THE MAKING OF A MAN: A TESHUVA STORY
By Ariella Bracha Waldinger
I have made a lot of things in my life: beds, meals, deserts, a dress, and of course mistakes, due to being 65 years of age, but I never imagined I would be immersed in the process of the making of a man. I know from the Holy Bible that G-d made man, Adam, from the dust of the earth and breathed into him the breath of life. I had plenty of dust from the winds blowing through our apartment in the old city of Jerusalem, but that wasn’t what I would be using for my creation. I would be using the multi-dimensional Elul blend of teshuva for my personal creation and I would hopefully be breathing new life into him. I bet you are wondering who this man is that I am referring to. It is my husband whom I would be giving a spiritual make-over after my own personal teshuva make-over completed itself. Psychology and Jewish mussar teach that we should not attempt to make over anyone nor change anyone. WE CANNOT WORK ON ANYONE BUT OURSELVES! I know this to be true. I had no specific plan or goal in the realm of changing my husband. What actually occurred was completely unplanned, manifesting itself from the ashes of conflict arising from my people pleasing nature.
Actually, it happened by Divine will. We were living in the Jewish Quarter of the Old city of Jerusalem—our eternal capital. We had been having lots of guests for Shabbat and I had been divinely guided to a remarkable class my first week of Aliyah. The teacher stated that every time we react to a situation, we must be aware that it was tailor made for us, (not the other person) to grow in the way we need to grow. I knew I was in for a spiritual overhaul after having lived outside the Land for so long. I had learned that one doesn’t get to live in the holiest place in the world without challenges relating to character development and refinement. I just didn’t know what direction my personal refinement would take.
My husband and I came to Israel with a solid, relatively sound, harmonious marriage. We were used to being together because we both worked from home. We enjoyed our time together and had fun exploring and doing the mundane things couples do. Soon after making Aliyah, we began having lots of guests on Shabbat, as we wanted to share our great good fortune. As you may realize, the more guests, the more tests, especially if there is a large number from varied backgrounds. My nature is the spiritual, peacemaker, social director, comforter, and keeping the conversation going type. My husband is the protector, provider, cave man, extremely direct, assertive ex-lawyer, warm and funny until his red line is crossed kind of guy (whom I adore). He is Mr. Real!
Hashem began sending us lots of strong, feminist type women as guests and fireworks began to explode on the scene, so to speak. For some reason, these women were giving my husband a rough time at his own Shabbat table, challenging every word that came out of his mouth and actually being quite rude. I was sitting there giving HIM the dirty looks and kicking HIM under the table to be quiet. Now friends, I love Shabbat with all my heart and I strive mightily to honor her in the deepest ways and I love my husband, but he was really annoying me with his behavior towards these women guests. After all, I have a strong affinity for women, as I was raised in a family of 7 girls and had 9 aunts from my mother’s side whom I treasured. I have two daughters of my own and I just really enjoy the company of women.
One Shabbat after the guests had deserted the battlefield of our house, my husband looked at me with pain etched in his face and said, “Tell me, why are you standing up for these women, who are complete strangers, and not standing up for me, your husband?” I was in shock at the truth of what he was saying and it hit me hard, like a baseball between the eyes. He knew the answer, but didn’t want to embarrass me with the truth. I was a people pleaser and it was not only causing him pain but it was disrupting our Shabbat experience and bringing negativity into our holy home.
I felt sick at the revelation of the truth and I wasn’t sure what to do other than cry. I had deeply hurt my husband over an extended period of time without realizing it. I felt as if I had worked on myself a lot over the years, after all I was 54 at this time. But the inner resonance of what my husband was saying rang true and I knew I had work to do in the realm of people pleasing. I also knew that G-d had kindly brought it to my attention, so I could address the truth and no longer hide or pretend. I prayed with all my heart that G-d would guide me to the solution quickly, so I could shift the dynamic, to a healthy one. As you may or may not realize, answers to prayers in the Holy Land seem to sometimes manifest at lightning speed and this was no exception. Shortly thereafter, I was divinely guided to a class on marriage. The essential teaching, from a Torah guidance book on marriage, was that our husbands must be given kavod (Honor) in order to feel loved and valued. I had honestly never heard of the Torah concept of giving our husbands kavod! As I sat there, hearing all the stories of women negating their primary relationship with their spouse for their jobs, or friends, or children or Shabbat guests among others, I was stunned on one hand and grateful on the other hand, that I wasn’t the only one lacking this basic knowledge. The concept was new to many of the mostly American women in the class and we all required re-training to make the shift.
As I began to honestly look at the ways I had discounted my husband’s feelings and not given him the honor befitting a Jewish husband, I felt deeply ashamed. As a result of being humbled by this revelation, a new strength of spirit began to emerge from within me. A newfound desire began to arise and I made up my mind that I wanted my greatest claim to fame, so to speak, to be my marriage. I was willing to do whatever it took to live that claim and own that core value which I was adopting. Judaism considers the woman to be the spiritual foundation of the home and this class was giving me the wisdom and guidance to become that foundation. I wanted it for myself in a big way, not for greatness but for blessing because the Torah perceives the relationship of the couple to be sacred.
As G-ds divine timing would have it, this situation was occurring in Elul—the month of teshuva and renewal. In a dynamic book entitled, “The Twelve Dimensions of Israel” by Nechama Sarah Nadborny, she writes the following which resonates deeply with my soul: “In order to implement the process of teshuva or self-reclamation, we must ask forgiveness from those we have wronged. Through this very sensitive and delicate interaction, we help ourselves and others reclaim self-worth and dignity. Too often, when we try to smooth out our relationships, we are met with anger from those who feel guilty and do not wish to acknowledge their mistakes. During these moments, we are especially challenged to retain our dignity. This is exactly what we sacrificed when our actions, reactions and interactions were not guided by the wisdom of the Torah and we passed judgment on one another.”
She continues: “Although acknowledging and admitting our mistakes may be painful, it frees us from depression which gnaws at the unconscious where we refuse to face the issues head on. Only our conscious relationship to our mistakes as well as our past experiences may allow their negative effects to disappear. As we develop healthy, meaningful relationships in which we are committed to growing together, sincere apologies come more easily. As we become more real with each other, pride is sacrificed for the sake of sharing higher levels of consciousness rooted in love and compassion.” This was exactly what was occurring as I admitted the truth to myself and to my husband. I was becoming more real to myself and my life and marriage took on new shape and direction.
With the truth and strength of teshuva taking hold, I approached my husband and with a heart full of love and a newfound ability to give him honor, I looked him in the eyes and asked his forgiveness for the many times I had discounted his feelings and dishonored his role in the home by making others more important than him. My tears fell with depth and clarity as a power so strong and pure claimed my heart and soul. And the shadows of doubt, both his and mine, fell away and left our presence.
From that point onward, my husband, trusting in the honor that I was lovingly bestowing upon him, began to emerge as his true self. As the shadows of false expectations and people pleasing on my part lost their hold, and I began to lovingly honor him, his true leadership abilities and decision making skills manifested. He took hold of his new power like an eagle to the sky soaring gracefully and wondrously through the safety of our harmonious marriage. I took the dust of my past mistakes and by doing teshuva, breathed new life into my husband thus making him a man. What a privilege! What a joy!
In the Kabbalistic Book, “Apples in The Orchard,” a commentary on the Parsha by the Arizal, it is explained that the true coupling of male and female is a cross-fertilization of attitudes and orientations of consciousness stimulated by communications and discussions. The procreative organ receives its true ability to be fruitful and couple when it is in tune with the spiritual dimension of the individual’s mind because the intellect is what allows for a perspective higher than total self-orientation. The Arizal states, “When the consciousness of the couple matures and they turn to each other in order to relate on a deeper level, the effect of their heightened relationship will spill over into all elements that make up life in their house.” As my husband and I began to converse more, spend quality time together and relate respectfully to each other’s differences, inspiration became more manifest in our lives and the joy of our deeper togetherness blossomed. As I bestowed honor on my husband, he gifted me with royalty: he became the King and I his Queen and with G-ds help, we will live happily ever after in G-ds Beloved Palace.
And so it was, that coming home to Israel, with all its trials and tribulations gifted me with the MAKING OF A MAN—MY BELOVED PARTNER—AVRAHAM BEN EMMANUEL!
I AM ETERNALLY GRATEFUL FOR THE GIFT OF ELUL AND TESHUVA AND FOR MY HUSBAND WHO IS MY GREATEST INSPIRATION. MAY YOUR MARRRIAGE BE A BLESSING TOO!