Every person has their way of approaching life.
Someone always tells me I jump into pools without water, and then … and then I go from there.
I call it naaseh v’nishmah. Do and you will eventually understand.
Coming to Eretz Yisrael.
These are all moments of jumping when we’re not 100 percent positive what we’re jumping into. This is Shavuos. This is Matan Torah, when Hashem says, “Trust me. I will trust you.” This is the basis of our marriage to Him.
What could be more naaseh v’nishmah and needing of trust than marriage? It’s like climbing a mountain with a rope attached to another person. We have to trust each other, work together to hold the rope, so the other doesn’t fall.
Hashem gave us that rope at Sinai. He gave the Torah to us as a nation and the kesubah to us individually.
The kesubah is an amazing thing. It ties a couple together with obligations. The Torah ties us to Hashem with mitzvos, obligations to become am echad. The kesubah ties our separated souls back together.
As the kallah walks around the chassan under the chuppah, I always picture her weaving invisible, magnetic-force threads around him.
So, what is the kesubah? The kesubah is also a sort of naaseh v’nishmah. Do and accept this agreement, and you will come to understand. It is an original attachment agreement which gives us the ability to hold on when the going gets tough, and a guarantee that if you do these things, you will come to understand. Do and you will come to understand is a long journey. No one gave a time limit guarantee. That we will understand in three minutes or less, just that we will eventually understand.
Maybe a wife sits at home dreaming about the beautiful dinner she is going to cook for her husband when he gets home. She pictures the table setting she plans to arrange. But, she doesn’t do it in the end. She loses out. She loses out on an action that could help her better understand how much her husband would appreciate it.
And, vice versa.
I have a friend who found out her kesubah was invalid. They had lost theirs in a fire and because they had no money at the time, had it rewritten by some guy who advertised that he writes kesubos just for the mitzvah.
One day, years down the road, the rav of their youngest son calls. “Your son’s waking up late everyday,” the rav says. “I’d like to check your kesubah.”
“What does my kesubah have to do with my son waking up late?”
It turns out the rav of this yeshivah happens to be one of the world’s greatest kesubah experts. They send the kesubah to the rav.
Soon they hear back. There were mistakes upon mistakes. “If I found the person who wrote this kesubah, I would have him flogged,” the rav tells them. The rav explains his reaction. “Mistakes in a kesubah could cause major problems, especially concerning health and children.”
This couple suffers from problems with both.
They immediately have a new kesubah written. When the rav who wrote the new kesubah reads it aloud, he asks the couple if they both agree to marry each other again.
In an emotion-filled moment, and after 20 years of struggle and marriage, the husband turns to his wife and asks, “Will you marry me?”
The conversation continued like this: “Why then is the Rosh Yeshivah leaving?” “Tell me, where am I seated?” “At the rabbanim table, of course!” “Just as I thought,” Rav Yaakov replied. “I have a problem, you see. I’m sure the dinner fare meets high standards of kashrus. But you’re seating me with many esteemed chassidishe rabbanim, and they generally don’t eat at chasunos. For me to eat while they aren’t — it’s nit shein, not proper. And if I don’t eat, people will notice and say I, too, don’t eat at chasunos. That’s gneivas daas, it’s not emes — I just can’t do it.”
And one more, related by my uncle, Rav Eliezer Katzman: A talmid of Rav Moshe became a chassan, and at the l’chayim, he was chagrined to hear his future father-in-law offer the honor of siddur kiddushin to a prominent rav, thus denying the chassan the opportunity to honor his own rebbi. The next day, the chassan approached the Rosh Yeshivah apprehensively to inform him of the situation, but Rav Moshe assured him that all would be just fine and that he’d be glad to attend just to share in the simchah.
At the wedding, Rav Moshe stood nearby the chuppah to observe the proceedings, as was his custom. After the chassan and kallah made their way to the yichud room following the ceremony, a friend of the chassan noticed the Rosh Yeshivah approaching the room. His curiosity piqued, the friend lingered in the hall, only to observe the Rosh Yeshivah whispering something to the eidim stationed outside the room and then knocking on the door. The door opened and all three entered, emerging just minutes later.
The friend pressed the reticent chassan for over a year for the story behind the mysterious scene he’d witnessed, until the chassan reluctantly revealed what had transpired. At the chuppah, the Rosh Yeshivah realized what the mesader kiddushin had not: the chassan had recited the kiddushin formula as “harei aht mikudeshes,” but failed to add the crucial word “li.” To rectify the problem, while yet preserving the kavod of the mesader kiddushin, the Rosh Yeshivah had the chassan perform a second kiddushin in the yichud room. And so, as my uncle observed, the Rosh Yeshivah, who was concerned only with another rav’s honor but not at all with his own, indeed served as mesader kiddushin for his talmid after all.
What these and innumerable other stories of gedolei Torah illustrate is not just a rare combination of acute intelligence and foresight on the one hand and exquisite sensitivity and ethical traits on the other, but something even more unique: creative intelligence employed in the service of that ethical sensitivity.
And the existence of people like these in every generation reveals Judaism as that rarity — no, singularity — among the multiplicity of life philosophies that clever, creative man has devised: a tested, eminently usable system for success in the enterprise of human living.
Dr. Avraham Meyer is a globe-trotting field supervisor for OU Kashrus. Born into a Scottish Presbyterian family, he received a PhD in chemical engineering from MIT, where he also discovered Judaism, eventually becoming a Bostoner chassid. “[Conversion] seemed the logical thing to do at the time,” he says. “I used a simple engineering approach to choosing a religion. I’m an engineer.... I researched for the truth and a working system built upon it, and found one.”
“The truth and a working system built upon it.” That second element is crucial, because the world stage has seen so very many ingenious thought systems and dazzling religious credos come and go. But where they all falter is in their ability to produce, consistently and in significant quantity, specimens of angels on earth, of the best that human beings can be within their corporeal limitations. Of this, these others know not.
It can be quite disillusioning when Judaism appears not to spare its seemingly dedicated practitioners from the foibles of sin and smallness in which the rest of humanity partakes. But then, we encounter the adam gadol, literally a “towering human being,” walking among us, and in one clarifying instant, we realize that it is he, not those flawed, spiritually schizophrenic others, who truly lives Judaism to its fullest and thus best exemplifies the transformative effects on the human heart and mind of full-strength Judaism. He is, in a word, proof sprung to life that Judaism contains “the truth and a working system built upon it.”