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The Journey of Life

Vayakhel-Pekudei (Exodus 35-40 )

by Rabbi Stephen Baars

"Journeys" is the last word of this week's Parsha, which being the last Parsha, makes it the last word in the entire book of Exodus. What does this mean?

I have been involved in marriage counseling for many years now, and despite what you may have seen in the day time soaps, very few couples are unhappily married.

You might say, "How can that be?"

Every couple who comes to see me for counseling has a home, eats three meals a day and has healthy children. They have many of the benefits of living at the epitome of human civilization. At no other time since the Garden of Eden has such a high percentage of the world's population enjoyed so many of the good things of life.

Can anyone possibly be unhappy while sipping on a Starbucks special grande latte living in the lap of luxury?

Actually yes, but those are the people with serious problems. Most married people who complain about their marriage, even though they claim to be unhappy are misdiagnosing themselves. They are not unhappy at all. They are really disappointed.

Jane is married to Burt. Burt beats Jane regularly. He also has no job and is drunk constantly. Jane has two jobs on top of looking after the kids and keeping the house in order. I could give you more details but I think you have the picture.

Jane eventually leaves Burt and marries someone just like your husband, his name is Mike.

Jane is in bliss. And even though Mike has all your husband's "issues" and maybe some extras, he doesn't communicate, he doesn't seem to care about Jane, he doesn't make joint decisions. Plus he snores loudly, leaves his socks on the floor, and doesn't shave regularly. None of which phases Jane - she isn't disappointed because she was expecting worse (Burt).

"Expectations can enable or destroy a relationship."

I have a friend who volunteered for the army. He wanted to join the paratroopers but they put him in with the foot soldiers - he was disappointed and complained. He wanted to be pushed out of an airplane. As long as you get what you expect, you can be happy, even though what you expect is difficult. If I don't get my peanuts during a flight I get all tifffy, let alone being pushed out at 10,000 feet, because it's not what I expected.

That doesn't mean you need to live with what you expected. For example, a healthy parent expects their new born child to NOT be potty trained. And he/she expects to deal with all the accompanying gory details. They are not upset, because they expected it. Yet even though it meets their expectations, they don't accept it as the status quo and they work at toilet training.

The reason you can tolerate so much abuse from your children, most of which is natural - such as when they burp on your new dress or scratch your new flat screen TV - is because you expected it. The reason we have a hard time living with just 10% of what our children dish out, when it is coming from our spouse, is because we are not expecting it.

You can live and be happy with anything in life, as long as it's what you were expecting.

* * *


The story is told of the Chafetz Chaim, one of the greatest sages of the 20th century. The Chafetz Chaim lived in an extremely modest house in a Polish village, with sparse and simple furnishings.

A reporter came to interview the eminent Rabbi. After conversing together for some time, the reporter posed the question he'd been waiting to ask: "For such a great and important Rabbi as yourself, where's all your fancy furniture?"

"Let me ask you a question," the Chafetz Chaim replied. "For such an important reporter as yourself, where's all your furniture?"

"Well," the reporter said confusedly, "I'm only travelling through."

"I too, am only travelling through," the Chafetz Chaim replied.

The Rabbi was trying to illustrate that we are all just travelling through. We have yet to arrive at our permanent destination. This world is extremely temporary.

You wouldn't take a crystal chandelier on a camping trip. Life is ultimately a journey. And your chandelier is not going with you.

Rabbi Warren Goldstein (the chief Rabbi of South Africa) tells the story of a very wealthy man who dies and left two wills, one to be opened on his death and one to be opened thirty days after the funeral.

In the first will he commands his family only one thing, to be buried with his socks on. Of all the things to ask or to put in a will, this was most out of character. Nevertheless, the family felt obligated to fulfill his wish and they asked the Jewish burial society to leave him with his socks on.

Unfortunately, they were met with tremendous resistance. Being against Jewish law, which requires the deceased to be buried simply, without any fineries or clothes, the funeral center would not acquiesce. And no matter who or high up in the community they spoke to, their request was repeatedly denied.

The funeral happened and the thirty days was up and there was tremendous trepidation at the opening of the second will knowing they did not fulfill the first and only request. What would happen? Would they be written out of any inheritance?

None of their fears could have prepared them for what they heard that day. The will read something like this:

"By now you have realized that it was not possible to bury me with my socks on. Therefore, I now bequeath to you all my substantial worldly fortune. Take this as a lesson though, you can't even take your socks with you let alone your wealth. Make sure you use this money wisely because the money will stay here but what you do with it will accompany you on to the next world."

Life is a journey, so make it a pleasant one for you and all the people you are traveling with. Because, even though the train will one day stop, you will continue on with your fellow travelers.

The problem people have with marriage is not that they are unhappy, it's that they are disappointed. They thought marriage was a destination as in: "And they lived happily ever after."

"Journeys" is the last word and it describes so much of life. Here in the parsha it's used to describe all that happened to the Jewish people over the 40 years in the desert (Exodus 40:38). For even though most of the 40 years the Jewish people were actually stationary, nevertheless the Torah tells they experienced it as a journey.

When you are just travelling through it's easy to not get caught up in the petty nonsense of daily life.

Marriage is not a destination, it's a journey. It won't make you feel comfortable, journeys never do. But with all great journeys, they eventually come to an end. Whatever issues you are having, they are not the end, just a pebble on the journey. Those little small things that couples often squabble about won't bother you once you realize that one day, at the end of your journey, you will reminisce about your many long happily married years together, and today is just part of the journey to then.

* * *


Question 1: What one small thing can you do every day for your spouse, that in twenty years you will be glad you did?

Question 2: How has married life made your spouse a better person?

Question 3: How has married life made you a better person?

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