In a certain romantic movie which was made about twenty-five years ago, there is a brief scene that made a deep impression on me when I saw it then, and which resonates with me to this day. A woman, who has just received news that her best friend has once again had a disappointment in the love department and is facing a break-up, turns to her new-found love, the man she has just moved in with, and says to him, with a shudder and a note of imploring urgency in her voice, “Please tell me I never have to be out there again!” He holds her tight and assures her tenderly, “You never have to be out there again!”
In just a few words, an entire world of despair has been encapsulated and made vivid. “Out there” is a very scary place to be; I know – I have been there. Not only is it a lonely location, it is a place of shattered dreams and crushing disappointments where the heart suffers daily exhaustion; an emotional emergency room where hope is, if not dead, at least in a coma.
When I got married I finally understood what Biblical Naomi meant when she said to her daughters-in-law Ruth and Orpa, “May you find menucha – rest – each in her husband’s house”. I used to think that it was a bit lame. Surely you don’t dream of marriage so you should be able to finally relax and have a good rest? I didn’t want rest – I wanted romance and excitement!
But I believe Naomi is talking about menuchas hanefesh – not the physical peace and quiet that may first come to mind, but tranquility, ease of spirit, emotional security; the complete freedom from the anxieties of “does he REALLY like me?” – in fact, the absolute opposite of “out there”. It is the menucha of never again having to wonder if he is going to call.
Not that husbands always call, mind you; my own frequently goes Missing In Action. Without a cell phone, he is conveniently incommunicado – conveniently for him, that is. But the basic peace of mind is there, something that is very important for a woman if she is going to be able to be her best.
One of the books sitting in our bathroom right now is “What Women Want Men to Know” by “human relations expert” Barbara de Angelis, Ph.D. She outlines Three Basic Truths about women, and in doing so ends up with something so close to what the Torah and the Chaza”l are saying, that I just know she is on to something.
Her Three Basic Truths about women are: we put love first; we are creators; we have a sacred relationship to time.
Therefore – no, we are not obsessive or controlling when it comes to the human relationships (romantic or otherwise) in our lives – we are just expressing our inner truth that love, in all its forms, is one of the primary concerns of our existence; and we will go to any lengths necessary to safeguard that love.
As creators of life, we create and improve wherever we go; our creativity knows no bounds and expresses itself in a myriad ways, from childbirth to selecting the right shade of lipstick, to “improving” our husbands. We are not saying that he – or the current lipstick – is bad; we are just constantly busy building an even better world.
One of the reasons put forth why a woman is generally exempt from most of the time-bound mitzvos, is that, by dint of her innate biological rhythm, she is already aware of Divine time and requires no further reminder. She carries the moed, the designated season, within her, and her awareness of time makes her different from a man in that she counts every minute, every day, every year that passes, and invests it with a deep meaning.
I have to say that I am quite impressed that Dr. de Angelis - who describes herself as a "liberal thinker" - allows herself to subscribe to a world view in which a woman’s psychological makeup is seen to be informed by her biological nature – this is in such stark contrast to the politically correct tenets of our times. (She even goes so far as to draw an analogy between a woman's style of communication - round and round in a spiral-like digression on her topic - and the rounded, spiral-like shape of her womb; while a man's communication style is more - how shall I put it? - to the point.) The Chaza”l, our Sages, have always made the point that the external mirrors the internal; that the physiological is a representation of the spiritual, but this is not something one expects to hear “out there”, among the sociologists and psychologists – be they Jewish or Gentile.
Dr. de Angelis also points out that a woman has a “secret” – or at least often unacknowledged and unrecognized – need to feel safe; only when she is emotionally safe, does she become free to express herself fully, and let go of certain destructive behaviors.
This is something I noticed in my own life many years ago, long before I was validated by Dr. de Angelis. Unfortunately, I have a tendency to become critical and – dare I say it? – to nag. However, interestingly enough, self-analysis finally revealed to me that this unbecoming trait really only comes to the surface when I am nervous – when I feel emotionally unsafe. It is the need for answers and reassurance that makes me run after you and nag; it is the fear of avoidance and indifference, and the fear of the unknown, that make my inner critic rear its head. And this applies not only to the marital relationship. In earlier years, my children also sometimes suffered from this tendency of mine, and I have realized that it holds true in the parental relationship as well – as a single mother I felt extremely unsafe a lot of the time. The image that comes to my mind is the furiously pecking chicken – but a chicken only pecks when she is under duress.
|Menucha in the tent!|
(Image from rajtent.com)
This is why there is a great brocho in Naomi’s wish for menucha – the condition that will keep a woman protected from the emotional anxiety of “out there”, and thus able to fulfill her true potential. May we all find menucha in our marriages - and in our tents.