Whats does Jewish law and thought say to a woman whose father never provided for her a husband? Even though I know that modern society tells her that she is to find her own husband?
I am now 44, and I have been led astray by lust, yearning for love and companionship. I had a child: now if I were to find a potential husband I couldn't offer him the opportunity to have a first born son. What should I do????
1. How can I find a better way after having been “led astray by lust, yearning for love and companionship”?
2. What can “Jewish law and thought” offer to improve my current life situation at age 44, in particular my desire to have a first born son with “a potential husband”?
Ethical writings in Judaism offer you a diversity of answers. In this brief response I give a sample from the classic of Musar, Jewish moral instruction, Mesillat Yesharim, “Path of the Upright”. Written by Rabbi Moshe Hayyim Luzzato (1707-1747), this book delineates nine stages towards living a religiously moral life. The highest level is “Holiness”, but let’s focus on the first three phases. The first step is “Zehirut” (carefulness), implying careful deliberation and continual critical introspection. The purpose is self-discipline, to discover how to avoid wrong thoughts and actions and to become cognizant of a truer and higher good. The second level is “Zerizut” (zeal) implying alacrity, transforming your life with eagerness, enthusiasm and ardor. The third stage is “Nekiyut” (cleanliness), actively cleansing yourself from wrong character traits and freeing yourself from harmful thoughts and deeds. With these three first levels we can begin the practice of Musar, ethical training. “Zehirut” begins with shining light in the darkness to avoid the stumbling blocks that prevent a virtuous and moral life.
Asking the right questions is the first part of the self-reflection required in Zehirut. So I ask that you permit me to rephrase your question. You asked: “If I were to find a potential husband I couldn't offer him the opportunity to have a first born son. What should I do?” I suggest phrasing a different question. “What is it that I am able to offer a potential husband?” An answer might be offspring, certainly it should mean companionship, and hopefully it will entail a true and lasting love. About giving birth to a first born son, this is an example of a desire that is not dependent solely on you although you can do your best to facilitate the possibility. You might be blessed to bear a first born son for your husband, but if not, you need not worry for there is so much more that you can offer.
In your question you imply that you have already engaged in self-reflection as you describe having have been “led astray by lust”. The next stage is to seek the truer and more meaningful love. I wish you much success on this Path of the Upright. Perhaps there is a Musar circle or group near you? Musar requires continuous reflection, zeal and moral self-determination. It is best done with others. And maybe, just maybe, you might even find your beshert in the Musar Circle.
Appendix: The Musar Movement which was popular in 19th century Eastern Europe, particularly among religious Lithuanian Jews, can be found today in many Orthodox circles. An aim of Musar is to ignite the spark of holiness by studying Jewish moral values and ethics and incorporating them in our daily lives. Classics of Musar literature include R. Bahya Ibn Pakudah's Duties of the Heart, R. Moshe Cordovero's Palm Tree of Deborah, and the writings of R. Yisrael Salanter. There are numerous books and websites on Jewish Ethical writings. For example, Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, The Good Society: Jewish Ethics in Action (New York, 1974). Rabbi Elyakim Krumbein, Musar for Moderns (Jersey City, NJ: Ktav and Alon Shevut: Yeshivat Har Etzion, 2005). The Musar Movement is even gaining an entrée in non-Orthodox circles. See for example, Geoffrey Claussen, “The American Jewish Revival of Musar”, The Hedgehog Review, Critical Reflections on Contemporary Culture, vol. 12, no. 2, summer 2010, http://iasc-culture.org/THR/THR_article_2010_Summer_Claussen.php. Compare the book of a Conservative Rabbi, Ira F. Stone, A Responsible Life: The Spiritual Path of Mussar (New York: Aviv, 2007).
Answer: First, let me reassure the questioner that Judaism is all about second chances. The Rabbis tell us that the penitent achieves spiritual heights that the life-long righteous have never attained. Whatever mistakes, or even sins, of relationship are part of the past record of your life, you are free to live differently today and tomorrow. Yearning for love and companionship is certainly understandable. After all, in Genesis chapter 2, after an entire creation story punctuated by the expression, “God saw that it was good”, the very first thing that is not good is loneliness: Lo tov heyote ha-adam levado” (Genesis 2: 18). If that yearning has been responsible for wrong choices in the past, you are free to make right choices in the future.
Let me emphasize, that you are free. A father’s past actions or inactions do not change that. Regarding the fact that your father did not provide a husband for you: over the many centuries of our people’s existence, we have had different kinds of arrangements for marriage. In the Bible, the prospective bridegroom would negotiate with the father of the bride-to be, as is recounted in the famous story of Jacob and Laban (Genesis 29:18).But even in Talmudic times, our societal customs were changing.The Talmud records that the ketubah (marriage contract) went through several stages of development, and by the end of the process, the groom presented it, as a kind of promissory note, directly to the bride, rather than giving a sum of dowry money to the father, as had been the case in Biblical times. In the Middle Ages, both status and ceremony continued to change.The practice of “Shiddukhin” developed, as a parallel to, first, Roman legal usage, and later, to the medieval Christian practice of engagement (Z.W. Falk, Jewish Matrimonial Law in the Middle Ages, p. 88).In modern times, in most Jewish circles, as well as in western society in general, it has become the norm, rather than the exception, for adults to make their own decisions as to a marriage partner, rather than expecting their fathers (or their parents, generally) to select mates for them. It is possible that you have grown up in a Jewish sub-culture where arranged marriages are still common, but the essence of adulthood is taking responsibility for one’s own life. At 44, a woman can lament what her father failed to do for her, but it is important not to be trapped in a sense of helplessness.
There is even a biblical allusion to the fact that over time, women are correct to take greater initiative in arranging for their own marriages.In Jeremiah 31:22, we hear the prophet’s assurance that G-d’s creation is not limited to one historic social order, in which the male courts the female; part of the interaction of the Divine with history is that women are empowered to court, actively.
With respect to the final part of your question, that, being a mother, you would not be able to present a future husband with a first born-son, let me reassure you that perfection is not always attainable, but that should not deter us from doing such good as we can accomplish, and from enjoying such blessings as we may legitimately seek. There are many wonderful options for us, even in this imperfect world. If you were to find a man who wanted to build a future with you, the many positives of that scenario far outweigh the fact that a first-born child to the two of you would not classify as the peter rechem to which your question alludes.Our history is replete with examples of people who married after one or both had previously brought children into the world, and each marriage affords a precious opportunity for righteous and spiritually noble living.So, you should not be deterred from pursuing possible good relationships because of the fact that you have already brought a child into the world.
Finally, let me address the emotions that seem to be behind the questions, with their multiple question marks. The pain of regret and the sense of despair at contemplating a life of constricted options is certainly a hard burden to carry.You may find relief in the course of obtaining counseling from a reputable psychological professional.Theologically, let me leave you with the following text from our Psalms:
Min ha-metzar kara’ti ya-h.
'Anani b’merchav ya-h (Psalms 117:5)
Which is commonly translated, “In distress I called on the LORD; the LORD answered me and brought me relief”, but which we may also render, “From a place of constriction I called upon G-d, Who answered me [and showed me] broad vistas.”Do not despair of the hope that your life, now seemingly impoverished in options, will yet reveal meaningful pathways.
I can feel a whole range of desires in your note, and the strongest one I perceive is the need to belong and to be accepted in your present state.
Judaism reminds us to pay heed to and care for the oppressed, because we all were oppressed in the land of Egypt. And it occurs to me that you are, indeed, oppressed by the many harsh feelings and events that have occurred to you. It is therefore incumbent upon us all to attend to your needs and try to offer you what we can.
Judaism should say to you “Be comforted in the fact that we understand that life did not proceed for you in the way it might for others.” Yet know, also, that retaining feelings of resentment toward parents will hamper your life more than is healthy. So to begin with, I hope you have a caring and warm therapeutic guide to help you through some of those feelings. It could also be a listening ear of a Rabbi who is ready to help.
There may or may not be a match for each of us in the world. There are many who, as you have, not found that one besherter* to be a part of their lives, and they therefore live their lives as single people. Yet they find ways to fulfill their desires to be part of the human family, even without one singular life partner. Your child would not fill that vacancy, of course, but if this child is dependent upon you for sustenance and assistance as s/he grows into her/his own, pay heed to her/his needs, and provide what you can. Yours is this responsibility to raise this life and make of it what you can. Don’t let any of those precious moments of parenting slip away.
And I add this final word with all due respect to our tradition: The majority of Jewish men are not craving to have their wives bear a first-born son. It seems that you believe that, but it is not the case. In any event, someone may just as easily have a first-born who is a daughter – there is a 50% chance of that happening – so the odds are not in anyone’s particular favor. If you run across such a man, he has unrealistic expectations about what the world is about and obviously not worth your time.
Most single men searching for a besherter* are interested in the same things you are: partnership, love, affection, companionship, and a true desire to give and receive love with another. Hold out for THAT besherter.*
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