"You can still change your mind if you want to," my mother whispered to me as we stood at the top of the hill overlooking my chuppah. Below us the music echoed through the twilight as the flower girls covered the aisle with white rose petals. The chuppah rippled in waves of white and behind it, the sun was setting into the water.
"No, she can't," my father whispered back as he subtly motioned to the hundreds of people who had turned to watch us approach.
We walked slowly down the aisle, and I wondered why my mother had said that. I knew she liked her future son-in-law. I knew she was happy for me. Perhaps she was as afraid as I had been that whole week before the wedding.
A month before our Lag B’Omer wedding, I had tried to arrange for little torches to line the wedding aisle like bonfires. The wedding planner couldn't find a way to do it because of the safety regulations. I remember telling my fiancé that I was disappointed that we wouldn't be able to have the torches and he just shrugged.
"You don't really care, do you?" I asked him.
There was the same confused expression on his face that had appeared when we were choosing the flowers, the hall, the menu. "Not really," he answered. "I don't really care about the mini bonfires or the color of the flowers. Our wedding is exciting, but it just lasts a few hours. I'm more excited to actually be married and spend the rest of our life together."
I loved my fiancé and wanted to be married, but forever was scary.
This answer terrified me. The rest of our life? I loved my fiancé and wanted to be married, but forever was scary. Forever was day in and day out, without soft music playing and flower petals beneath our feet. Forever was like nothing that I had ever done before. Walking towards the chuppah, I didn't want to change my mind, but I was still scared. Did I really know what I was doing? Did I really know my fiancé well enough? How would I know?
There's a joke hung up on a sign on the outside of a restaurant in NYC: "The past, present and future walked into a bar. It was tense." This was what I discovered marriage asks of us: to bring our pasts, our presents and our futures together. And to do it in a way that uses the tension of such precious intensity as a channel for blessing and growth. As we reach our 16th anniversary, I have begun to see the unique blessings inherent in a Jewish marriage and how the Torah protects and nurtures our relationship.
Here are seven blessings (among many more) that a Jewish marriage bestows upon us.
1. The Blessing of Shared Values. Torah gives us a blueprint of timeless values as a couple. It brings us clarity when we are faced with dilemmas. It protects our connection in daily life. It guides our dreams and helps us reach and form meaningful goals. It makes our conversations deeper and our home stronger.
2. The Blessing of Seeing Our Children as Spiritual Beings. Raising children is challenging and requires dedicated teamwork. It helps that we both see our children as gifts that we are entrusted with, as individuals who have their own unique missions in this world. That shared perspective helps us to be patient when we're tired, optimistic when we are down and dedicated when we are depleted.
3. The Blessing of Renewal. The laws of family purity in the Torah nurture and preserve passion and intimacy within marriage. The wisdom within these laws renews marriage each month, bringing back the energy and focus of the wedding, reminding a couple to see each other with the freshness and excitement that they had when they first met.
4. The Blessing of Community. The members of our shul, the teachers in our children's school, our neighbors, friends and leaders – they all remind us that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. That our goals as a couple are part of more transcendent goals of our community and of our nation. Sharing in other's celebrations expands our hearts and being beside our friends in their sorrows stretches our souls.
5. The Blessing of Feeling a Part of Each Other's Achievements. The Torah teaches us that spouses are two halves of one soul. My husband's achievements are part of me, and my accomplishments are part of him. This connects us both when we are struggling and when we are succeeding because it helps us see that we are not just individuals living together but rather a team that rises and falls together.
6. The Blessing of Appreciating Our Differences. Judaism teaches us that we are here in this world to constantly grow and work on ourselves. The challenging characteristics of our spouses are powerful catalysts for our own growth. This helps us to not only be grateful for what we love about each other but also for what we dislike about each other. Our arguments and weaknesses are part of what transform us and push us to stretch beyond ourselves.
7. The Blessing of Shabbos. Every week, the noise and distraction of daily life disappear as we welcome Shabbos into our home. It gives us a chance to focus on each other and on the highlights of our weeks. And it gives us the time to treasure our children together and step back to look at our lives.
Marriage isn't a perfect fairy tale sprinkled with rose petals and lined with the glow of mini bonfires. It's more like surfing with its ups and downs and occasional wipe outs. One of the greatest surfers of all time, Laird Hamilton, describes being towed out to the treacherous Teahupo'o break. How he looked into the vortex of that wave, and knew that he either had to let go of the rope and ride the wave or face crashing into the shallow reef below. It was a moment when greatness was rising up before him but only if he could carve a way into the tunnel of water. Only if he didn't fight against it. Only if he had the courage to let go of what was holding him back.
There is that moment when we all face the vortex of the wave, and we have the chance to go higher than we ever dreamed of going. But we have to go into the water first. We have to let go of the rope. Because as frightening as it may be to face the power of the ocean, it is far more frightening to stay on the shore, missing the chance to live. Because, as one surfer once said, "Out of the water, I am nothing." And without the growth and joy and incredible blessing of marriage, the water would be beyond my reach.