The Ten Plagues and the Four Horsemen-This Passover, Bring New Meaning to Your Marriage

Image

We have now entered the month of Nissan and the festival of Pesach (Passover) is quickly approaching.  Jewish homes across the globe are now undergoing a full spring cleaning, purging all signs of leaven in preparation for our upcoming festival.  In just a few weeks we will sit around our dining room tables and read the Haggadah, the story of Exodus, when the Jewish people miraculously left Egypt and wandered in the desert for forty years before reaching Israel, our homeland.  One of the biggest miracles in the Haggadah is the kriyas yam suf- the splitting of the sea of reeds (performed by Moshe with his wooden staff).  Ironically, the Gemara Sanhedrin references this event when speaking of the challenge of making a successful shidduch (love match).  The Gemara Sanhedrin states that the act of making a successful shidduch is as difficult as kriyas yam suf.  Being an informal shadchan, who tries to match singles on a weekly basis, I can definitely relate to this verse.

But what about the challenge that couples face of making their relationship work once they are already married?  Where do we find a discussion about that?    In the past week, I have been informed of three friends from seminary getting divorced; all of them with two or three kids.  In fact, it seems divorce is rampant these days, affecting over fifty-percent of marriages in North America.  I just finished a course in my Master’s program in couples counseling where we learned about the many different reasons why couples get divorced, as well as the different therapies available to help couples from going too far down the wrong road before it is too late.  The sad part is, many therapists will tell you that so many of the couples that show up at their practice could have saved their marriages had they made the decision to go to therapy earlier, but by the time they got around to actually going, too much damage had been done, leaving them beyond a point of no return.

Relationship expert, John Gottman, is most famous for his ability to predict divorce in couples.  He can tell within the first five minutes of observing a married couple in conversation whether they will still be together in five years, with a 91% accuracy rate.  According to Gottman, anger is not one of the causes of divorce.  In fact, many couples who argue on a regular basis also report that they have a very satisfying and fulfilling marriage, based on honesty.

In the Haggadah, Moshe comes before Pharoah numerous times and begs him to let the Jewish people go.  Each time Pharoah refuses, G-d creates a tortuous plague which he inflicts up the Egyptians.  Blood, locusts, lice…….  Finally, after ten horrific plagues, Pharoah finally gives in and releases the Jewish people from slavery.  To some, a bad marriage can feel like a bad Egypt and eventually there are too many issues “plaguing” the marriage forcing one partner to escape.

Gottman states that divorce is caused by what he calls “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”  If a marriage is “plagued” by one the following four attributes, it is in great danger of one of its members heading towards “Exodus.”

CriticismComplaining about one’s spouse is normal however, it depends upon the nature of the complaint.  If the complaints become those of a very personal nature, attacking the person himself instead of the actions he does, turns into criticism.

Example of a complaint:  “Samuel, I really find it difficult to pick up your things which you leave lying around the house every day.  It is stressful for me taking care of the kids and running the household, perhaps you can help me out a little by being more aware of your belongings and putting them away.”

Example of criticism: “Samuel, every time you come home, you leave your stuff lying around in every room of the house.  You are such a messy, careless and immature person with terrible habits.  Why don’t you get some help for your problem?  If you really cared about me, you wouldn’t make my life so difficult.”

ContemptCriticism can lead to contemptuous comments directed at one’s partner. Some examples of contempt are when a person uses “sarcasm, name-calling, cynicism, sneering, mockery, eyerolling, and hostile humor.”  Contempt is the worst of the four horsemen because it communicates disgust to the person it is directed toward.  Contemptuous behavior makes it nearly impossible for a couple to solve a problem in their marriage because there is a message being sent that one partner is disgusted with the other.

Defensiveness- All of us are defensive at times because no one likes to be criticized.  However, typically, when one partner uses contempt, the other partner becomes defensive. Becoming defensive is a very common reaction to being treated with contempt or criticism. Many people become defensive when they are being criticized, but the problem is that it never helps solve the issue at hand. “Defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner. You’re saying, in effect, the problem isn’t me, it’s you.”  As a result, the problem is not resolved and the conflict escalates further.

Stonewalling- Stonewalling is a way for one member of a couple to avoid the feeling of being flooded that usually occurs when a conflict escalates. The stonewaller tends to ignore his partner and does not give any signs of responsiveness, which makes his spouse even angrier. This behavior tends to enter marriages later, once couples have had a significant period of negative interaction.  I think we have all experienced this with friends or family and it can be one of the most frustrating actions.  Right?

Now, I must clarify a few points because I don’t want any of you to get the wrong idea here.  First of all, some marriages do have one of more of the four horsemen of the apocalypse but are not on their way to divorce.  These are, however, major signs to be aware of if a marriage is troubled.  Secondly, not every marriage can or should be saved.  Although it is tragic that the divorce rate has jumped so high and that many marriages can be saved but aren’t, some marriages must end in divorce for the sake of the sanity and well-being of one or both members of the couple and/or their children.  Thirdly, if a marriage is troubled and, indeed plagued by one or more of the four horsemen, this does not mean that divorce is inevitable.  Any individual and any couple has the ability to make the effort to work on themselves in order to improve their relationship, with their spouse as well as with the rest of the world.  There are also many different kinds of therapy available out there specifically designed to help couples break these old and toxic habits and redirect themselves towards better and more effective methods of communication.  With some hard work and maybe a handful of professional help, marriages that feel like Egyptian slavery can become marriages that feel like liberating teamwork.

So, I have given you one Pesach analogy based on marriage and relationships, but there are so many other ways that each of us experience bondage in our everyday lives.  Please share with me some of yours and have you discovered your path toward Exodus?

Image

 

Advertisements

Happy Purim!

Image

Happy Purim Everyone!

This year, our theme is zebras.  I got these funky paper boxes with zebra print from the Dollar Store to match our costumes.  Then I filled them with Sweet and Salty Popcorn and mini Zucchini-Chocolate Chip Muffins.  What were YOUR themes this year?

Recipes Included Below.

Sweet and Salty Popcorn

Ingredients
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon coarse salt

In a large pot with a tight-fitting lid, heat the oil over medium-high heat. add the popcorn. When the oil sizzles, sprinkle the sugar over the kernels. Cover and shake the pan until the popping slows down, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and toss with the salt.

Zucchini-Chocolate Chip Muffins

Ingredients

3 cups flour

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking powder

3/4 tsp. baking soda

2 medium zucchini

3 eggs

1 cup oil

1 cup chocolate chips

Mix first 6 dry ingredients.  Peel and grate zucchini to measure 2 cups and add to flour mixture.  Blend eggs and oil.  Add to flour mixture.  Stir well until moistened.  Add chocolate chips to batter and pour into paper-lined muffin tins.  Bake at 350 for 25 minutes.

Enjoy!

Image

A Tu Bishvat Special

Image

 

This coming Shabbos coincides with the holiday of Tu B’Shvat, the “birthday” for all trees.  Traditionally, farmers who planted trees in Israel were commanded by the Torah not to use the fruit of the trees for the first three years of the trees’ lives.  On the fourth year of the trees’ lives the fruit was given to the Cohanim (priests) in the Bais Hamikdash (holy temple) and on the fifth year, it was finally theirs to benefit from. 

In medieval times, kabbalists (Jewish mystics) gave Tu Bishvat greater spiritual significance.  According to Lurianic Kabbalah (which is a form of mysticism studied by the students of Isaac Luria), all physical forms–including human beings–hide within them a spark of G-d. This is similar to some kinds of fruits or nuts, which hide within them seeds of new life and potential growth.  According to the Kabballah, human actions can release these sparks and help increase God’s presence in the world. On Tu Bishvat, the kabbalists would eat certain fruits associated with the land of Israel as a symbolic way of releasing these divine sparks.

As many of you already know, I have twin girls who are now nine months old.  In fact, as I write this blog post, my Nechama is trying to climb on my lap and bang on the keyboard of the laptop.  When I was pregnant with my twins, I felt a very distinct difference in energy and personality between the two of them in utero.  One, (Nechama) was very active and always up for a party, constantly kicking me and reacting to music and loud voices.  The other, (Zissie), I could tell was a very gentle soul.  We did not know if they were boys or girls and we didn’t have names picked out.  I read lots of books about twins and parenting; how to sleep-train, get them on a schedule, feeding, healthy foods etc.  When the day finally arrived and I got to “meet” them, these little seeds that had been growing inside me for nine months arrived into this world as two new lives; two developed souls with endless potential.  And all of a sudden, everything became very clear to me who was who and who they were.

I think every expectant mother has ideas about how she wants things to be, how she wants things to turn out.  And I think every new mother is, in some way, hit in the face with reality when her kids do arrive, and she realizes, that they are who they are and they will be who they will be. 

But one important lesson I learned when I was pregnant was from my own mother.  I have one sister who is three years younger than me and we have VERY different personalities.  I have always been an emotionally wired person, overly-sensitive and a people pleaser. (Those of you who know me may not think of me this way but this is my internal nature). My sister, on the other hand, is her own person; super-independent and an adventurous free-spirit.  My mother explained to me that when we were growing up she always felt it was her duty to encourage me to be more independent, braver and less sensitive and to encourage my sister to be a little less unruly.  But in the end, we turned out exactly how we always were; just in adult versions.  Her point was that it is important to raise your kids with the right values, good manners and good middos (character traits.)  However, instead of fighting against their innate natures as people, encouraging them to become less of this or more of that, work with them to help them actualize their full potentials; growing into the fully-developed beautiful trees which they were meant to be.

My girls are fraternal twins; born on the same day to the same mother, two minutes apart.  Yet, they look nothing alike and have completely different personalities from each other.  They are nine-month-old versions of those little seeds they were in the womb.  Nechama is a super-active party girl, crawling and “cruising” the furniture, getting into anything and everything, and Zissie is a sweet, gentle, independent little soul who loves to practice “talking” and adores her time alone in her crib with her dolly.  Marc and I LOVE that our daughters are so different and we wouldn’t want them any other way.

This principle is not just about babies though.  All of us are born with good, raw materials that G-d gave us.  We can work with them to actualize our full potentials or we can fight them to try and become people who we’re not.  I recently gave a class for young single women called “Working on Me before Seaching for We.”  One of the key concepts we discussed in this class is the importance of working on yourself to become the best YOU, not the best person who you think other people are going to want.  If you end up in a relationship, acting as someone who you think someone else wants but not who you truly are, your true positive qualities won’t shine through and you won’t be able to fulfill your true potential of who you were meant to be!

This coming Shabbos and Tu Bishvat, while we appreciate the day for what it is, the “birthday” of all trees where we enjoy the fulfilled potential of their seeds by eating all different types of fruit, take a minute to think about the deeper meaning of what this day means to you.  Embrace who you are and who you are meant to be; remember the tiny seed which you came from and celebrate the potential that G-d has given you as a unique and special individual.

“Tu Bishvat higia, chag hailanot.” –Tu Bishvat has come, festival of the trees.

Shabbat Shalom l’kulam- A good Shabbos to everyone.

Image

Noshing Nepali Style!

Image

We have a nanny.  Her name is Urmila and she is from Nepal.  She speaks fluent Hebrew and knows how to keep a kosher kitchen (she lived in Israel for four years.)  Our girls love her!  She’s also a FANTASTIC cook.  So here are her recipes.

If you are lucky enough to join us for a Shabbos meal, you will probably have the privilege of sampling her cooking.  ‘Cause this is pretty much what we eat for Shabbos these days:)

Indian Gravy Chicken

Ingredients:
10 chicken legs on the bone with skin
3 large onions diced
1 head garlic diced
2 Tbs. tomato paste
2 large tomatoes, chopped
2 Tbs. chopped ginger
1 Tbs. cumin
½ tsp. curry powder
1 tsp paprika
½ cup cilantro, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
4 Tbs. (approx) canola oil
1. Heat oil in a large wok
2. Brown the onion. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté for 5 minutes.
3. Add the chicken and brown.
4. Add the cumin, curry powder, paprika and tomato paste.
5. Add the tomatoes and cilantro
6. Cover the wok and cook for 30 minutes, frequently checking and stirring.
Serve with yellow rice.

Image

 

Yellow Turmeric Rice with Peas
Ingredients:
2 cups white basmati rice
4 cups boiling water
2 Tbs. canola oil
½ cup frozen peas
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp. salt (can add more according to preference)
1. Soak rice in cold water for 10 minutes.
2. In a shallow saucepan, heat oil and add the rice and peas. Cook for 5 minutes.
3. Add turmeric and salt.
4. Add the water and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes.
5. Stir the rice with a fork, turn the heat down to low, cover the rice and cook for 8 minutes.
6. Transfer to a foil pan or serving dish.

 Image

 

Cauliflower Sabgi
Ingredients:
1 head cauliflower
2 medium potatoes
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, diced
1 stalk ginger, diced
1 medium tomato, chopped very small
2 Tbs. canola oil
2 tsp. fresh cilantro, chopped
½ tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. dried coriander
1 tsp. cumin
1. Heat oil in a shallow saucepan and brown the onion. Add the potatoes and cook for 5 minutes.
2. Add the cauliflower, garlic, ginger and all the spices excluding the fresh cilantro. Stir, cover and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes.
3. Add the tomato, cover and cook for 5 minutes.
4. Uncover, stir and add fresh coriander. Cover for 2 minutes and serve.

Image

 

Potato Pikoras (Nepali Potato Latkes)
Ingredients:
10 Yukon Gold potatoes
4 large onions
1 bunch cilantro
2 large eggs
2 cups bread crumbs
salt and pepper to taste
Canola oil- enough for frying
1. Peel and grate potatoes. Let them sit for five minutes and squeeze the water out.
2. Grate and add the onions.
3. Beat the eggs and add to the mixture. Mix in bread crumbs and season with salt and pepper.
4. Heat oil in a frying pan and fry mixture into crispy pancakes.

Image

And here’s a picture of me wearing her sari.  Just for kicks:)