Today there is fascinating historical juxtaposition between the events associated with the English date of September 11 and the Hebrew date of Elul 25.
What it boils down to is on September 11, 2001, the world was thrown into chaos with the four terrorist attacks against the US; whereas, on Elul 25, (3760 BCE) Jewish tradition holds that this date represents the first day of creation, on which G-d created existence, time, matter, darkness and light.
One can imagine that G-d’s master plan was to develop a world built on the principles of love and peace. And testimony of the emphasis on LOVE is the fact that the month of Elul has been identified with LOVE.
The most powerful acronym for the month of Elul is: Ani L’Dodi V’ Dodi Li – “I am to my beloved as my beloved is to me” – Song of Songs (Shir HaShirim). This is the ultimate expression of the love between the Jewish people and our Creator, but it also expresses the love between two people for whom marriage is the ultimate union. In fact, Elul is the only month where weddings may occur all month long.
Expressions of Love on the fateful September 11
Therefore, it is not coincidental that expressions of love were the last words expressed repeatedly in the exchanges between those who were the tragic victims of the September 11 attacks and their loved ones. For me, the most poignant memories are the last recorded words expressed by the passengers on United Flight 93- the repeated refrains from those for whom death was imminent of the words “I love you”. That is the “Gift of Love” that overcomes all the terror and the fear that our enemies can threaten us with.
The Challenge to the “Gift of Love”
That ability, when death stares us in the face, to express the most powerful human emotion to our loved ones is also a sad reminder that we should not have to reach the brink of disaster to express our emotions of love and appreciation for having a spouse in our lives.
How many times do we take our loved ones for granted and just assume they know our feelings? And especially how many times do we allow the pressures and stress of life to become little arguments with harsh words being exchanged in the moment of conflict.
Any yet, even at such moments, for too many couples the idea that there might be a way to acquire skills for creating and maintaining healthy and happy marriages seems like too much of effort and not worth the investment in personal resources.
It is just that attitude which has contributed to far too many divorces which statistically could have been avoided had the couples dedicated time to learning and incorporating marriage communication and conflict management skills for the enhancement and enrichment of their marriages.
A Way to Stem the Tide
It is this need to stem the tide and initiate an option for creating and maintaining loving and peaceful marriages and homes for families that lead to the founding of our nonprofit Together in Happiness/B’Yachad B’Osher in memory of my parents.
The non profit demonstrates that there is a pro-active response to tragedies such as 9/11 which tear our families asunder– and that is to provide couples with the skills and tools to counter the tendency to take our loved ones for granted – in the form of marriage education.
An Ounce of Prevention – Marriage Education
For the uninitiated, marriage education can be viewed as synonymous with prevention. Especially for engaged and newlywed couples, it aims to give a couple the tools to confront the rigors and stresses of institutional couple hood before they take the walk down the aisle and as newlyweds.
In the Jewish world, and in particular the observant Jewish community, the approach to marriage education is largely technical – or halachic if you prefer. Brides undergo a rudimentary course in the laws of family purity – an institution which is certainly designed to protect the sanctity of marriage.
But largely absent from these courses is any focus on the challenges that every couple will confront after the wedding presents are unwrapped and the honeymoon pictures framed on the wall. Grooms experience an even more cursory examination of the laws and are therefore even less prepared for the realities of years of living under the same roof with the same spouse.
Marriage education is predicated upon the understanding that the joy and common bonds and adoring love which most often exist upon entrance into marriage won’t necessarily define that relationship 20, 10 or even two years into the future. The erroneous notion that the feelings we have for each other under the chuppah are the same ones which will define our relationships until 120 is the very notion which arguably causes us to stray from one another.
The reality of life-long couple hood is that further down the road we will encounter obstacles and challenges that are very different from the courtship and dating periods. The traditional ones are parenting, financial struggles, illness, and relationships with other friends and family members and of course the commitment to monogamy. But the potential pitfalls that make up the list of reasons that spouses give for why their marriage has failed is simply endless.
Marriage education therefore isn’t intended to give you the tools to have a perfect marriage, because by its nature it’s not a perfect institution. To think that two people from different parents and different backgrounds with individual opinions and perspectives should all of a sudden become one in heart and mind is a notion to be left for fairy tales.
Marriage Education is NOT THERAPY
The main point that is most critical to mention is that Marriage Education is NOT Therapy. Each serves a different purpose – Marriage Education can best be described in its Preventative and skill building orientations and Therapy to be more intensive in addressing past issues and offering therapeutic remedies.
Create a Positive Response For Our Future
On this special day of Elul 25 and the day that the world was created and its secular counter of September 11, we owe it to ourselves and to society at large to reflect on the awesome responsibility we have to memorialize those individuals who were the victims of the horrible tragedy and to at the same time celebrate that we have a world with the potential for rising from the ashes of 9/11 and inject love and harmony and peace on a scale that can reverberate around the world.
Establishing marriage education as a vehicle for helping to transform our society and marriages into bastions of love and harmony is a giant step to helping heal the pains caused by the losses and show that we are committed to a world where our children can grow up in stable and loving environments and the day the world was created can be celebrated for eternity.
Wishing you Shana Tova and a prayer for LOVE and HARMONY and most of all PEACE AND UNITY