Dr Judith Guedalia

Don't I have the 'Right' To Love and Be Loved?

It was an unusual request for an appointment. A phone call from a Rav who is a well-known popular posek for married couples, requesting an appointment to come and speak with me about something personal.

Sure, I said, sensing that this was as unusual a request for him to make, as it was for me to receive.


At the appointed time he arrived and sensing on the phone how uncomfortable he was, as the helper going for help, I had prepared a tea/coffee tray as well as an unopened box of cookies (which he could eschew (or chew) as the Hashgacha permitted.)  I felt that this might help to level the playing field when the mountain, so to speak, traveled to Mohamed.

Dressed in traditional Haredi garb, the Rav sat looking intently at the wall where, for all intents and purposes, he saw some sort of deflected image of me in a picture frame glass.  After years of working with the ultra Orthodox community of males, I understand and respect this for what it is: eye-contact in a permissible format.

After we finished the "coffee-tea thing" he said: "Thank you for seeing me on such short notice, I know you are very busy."  "We are all busy", I countered, "and there is a saying that: If you want something done, ask a busy person, so I guess we're going to get 'something' done."

He smiled an inscrutable smile.  I waited.

"A person, a married man in his early forties, came to me with a question.  He knows I work with young couples and help them with shalom bayit issues at the beginning of their marriage." (I have learned over the years that the term shalom bayit usually refers to anything but peace in the home!) 

He went on: "I asked him how I could help; we spoke of his learning, his family of origin, his children, his wife, and the stress of worrying about how to make ends meet.  All this was conversation, but I knew he wasn't getting to the point, getting to the reason he came to see me.  I started to tell him our time was almost up, whereupon the man began to cry. 

"I was so taken aback because it hadn't seemed as if our conversation had touched on anything emotionally meaningful.  Then he asked me the question that brought me here, to your office, Dr. Guedalia.  He asked: "Don't I deserve to be happy too, don't I deserve an opportunity in life to love and be loved?"  He was quietly sobbing, and I didn't know what to do; this had never happened to me before.

"Certainly, people who have come to me have cried and showed their emotions, but this was the first time anyone had posed this particular question to me, and it was the first time I felt hit-between-the-eyes like this.  I've thought about his question and what followed for weeks, before making the appointment to come and talk with you."

At this point, I still had still not been told what the reason for his referral was, but it was clear that the question the Rav had been asked touched a chord in him that resonated in ways other shealot have not.  I thought that the conversation he relayed and his reaction might have had more to do with the word deserve than even the word love.  I'm not sure what made me think so, but he might have emphasized the word in a way that was different from the other words in his narrative.

In life we all have periods where we feel we are in a certain groove (I guess that vinyl record metaphor dates me!).  At any rate, there is routine that is comforting and helps put order in our lives, and yet, sometimes the thought of breaking-out is a tantalizing one. 

I remember when we first moved to Israel there were sherut /jitney stands up and down Jaffa Road, with their drivers shouting out different destinations, cities and towns all over the country as they attempted to fill their taxis before they left.  I remember wondering what it would be like to just say: Ok, I'll go to Kiryat Ono (I'm not even sure where it is today!) and then reality would hit, and I'd know that I had a stroller in my hand with some little person with needs and wishes; my husband would be home for dinner, which needed to be cooked; a shiur to attend, planned for the evening, school work to do etc., etc., etc. 

I've often thought about a song: "Stop the world I want to get off" from the 1960's musical of the same name by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley.  In the story, the hero felt caught up in an empty lifestyle, and what turned out to be a success early in his life, that he didn't appreciate. Not only that; he also felt trapped and wanted "off the carousel".


It usually takes less than a nanno-second of thought and I would think of how fortunate I was to have a "carousel" at all; a life that G-d gave me with all the responsibilities of being a Jew and how the feeling of needing − deserving − time-off was only possible because I had so many things pulling on me and my time, even with the "freedom" of being required to do positive mitzvot, which were time dependent! 


These thoughts passed through my mind as the Rav continued his story.  The man who came to him was someone who was grappling with sexual desires that were against halacha in its most basic sense.  The question of deserving love was tainted by that fact. 

The Rav clearly had knowledge and opinions steeped in Halacha and would surely be able to help this religious man do the right thing.  But he came to me, someone perceived as a "secular thinking" person (a psychologist) who was frum, could possibly offer a different perspective.  He asked if I felt − psychologically speaking − that the terms deserve and love could be validated, though they were contra to what he believed in so strongly?

I thought a bit; not too long, because my "psychological" mind and soul are inexorably intertwined with my frum self and so, I asked the Rav a question. " What if this troubled person had asked instead: 'Don't I deserve to live my life with love' − then I waited a second and said − "with my neighbor's wife?"

"Ahh, I know both the problem and its solution", said the Rav, with a smile on his lips and a twinkle in his eye, sagely touching his beard.  "It is I who has been influenced by the world around me, not you, the 'modern', frum psychologist".


Originally published in the Jewish Press on  July 9, 2008.


Tags: Jewish Press | Love