Last weekend, I had the chance to stand under the chuppah with two of my dearest friends and help officiate their wedding together. Weddings are one of the more powerful parts of my work and with each wedding, I try to offer little kernels of wisdom that have been helpful for me in my own marriage. It’s especially nice when those lessons dovetail with a lesson from the weekly Torah portion!
This week, we are transitioning between books of Vayikra and Bamidbar. Bamidbar, “In the Wilderness,” is a much better name than “Numbers,” which is how it’s usually translated. As much as Vayikra was about rules, order, and ritual, Bamidbar, in the wilderness, reflects the barrenness of the wild.
The Midrash Tanhuma asks: “Why is it called Bamidbar? To tell you that one who is not willing to make herself void, like the desert, cannot acquire the Torah.
The idea here is that unless you are willing to be completely empty, to let everything go, you cannot expect to be able to receive divine wisdom.
Most of the book of Bamidbar is replete with stories of people who can’t let things go. Korach, the spies, and even Aaron and Miriam struggle with this new found freedom. To fight against that, the Midrash urges us to work on diminishing the self and making yourself wild and free.
I don’t believe they mean it as a zero-sum game. It’s meant to be a cultivated practice that we get better and better at, which is also a helpful frame to think about in relationships and certainly in marriage.
Hedy Schleifer, a favorite relationship therapist of mine uses the metaphor of a bridge between two islands to describe two folks in a relationship.
The greatest gift we can offer our partner when we show up for them is our real, full, and honest presence. When we cross the bridge to our partner’s space, we should cut the band that ties us to our baggage, prejudices, and emotions. All we take with us is a plastic bag that carries a passport and a visa. When we get there, we just listen with open ears and an open heart.
So often we show up for our person carrying around stuff that gets in the way of us actually being present for one another. This thing happened to me today. Let me tell you about this person who did such and such to me. There’s a place for that. But when our partner needs us, we need to come void like the wilderness of the Torah. All we need is that which allows us to be transparently there.
When we show up like that, we make our partner’s space sacred. We show them that we are here for them ready to be a vessel. We strengthen the connection between us. And we allow real connection to spark.
It is hard but so vital. Finding ways to cross this bridge has been impactful in my own relationship. I hope that as we embark on this new journey with the Israelites that it can be useful to you as well. Find that wilderness and be exposed. Let go of your stuff now and again. In that emptiness, your heart may grow and you may find real wisdom.