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Wednesday, February 01, 2023
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In last month’s article, we observed the convergence of Torah precepts and psychological theories regarding the critical role “self-love” plays as a prerequisite for healthy psychic development and successful interpersonal relationships. We discussed the idea that from infancy through early childhood, the child experiences an age-appropriate form of “narcissism” as a fi rst step in developing a healthy sense of self-love. Moreover, from a Torah perspective, self-love is seen as a
prerequisite to “loving others.” In Parshat Sh’lach, we came face to face with one of the most egregious and mysterious sins of our nation. The “Nisi’im,” chosen because of their worthiness, returned with a negative report on the Promised Land, a transgression that resulted in an additional 38 years added on to the nation’s journey in the Midbar. Past and present Torah scholars raise questions regarding the rapidity with which these Princes, the creme de la creme, lost their faith. Yet, a simple but powerful insight I recently heard at a wedding inspired me to connect some of the dots in this segment of the Parsha, with current research on one of my favorite topics, marital relationships.

Despite the positive side of self-love, it can also go awry, and cross the line into “egotism.” This can lead to a grandiose level of faith in oneself, at the expense of a diminishing faith in God and others. In past articles we have discussed the importance of hakarat hatov, appreciation, as an antidote to grandiosity and lapses in faith. In order to integrate these essential elements of marriage, partners are encouraged to prompt meaningful conversations by asking “broad questions,” rather than mundane ones. This level of conversation helps each partner familiarize himself or herself with the worries, stresses, hopes and dreams of the other, even those that may appear trivial in nature. Taking this simple step of shifting from the mundane to broad, meaningful questions goes a long way in increasing intimacy in the relationship. The second essential element, “sharing fondness and admiration,” is another important step in developing an optimal level of love, respect and appreciation for one another.

Indeed, the commentators continue to wonder about the factors that account for this lack of faith, a crime so severe that the harsh decree of adding 38 years to the nation’s stay in the desert was deemed the appropriate “measure for measure punishment,”fitting for this terrible sin. Yet, if we consider the nature of their role, as assistants, to the Moshe Rabainu, fi rst in command to Hashem, we can begin to get a handle on their vulnerability. The Nisi’im were chosen due to their worthiness, their perceived strength in the ability to address the minor questions of law, as well as directing and counseling the people on relatively minor matters; this was deemed necessary in order to lessen the heavy load Moshe Rabainu had to bear. It is entirely possible that in the course of taking on this prestigious role, the Nisi’im became “full of themselves,” placing greater focus on how they saw things, and forgetting the appreciation they owed Hashem.

Moreover, as their confidence grew, they also may have forgotten to consider the perspective of others, assuming the posture of “I know best,” and even failing to rely on Hashem. This “disconnect” could have also left them ripe for losing faith in Hashem’s ability to help them in the daunting mission of entering, conquering and settling the land. After all, they were accustomed to go it alone. It was all about them! They were scared and their need to bail out trumped all else, even blurring the memories of all of the miracles that occurred in the recent past. Had they only taken the time to really get to know and thank Hashem each day, adding to the list as each miraculous event occurred, they would have avoided this breach in faith, and the disconnect with God.

These essential ingredients in successful marriages are reflected in the tefilos, first recited by our patriarchs and extended into the form we now recite. Indeed, from the moment we get up in the morning, until we prepare for sleep, we are gifted with multiple opportunities to express our appreciation to God; we are also encouraged to do so, spontaneously, at every opportunity. Yet, can we truly say our prayers of praise and gratitude are sincere, or are they rote statements we fl y through, as we rush though the day? Most importantly do we reserve our praise to Hashem for the times when things go our way, and then forget them or blame God when we find ourselves challenged?

A few weeks ago, I attended a wedding, and heard a simple but powerful message that resonated so strongly with my own sentiments on how our relationship with God is intended as a metaphor for the relationship between spouses. In his advice to the couple, the Rabbi focused on a question that has puzzled Torah scholars over the centuries. Indeed, the commentators continue to wonder about the factors that account for the lack of faith that led to the negative report given by the “Nisi’im;” a decision that added an additional 38 years to the nation’s sojourn in the desert. Yet, if we consider the nature of their role, as assistants, to the Moshe Rabainu, first in command to Hashem, with Aharon as 2nd, we can begin to get a handle on their vulnerability. The Nisi’im were chosen due their perceived worthiness and strength in the ability to address the minor questions of law, as well as directing and counseling the people in other matters; this was deemed
necessary, in order to lessen the heavy load Moshe Rabainu had to bear. Still, it is entirely possible, that in the course of taking on this prestigious role, the Nisi’im became “full of themselves,” placing greater focus on how they saw things, and forgetting the appreciation they owed Hashem. Moreover, as their confi dence grew, they also may have forgotten to consider the perspective of others, assuming the posture of “I know best.” This “disconnect,” could have also left them ripe for losing faith in Hashem’s ability to help them in the daunting mission of entering, conquering and settling the land. It was all about them! They were scared and their need to bail out, trumped all else; even blurring the memories of all of the miracles that occurred in the recent past. Had they only taken the time to really get to know and thank Hashem each day, adding to the list as each miraculous event occurred, they would have avoided this breach in faith, and their disconnect
with God.

Interestingly, this tie-in with the importance of appreciation and trust is consistent with current research on the obstacles to and facilitators of successful marital relationships. According to Imago Therapy and the Gottman Method, “Knowing one’s partner’s internal world,” and “sharing fondness and admiration,” are among the four most critical factors in fostering successful marriages and preventing divorce. Both Imago Therapy and the Gottman Method offer a host of strategies in fostering these essential elements, which will be covered in part 3 of this series. The Rambam in Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah (2:2), as cited by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg in a shiur on “Bringing Shalom Bayit Into the Home,” offers similar sentiments
in responding to questions about the path to attain love of God. When a person contemplates His wondrous deeds and appreciates His divine wisdom…. he will immediately love and praise God, yearning with tremendous desire to know Him. Indeed, appreciation determines the nature of our relationship with God, which is a paradigm for our relationship with mankind. From all perspectives, it is vitally important to express appreciation as often as possible each day.

At the conclusion of his speech the Rabbi advised the couple to take that step of getting to learn as much as possible about, and to appreciate, respect and empathize with the needs, wants and views of the other; he assured them that even if they don’t always agree, just taking these initial steps of appreciation and validation will make it far easier to compromise. He also assures them that taking the steps to avoid the pitfalls of the “Princes” will earn them the merit of being elevated to the status of “King” and “Queen” in the eyes of the other. Look forward to additional insights and strategies on this topic.


Renee Nussbaum is a practicing psychoanalyst, with special training in Imago Relational Therapy. She can be reached at [email protected]

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