Friday, March 24, 2017

Is Hashem Equally EVERYWHERE?

Rav Chaim of Volozihin in his classic work "Nefesh Hachaim" laments the Chasidic understanding of G-d. They say that Hashem is in EVERYTHING. 

He explains his opposition based on the fact that the Torah is based on good and evil, pure and impure etc. If EVERYTHING is G-dliness then you fudge all distinctions between good and evil. One might even come to think about Torah in dirty places. 

Rav Chaim introduced the concepts of סובב כל עלמין and ממלא כל עלמין. The latter term means that Hashem's presence fills the world. This is correct, says Rav Chaim. He does. But that is only from HIS perspective. From our perspective Hashem is only סובב כל עלמין - He WATCHES over the world but there is a clear demarcation line between good and evil, pure and impure. That means that PRATICALLY SPEAKING, we must view Hashem as סובב and not ממלא.

Hashem is הקדוש ברוך הוא  - Kadosh is נבדל [separate] while Baruch means that He influences the world with his blessing.

In philosophy this is called immanent and transcendent. Hashem is both. From our perspective we view Him as primarily transcendent but the absolute truth is that He is immanent as well.

There is a concept in Kabbalah called קו  and another more well known concept called צמצום   [contraction] The concept of קו  is that there are differeing LEVELS of G-dliness in the world. צמצום  means [according to R' Chaim] that Hashem hides Himself even though He is equally everywhere. It is kefirah [according to Rav Chaim] to believe in the concept of צמצום  according it's simple meaning, that Hashem contracted Himself to make room for the world. How can one say this? Hashem is here, Hashem is there, Hashem is truly everywhere! So צמצום  is Hashem hiding Himself despite His ubiquitous presence. [For all of the above see נפש החיים שער ג].

The only exception is Torah. Torah brings the notion of ממלא כל עלמין  to light [pun intended]. The kedusha of the Torah remains with it's original shine but even there is a צמצום  that took place in order to allow us to perceive it with our limited faculties. Here the צמצום  is for the sake of גילוי – to reveal the G-dliness in the world. But the physical world must be viewed by us as having varying levels of purity and impurity. Thus, one may not think of Torah in filthy places.

Rebbe Tzadok Hakohen explains צמצום differently. According to R' Tzadok, ALL of צמצום was intended to hide in order to reveal. So even our physical world reveals G-dliness.

כי באמת עצם אור ה' גדול מאוד ואי אפשר להיות מושג ללב בני אדם כלל כמו שכתוב "כי לא יראני האדם וחי", וזהו תואר הקב"ה הוראת קדושה בכל מקום הבדלה שהוא נבדל מבני אדם, והיינו אור ה' הנבדל מלבות הישראלי. ולפי שרצה יתברך שמו שישיגו הנבראים מאורו צמצם יתברך הארתו שתהיה מוגבלת ומצומצמת ולא בתוקף וחוזק כל כך והוא כח אור שכינתו יתברך בתוך לבבות בני ישראל.

[דובר צדק עמוד ב]

The upshot is that we have to serve Hashem with all of the physicality of this world because Hashem resides here. We shouldמ't be confused by the illusion of phyiscalty which is just a veil for Hashem and obscufates our vision. Writes Rav Zeev Wolf of Zhitmor [Ohr Hameir p. 184]

כי כלל זה נקוט בידך ואל ימוט מנגד עיניך אפילו כמעט רגע שאין שום דבר בעולם שלא יהיה שם התלבשות השכינה השוכנת בתוכם להחיותם, אל יתן אל לבו לראות גשמיות הדברים כי אם אלקות המלובש וגנוזה לשם.

The pasuk says אנכי עומד בין ה' וביניכם which means that moshe is standing between us and Hashem. But Chasidus teaches that it also means that one's ego, the אנכי, stands between us and Hashem. We have to learn to nullify ourselves [ביטול היש] and thereby find Hashem.

When we say Shema our kavvana is that NOTHING ELSE EXISTS in this world for real, outside our our G-dly neshamos.  

Hamapil On Day Sleep


 Question: Do people who go to sleep before nightfall (e.g., night shift workers, the old and ill during the summer) recite Hamapil before going to sleep?  

Answer: The gemara (Berachot 60b) mentions Hamapil for one “entering to sleep on his bed,” without noting time of day. However, the Rambam (Tefilla 7:1) writes “when one enters his bed to sleep at night.” Despite varied opinions of Rishonim (see Meiri, Berachot ad loc), this guideline is accepted (see Be’ur Halacha to 239:1; B’tzel Hachochma V:166). However, this position’s rationale impacts your question. The above gemara continues with the berachot upon awaking, starting with Elokai Neshama, which some see as a bookend along with Hamapil (see B’tzel Hachochma ibid.). We recite these berachot only once a day. In both cases (although some distinguish), there are questions as to whether the berachot are only for those who sleep or they are general praises to Hashem related to sleep and awaking at the classic times.  Most poskim say that one recites Hamapil only before a serious sleep (see gemara above). The connection to night is that this is the average person’s time of serious sleep, based on which the beracha was instituted (which is apparently the Rambam’s basis). B’tzel Hachochma (ibid.) understands the element of night very formalistically – there is no obligation and thus no ability to say Hamapil before night, even if one is embarking on a full night’s sleep before nightfall. He compares Hamapil before night to a beracha on sitting in a sukka before Sukkot starts when one plans to remain there (a beracha is not made there).  However, there are sources and logic that night is a criterion for Hamapil on practical rather than fundamental grounds. The Chayei Adam (35:4) says that regarding day sleep we are concerned he will not fall asleep, it is improper to sleep, and/or it is not effective sleep. These reasons do not apply to the cases you raise of one who has a valid reason to start sleeping before nightfall (although sometimes we say lo plug- see ibid.). 

Several poskim (see Teshurat Shai I:82; Teshuvot V’hanhagot I:198) explain why it might be proper to recite Hamapil before one’s major sleep after dawn when one did not sleep at night (e.g., Shavuot morning). One could add to the equation the opinion that one may recite a birkat hashevach (of praise) even when there is a doubt whether it is necessary because the content of such berachot are never inappropriate (Halachot Ketanot I:264). However, the consensus is that safek berachot l’hakel (in doubt, refrain) applies to there as well (Yabia Omer VII, OC 29).  However, in cases where the sleep is primarily at night, the argument to say Hamapil is much stronger. Notice that the Rambam (ibid.) talks about Hamapil preceding going to sleep at night. My reading is that the point is that sleep done at night defines it as justifying Hamapil, not that it is forbidden to recite Hamapil during the day. Thus, if the majority of one’s sleep will be during the night, the fact that it begins earlier need not preclude Hamapil.  Whether the case for reciting Hamapil is stronger or not if one goes to sleep soon before nightfall is interesting. Many halachot of night begin at plag hamincha, so perhaps one who sleeps then for the night is considered to be just extending slightly the time of night sleep, which in summer nights in northern latitudes is also common. Note that one who wakes up after midnight may recite the morning berachot including Elokai Neshama (Shulchan Aruch, OC47:13), presumably because morning regarding wake up is flexible. Perhaps the same is true in the evening. On the other hand, perhaps Chazal would not have extended a beracha for going to sleep for the night at a time when one cannot fulfill the mitzva of Kri’at Shema of the night.  The rules of practical p’sak point toward not risking reciting the beracha of Hamapil before nightfall, despite my inclination to the contrary. However, one who does so before his major sleep that extends well into the night has what to rely upon.

[Kollel Eretz Chemdah]

Berachot Recited Over the Media

Question: When one hears a beracha being recited over the radio or telephone, can/should he answer amen Can he be yotzei a beracha in this way?  

Answer: In order for one to be yotzei with a beracha he hears, it must come from a person who is obligated in the mitzva (Rosh Hashanah 29a). Even in order to answer amen, he must hear the beracha from a person whose beracha is meaningful (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 215:3 regarding a small child’s beracha). Therefore, all agree that one is not yotzei and does not answer amen to that which he hears on a recording, when no one is actually speaking. Almost all poskim agree that one cannot fulfill the mitzvah of hearing shofar via microphone, telephone or radio, because one must hear the authentic sound of a shofar (Rosh Hashanah 27b). The ruling regarding megillah reading via microphone is not as clear. Although one does not hear the actual voice of a valid ba’al koreh, but a device-generated reproduction, it is better than a recording in two ways. First, the sound is produced directly based on the sound waves from the ba’al koreh. Secondly, the reproduction is heard at essentially the same time the ba’al koreh reads. Therefore, although most poskim believe one cannot fulfill the mitzvah via microphone, the lenient position is marginally tenable (see Tzitz Eliezer VIII, 11; Igrot Moshe (OC II, 108) leans toward permitting it, but he appears to be based on a lack of related scientific information.) The gemara (Sukka 51b) minimizes the importance of hearing the voice of the person reciting, if one knows what is being said. It tells of a huge structure in Alexandria, where flags were waved to inform people when to answer amen. However, Tosafot (ad loc.) limits this precedent to cases where participants were not attempting to fulfill any mitzvah at the time. On the other hand, it does seem to indicate that one can answer amen without hearing the voice in a case where one knows what beracha it is and is not obligated to be yotzei (see Shulchan Aruch and Rama, OC 124:8). 



  Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Minchat Shlomo I, 9), while agreeing that one can answer amen to that which he hears in shul via microphone, disagrees regarding radio and telephone. The distinction is that the people in Alexandria were close enough to be connected to the berachot without hearing them. However, there is no physical connection between the person reciting and the one “listening” at a distance via telecommunication. One can raise the following counter argument to Rav Auerbach’s claim (which is based on logic, not sources). Even though, scientifically, the reproduced voice is new and is not the transfer of the original voice, the immediacy and realistic reproduction creates a palpable connection even over great distances. Although to be yotzei with someone one likely requires hearing the original sound emanating from the valid halachic entity, we learn from Alexandria that this is unnecessary in order to answer amen; a feeling of connection may suffice. Indeed, Rav Ovadia Yosef paskens that one cannot be yotzei via telephone but can answer amen and answer along with prayers that require a minyan (Yechave Da’at II, 68). Another factor which might preclude answering amen is the possibility that the voice travels over a place that is filthy or contains idol worship (see Shulchan Aruch, OC 55:20). However, there are a few reasons to be lenient here. First, it is not clear that we pasken that this is a problem, especially when there are other points of leniency (see opinions in Yechave Da’at, ibid.). Also, even if it were certain that “the voice” travels over such a place, the fact that it travels as electrical signals alone may be reason for the halacha not to apply. In conclusion, it is unclear whether one should answer amen to berachot heard via telecommunication. If one likes, he may rely on ample grounds to do so, realizing that the stakes regarding an unwarranted amen are lower than regarding berachot (see Igrot Moshe OC IV, 91). However, one need not feel halachically mandated to answer (see also Piskei Teshuvot 215:3).

[Ask the rabbi]

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Book Of The Month Club

The Meshech Chochma Al Ha-Torah.

Check it out. Pil-ei plaos!!! Eye-Oipening!!! 

Our Latent Talents

 Ma’amar by the Tolna Rebbe Shlita

 The construction of the Mishkan was led by Betzalel, who was designated for this role by HKB”H Himself, as Moshe told Bnai Yisrael: ראו קרא ה' בשם בצלאל בן אורי בן חור למטה יהודה... “See that G-d has called the name of Betzalel, the son of Uri, the son of Chur…” (Shemos 35:30). The question arises, why did Moshe tell the people to “see” that HKB”H assigned this role to Betzalel? The term ראו generally denotes vision, seeing something tangible with one’s eyes. What did Moshe want the people to “see” when he told them of Betzalel’s designation? 

Each Person’s Unique Talents 

Rav Moshe Feinstien zt”l (Derash Moshe, Parshas Vayakhel, p. 72) explained that as Betzalel, who was just thirteen at the time, was chosen from among the entire nation, from among the 600,000 men of this דעה דור – this generation of special wisdom – the people would want to know why specifically he was uniquely suited for this role. They would want to know why he, and only he, was capable of completing this very difficult task. And thus in the following pasuk Moshe describes to Bnai Yisrael Betzalel’s unique level of wisdom: וימלא אותו רוח אלוקים בחכמה בתבונה ובדעת ובכל מלאכה. “He has filled him with the spirit of G-d, with wisdom, understanding and [the ability to perform] every task…” Moshe was telling the people to see and take note of the fact that HKB”H had endowed Betzalel with special wisdom and knowledge, and granted him unique talents and strengths. And this was the greatest possible indicator and clearest possible proof that Betzalel had indeed been chosen for the role of leading the construction of the Mishkan. The message that this conveys is that HKB”H has implanted within each and every person special talents and capabilities that nobody else has. Many times, however, people fail to believe in themselves, in their talents and abilities, and do not recognize their immense worth, that they have unique skills and are capable of many outstanding accomplishments. The yetzer ha’ra works with all its might to prove to a person that he is incapable of achieving anything. The way to defeat the yetzer ha’ra and foil this plan is to know that it all depends on our actions and the strength of our spirit, as Iyov (32:8) said, "אכן באנוש היא רוח” Indeed, the human being has a spirit. A person’s spirit is capable of withstanding any challenge, and we just need to believe in our capabilities. 

With this in mind, we can perhaps understand a puzzling passage in Tanna De’bei Eliyahu (18:12). Citing the pasuk in Eicha (2:19), Arise and rejoice at night, at the beginning of the watches, Eliyahu Ha’navi explained that this refers to HKB”H’s compassion for His people in times of distress, and even when they sin: ברוך המקום ברוך הוא שרחמיו הם מרובין על ישראל לעולם. אע"פ שסרחו במעשיהם לפני הקב"ה והקב"ה כועס עליהן, אעפ"כ רחמים שלו עליהם בכל יום תמיד... אמר הקב"ה: בכל צער וצער שיש לישראל כביכול אני עמהם, שנאמר בכל צרתם  לו צר. אל תיקרי לו צר אלא לי צר... Blessed is the Almighty, blessed is He, for His compassion upon Yisrael is eternally abundant. Even when they act improperly before the Almighty and the Almighty is angry at them, nevertheless, His compassion is upon then, always, every day… The Almighty said: During each and every trouble which Yisrael faces, I am with them, as it were. For it says (Yeshayahu 63:9), “In all their distress, He is in distress.” Do not read it as, “He is in distress,” but rather, “I am in distress.” The pasuk therefore instructs, בלילה רני קומי ,to rejoice even in the night, during times of darkness and suffering, knowing that even amid the hardship, His compassion is still with us.

 The Tanna De’bei Eliyahu then proceeds to explain the next phrase in this pasuk:   Pour forth your heart like water in the presence of G-d.” These words, the Tanna De’bei Eliyahu explains, refers to the fact that HKB”H is with a person whenever he learns Torah: מכאן אמרו כל ת"ח שיושב וקורא ושונה ועוסק בתורה הקב"ה יושב כנגדו וקורא ושונה עמו...ואלולי שהדבר כתוב אי אפשר לאומרו, וכל האומרו היה חייב מיתה. On this basis it was said: Any Torah scholar who sits and reads, studies and engages in Torah – the Almighty sits opposite him and reads and studies with him… And if this had not been written, it would have been impossible to say it, and whoever said it would have been liable to death. 

When we engage in Torah, Eliyahu Ha’navi taught, we are  נוכח פני השם – in the presence of HKB”H, who “sits opposite” us, as it were. Seemingly, according to the Tanna De’bei Eliyahu’s interpretation of this pasuk, its two segments have nothing to do with one another. The first segment – קומי רוני בלילה – tells us of HKB”H’s compassion for us during times of hardship and distress – and the second – שפכי כמים לבך נוכח פני השם – tells us that HKB”H is present when we learn Torah. What is the connection between these two concepts? Eliyahu Ha’navi is teaching us that the way to strengthen ourselves during times of distress is by recognizing that whenever any Jew, regardless of his low stature, sits and learns Torah, the Creator of the universe turns away from all His other affairs, as it were, and comes next to him to learn right across from him to help him and assist him. Recognizing just how precious each and every one of us is can give us the encouragement we need to overcome any hardship or challenge. We need to remember that every individual has the power to bring the Shechina down to where he is to help him and protect him. If we awaken our hearts to this power, and recognize our inestimable value in HKB”H’s eyes, then HKB”H will hear our cries and come to bring us our long-awaited final redemption במהרה במינו אמן!!

Mall Melee

Beis Vaad Halachic Journal

A quiet, residential neighborhood, a mini-community of seniors to whom a tranquil pace of life is of paramount importance, is facing a threat to its tranquility.

A real-estate developer seeks to establish a monstrous shopping mall directly adjacent to the main entrance to the neighborhood. Emotions run high, the controversy generates daily fodder for the gossip beast, and many outsiders keep their fingers on the pulse, anxious to see how things will play out.

Both the developer and the community are observant Jews. What recourse does this community have according to halacha? Does the developer have the halachic right to develop? In what forum may the community litigate to prevent the development?
The validity of secular regulation in halacha


If we were to examine the halachos pertaining to such building, there is very little in the strict halacha that can be brought against such a development. (There is a broader authority that a bais din occasionally reserves for itself, which include mandated "peshara" (compromise) or "tzedek v'yosher" (fairness and propriety), but this would depend on the individual bais din's practices regarding such areas.)

However there is a halachic argument that can be made for the community.

The Chasam Sofer 1 writes concerning laws of unfair competition "the regulations that the ministers of the Comidat created are not against the law of the Torah, but they have done like the Torah, and, had they come before us, we too would create such regulations…"

What the Chasam Sofer seems to imply, is that there are certain laws that are not statutes, but are created by ministerial authority of the particular government body to regulate their respective area in an efficient manner. Such regulations do not stem from any ideological or moral source, which would place them in a category competing with the ideological bedrock of the Torah; rather, they have been created for regulatory purposes, for the sake of maintaining functional and practical community life.

To understand this concept more deeply, there is a concept in Halacha as well, of takanas hakehillos (community enactments). This concept is found in numerous places in the Poskim, but a teshuva of the Rashba2 seems to concretize and define the broad parameters of this halachic machination:

"You asked: May the community create legislations, treaties and barriers among themselves, and penalize and punish because of their treaties, beyond the law of the Torah, or not? … Answer: It is clear that a community may create barriers and create legislations and treaties, as they see fit, and it is valid as the law of the Torah. They may penalize and punish whoever transgresses anything that they have agreed upon among themselves, provided that the entire community, without dissent, agrees to such..."

What the Chasam Sofer seems to imply is that the halachic recognition of takanah, of communal self-legislation, may be extended to the halachic recognition of legislation that has already been enacted by secular leadership, in the case of legislation that serves in lieu of the religious community's legislating. Since the community itself clearly would have legislated such laws had they not existed, these laws receive the validity of takanas tzibbur.

In light of this, we may want to examine a case of legislation that a modern self-governing Torah-observant community created for itself.

In the all-Jewish village of Kiryas Joel, the rabbinic leadership (Rav Aharon Teitelbaum and Rav Getzel Berkowitz) issued a letter3, effectively criticizing the residents who ignore the building codes and are not considerate of the fact that damages can result from such practices, and informing the public that the rabbis "sat on seats of judgment and after proper analysis we decided to empower those who have been appointed by the management of the township as building inspectors, to carry out their instructions for the good of the city concerning building of the houses, the courtyards, and the porches, that they should be according to the law of the country, and they have power and authority to prevent building if they see that it is important to do so, or other improvements in the order of driving of cars and the like…"

It is clear from this case, as should be obvious by rational analysis, that a self-governing Torah-observant community living in the current era would enact legislation that would far more resemble the by-laws and ordinances of zoning and city planning than it would Hilchos Nizkei Sh’chainim of the Shulchan Aruch.

Accordingly, the argument can be made that the Chasam Sofer's ruling should apply in this case. Although the Halachos of Nizkei Sh'chainim would not prevent the developer from building a monstrous mall near the quiet senior community, the developer should be required by Halacha to follow zoning and city planning laws.
Fighting the development in the township zoning or planning board

A Jew is forbidden from litigating against a fellow Jew in a secular court,4 barring certain circumstances sanctioned by a bais din.5 In addition, a Jew may not use the force of a non-Jewish entity to extort money or monetary privileges from a fellow Jew. This would constitute the serious transgression of mesirah.6

In cases such as these, the secular forum for such a claim would be in one of the various boards in the township that deal with matters of city planning and building safety, i. e. the zoning board or the planning board. According to halacha, may the residents use any of these forums to complain about, and thereby attempt to thwart, such a development?

There is a strong argument to make on behalf of such a move.

If the developer requires permits in order to proceed with developing, and his opponents are attempting to prevent the issuing of these permits, there are a number of poskim who allow this. The prohibition against mesirah only includes property that a fellow Jew already owns, but preventing a Jew from gain is not prohibited by mesirah. Since the property itself has a totally different value after the permits have been issued, evidently this is not a case of preventing a Jew from utilizing his own property, but of preventing him from gain of an asset that he has not yet attained.7



1 Responsa Ch. M. 44



2 Vol. 4 Siman 185


3 A copy of this letter appears in Arkaos Bahalachah (Bnei Brak 5776) pg. 124


4 Choshen Mishpat 26:1


5 Ibid 26:2


6 Ibid 26:4


7 See kovetz hayashar vehatov vol. 6 pg. 185 et al for a lengthy discussion

Narcissicm Reaches A New Apex

UN-BE-LIEVABLE!!!!

On the rooftop of her Brooklyn apartment building this past spring, Erika Anderson put on a vintage-style white wedding dress, stood before a circle of her closest friends, and committed herself — to herself.

"I choose you today," she said. Later she tossed the bouquet to friends and downed two shots of whiskey, one for herself and one for herself. She had planned the event for weeks, sending invitations, finding the perfect dress, writing her vows, buying rosé and fresh baguettes and fruit tarts from a French bakery. For the decor: an array of shot glasses emblazoned with the words "You and Me." In each one, a red rose.

"It wasn't an easy decision," she noted on the wedding invitations. "I had cold feet for 35 years. But then I decided it was time to settle down. To get myself a whole damn apartment. To celebrate birthday #36 by wearing an engagement ring and saying: YES TO ME. I even made a registry, because this is America."

Self-marriage is a small but growing movement, with consultants and self-wedding planners popping up across the world. In Canada, a service called Marry Yourself Vancouver launched this past summer, offering consulting services and wedding photography. In Japan, a travel agency called Cerca Travel offers a two-day self-wedding package in Kyoto: You can choose a wedding gown, bouquet, and hairstyle, and pose for formal wedding portraits. On the website I Married Me, you can buy a DIY marriage kit: For $50, you get a sterling silver ring, ceremony instructions, vows, and 24 "affirmation cards" to remind you of your vows over time. For $230, you can get the kit with a 14-karat gold ring.

It's not a legal process — you won't get any tax breaks for marrying yourself. It's more a "rebuke" of tradition, says Rebecca Traister, author of All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation. "For generations, if women wanted to have economic stability and a socially sanctioned sex life or children, there was enormous social and economic pressure to do that within marriage," she says. "Personally, as someone who lived for many years single and then did get married, I know that the kind of affirmation I got for getting married was unlike anything I'd ever had in any other part of my life." That, she adds, is "incredibly unjust."

Marriage (to another person) is on the decline. Barely half of all adults in the U.S. are married — a record low — according to a 2011 study from the Pew Research Center. In 1960, 72% of adults age 18 and older were married, while today, just 51% are wed. People are waiting longer to marry as well: The median age at first marriage is at a new high for brides (26.5 years) and grooms (28.7 years).

Nonetheless, the stigma for single women remains. "It's left over from centuries of one kind of marriage pattern and one path for women," Traister says. She recalls reading books as a girl in which the story always ended when the heroine got married, as if that were the ultimate goal. "We're set up as a culture to treat marriage as the most exciting thing you'll ever do in your life," she says. "But if you marry yourself, you can say: My life is just as meaningful as the life of the person who happens to be getting married."

Erika had been married once before — to her college sweetheart. After meeting as seniors at Kalamazoo College in Michigan, they married a few years later and moved to Europe. But she and her husband grew apart in the years after college, she says, and divorced when she was 30.


She moved to Brooklyn and started dating, but nothing lasted. Earlier this year, she set a goal to write a book she'd always wanted to write. She put on her old engagement ring — a big blue topaz she had bought for herself: She wanted to commit to the book. The ring served as a reminder. "I started wearing it every day," she says. But it led to a much deeper commitment.

One night at a bar, when a man noticed the engagement ring and asked, "Who's the lucky guy?" Erika looked at her hand and quipped, "Myself!" She said it jokingly. But then she started to think about it. Why not commit to herself? "When you're single, society tells you that you are a woman who has not been chosen by someone else," she says. "I decided to choose myself. It was an act of defiance."

Not that she has anything against happy couples. She plans to keep dating, and she appreciates the "ceremony and symbolism" of traditional marriage. "There's something about people coming together and saying, 'We see you, we support you, we're in it with you,'" she says. With that in mind, she started making her wedding plans. She wanted to keep it simple, for herself and for everyone attending. She found her dress on ModCloth.com, and bought pair of retro-style wedge sandals for a '60s vibe. She had a personalized rose-gold bracelet made by a designer on Etsy that says "I choose you" in French.

Not everyone understood. Her dad back home in the Midwest asked, "Is this for real?" A guy she knew said it sounded narcissistic and pointless. But Erika says loving yourself, and being yourself, is a good thing. "I think freedom should mean freedom to choose our own path," she says. "And marrying yourself isn't surrendering to the wedding-industrial complex. It's saying yes to something new."

Solo weddings can take many forms. Dominique Youkhehpaz married herself in a quiet ceremony with candles in her bedroom when she turned 22, vowing to be kind and compassionate to herself. She was the only one in attendance, although she announced the union to friends. For a ring, she went with a nose ring. "I breathe my vows every day," she says.