In August of 2003, I was expecting a baby, my Talitha, and my oldest was crawling about
the floor, when my life changed forever. Or it was just the beginning of change? My husband brought the Torah into our home. Bobby will joke that he brought it into our house and then like a week later I had surpassed him in study…I don’t think that’s entirely true. His fields of study in Judaism complement mine, but they don’t have the same purpose or necessity. That might be a discussion best saved for another time.
Just prior to Talitha’s birth I really discovered the beauty in Orthodox Judaism and I remember telling my husband it would be best if we just converted, it would be easier, it seemed right, but it also seemed terrifying as well. So the idea was shelved, but my desire for it was never satiated. I grated at those who said you were born Gentile so you can’t do this mitzvah or that one, I was literally frustrated by those who said you can’t look too Jewish, but couldn’t tell me how I should look. I maintained my trust in Hashem, He said to follow Him, stay focused on Him…like everything else in my life I’ve tried to have emunah and so I waited.
My husband often joke that our theological views differ, but our practice is the same. Yet in this one thing we were on opposite sides of a great chasm I never thought would be breached…and I waited. Over a year ago I ran into a man online who was building a mikvah, his long term goal was to build a Jewish Community where there wasn’t one. I was completely fascinated with the idea of building a mikvah….could I have one too? In my backyard? Please? I watched and waited from afar as the hole was dug, the forms made, the concrete laid, the floors finished, the walls erected. I watched and waited as this man and his wife and children converted to Judaism and began inviting people up to his town, come follow Torah with me.
This past Hanukkah I was feeling the pull so hard to convert, a longing, overwhelming, causing me to turn to Hashem in prayer to either provide the way or take the longing away. It’s hard to explain why I wanted to convert, or maybe it’s hard to convince other people why I wanted to…the response was typically but you don’t have to, there is a place in the World-to-Come for G-dfearers, etc. No one could understand this pull I had to be b’nei Israel. So I turned to my husband to pour it all out thinking that this would be the way Hashem would take away this longing, that I would get my answer from my husband and I did. He said, Just because I don’t want to convert doesn’t mean you can’t. What? Wait? I can convert? You wouldn’t mind? You aren’t against it?
So I reached out to a Rabbi, one who was willing to do my conversion. I was included in a fairly large group of potential converts, we read, studied, questioned each other, we shared our need to convert, our fears, our practical concerns. The man I had met over a year ago, a sort of go between for the Rabbi, wanted to know if my husband wanted to convert…no, he didn’t. He was concerned, would the children convert, would it be next to impossible to live out a Jewish Lifestyle with a bunch of Gentiles in the house? I told him that my children had all been raised in Judaism and we kept a Kosher house and were taking steps to be Shomer Shabbat. He said the Rabbi approved but that we couldn’t get re-married.
I joke that my husband and I have a marriage arranged by Hashem himself, I realize all marriages are arranged by Hashem. I couldn’t imagine not being married to my husband, we would be legally married by the state of California, but not legally married according to Torah? It was almost too much for me, I sought out Hashem again, should I not go through with this? was Bobby supposed to convert too? what would I tell the children? Hashem said not yet, and I was again waiting…for what I did not know. I brought the subject up, I said I want you to convert too, but I won’t ask you to do it. Bobby ever the analyst wanted me to break down the reasoning and he asked probing questions and then sent me back to Hashem, ask Him what I should do. I’ll do what ever He says. Wow, hinene, Hear I am LORD.
No pressure, I turn to Hashem, he immediately answers me, but I figure it is my own wants overshadowing His voice, so I ask again and again and everytime I get the answer yes. Later when we are waiting for our turn to finalize our conversion my husband tells me that his reasoning for wanting to convert, how he squared it in mind, heart, soul, was that he needed to make official how he had been living for 13 years. I crudely related it to a couple that’s been shacking up…acting like a married couple without the marriage, who then decide to marry. It doesn’t change the day to day but then it does.
The timing for this conversion and subsequent remarriage is also telling of Hashem’s hand in our everyday life. We have been following Torah for 13 years. We are of the age of maturity, we are of the age to take on the responsibility of the mitzvah ourselves. We have been married for 18 years, a number meaning life, I wanted for our anniversary present a ketubah, but I couldn’t find the one for us, so I laid that idea down. Shortly after telling the Rabbi that my husband also wanted to convert he asked for our Hebrew names for the ketubah…a ketubah, for us, a real one? I was so excited then the moment came to receive it and it was in our first wedding colors, which are also the colors our home is decorated in, it was so perfect, so Hashem.
On March 6th, 2017, the 8th of Adar 5777, nervous, excited, with new friends waiting to congratulate me and welcome me to the tribe I entered the water of the mikvah I had watched being built. I paused a moment considering the enormity about what I was about to do, the attendant said it was time and I went under, making sure not to touch myself or the walls or floor of the mikvah and to be completely immersed at the same time, and then it was over I came up into the very same room, the very same air, but I was a very different creation. I said the bracha slowly, loud enough for the Rabbi to hear from the other side of the door. She said dip again, this time was easier, I said a silent prayer of thanksgiving. One more time, I prayed briefly for my family. Took a deep breath, covered my face with my hands, thanked Hashem again and turned to leave the mikvah. It was my husband’s turn next and for about an hour he wasn’t really mine, for about an hour we joked about not passing each other things and not being careful not to be alone together, while the Ketubah was finalized and the wine poured.
The wedding was sweet, simple, and short. A ring, some wine and the blessings. And then a room, rented just for us, for 15 minutes to catch our breath, share our experiences and be alone. And now we are Tzav and Rivkah Holland, newlyweds, newly converted, reveling in this great and wonderful place we find ourselves.
One of the Rabbi’s my husband listens to told this story:
Two men went out to soak in the mudflats. They arrive slip into the soothing mud when one man realizes it’s a cesspool. You know sewage? He jumps out runs for the showers, scrubs, scrubs again and vows not to eat for weeks he is thoroughly disgusted with himself, with the pool, he remembers his friend.
Holding his nose he goes back and is shocked to find him still luxuriating in the cesspool. He calls out,”You’re swimming in a cesspool! Get out!”
The man looks lazily towards his friend and says, “I know it’s so good for your skin though and the muscles in my back have never felt so good.
“But you are swimming in a cesspool. It’s foul and disgusting and you are bound to get sick maybe even die!” He’s incredulous that his friend would choose to stay in such filth and so he walks away.
Maybe I didn’t tell it exactly but this is the point: Anything that is not of God is filth.
Let me repeat anything that is not of God is filth.
Are you swimming in a cesspool? Saying things like but God understands, the pay is so good, their are no other options, etc.
Are you sending your children off to a cesspool? Justifying it by, it’s a good education, they need the exercise, I want them to have the opportunities that I did, etc. Don’t be surprised if they hang out with little sh*ts or worse yet become one.
How do you know if you are in the cesspool?
Study. He wrote it all down for us. The Torah is a handbook for interacting with God and man. Does your life line up with the Scriptures or with the dime store novel the world is peddling?
Pray. Ask Him should I be doing this, is this your plan or mine, am I out of Your will. Listen to His response. Knowing you shouldn’t do something is only step one. You must get out of the cesspool! You must rescue your children! You must rinse off the filth and live righteously.
We are to live set apart lives and be a peculiar people. If your life, if your family looks just like everyone else out there, you gotta ask yourself, “Am I swimming in a cesspool?”
We have been attending a new congregation for about a month or so and a lady asked my husband if he was living out the things that he had been learning in Breslov.
His answer was ask my wife. So I am answering because a huge change has taken place in our marriage, in our home, in our dealings with each other and with our children.
First let’s start with some Torah. The first commandment is, “Be fruitful and multiply.” This means get married. There is an idea in Judaism that a man cannot achieve his life goals without marriage. That his wife is his neshama, that all blessing will come to him through her merit and that he cannot achieve his tikkun, his world connection, without her. So marriage is very important and many chassidim marry very young.
All that to say this, that marriage is not about, “Oh I love her!” But it is about fulfilling commandments and growing closer to Hashem and learning to love the woman He has provided.
We have been married almost 18 years. This past year has been one of the sweetest, the best maybe. Bobby discovered the Breslov teachings, because he is a student. Always searching and learning and searching. He mentioned one day this 10 commandments for husbands and that he should behave such and such a way. I was intrigued. After I had read it I said, “I love the Breslovers!” We ordered a few books and began studying how to be better. The family motto is when you know better you do better.
He became a better husband, friend, father and man. Not magically. You can’t read these teachings and listen to these shuirs and do nothing. You must be willing to change. He was. I was. We have become a much better couple, focused on bringing Shalom into our home. To answer does Bobby live this way, I would answer in one word, yes.