Love and Law: A Recipe for Success by Lauren Shaps


Hi Chevra, 

Two weeks ago, surrounded by family and friends, my husband and I shared the magnificent blessing of walking our youngest daughter, Chana, down the aisle to the chupah (marriage canopy). There, her chattan (groom), Moshe, pronounced these words that have been said by generations: “Harei at mekushet li (Behold, you are betrothed – consecrated – to me) b’tabat zu (with this ring) k’dat Moshe v’Yisroel (according to the law of Moshe and the Jewish people).”

It struck me as puzzling that this peak experience, which we associate with love and optimism, is articulated by something so completely unromantic as the law of Moses and Israel. It seems so strange at this special moment, filled with enormous potential, to be focusing on something that feels so constraining, namely law and limits.

After the groom places the ring on the finger of the bride, the ketuba (marriage contract), which lists the husband’s obligations and responsibilities to his wife, is read, and seven blessings are recited. The second blessing states, “Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the Universe, Who has created everything for His Glory,” a reminder that we, too, are creations, indebted to the Almighty for our existence.

The ceremony brings these two unique individuals together in love and marriage, but the focus is not on them and their relationship alone. Family, friends and community are invited to share in this celebration. The structure of the wedding ceremony reminds the couple to keep the recognition of our Creator central to their relationship, and to live their lives according to the laws and responsibilities as outlined in the Torah.

Law, justice, judgment. These seem to be a theme, as this week’s parsha, Parashat Shoftim (Judges), elaborates on the importance of law in the establishment of a just society.

“Judges and officers shall you appoint in all your cities, which Hashem, your G-d, gives you, for your tribes; and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not pervert judgment, you shall not respect someone’s presence, and you shall not accept a bribe, for the bribe will blind the eyes of the wise and make just words crooked. Justice, justice shall you pursue, so that you will live and possess the land that Hashem, your G-d, gives you” (Devarim, Deuteronomy 16:18-20).

Similarly, law or judgment is our communal focus at this time of year, when the Jewish calendar has turned to the month of Elul, anticipating the Day of Judgment, Rosh Hashanah, and the Day of Forgiveness, Yom Kippur. Over and over, and in so many ways, Judaism is a lesson in love and limits. Inappropriate expression of love leads us to infantilize our children, stifle their growth, inhibit their capacity to develop confidence, face challenge and build resiliency. Too many limits,  and we stunt their growth, crush their creativity and leave them feeling forever that they are not good enough. How do we achieve the proper balance of love and limits for both ourselves and our children?

The Alter of Kelm (Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv Broida, 1824-1898, Russia) taught that the judges and officers this parsha refers to can also be understood as a metaphor for chochmah, which is the wisdom to figure out the correct thoughts and actions, and mussar, which is the ability to translate that knowledge into action (from “Outlooks and Insights” Rabbi Zev Leff, Jerusalem). How do we develop chochmah and mussar? Through the study of Torah, which guides us on the proper path through the winding, and often confusing, roads of life.

As our daughter, Chana, and our new son-in-law, Moshe, take their first steps toward true adulthood, my husband and I hope and pray that we have provided a healthy foundation upon which they will build their lives. Love and compassion are essential for a marriage to last a lifetime. But, love is not enough. The couple will also need to incorporate Jewish law, with the structure that it provides, to ensure positive values and healthy boundaries. They will need the tools of chochmah and mussar to know when and in what measure they should lean toward love, and when and in what measure to lean toward limits.

It is our hope and prayer that the values expressed in the wedding ceremony – the inclusion of family, friends and community; the recognition of the presence of the Almighty; the focus on laws and limits – will guide and direct their choices in what will, please G-d, be long and wonderful lives together.

Shabbat Shalom,

Lauren Shaps


Lauren is a JWRP City Leader and a full-time adult Jewish educator. She works closely with her husband, Rabbi Zischa Shaps, and they are blessed with five children.

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