Let’s do a thought experiment together.
Imagine that you are a marriage counselor and a woman shares her experience with you.
“I feel terrible. Sometimes, I just say the wrong things to my husband. Or I do something that upsets him. Then he gets angry and expects me to apologize.”
Nu. No surprise. Couples squabble; they get on each other’s nerves. It happens.
“Yes, but when I mess up, he insists that I apologize in a specific way. If I don’t apologize in the way that he expects, he remains angry.”
Okaaay, we may have an issue here. Then again, maybe you just need to learn what language speaks to him.
“Sure, but it’s not only the language. He expects me to be sincere and to show emotion whenever I say sorry.”
“That’s not all. The worst part is that every time I apologize, he insists that I also recount all the previous times that I’ve upset him.”
Time to call a divorce lawyer?
“And, until I apologize, he freezes my credit card!”
Oh no, this is abuse!
Now, think about it. Isn’t that how G-d treats us?
We’re in Teshuvah (repentance) season. It’s time to tearfully apologize — using the ancient Al Chet formula — for everything we’ve ever done wrong. If we don’t, He’ll cut our blessings for the New Year.
Ouch! Any thinking person would want out.
It’s sad when people approach the Elul-through-High-Holiday period with dread. Many fear that G-d will open that Book and that He’ll find too many of our misdeeds and will cancel us. The stakes are high, and there’s little wiggle room on the Day of Judgement. And the only way out is to apologize and beg for His mercy.
Juxtapose this view with the idea that we have a spousal relationship with G-d, and you’ll believe we’re an abused wife.
Or, you could see it altogether differently.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve asked people if they feel they waste their time over yom tov, the holidays. What’s the point of feigning remorse for behavior you know you’ll repeat? Even if you genuinely regret your bad habits, you’re not sure you’ll really change them. Why play this game every year? “G-d, I’m so sorry to disappoint You (beat your chest), but I’ll probably disappoint You again next year.”
Relationships guru Dr John Gottman says that there is one key indicator of a couple’s chance to save a rocky marriage. No matter how acerbic their arguments or bitter their recriminations are, most couples can work their way back to health. When partners are at each other’s throats, there’s one critical question that will identify if they can hope to reconcile.
“What attracted you to each other in the first place?”
If either of them answers along the lines of “I was young and foolish” or “I always knew I should have backed out,” they’re in trouble. As long as they can dredge up some good memories of their courtship or each other’s character, there is hope.
The G-d/Jews, husband/wife concept reminds us that our relationship is not perfect. Sometimes He does things that upset us. Often, we do things that disappoint Him. We apologize; we try again. We don’t get it perfectly. Ever. But, we stay together because we’re mutually committed to the relationship. A successful marriage is not when husband and wife become perfect, but when they learn to accept each other’s imperfections.
A little nostalgia helps: “We were so in love….” At one point or another, even if it was before our soul entered the geosphere, we loved Him, and He loved us. That’s why we take a stab at reconciliation on the High Holidays.
This time of year is not about contorting ourselves to fit the uber-expectations of an overbearing spouse. This is a time to remind ourselves of why we and G-d fell in love 3300 years ago. It is time to recall that we have always cared deeply for each other, even through the turbulent times. So, we promise that we care enough to try a little harder. And try we do.
As any healthy couple would.