In a relationship, to surrender means unconditional acceptance and total commitment. When the Jews said, upon receiving the commandments at Sinai, "We will do and we will listen" (Exod. 24:7), they meant, "We accept You, God, as You are and we surrender to You unconditionally."
Most people find the thought of unconditional surrender to another person frightening. But surrender in a relationship doesn't mean you say, "OK, you win, I give up, I'll do whatever you want." That may be surrender in battle, but a relationship is not a battleground. Surrender in a relationship means to give up your preconceptions of what another person is, but to remain committed to that person.
In marriage, you have to have the kind of receptiveness that enables you to perceive your spouse as he or she really is. But in order to do so, you must first become open, empty and very vulnerable.
Many people would like to be this way but don't dare; the thought of being that vulnerable is too frightening. They think, "I can't be so trusting or I might be hurt and taken advantage of. How can I be sure I'm not losing control or surrendering to the wrong person?"
In other words, they are asking, "How do I get a handle on being surrendered? How can I control it, guide it? How can I be sure that I'm not surrendering indiscriminately?" Obviously, surrender requires definition.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, once said to his doctor, who was drawing blood at the time, that a hypodermic needle creates not merely an empty space, but a designated vacuum, drawing in only what was meant to be drawn in. Although a syringe is empty, the Rebbe explained, its very emptiness is 'focused'.
We need to be like that: "designated vacuums," allowing ourselves to be open, but very specifically, drawing in only what is meant to be drawn in. Just as a hypodermic needle focuses on what is meant to enter the vacuum, so, too, we should not permit ourselves indiscriminate surrender in the sense of abandonment, but "focused" surrender.
The important word here is surrender, so let's take a closer look. Philosophically speaking, everything in this world is both a recipient and a donor, taking in what is above and giving to what is below. just as every link in a chain hooks into what is above it and slips into what is below it, so all creation received from what is above and give to what is below. However, the receiving part and the giving part are opposites.
In order to receive, there has to be an emptiness that allows whatever is going to come in to do so. Giving, on the other hand, requires fullness. A pitcher is better able to pour when full; a cup is better able to receive when empty.
A teacher is better able to give when she's filled with knowledge. A student is better able to absorb when he has emptied his mind and opened himself to the lesson. So, although it seems paradoxical, am empty mind is a receptive mind.
Imagine yourself concentrating on a certain problem. you know what the question is but you don't have an answer. You rethink the question. When the answer continues to elude you, you try harder. As you concentrate, all other thoughts are banished from your mind. You forget you haven't eaten, you lose track of time, you care only about the problem. When the answer doesn't come, your mind goes blank. Even thought about the problem vanish, because you've given up. Then, when your mind has surrendered, the answer comes.
As long as your mind hasn't emptied itself, it retains its pre-established conditions. It says, "What you're going to tell me had better fit what I already know, otherwise it won't make sense to me." A mind in that condition is not ready for radically new ideas. By emptying itself, the mind no longer puts any conditions on what is going to know.
The mind has to surrender completely. it does this by totally nullifying itself, in other words, by creating an empty space. In that empty space, the flash of discovery takes place. A moment later the mind comes back to life, so that the realization will not be forgotten. Within seconds, the mind goes from nonexistence back to existence, back to knowing.
This is revelation. This is knowing. This is creation: something out of nothing. In this emptiness, the mind puts no conditions on what it's going to know. The mind surrenders to the idea and perceives it as it actually is.
In our relationship with God, we can really know Him only when we are completely open to what He is. When we are surrender, we say, "God doesn't have to be what we want Him to be. he can be who He is, not who we imagine Him to be, or who we need Him to be." Going back to the revelation at Sinai, when the Jews surrendered, they became receptive to truth.
The same is true in establishing an intimate relationship with another person. If you want to allow someone into your life and accept them as they really are, you have to become open, receptive and surrendered.
That's the only way you can really know another person, when you are completely open to who they are. A husband should say of his wife, "If I discover that she has needs that I don't understand, that's fine. My devotion is to her, not to what I need her to be, not to what I think she is, nor what I think she ought to be."
But just as the syringe focuses on what is meant to enter its vacuum, so, too, must your surrender in a relationship be focused, of a certain designated kind, no generic.
You have to allow yourself to be open, but in a way that is discriminating. If you are indiscriminate in your surrender, if you surrender to anyone and everyone, you have a good reason to be frightened. You are much too vulnerable. If you have no orders or definition to your life, then you have no security either. Discriminating surrender, focused surrender, is the kind of surrender to strive for.
How? By becoming more modest. Modesty means, "focused surrender": that what should come in does, what what needs to be stay out, stays out.
That's why "indiscriminate" is another way of saying "immodest". Immodesty means that you are displaying a personal and private part of your being, indiscriminately.
You may do this without being aware of it. You might not say or wear anything immodest, but a certain manner or look in your eyes might demonstrate casual openness and availability.
Modesty may appear to be in conflict with surrender, with openness and receptiveness. When you are modest, it's always: "You can't do this, and you can't do that." It seems stifling and inhibiting, not intimate.
In truth, however, modesty and surrender are not in conflict. Modesty means, "I am not available here, I am not open now. But in the right time and in the right place, in a clearly defined relationship, I can surrender totally."
And then you do. In fact, that's the only way to surrender, the only way to be intimate. The openness is focused, not scattered.
Some people find it natural and easy to "love" other people, but that's not the kind of love that makes a human different from an animal. Such love is never based on any purpose or thoughtfulness. When it's time for the emotion to be guided and channeled to the proper arena, it refuses to cooperate. Like a wild animal, emotion that has never been subjected to intelligent guidance will refuse to be corralled. And this is the state that leads to fear of surrender. When we have no control in the first place, the thought of surrender is rightfully terrifying.
The emotions of a mature person are molded by intelligence. These are cultivated emotions, focused emotions, not wild and directionless emotions. Emotion, by definition, means a response to something outside of yourself. Human emotions apply properly only to other human beings, or to God.
For example, we may say that a person "loves" food, but that's borrowing a term that applies properly to a human interaction and applying it where it doesn't belong. We can enjoy food, we can crave food, but love is not the way to describe that craving. It is not the emotion called love.
Our emotions can be either corrupted or elevated. Human love was not created to be without premeditated purpose. So when it occurs indiscriminately and without focus, then it can become corrupt and immodest.
In a modest marriage, love is guided by intelligence and submitted to the authority of the mind. That's called premeditated emotion. Unbridled love, on the other hand, which is never subjected to control, guidance, or purpose, will not respond even when it needs that authority; it won't understand.
The same is true with surrender. If that feeling is not a purposeful one, if it's not a premeditated one, if it's not subject to the control of the mind in its initial birth, it won't respond to reason. If it gets out of hand - inevitably it will - when you try to bring it back into line, you find that it won't cooperate. It's not accustomed to obeying; it's like a wild growth.
You can use your mind to deal with your feelings and emotions and train them to respond to intelligence. Then, when it is appropriate to love, you can. When you need to surrender, you can. You'll be able to bring these feelings from deep within your heart when they are needed.
When surrender is inappropriate, you should be able to dispel it, get rid of it and replace it with the feeling that is more appropriate to the situation; that is modesty.
It's said that the person who flirts with everyone is available to no one. That kind of lack of discrimination is deadly to intimacy and deadly to marriage. Because marriage is a godly institution, because it engages the divine parts of husband and wife, modesty must be maintained in order to preserve this divine state.
Immodesty destroys it completely. There cannot be intimacy between a husband and wife if they are not modest with each other. Modesty in marriage means sharply focused surrender.
In a modest marriage, the focused surrender is real: not here, not there - now. And when it's now, it's everything. It's total surrender, total naturalness, total spontaneity: total intimacy.
Reprinted from Doesn't Anyone Blush Anymore? by Rabbi Manis Friedman