Friday, June 5, 2015

Speech to my brother and his bride at their wedding, Intra-faith diversity shining together Bahalotecha


My brother Sam got married last Sunday. I was privileged to be the officiating Rabbi. Sam has chosen an alternative path to the Hasidic and orthodox one followed by our parents and his siblings. Sam’s wedding was a blend of orthodox tradition, light even irreverent humour, Hasidic and more contemporary music and dances, gender-segregated and mixed seating tables. Here is an edited version of my speech to my brother.

Sometime in the 1970s before Dora or Sam were born, an angel thought about these two wonderful souls and paired them, Dora for Sam and Sam for Dora (1). Clever little angel, that one, I think.  I am sure anyone who has had the joy of seeing both of you together would agree. 

Today you stand here, as two half souls separated before birth only to be reunited today.

Here is some inspiration from the Torah reading this week. A candelabra with 7 branches representing diversity spread out in many different directions, but the light all shines in one direction toward the holy ark(2) that contained the tablets with the ten commandments and was covered by two cherubs looking lovingly at each other. Dora and Sam, you are very different people in perhaps somewhat superficial ways. Dora was raised in a home with a lot of music and song. I was delighted to meet your parents and to learn that caring is evident in both your parents working lives. Your dad showed caring for his staff’s happiness and wellbeing at work and your mom for her little clients’ motivation and development. Good, grounded people who have given you a firm foundation for the caring, warm, loving, sensible person that you are. I could say a lot about you Dora, but perhaps my little niece S. articulated it better than I can with her tight hug when she saw you on Thursday.

Sam was raised in the Kastel household, a world away. Yet, you can scratch beneath the surface, look beyond the long black coat and the particular Niggun-combinations our father would sing at the Shabbat table. What we got was a compelling sense of right and wrong from our mother that continues to resonate in your life as an individual, a comforter of the dying and Rabbi of your conservative Staten Island congregation. Like your father, every day of your life is dedicated to service.

Together, both of you, as your parents before you are essentially glowing with similar compassionate loving light. And yet, neither of you are your parents and as much as they are all worthy of admiration, that is still a good thing. You are also not each other. Challenging and supporting each other because you are different.

When the first man and first woman were created, our sages tell us they were created back to back (3). Eve was not Adam’s rib, but one side of this double human. Only as two separate people could they look into each other’s eyes, see each other’s faces and as the primary Kabbalistic text, Zohar puts it, “to receive light in light, face in face” (4).       

There is another aspect in this as well.  In the Torah it states that Eve would be an Ezer Knegdo, a Help Opposite. According to Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, this means that you will need to allow each other to occasionally stand opposite, to feel opposite, to think opposite. A life’s partner must be able to say no if that is necessary—the ‘kenegdo’ part—moreover, the lips may be moving one way, but the heart may be saying no silently until the heart breaks from the weight of the "nos." The couple must be able to correct each other, complement each other.  You are good at this. This is a great strength.

I wish you abundance of happiness together, everything you need and a lot of what you want. I love both of you as do so many of the people privileged to know you. Keep being you, imperfect, but beautiful in your distinct ways. It is wonderful to see you fulfilling your destiny. Mazal Tov!


This blog post is dedicated to another young man with the same Hebrew name as my brother, Shmuel Ben Rina, who died this week and to his loving partner C, and their two young children. He was planning his wedding too. May the memories of his distinct light and spirit bring some comfort to his Mother, father, partner and children.

Notes:
(1)    The Talmud Sota 2a states: "...forty days before the creation of a child, a heavenly voice calls forth and proclaims; 'So and so's daughter for so and so's son bride and groom'...."(2)    Ralbag(3)    Rashi: quoting Midrash. The word usually translated as a rib צלע, can also be translated a “a side”, as in God made of Eve out of one of Adam’s sides.(4)    Zohar part 3, 44b

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