Baruch Hashem. I thought you’d never open the door. I knew you were home, I saw through the window that the light was on, so I waited. You were in the bathroom? Did you say asher yatzar? The one I told you to say whenever you finish in the bathroom. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Just let me step in. The air conditioning feels so good. You wouldn’t believe how hot it is outside. I’ve nearly fainted five times this afternoon, going door to door. Do you remember the blessing? Go ahead: Baruch ata … asher yatzar et ha’adam behochma, blessed are you for creating man with wisdom, don’t be embarrassed, it’ll just takes few seconds.
Amen. I’ll make myself a cup of tea. I am parched. No, relax, I know where everything is, I’ve been coming here every week for, what, almost a year now? It’s almost like I grew up in this beautiful apartment you keep up so nicely. I admire you for that, not many women who live alone would keep a place so tidy and put so much thought into decor. I certainly don’t. It’s having a man in the house that provides the incentive. You need to make a home for him, a home that feels like home, a home he won’t want to leave.
Wait, while the water’s boiling, here, I have it here in my bag, just a second, I’ll sit down, my feet are done for. I have something special for you for the holiday, for Shavuot, the holiday of the giving of the Torah. That’s so kind of you, I didn’t mean for you to get up, three spoonfuls of sugar, you remember, right, and if you have some nana that would be heaven. Yes? It’s wonderful how even Ashkenazim put nana in their tea now. It wasn’t always like that. It just shows how we are all one people, Hashem’s special people.
Here it is. It’s a special booklet that Rabbanit Tamar put out, look, with laminated covers, isn’t it a beautiful design, of the Tikun Leil Shavuot from Sefer Kriyei Mo’ed. The Tikun for Shavuot. You don’t know what that is? Well, of course not. I started coming to visit you to tell you about our Holy Torah and Rav Ovadia’s teachings at the end of last summer, so we haven’t had a chance to talk about Shavuot yet. On Shavuot Hashem gave us the Torah, on Mt. Sinai, and it was like a wedding, like when with Hashem’s help you’ll find a man and marry him and he’ll give you a ring under the hupah, when Hashem gave us the Torah it was like he was marrying the people of Israel. And just like you and your husband, when you find your designated one, will celebrate your wedding anniversary every year, so we celebrate the anniversary of the giving of the Torah every year. You know, I still celebrate my wedding anniversary every year, even if I’m alone now. I bake a cake, and cook a special meal, and I invite ishi, my husband, and his wife and their children over. The children love me. They call me Aunt Orel.
It’s a custom that Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai began. We read these passages from the Torah, the Prophets, midrashim, and from the Holy Zohar. They are the four kinds of learning, pshat, remez, drash, sod, I’ll explain them all to you in a minute. You’re in a hurry? Well, let’s just finish our tea. So you’ll be a few minutes late, it’s not a problem, believe me. The men go to beit knesset and spend the whole night there reciting this and listening to lessons from their rabbis. And now, it’s a sign maybe that the messiah is coming, women have started gathering on Shavuot night and reading the tikun, the parts of it we are allowed to read. Not all night, of course, most of us have little ones to look after, or if we don’t we still need our sleep, don’t we? This is a shorter version just for women, and Rabbanit Tamar has printed it so we can do it. Here, I’ll give you a few, they’re my gift, and you can invite some of your friends over on the holiday night and recite it together. I already told you that Rabbanit Tamar’s husband had the merit of being a pupil of Maran, of our holy Rav Ovadia, may his righteous memory be blessed, so you can trust her, it’s only what women are allowed to read and only what we can manage given our more important duties.
Tikun? Here, you see, Rabbanit Tamar explains here on the first page what it means. It can mean to adorn, like you adorn the bride before her wedding. But it also means, I’m sure you’ve heard me use it this way, it means to repair, to mend, it means like when we do a mitzvah we raise the sparks of divine light that have fallen into the impure depths and return them to their vessels, that’s what the Arizal, may his righteous memory be blessed, taught, and when all the sparks of light are raised up the Messiah comes. It takes a long time.
With her? No, she has her own friends, my husband’s wife. It wouldn’t be appropriate. I have them over that one night a year, it’s enough. They need their privacy. It’s very nice that they come. She’s very considerate. He feels awkward, he’s never at ease. I think she’s the one who insists. I don’t interfere. It is their own intimate decision. I understand that. And I appreciate that she is willing, it certainly must not be easy for her, but if she decides next year or the one after that she doesn’t want to, that’s fine. I’ll understand. He is a gift I have given her and she can do with that gift whatever she wants.
You think it’s strange that I call him my husband? I’m sure you’ve noticed that I use the word ishi, my man, not ba’ali, which means my master, which is what the people of Israel will call Hashem when they stop sinning and the Messiah comes, according to the book of the Prophet Hosea. You know, Rabbanit Tamar will be teaching a class on him after Shavuot, you really should come, it is maybe my favorite book in the whole Tanach. She calls him ba’ali, he’s her master, I’m a free woman, after all we are officially divorced, but I have a right to call him my man. I don’t say that in front of her, of course. But it’s what I say to myself. I deserve it.
We knew it was Hashem’s judgment. We loved each other very much but it was very hard. We both so much wanted children
That’s the tikun that I did. It’s my little contribution to bringing the Messiah. Because we were married for eight years and children didn’t come, for my sins. Not that my sins are any greater than any other woman’s, but God judges each of us individually, according to the burden we can bear. We waited a year, two years. I went to pray at the tomb of our matriarch Rachel, I went to pray at Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai’s tomb at Meron, I went to Rabbi Nahman’s grave in Uman. Nothing helped. The third year we began seeing the doctors. We did all sorts of tests. Everything seemed to be fine, as far as the doctors could see. We tried this treatment and that one. When that didn’t work we did Chinese needles and reflexology and you name it. Nothing. We didn’t know if it was his problem or mine. We knew it was Hashem’s judgment. We loved each other very much but it was very hard. We both so much wanted children. And I don’t need to tell you that in our part of society, people talk. My friends, who went to school with me, my sisters, they all had four, even five children, and I had none.
I went to rabbis, all the greatest ones. Rabbi Cohen, Rabbi Mazuz, up to Maran Ovadia himself, may his holy memory be blessed. He was such a kind man, so understanding. He talked to people at eye level, that’s what I like to say, he a great and learned man, the greatest halachic authority of our age, and he talked to me, a simple woman, over a cup of tea with nana, just like you and me are doing right now. Yes, my husband came with me, he spoke to us together, but then, a few months later, I went back myself. I told my husband I had to. It was just before Shavuot. I thought there might be a special merit in the holiday that would bring us a child, perhaps I could conceive on the wedding night of Hashem and his holy people.
“Do you love your husband?” he asked me, straight out, sitting behind his desk. I’d barely had a chance to catch a breath. There were so many people waiting outside and I knew I didn’t have much time.
“Very much,” I said, and I started crying.
“I know he loves you,” he said in that raspy voice of his. “So you must be patient.”
I wiped my eyes. “But he is commanded to be fruitful and multiply.”
“I am preventing him from doing a mitzvah. A very important mitzvah.”
“You?” His voice was sharp. “Do you think it is in your hands? It is the decision of the Holy One, Blessed Be He.”
“If I leave him, if I ask him to give me a divorce, he can marry another woman and have children.”
His face went red. He pressed on the desk with his hands. One of the young men who always stands by him took a step forward and helped him get up. Rabbi Ovadia leaned over his desk and he shouted, literally shouted.
“You must not even think of this. Put it out of your mind! You must not violate the covenant of marriage!”
It’s ok. Thank you for the tissues. How awful of me to come here to make you happy for our Shavuot holiday and then to end up telling you a sad story.
What did I do? I went home and I asked my husband for a divorce. He was shocked, he did not know that it had been on my mind for so long. We had no secrets from each other, except for that.
Believe in doing as the rabbis instruct? Of course I do, that is a basic part of being a good Jew. It is the only time that I ever went against the clear instruction of a rabbi I had asked. But I knew I was right and Maran was wrong.
And here’s the proof. He protested, my husband, he wept, but I did not give in. He went to beit knesset for the tikkun. He recited the passages and heard his rabbis teach. Maybe he spoke to one of them. When he returned in the morning, his face was no longer sad and agonized. He was at peace. He agreed to divorce me. Baruch ata, asher yatzar et ha’adam behochma, blessed are you for creating man with wisdom.
A month later his rabbi had found him a wonderful young woman. My husband actually took me aside one day after prayers on Shabbat to tell me about her. I could see he was in love. A man can love two women, you know. We see it in the Tanach. Ya’akov, King David. It’s different for a woman. It’s very hard for us to love a different man if we have loved one already.
Two months later, on the first day of the month of Elul, which is an abbreviation for Ani ledodi vedodi li, I am for my beloved and he is for me, that’s from the Song of Songs, about the love of Hashem for his people Israel, they were married. And I was right, because she must have gotten pregnant that first night. Yosef, their oldest, was born on Shavuot eve. That night my husband missed the tikun, but Yosef was his tikun. His and hers. His and mine.
But I can see you are fidgeting. You have to go. I’ve kept you too long. Here, take another two booklets. I know you have a lot of friends. You may not believe in Hashem right now, but read these passages on Shavuot night. You don’t need to understand them. Your soul will understand them. And it will be a great tikun for you and for all the Jewish people.
No, I’m fine. I think I’ll go home. There are so many more doors to knock on, but in this heat it’s too much. I’ll rest. I’ll have a wonderful holiday. And I’ll come back next week. I’ll come to your door. And I’ll start telling you the stories of the sins that caused the burning of our Holy Temple. It was God’s house, and it was destroyed.
Haim Watzman’s Necessary Stories appear in The Times of Israel every four weeks. He is the author of Company C, A Crack in the Earth, and a collection of his stories, Necessary Stories. For more information on his books, and an archive of all his Necessary Stories, visit Southjerusalem.com.