role playing game, but I am. They met in game, pursued each other in game, and fell in love in game. It wasn’t until after the proposal of marriage that they met in person.
This courtship has me thinking about Jewish ideas about love and marriage. Talmud tells us that 40 days before the conception of a male child, a voice from Heaven will declare the name of the future wife of the child. This wife is the besherte of the child, the pre-destined soul mate and spouse. In traditional Orthodox communities, the recognition of this soul mate would be in the hands of family, friends and community who would inquire about the merits, virtues, and talents of the potential partner.
But what about the rest of us – the Reform Jew, the convert, the Jew without family? How do we recognize our basherte? Are we left to online dating, World of Warcraft, and Facebook to find the soul mate that God has chosen for us?
It seems incredible to me to fall so madly in love with someone you have never met, to feel so deeply about someone that a picture is more than enough to content you. I struggle to believe that in-game encounters can count as courtship, as relationship building.
Then I remember the look in my friends eyes when they are near each other. I remember the way they hold hands and cling to each other, and the joy that they have found. I watch as they converse about things that could be difficult and awkward with the ease that comes from long conversations about everything and nothing. They tell me that without the physicality of nearness to impede them, they have learned to truly talk to one another. They say they have opened up to each other with a vulnerability that is difficult when you are looking in someone’s eyes. They tell me that they are soul mates because they have put in the work to make it so.
Perhaps this is the truth – God does for us what we do for ourselves. Put in the time, the honesty, and the commitment and you can become the soul mate to your partner. Do the work of a relationship and you will reveal yourselves as soul mates.
And if this work is on Facebook, Warcraft, or Jdate, so be it. Increasingly people are forming communities this way, finding love this way, creating their worlds this way. Perhaps it is time for me to set down the fountain pen and the poetry and get myself a screen name?
About an hour ago Warren Jeffs was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for his crimes. While I don’t always read the comments posted on news stories such as this, I found myself reading the ones posted on the NPR news story about the conviction, and I am appalled.
Let me be clear. What Warren Jeffs was convicted of is horrific. There is absolutely no excuse for the molestation, rape, or abuse of children.
But the comments I’ve been reading are horrific as well – calls for the gang rape of Warren Jeffs, prayers for someone to sodomize and kill him, jokes about how he will find “new wives” in prison. When did we become so blood thirsty? When did we become so cruel?
What Jeffs did was terrible, and I am not asking his victims to forgive him. Forgiveness is earned,if it ever comes. What I am asking is why we, as a people, are so blood thirsty. No matter the crime – no one deserves to be raped. No matter the crime – no one deserves to be brutalized.
Yes, the God of Torah is a God of justice and punishment and anger. But Adonai is also “the LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin » (Exodus 34:6-7).
We are called to compassion. We are called to forgiveness. Warren Jeffs is a man who is sick, who is wounded, and who deserves our compassion as he pays for his crimes. Rather than praying for his abuse and torture, we should be praying that he finds awareness of the pain he has caused, peace with his God, and the strength to live with what he has done. I have to believe that Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, agnostic, atheist – no matter the faith or lack of faith you come from – the call of humanity is forgiveness and compassion. It’s what makes us human. Punishment and forgiveness may be between Jeffs,his victims, and his God. But we have in our hands compassion, and, right now, I can’t think of a man who needs it more.
Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.
Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the LORD swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth. Deuteronomy 18-21
I love doorways. New entrances, new beginnings. I love the feel, the mystique, the smell of walking into somewhere I’ve never been before. I love the comfort, the peace, the homecoming of walking through a doorway I walk through every day.
I’ve gone through a lot of important doorways in my life. We all have – birth, marriage, our first apartments, our first homes. We go through spiritual doorways – baptism, conversion, confirmation. We go through psychological doorways as we come out of the closet, out of unhealthy relationships, into something new and healthy and beautiful.
Torah teaches Jews that we must write the commandments on our doorposts so that we will never forget what the Lord has done for us. As a woman, as a convert, as a (mostly) homosexual, as a Jew – I believe that there are other reasons to write the commandments on our doorposts.
Consider the words of Marge Piercy, in her poem “Sabbath of Mutual Respect”:
Praise our choices, sisters, for each doorway
open to us was taken by squads of fighting
women who paid years of trouble and struggle,
who paid their wombs, their sleep, their lives
that we might walk through these gates upright.
Doorways are sacred to women for we
are the doorways of life and we must choose
what comes in and what goes out. Freedom
is our real abundance.
Women or men, gay straight or somewhere in between, black, white, blue or green – all of our doorways have been built on the sacrifice of others. The decree that we must write the commandments upon our doorframes must be about more than remembering the deeds of the Lord as they are written in Torah. The decree must also be about remembering all of those who came before us and allowed us the magic of the doorway. It must be about gratitude for the ways in which God works through people, about the sacrifices our sisters and brothers have gone through to allow us the doorways we walk through. I am a Jewish convert because others converted before me. I bring a girlfriend to synagogue and am comfortable because someone else was uncomfortable before me. I read and interpret Torah as a woman because other women fought for that right before me.
Spend a day paying attention to the doorways in your life. See where you walk and what you walk through. Be thankful. Be grateful. Remember those who sacrificed so that you can choose which doorways you walk through and which choices you make. This, I believe, is the call from Deuteronomy. Remember, all the days of your life, the works of the Lord and those who came before you.