LAKEWOOD RANCH -- There's an ancient Jewish tradition from Israel when a couple about to take their marriage vows stands under the chuppah and the rabbi asks the groom two questions about the path he would take in his marriage: Have you found your mate for life? Are you finding your spouse and will you need to change her?
King Soloman had an answer to these questions.
"He who has found a woman has found goodness, and I find more bitter than death the woman," he said.
The point King Soloman was trying to make was go into a marriage and commit to the person you have chosen, as opposed to trying to change the one you have committed to for life.
This profound point by the former king of Israel was the beginning of a thought-provoking evening discussion for the Women's Circle of Chabad of Bradenton & Lakewood Ranch, an organization that offers social, educational, recreational and religious programming for anyone of the Jewish faith in the Bradenton area.
The discussion, which focused on respecting gender differences, was part of a six-week course titled, "Soulmates: Jewish Secrets to Meaningful Relationships," which the Women's Circle, also known as the Rosh Codesh Society is studying from the perspective of ancient Jewish written law, the Torah.
"This is where it gets really hard and you have to work on yourself and examine your motives because the Torah's view is counter-intuitive," said Chanie Bukiet, who runs the Bradenton Chabad with her husband, Rabbi Mendy Bukiet. "Marriage isn't about us fulfilling our needs. In Judiasm, we ask: 'Do you make him happy? Am I making sure the needs are met?' It's not about self-gratification. If you want a good marriage, it must come from you."
Then Bukiet asked the group: What is the most important ingredient to a successful marriage? To answer, she drew from Jewish philosopher Maimonides, who received his wisdom from the Torah, which God handed down to Moses,
"Who better than to look to and learn from than from God? He created us and he knows us best," Bukiet said.
According to Maimonides, the formula begins with honor, respect and reverance followed by love.
"Happiness in marriage is an individual responsibility. Maimonides says women need to focus on the needs of their spouse. This is a very different message from what society tells us. The problem with putting love first is there's always an inherent selfishness, which can be dangerous if it's only love. The love experience is a short-lived emotion. We need a little bit more than that, and we need to have respect as a foundation for love," Bukiet said.
Respect will help you see the other person's viewpoint and be sensitive to your spouse's opinions when they run contrary to your own, she said.
"A husband needs to feel he is trusted, capable and competent," Bukiet said. "Give him respect, speak to him respectfully in regards to his decisions. The Torah tells us to put the man's needs or ego even before our own. A woman who treats her husband as capable and competent, identifies her husband's needs and fulfills them will have a huge influence on her husband in a kind and gentle way."
For Tami Wankoff, who was married briefly, she gives credit to marriages that work this way.
"I do believe that respect is a two-way street. Encouragement, support and open discussion is a must in any relationship. But if it really boiled down to something that I absolutely couldn't agree with, I couldn't forward it," she said. "But that's me."
Jill Schein, married to the same man for 25 years, said she's been following these instructions and the classes are a validation of the strength of her marriage.
"This series is enlightening," Schein said. "I am in a wonderful Jewish marriage, and this reminds me of the bigger picture in life. Above and beyond, we respect each other. Nothing else matters. Not money, trips, fancy, cars, or big houses. Our belief in our marriage keeps us connected and stronger each year. We are soulmates and nothing will ever change."
Soulmate seminars will be held at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays in March, April and May at the Chabad, 5712 Lorraine Road, Lakewood Ranch. All are welcome to attend.
Information: Call Chanie Bukiet, 941-284-6390 or go to chabadofbradenton.com.