At this time of year, we are confronted with religious opportunities and presented with the spiritual tools necessary to develop a close, even intimate relationship with God. Whereas a deep bond with the Almighty is our ultimate aim, the connection with our spouse is the single most significant interpersonal relationship in one’s life. As a marriage and intimacy counselor and the founder of www.JewishIntimacy.com, I believe that we can use the lens of our Yamim Noraim prayers and the Teshuva process to not only achieve closeness with God, but to create an intimate connection with our spouse, an equally lofty aspiration.
Throughout the Torah, Hashem compares His relationship with His nation, to that of the spousal relationship. Commentators understand the event of Matan Torah where God gives the Torah to Bnei Yisrael through the prism of a groom betrothing his beloved bride. We also find this analogy in the passage from Mishlei known as “Eshet Chayil”, which is not only understood as an ode to a woman of valor, but as a love song between God and His beloved people. This metaphor is particularly apt at this time of year having just completed the month of Elul which stands for ‘ani lidodoi vidodi li — I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” Preparing for the Yamim Noraim reminds us that it is time to create an intimate relationship with Hakadosh Baruch Hu, and through the same actions we take building and rebuilding our relationship with our Creator, we can find lessons to apply in improving our relationship with our spouse.
During this period when our thoughts and actions are focused on Teshuva, we are striving to repent by literally “returning” to God, and it is an opportunity to ‘return’ to a place of better communication with our spouse as well. According to the Rambam, the central aspect of Teshuva is verbal confession known as Vidui. With our powerful tool of speech, we are encouraged to formulate ideas and feelings, thoughts and comments in order to return to Hashem. Indeed, our mouth is also the most important tool when it comes to returning to our spouses as well. The very first person in the Torah who develops the most intimate relationship with God is Avraham Avinu, who not coincidentally, is also the very first person the Torah records having a conversation with his spouse. It is the intimate conversation between Avraham and Sarah that prepares him for his intimate conversation with the Almighty, and vice versa.
One of the three main pursuits of Aseret Yimei Teshuva is Prayer, Tefillah. Rav Kook explains in his discussion on Tefillah, that prayer is meant to be an intimate conversation with G-d, built on struggle. The root of the word Tefilla, means ‘to struggle’ which according to Rav Kook implies that as we cry out to the Almighty, we are not trying to persuade Him to change, rather, we must look to change ourselves during the difficult process of Tefillah. Couples often come into marriage counseling looking to ‘fix him’ or ‘change her’. However, as in prayer, change begins when we focus on ourselves first.
Finally, the idea of sharing intimate moments with our loved one is a way to developing more intimate relationships both in our relationship with Hashem and with our spouse. In the section of Zichronot during the Rosh Hashana Mussaf, we recall how Hashem fondly remembers the forefathers and mothers as well as the “devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me in the wilderness” (Jeremiah 2:2). When thinking of this beautiful verse, I am constantly reminded of what it means to be dating, engaged or newly married. There’s an intimacy, a closeness that others are not allowed to penetrate. The intimacy of newlyweds is quickly displaced with the arrival of children, professional pursuits and financial stresses. The Rosh Hashana prayers should encourage us to fondly recall our shared memories with our spouse as a building block for a more intimate relationship.
Developing intimate communication, recognizing that we must first change ourselves, and remembering shared experiences are three elements that are not only integral to the Teshuva process, but they are also significant in developing a healthy intimate relationship with your life partner. By utilizing these spiritual tools in repairing our relationship with Hashem as we prepare for Yom Kippur, we can also develop unparalleled intimacy with our spouse as well.