Author Archives: Miriyam Glazer

Miriyam Glazer

About Miriyam Glazer

Miriyam Glazer, professor of literature at the University of Judaism, is author of Dancing on the Edge of the World: Jewish Stories of Faith, Inspiration, and Love and Dreaming the Actual: Contemporary Fiction and Poetry by Israeli Women Writers. She is studying for the Conservative rabbinate. She married again in September 2003.

The Self-Help Book

Reprinted with permission from
The Torah: A Women’s Commentary
, edited by Tamara Cohn Eskenazi and Andrea L. Weiss (New York: URJ Press and Women of Reform Judaism, 2008).

Americans live in the kingdom of self help books: Five Steps to Overcoming Fear and Doubt; Five Steps to Emotional Healing; Five Steps to Spiritual Growth. Every self-help book is marketed as the “ultimate one,” or even as “the last self-help book you’ll ever need.” Over 300,000 self-help books are on the market. Typically, they promise a neatly outlined plan for self-transformation, for becoming free of a rooted sorrow or of deep-seated fears. They encourage the reader to believe that suffering is not worth the trouble, and gaining self-knowledge a routine affair-easily available for anyone with access to and a credit card.
women's torah commentary
Thanks to the “self-help” industry, Americans–in particular–flee from mourning. We talk of going through the “grief process” until we experience “closure,”   as if we ourselves roll along an assembly line of emotion until we get to the final station: the packaging of our sorrow, the sealing it tight, the storing it away.

Closure is an Illusion

But the very notion of “closure” for grief is an illusion. Instead, there is only the tentative recognition that our anguish is endurable, that–despite ourselves– life goes on and engages us with new emotions, new situations and images, new challenges and changes. The remembrance of the people we miss gets tucked into our hearts to be revisited-perhaps when we least expect it. As for the process of true inner change, true self transformation, we learn to forgive ourselves for the mistakes of the past by not making them again. If we are lucky, life “tenderizes” the heart, gives us hearts not of stone but of flesh.

Vayigash powerfully addresses this more authentic model of true emotional change via the character of Judah. In its very opening lines, we find Judah in the midst of responding in an impassioned voice to the demand of the Egyptian vizier that the youngest of Jacob and Rachel‘s sons, Benjamin, be left behind in Egypt. Not knowing, of course, that the forbidding vizier is none other than Rachel’s other son, Joseph whom Judah and his brothers threw into a pit years before–Judah pleads with him to change his mind.

Exorcising the Get: A Ritual of Healing

Reprinted by permission of the author from A Ceremonies Sampler (Woman’s Institute for Continuing Jewish Education), edited by Elizabeth Resnick Levine.

This past year, while engaged in a spiritual exercise, I discovered that my body, psyche, and soul still held within them an old pain: the pain of my divorce, which had taken place over 10 years ago in Israel. In the exercise, I found myself standing alone, unaccustomedly quiet, my feet firm on the ground. Then my arms rose and the palms of my hands opened flat, toward the ceiling. An inner voice told me that even my thumbs had to lie flat. As I stood like that, memory washed over me and I realized I was reliving the experience of the get [Jewish bill of divorce]. My belly was burning with a sense of humiliation that 10 years ago I never knew I felt.

The experience shocked me: The divorce, after all, was a thing of the past, and in 1987 I had remarried. I hadn’t known I still bore the bruises of the get ceremony–nor did I realize how profoundly humiliating an experience that get ceremony had been. To undergo the ceremony and thus to be legally divorced in the eyes of Israel, where in 1970 we had married, I had returned to the Negev city of Beersheba, our former home. By the time we were ready to go through with the divorce, the pain of our severance had lessened, if not healed. At least neither of us questioned that the time had come for the divorce.

Remembering the Divorce Ceremony

In Israel it is the Orthodox Rabbinate to which one must go, and it is their ritual of divorce that one must undergo. The Beersheba Rabbinate is housed in a dusty old stone building, built by the Turks. We showed the rabbinical officials our identity cards, marriage certificate, and ketubah [marriage contract], and while the scribe wrote out the bill of divorcement–the get–according to ancient prescription, we drank espressos with tearful eyes in a local cafe. Hours later they were ready for us; we were ushered into the inner chambers where, cloaked in black, high on the bench above us like judges, the rabbis sat. How many rabbis were there I couldn’t say–what memory does conjure up for me, though, is that one of them seemed to be nodding off, bored to near sleep.