The Joyless Relationship

Oblivious to her surroundings (a crowded boarding area in the Philly airport), the woman seated across from me loudly informed her husband in clear and unmistakable terms exactly what she expected from him. “Your job is to make me happy.” “Your only job,” she continued, adding a little oomph for emphasis, “is to make me happy. It is not my job to make you happy.”

Judging by the blank look on the husband’s non-reactive face and his utter lack of acknowledgement that she was even speaking to him, I gathered this was not a newsflash. By the looks of their worn-out elderly faces, I imagined that he had heard this directive hundreds of times, probably for decades.

The Guilt-Ridden Relationship

With the hundreds of commandments given to us in the Torah that seemingly regulate our every move in order to serve G‑d, one could conclude that G‑d’s essential message to the Jewish people could sound like the wife in the airport. “Listen up, people. Your job is to make Me happy. Your only job is to make Me happy. It is not My job to make you happy.” One could kinda get that feeling, right? It’s not that much of a stretch. But it would be wrong.

Previously in the storyline, we sinned with the Golden Calf (not good). But then we were forgiven, and we faithfully built the Tabernacle (good), which became the vehicle for the Divine Presence of G‑d to connect with the Jewish people (really good). But now, in this week’s Torah portion, Tzav, G‑d is instructing Moses about the sacrificial offerings that the Jewish people will have to bring to atone for their sins—their future sins. The ones they haven’t committed ... yet.

What’s With the Eternal Rub?

Wait a minute. This seems rather disaffirming, doesn’t it? Imagine getting married and before you even check into your hotel on your honeymoon, you have to sit down for a lecture on conflict resolution, fair fighting and how to appease your spouse?

Things were just getting back on track with G‑d. Couldn’t we, as the Jewish people, just relax and enjoy our honeymoon a little while before being told about how we should atone for our sins—our future sins, that is? Does G‑d really have to rub in the fact that making mistakes is inevitable? Did G‑d really have to ruin the moment of reunification with this “buzzkill?”

Some Simple Truths

You and every other person on the planet make mistakes, and you will continue to make mistakes until you are either dead or you lack capacity. Making mistakes is simply wired into the very mechanism of creation.

So here’s another simple truth. You “make” mistakes; however, you yourself are not the mistake. And that’s what Tzav is all about—where G‑d is laying out the process of growth and teaching us about the “right of repair.” Marriage expert John Gottman often talks about how a key factor in protecting marriages against divorce is for couples to learn the art of the repair attempt because it stops negativity from escalating, and it corrects a couple from heading off-course.

The Joyful Relationship

So, too, the laws of the sacrifices gave us a way to process mistakes, and to correct and rectify ourselves so that we could repair and restore our connection with G‑d. We needed to know that from the onset or else we could get lost in self-condemnation, blame and shame. Otherwise, we could hyper-focus on our mistakes and think we are beyond repair, which leads to disconnection. Or we could focus our anger outwards and get caught in a downward negativity spiral.

And that kind of truth, that amazing gift, can’t wait to be told. G‑d was telling us something about fundamental human nature and relationships. We needed to understand that we are not perfect, and that we will certainly make mistakes, but the relationship will endure nevertheless. We need to be able to take risks, to be vulnerable and to be authentic; otherwise, we can become paralyzed by the constraints of perfectionism, which is a life-crippling syndrome.

The Eternal Relationship

In this week’s Torah portion, G‑d also instructs us to keep lit an eternal flame. Providing the means to process and metabolize and move through our errors is the vehicle for growth, and it frees us to maintain our connection with that which is eternal—our connection to G‑d and to our own inner flame.

What G‑d is really telling us, is that our job, our only job, is to connect with G‑d, and in so doing, we will be connected with our truest, deepest selves. Appreciating the critical difference between making a mistake and being a mistake, and utilizing the “right of repair” will help get you back on track with keeping lit the eternal flame of your soul and living your life’s true mission.

Internalize & Actualize:

  1. If you weren’t scared of failure and making mistakes, what risks would you take right now in your life?
  2. What do you fear will happen if you make mistakes, especially in your relationships? What are you most scared you will lose? When thinking more about it, is this based in any kind of reality? If so, is the relationship really solid to begin with?
  3. List a few mistakes that you have made that you felt there was no way of repairing. Now rethink them and recognize that making mistakes is human and unavoidable. Write yourself a message acknowledging that while you made a mistake, you are not a mistake and forgive yourself. How does that make you feel when you tell yourself that you are not your mistake?