Where You Go, I Will Go

May 1, 2013
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Any marriage between two people, no matter their reasons for getting married, no matter their age or their genders, creates a covenant — a sacred commitment to connect two lives. In my early 20s, I met a good-looking man who shared my passion for learning and Judaism. He was kind and thoughtful. When we decided to marry, I worried little about the catering or the venue, but greatly about how the ceremony would reflect our vision of the marriage we were embarking upon. Though young and, in all the appropriate ways, naïve and idealistic about what marriage could and would be, we wanted to formalize our commitment to our future in a way that would stand the test of time.

In looking for the articulation of a covenant that would model our relationship, we turned to what we saw as the Bible’s healthiest and most complete and loving example of a commitment between two people, Ruth and Naomi. Most frequently, Ruth’s statement to Naomi that, though free of her obligation to do so, Ruth would accompany her mother-in-law back to Judea, is shortened to focus on the final words, “Your people are my people, your God, my God.” This selective reading transforms it into a statement of faith. But read with the first part of the phrase, “Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you dwell, I will dwell,” this declaration speaks to a much broader vision, one that can be a powerful model for the covenant of marriage.

We inscribed and illuminated Ruth’s words together with our interpretation and commentary on our ketubah. It has hung in a place of honor in wherever we have made our home. Nearly two decades later, this vision of marriage continues to resonate. Ruth and Naomi stand as models for the covenant that has sustained us.

Ruth understood that a commitment is built not on the known but on the unknown. Whatever visions we have of marriage when we begin are by no means guaranteed. I no longer recall exactly what I thought our lives would become, but I am certain that I imagined almost none of what has come to pass. The only intention that was clear on that day and that has remained true was the partnership that we established.

For Ruth and Naomi, building a home was the central work of their relationship, as it is the fundamental work of marriage. While the cable television station HGTV may focus our attention on the physicality of a dwelling, Ruth reminds us that the space is less important than the person with whom it is shared. We have moved from city to city and from continent to continent. We have welcomed children, and we now anticipate their departure. We are the only constant. Even when we have had less patience with each other or we have faced challenges, we have had to negotiate our relationship in tight proximity. Living day-to-day and year-to-year with someone is one of the primary features that distinguish marriage from other relationships.

Ruth understood that relationships do not exist without context. Marriages are sustained and challenged by the people who embrace the family and community that each partner brings with them. Early arguments that blamed the other’s family or friends disappeared with time as we came to truly live a shared vision of community. After ten years together, we invited friends and family to join us under a chuppah and share blessing; we recognized the degree to which our success was rooted in broader circles of connection.

A covenantal relationship also shares a vision of religious life and tradition. Certainly as a rabbi, I hope that Jewish marriages will resonate with this claim. But even when marriages — for whatever reason — do not, almost any spiritual connection, as Martin Buber teaches, may serve as the highest form of intimacy.

Standing at the crossroads, Ruth recognized that she did not want to live without Naomi. She chose freely and with intention to commit her life until death to her mother-in-law. Her words of commitment formed the framework for the complex realities that unfolded as they set out together. What would unfold for Ruth and Naomi, what has unfolded for my marriage, what unfolds in almost every marriage, is both wonder and challenge, good and bad. And in spelling out a framework for intimate and lasting commitment, Ruth provided us with an enduring model of covenantal relationship.

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Rabbi Ruth Abusch-Magder is Rabbi in Residence for the San Francisco-bassed Be’chol Lashon. She has been married to David Abusch-Magder for nearly 20 years, and she lives online at @rabbiruth.

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