Written by Rabbi Mordechai Lipskier
Jewish law prohibits men from hearing the voice of a woman singing. It’s no surprise, then, that I asked my friend why he had that music playing in his office. He turned it off but quipped, “Y’know, there’s a heter to listen to the recorded voice of a woman singing, especially if you don’t know her personally.”
“You’re right, there is,” I told him. “But then again, if you’re looking for heterim you can find a heter for just about anything.” Then, from a different room his wife chimed in: “Yep, that’s the way we like it: we’ll take any heter we can find!”
Did she really mean what she said?
He’s so Kind
In this week’s parshah we are commanded, “You shall follow Hashem, your G-d, fear Him, keep His commandments, heed His voice, worship Him, and cleave to Him.” What’s the meaning of “cleave to Him”? Rashi explains: “Cleave to His ways: bestow kindness, bury the dead, and visit the sick, just as the Holy One, blessed is He, did.”
But why didn’t the Torah just specify those mitzvos instead of hinting them with the command of “cleave to Him”?
The Torah here is not just giving us a list of commands; it’s giving us a general approach to all mitzvos.
Firstly, in the above examples we find that Hashem, so to speak, went beyond the call of duty in kindness (there were certainly people available to visit Avraham and to bury Aaron, and yet Hashem did it Himself). In doing so Hashem demonstrated that when one cleaves to another they do more than just what’s necessary. And we too should do mitzvos in this way.
Feeling for Each Other
But it goes deeper.
Attachment is a strong word. When people or objects are connected physically they move with each other. When people are attached emotionally and psychologically they, too, respond to each other. They read one another’s feelings, needs and wants even when they’re not expressed. And since they’re attached, tending to these needs is not seen as a superimposed burden, but rather as an intrinsic response to their loved one.
Reb Mender Futerfas said that he learned the true meaning of Ahavas Yisroel from a conversation between two peasants.
“Ivan, my friend, do you know what’s troubling me?”
“No, Boris, I don’t. But please tell me, I really love you and I want to know!”
“Rubbish! If you really loved me you wouldn’t need me to tell you what’s troubling me, you would know!”
This is what the Torah is saying: do these mitzvos as an extension of your attachment to Hashem, not as oppressive obligations.
Picture marriage when it’s based on obligation compared to when it’s based on true attachment.
When a husband feels emotionally detached from his wife and family he may need to be told explicitly how they’re feeling. He may also view his family commitments as burdensome chores and obligations, a checklist he must complete. He will use every given opportunity to avoid these obligations, even staying late at work in order to get out of them.
Imagine when a couple is, G-d forbid, not getting along. The wife gives her husband a shopping list for Shabbos. He begrudgingly takes the list from her and heads to the store to fulfill his obligation. Do you think he’d take interest in buying things which they may need at home if they are not on the shopping list?
Now picture the times when a couple is emotionally tuned in. This couple can read each other’s minds and hearts. This husband sees his wife’s needs as his own, and he most likely will not look to spend less time at home. He will most likely fill in the missing items on the Shabbos list. Moreover, he may even pick up a tray of sushi for his wife as an expression of his appreciation for all she’s doing!
What She Really Wants
The word heter means untied. In the context of mitzvos it’s essentially a way out. My friend’s wife would certainly not appreciate to hear that her husband looks for ways out of family obligations. When she said that they like a Yiddishkeit of heterim, she said so only because Yiddishkeit was presented to her as a check-list of dos and don’ts. When she learns that Hashem desires a relationship with us she will no doubt be motivated to do more for Him, and not seek to wiggle out of obligation.
A Good Marriage
And, like in any marriage, one spouse’s good attitude influences the other spouse. Hashem desires to be attached to us as well. He too, as it were, responds to us. The Baal Shem Tov interprets the verse “Hashem is your shadow” to mean that Hashem responds to us just as a shadow follows movements.
Let’s make our marriage with Hashem one of true attachment. And our marriage with our spouse, too.