Elul, Marital Therapy and Three Ideas to Deepen our Relationship with Hashem

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by R. Mordechai Shichtman

The Shelah (Rosh HaShanah, Amud HaDin) explains that the name אלול  is an abbreviation of the words אני לדודי ודודי לי, I am to my Beloved and my Beloved is to me (Shir HaShirim 6:3). Elul is a month of rekindling our bond with Hashem. What does it mean to have a bond and relationship with Hashem? How do we develop this relationship? I found some brief insights in mussar seforim and while these terse insights may have contained the general abstract answers to these questions, I personally still felt I was lacking guidance.[1]See Bridging the Gap by Rabbi Avi Fertig, pages 46-47, where he elaborates on the importance of details in mussar.

I struggled with this question for several years but came upon a realization. We know that a successful marriage is supposed to reflect a successful relationship with Hashem (Rambam, Hilchos Teshuva, 10:3).[2]There are other aspects of our relationship with Hashem beyond marriage. For example, Hashem is our Father and our King. Developing different aspects of our relationship with Hashem may require … Continue reading As such, I thought that Dr. John Gottman’s data-driven and evidence-based approach to marital harmony might yield insight into deepening our relationship with Hashem. (Mussar is always relevant and can be derived from any source – Eruvin 100b) Below are three ideas based off of Gottman’s seminal book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work:

I. Gottman writes that it is critical that we are knowledgeable regarding matters that our spouse cares deeply about. Below are some true or false questions a spouse is supposed to be able to answer (page 55) and possible answers relating to Hashem:

  1. I can name my partner’s best friend? Spiritual giants such as the Avos, Imahos, and Moshe Rabbenu come to mind.
  2. I can tell you what stresses my partner is currently facing? Thoughts such as disunity among the Jewish people, lives lost and disrupted by Covid-19, and rising antisemitism come to mind.
  3. I can tell you some of my partner’s life dreams?  לתקן העולם במלכות שקי– to perfect the world as G-d’s kingdom. 

Just as we need to understand what and how our spouse thinks and feels, so to, so to speak, we need to understand what and how Hashem thinks and feels. The more we can think about and internalize what matters to Hashem, so to speak, the deeper our relationship with Hashem can go.

II. Gottman writes that it is important to evaluate how much fondness we feel towards our partner. Some of Gottman’s true or false questions regarding fondness (pages 72-73) are below as well as possible answers relating to Hashem:

  1. When we are apart, I often think fondly of my partner? Do we think about Hashem (fondly or otherwise) when involved in our daily routine?
  2. I will often find some way to tell my partner “I love you.” Do we say Birkas HaMazon or Modim with meaning and emotion?
  3. We rarely go to sleep without some show of love of affection? Do we daven Maariv and recite Keria Shema al HaMita with meaning and emotion?

Many of the mitzvos are meant to be expressions of love between us and Hashem. But how often do we perform these mitzvos with our heart and our minds? How often are we cognizant of Hashem? There are no simple solutions to this old dilemma but we all can improve in this area.
 

III. Gottman says that one of the foundations to a happy marriage is that spouses share each other’s values. Below are some true or false questions about shared values (pages 271-272) and possible answers relating to Hashem.

  1. We see eye to eye about what home means? Are we cognizant about what brings the Shechina, so to speak, into our homes, and what, so to speak, expels the Shechina from our homes? Hashem wants homes filled with humility, Torah, and chessed. Additionally, when we speak loshon harah, we push Hashem away, so to speak.
  2. We have similar values about autonomy and independence? Do we really strive to fulfill the Mishnah that everything we do be l’shem Shamayim, or do we (consciously or subconsciously) let our own agendas direct us?
  3. We have similar values about the meaning of having possessions, of owning things? Possessions are gifts from Hashem, to be used to serve Hashem. We cannot take possessions with us when we leave this world.

Hashem’s Torah contains the perfect and ideal set of values. The more we internalize these values, the more profound our relationship with Hashem can become.
 
There is no such thing as too much shalom bayis and if applicable, I encourage everyone to utilize Gottman’s works to improve their own marriage. Additionally, my own avodas Hashem has been profoundly enhanced by extrapolating from Gottman’s book into our relationship with Hashem. I hope that others benefit as well from these thoughts and that we all succeed in strengthening our relationship with Hashem.

 

Rabbi Mordechai Shichtman is an alumnus of the Yeshiva University Kollel Elyon. He lives in Cincinnati with his wife and three children.

Endnotes

Endnotes
1See Bridging the Gap by Rabbi Avi Fertig, pages 46-47, where he elaborates on the importance of details in mussar.
2There are other aspects of our relationship with Hashem beyond marriage. For example, Hashem is our Father and our King. Developing different aspects of our relationship with Hashem may require developing different qualities within ourselves. This article is limited to the aspect of a marriage.

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