Rabbi Arthur Waskow
The Ring: A Shabbat Kavannah
by Rabbi Arthur Waskow
Once a Hassid came to the Rebbe of Tel-Avir. "Rebbe," he said, "every evening just before dinner my wife and I take off our wedding rings, before we plunge our hands into the water to bless and clarify the work we do, the hands with which we earn and eat our bread. And then we bless the washing and lifting of our hands, and go back to the table to share our bread together.
"But every night, when we take off the rings, my heart quakes; my kishkes churn. And my wife tells me it is the same with her. As the ring comes off my finger, I feel as if I am ending our marriage. As the ring comes off her finger, she feels as if she is ending our marriage. Looking at our hands bereft of the covenant between us, we feel as if our marriage has dissolved into the water. Suddenly nightmares of abandonment sweep over me, and her.
"Of course I know the tradition teaches us that our hands must be bare to the clarifying water. Nevertheless, my fears will not depart. I am frightened still more by my fantasies and fears. What can I do?"
The Rebbe closed his eyes and thought. Finally he smiled and said: "Each Friday night, you must REALLY MAMASH take off your wedding ring with the kavvanah, the intention, that you are putting your marriage in the hands of God. You must say to yourself, "Who knows what will happen next? Perhaps indeed she wishes to be free; perhaps indeed she will divorce me!! And perhaps I myself will not wish to wear this ring again.
And ask your wife that she also take off the ring with this same intention: that it is over, your marriage.
Then when you have both returned to the table, when you have put your hands in God's keeping and your bread in God's keeping, when you have blessed God for lifting our hands and then again for giving us bread, when you have eaten the first morsel of the Friday-evening challah -- you -- you, my Hassid, pick up the ring she has taken off.
"Ask yourself, 'Do I wish to marry her? Am I angry -- and yet I wish to marry her? Am I sad -- and yet I wish to marry her? Am I ecstatic, filled with God and Shabbos -- and yet I wish to marry her? Am I filled with love -- and so I wish to marry her?'
"And IF YOU WISH TO MARRY HER, pick up her ring and put it on her finger, saying 'Harei aht....--- ' and all the rest of the words you said when you DID marry her.
"And for her, the same. Ask her to wait and watch within herself, to ask herself whether she wishes to renew your marriage. If she does, then she should lift your ring and put it on your finger, with the words she used when you were married.
"And from Shabbos to Shabbos, reverse the order. Some weeks she makes the decision first, some weeks you.
"Only if she gives the ring away can she receive it. Only if you agree that she gives it away can you give it once again. Only if you trust in God that this marriage between you comes from God, and offer it back to God each Shabbos -- only if you take this risk -- will your marriage come alive again and your fears depart."
Rabbi Waskow comments: My life-partner Phyllis Ocean Berman and I did in fact begin using this ritual on Erev Shabbat about seven years ago, for more or less the reasons in the story. Several couples among our friends have now adopted the custom. It is very powerful when we are feeling joyful with each other, and even more intensely powerful when for some reason we are angry, etc. THEN the conscious decision to relinquish and remarry is incredibly bonding, reminds us of the love that lives through all disappointments.