Words spoken at the festive meal (“Sheva Berachot”) on the occasion of the marriage of our grandson and his bride, Lakewood, USA, 24th of June.
My dear grandchildren, Chatan (groom) and Kalla (bride), Yaacov Shlomo and Chava,
Oma and I were 20 and 21 years old when we married. This was only a few years after the Inquisition in Spain in 1492 when we were exiled to Amsterdam! Today we are 76 and nearly 77 years old. (How did that happen?)
Like you are today, we, too, were still children. And, when our first child, Debora Sara, Yaacov Shlomo’s mother, was born, our family existed of only three members, Yaacov Shlomo’s mother, Oma and I.
At the time, we lived in the north of England in Gateshead, which housed the largest yeshiva in Europe, like the city of Lakewood where we find ourselves now that houses the largest yeshiva in the USA.
We had not the slightest clue what the future would bring. Ours was a highly unusual life. Full of twists and turns which could not be foreseen. Crazy incidents, and unusual experiences surrounded us. I studied hard in the yeshiva. I had no intention to become a rabbi or teacher. I just wanted to have a comprehensive Jewish and Talmudic knowledge before switching over to other studies.
I was thinking of going to university to study philosophy and perhaps become a professor of philosophy, or going into business or becoming a physician.
Yet, Oma and I were not really bothered by the insecurity of our future. We were pleased living in a city which was a “Makom Torah” (“a place of Torah”) where the greatest of the Talmudists of the century were my teachers. My love for Talmud increased every day. I could not get enough of it.
Yaacov Shlomo, when your mother was born, I was so busy learning Torah that I missed her birth. When I came home, I was told that Oma was already in hospital and had given birth to a girl! What a slipup! That your mother and Oma spoke to me afterwards, is a mystery I was never able to solve!
Later on, as our other children were born, matters became more hectic and trying. After receiving my rabbinical ordination, we had moved to the Hague in Holland, and after 4 years we decided to go to Israel so that I could study for a few more years. By that time, we had to decide what to do with our lives.
I then learned what is perhaps the greatest gift in life: marriage. It is the gift of, among other things, never having to make a decision on your own, but to be able to discuss everything with another person—however difficult the matter may be.
Marriage is the antidote to loneliness. To face problems and opportunities together means the problem is “half” as difficult. Sure, only one of us may actually have to take action, but that is only after both partners have discussed the issue at hand from every point of view, have both taken the issue as seriously as each other—even when it is really only directly the problem of one of the parties.
The story is told of the great tzaddik (saint) of Jerusalem, Rabbi Aryeh Levin, who accompanied his wife to a physician and said: “My wife’s leg is hurting us.” He felt the pain in his wife’s leg just as much as she did.
This is only possible when both parties are prepared to open up to each other and speak. Without being open there cannot be discussion. There is only monologue, which can achieve very little.
Marriage means words and words mean a relationship, and commitment. If one party does not or no longer speaks or responds, the marriage has ended.
Marriage is a pledge to speak. Not about trivialities, but about issues that are crucial to the lives of both.
A marriage declaration does not mean: “We are wife and husband as long as we find each attractive and have passion for each other.” It means: “I will be with you, whatever fate will bring us, as long as we are constantly communicating even when one of us may have lost the physical ability to speak but we continue to communicate through a loving smile, a hint, a little note or a hug.”
The greatest danger to a marriage is when a party refuses to speak. Whatever the cause for this silence may be and however hard it is to speak, once the willingness to speak has ended there is no recourse.
To be continued…