In his hands: An allegory of faith and fate

The following is an allegorical tale.

 "At one point, she covered all the mirrors in her home." (photo credit: UNSPLASH)
"At one point, she covered all the mirrors in her home."
(photo credit: UNSPLASH)

She took a deep breath as she grasped the gun with both hands. The cold steel sent a chill through her body, and she was surprised at how heavy it was, despite its rather small size. 

For a long time, she just stared at it, her heart pounding, her mind racing. How did she get here? How could it have come to this?! She closed her eyes and turned back time.

It was, everyone agreed, a match made in Heaven. “Not a match, a fire made in Heaven,” they would joke about the newlyweds, so infatuated were they with one another. ”Simcha” and “Simcha!” Their friends and family marveled at their identical names: how could this not be a cosmic sign, a portent of love forever! 

They knew the couple was meant to be from the moment they were introduced at a friend’s wedding. He was so shy and polite – she loved that about him; she was so spunky and vivacious – he loved that about her. They would create a perfect union never to be apart, just as the two cups at the Sheva Brachot flowed imperceptibly into one another. “Marriage is a not a partnership,” said the rabbi under the huppah, “it’s a merger!” Simcha’s father, always the businessman, loved that saying, and reminded his son-in-law about it when he took him into the family business.

The early years were blissful, as Simcha gave birth to three children, two boys and a girl. She completed her M.A. in psychology online, while he worked days for Daddy and studied Talmud at night. She wished he could spend more time with the kids, but she respected his desire to care for both his body and his soul. Her parents diplomatically suggested that he help out more at home, but Simcha was nonplussed; “that’s in his hands,” she would trustingly say.

Shabbat was their island in time, when the calls and the chaos took their blessed break, and the family could focus on each other without distraction. Closing their various gadgets as the sun retreated, Simcha would smile and tell the kids, “it’s time to turn them off, and turn ourselves on!”

The light of the Shabbat candles revealed a royal table where the kings and queens for a day would forget about solving all the world’s problems and remember that the real work to be done is coming closer to God – through song and study and, yes, through the scrumptious suppers that Simcha created. Shabbat and holidays were blessings of bonding that glued the family together.

But the walls of their happy home began to crumble, slowly but surely. Simcha was devoting more and more time to his Torah studies, at the expense of both his family and his father-in-law’s business. Simcha was supportive at first – she wanted him to be a first-class talmid chacham (Torah scholar), of course – but not at the neglect of those who depended on him, of those who unconditionally loved him and craved his love in return.

Ironically, as their time together became shorter and shorter, the arguments that ensued became longer and longer. Respect soon turned to rancor, the loving “voice of bride and groom, the voice of rejoicing and simcha” was rarely heard; even the Shabbat bread began to taste stale and bitter.

Simcha secretly paid a visit to her husband’s rebbe, a scholar known for both his sharp insights into the Talmud as well as the passionate loyalty he inspired in his students. He listened intently to Simcha as she pleaded for her husband to give more attention to the family, and he blessed her with peace. “You are a woman of valor,” he told her, “and your contribution to your husband is immeasurable. But remember how Rachel’s forbearance, her allowing her husband to spend all his time in learning, would end up producing a Rabbi Akiva, one of the greatest sages in our history. Yes, I will speak to Simcha, as you wish, but the final decision of how best to use his time is in his hands.”

Simcha left that meeting with a resolve to do better, to support her man and his holy ambitions. But for all her best efforts, the family structure was rapidly breaking down and little could be done to stop it. Simcha stayed later and later at the yeshiva, despite his own study partner’s warning that this was neither the path to holiness nor God’s will.

The children – like all children – sensed the tension between the Simchas and frequently acted out as a result. Dad could no longer keep someone on the payroll who showed up late – if at all – and then made “early Shabbat” every single day. Simcha’s contact with her husband – when it was civil at all – was reduced to bland, meaningless platitudes and nasty debates over how the bills would be paid. 

And so, finally, with tears and trepidation, Simcha confronted Simcha and requested a divorce. “We are still young,” she told him, “we can still salvage what remains of our lives. Let us separate now, before even the good memories turn sour.”

But Simcha would have none of it. With a rage Simcha had never seen before, Simcha threatened that he would die before granting his wife a get. “Avraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov also had issues with their wives; they argued and disagreed with one another, but they never even considered divorce. And neither will I!” 

Simcha’s spirit was crushed, and she turned to prayer and fasting in an appeal to the Almighty to save their marriage via a miracle. “Making a successful shidduch is as difficult as the Splitting of the Reed Sea,” says the Talmud; but saving a broken marriage is even more challenging.

Simcha turned to the religious authorities to help her, but to little avail. Most of the rabbis urged her, time and again, to seek common ground, to pray harder. Or to see a therapist – if not to repair the relationship with her husband, but to at least reconcile herself to her situation. Some of the rabbis were genuinely sympathetic, and angry at Simcha for using and abusing his exclusive control of the get.

“We can employ every available form of persuasion, short of outright coercion,” they explained, “but there is little guarantee that will help. At the end of the day, it’s in his hands.”

Simcha considered paying Simcha off, but that also proved fruitless. “I won’t be bribed,” he declared. “Bread and salt are the way of the righteous, and if that’s all I have to eat I will survive.”

The months passed, the years came and went. Simcha, living alone now, with the children grown and off on their own, vacillated between rebellion and resignation. She would alternately lead protests and share her story in the media, then return home to tell herself that she would be released from her prison only when it no longer made a difference. She grew tired of being pitied; most of her former friends melted away. She spent hours staring into the void in search of a lost dream; at one point, she covered all the mirrors in her home.

 And then, on that fateful day, she held in her hand the gun she had bought. She looked skyward and said defiantly: “I do not feel guilt, remorse or regret. For what happens now is in His hands.”

The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana. [email protected]