Shalom Bayis (Peaceful Marriage)
A "Tzadik's Eye View" of Treating a Spouse



















Material in this section is essentially drawn from TaNaCH, Chazal (gemoras and midrashim), Rishonim, Acharonim, seforim and recent Litvish and Chasidish gedolim; being Torah sources on marital and family midos (character traits), hashkafa (views, attitudes), atmosphere and behavior.

One of the main goals of this section is for the reader to absorb how the "Torah mind" [daas Torah] works, in order to upgrade the level of practical actions and peacefulness in close and important relationships, or at least to enable the reader to better know when there is a shaalo (question) to call a rav with for Torah instruction and resolution.

Chazal tell us in many tractates that "talmiday chachomim [Torah scholars] increase peace in the world" and are the builders of the world. Without peace and without Torah, there will be a destructive element in any and every endeavor. In other words, for there to be any constructive endeavor, there must be peace which is achieved by Torah means.

For some couples, having or handling differences is a troubling and daunting experience. When I do marriage counseling, I often tell couples: 1. having differences is normal so people should NEVER BE AFRAID OF HAVING DIFFERENCES, they should be AFRAID OF IMMATURE HANDLING OF DIFFERENCES! 2. to have a rov and their policy should be "WE DON'T HAVE FIGHTS, WE HAVE SHAALOS!" 3. Accept that real life does not always go your way, 4. DON'T BE STIFLED BE CREATIVE! and 5. Maturely handling differences makes people closer!

As a practical matter, I can tell you from my private counseling work experience, that a couple being flexible - without grudge or resentment; in a warm and good-natured way; with care and concern for each other; being meaningfully and steadily kind and responsive to one another; and giving mounds of respect and acknowledgement to one another - are of utmost importance for achieving great levels of success in their work to build a peaceful and happy marriage.

Rabbi Shmuel Salant was a leader of the Jerusalem community a few generations ago. During his era, a young man got married immediately before Passover. The young man spent the Seder at his new in-laws. When the soup came, the man saw a peace of wheat floating in his soup. This was terrible! There was 100% pure "chometz (forbidden grain)" in the Pesach food! The young man started screaming at his mother-in-law. He was ferociously and loudly criticizing and humiliating her. He was attacking her so bitterly, the family ran to Rabbi Shmuel. When the family protested the intensity of the young man's attack, Rabbi Shmuel ordered the man to take off his hat and hand it to him. Inside the hat were some grains of wheat. The man was married just before Pesach. It was customary in Jerusalem in those days to throw wheat at the choson (groom) at the ofruf (calling a groom to the Torah on the shabos immediately before his wedding). Some of the wheat lodged in the young man's hat and stayed there into Pesach. It was this wheat which fell into the soup.

The moral of the story is: before you attack, accuse or criticize the next person, look under your hat and see if the

complaint is really in your own head! Find some pleasant way to always undo anger, dispute or tension. Anything - even a mitzva - which is done with a sin or fight IS BY DEFINITION WRONG AND BAD.

Even the best of marriages require constant unselfish and responsible work.

In the Passover Hagada, we say that we cried out to G-d in prayer, G-D heard our prayer, He saw our suffering AND SEPARATION FROM NORMAL FAMILY LIFE (brought on by the Egyptian bondage) and He saved us. When family life is at all disrupted or unhappy, pray! Let G-d hear your SINCERE prayer, that He may answer it and save you.

Remember that there are three partners in the Jewish marriage. We understandably have to emphasize two: husband and wife, in most of our discussion. Besides all practical effort between husband and wife necessary to have a peaceful marriage, bring in your THIRD PARTNER: HASHEM...pray!



The Torah (Exodus 1:1) says, "And these are the names of the descendants of Israel who came with Jacob to Egypt, each man and his household...". The Torah specifies "each man and his household," telling us that the family is the key unit in the Torah's hashkofa (worldview). The midrash teaches that Yaakov understood the immorality and spiritually impure atmosphere of exile, so he had all who came with him to Egypt marry before leaving - even the young grandchildren who were still babies. Marriage is a protective shield against immorality. A strong Jewish home is the only refuge from the outside influences of golus and Yaakov wanted all of his descendants protected. The Chasam Sofer says that each "house" was a house of Torah study. They transplanted to golus the life devoted to study that they had back home. Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch writes that the Torah repeats reference to Jacob ("who came with Jacob to Egypt") in this verse just before saying "each man and his household" to emphasize that each household was dedicated to Yaakov's holy Torah heritage. The Sefas Emmess says that the fact that they came as Jewish households is what set them up for salvation from Egypt. We learn from "Man and household" that the Jewish home is central to Torah tradition and protects us from outside forces when we are vigilant to keep it constantly spiritually strong.

Rabbinic tradition recognizes that some people learn in order to serve their own purposes, having nothing to do with real purpose - Torah, mitzvos, spiritual growth and service of G-d. The midrash says, "Derech eretz (polite, civil, thoughtful behavior) must precede Torah." Tosfos says that there are people who learn for selfish motives such as to become arrogant, to annoy others or to win halacha debates. Rambam says that some learn to be respected or to be called Rabbi. Rabbi Yisroel Salanter says that some learn to be better able to harm or rob others. The Maharsha says that one with selfish motives limits the ultimate purpose of his deeds to this world, while the person with sincere G-dly motives extends the ultimate purpose of his deeds to Heaven and to eternity. The Rama [this is actual halacha in the Shulchan Aruch, Yorah Dayah 242:30], says that the laws of honoring one's primary rov apply specifically to the rov who taught one "practical halacha, in-depth understanding, and trained him to maintain truth and correct practical living." THE ROV YOU ARE TO OBLIGATED IN HALACHA TO GIVE SPECIAL RESPECT TO IS THE ROV WHO TEACHES AND CAUSES YOU TO LIVE AS A MENTSH!

Midrash Agada says that a true Torah person has four precious attributes: Torah learning, mitzva performance, kind deeds and good midos. Without all four, he is not a true Torah person.

Each Jewish man must have regular times set aside for Torah learning. Not only (as we learn from the Vilna Gaon) must he learn for the purpose of genuine self-elevation, but when a wife

* hears him sharing with her things he has learned,

* sees him apply what he has learned in practical life and

* sees him improve as a person from what he has learned,

her respect and admiration for him zooms up!

It improves a marriage when the wife dovens twice each day and attends a good women's shiur (class) at least once a week.

From my practical counseling experience, when meaningful spiritual elements like these are consistently included by both partners in the couple's regular routine, and both work ongoingly together to treat each other with better midos and to live with better halacha observance, the quality of their marriage and peacefulness improves significantly and sustainably.


If one does not have good midos, kind deeds, derech eretz, fulfill the entire Shulchan Aruch (including interpersonal obligations) - he is not a Torah person. He is too clever for his own good - a danger to others and to his own soul. Ramban says that one can know all the laws and claim to be a Torah person; but unless he makes himself holy, he can still be a "low life."

King Solomon says (Proverbs 4:11), "In the way of wisdom I instructed you, I directed you on the straight paths [ma'aglai yosher]." "Ma'agal" can either mean a "path" or a "circle." There is Hebrew grammar problem, then, in the verse using a term that can be read "straight circle" - an inherent contradiction! I heard in the name of one of the Telzer rosh yeshivos that King Solomon is adding a deep message. A person has a storehouse of all of the midos (character traits) of the human personality. Midos are analogous to a "straight circle," IF THE PERSON HAS THE CORRECT MEASURE AND BALANCE OF ALL THE MIDOS. If there is too much or too little of any mida (trait), that puts bumps on his "midos circle." Where there is too much, the circle bulges out, too little it bulges in. G-d instructed us in Torah wisdom that it should lead us to the straight path which is only attainable through a "straight circle" - the proper content of midos. Only through midos can a person live with truth, goodness and righteousness; go according to the directing of the will of G-d, and live with others as G-d wants from each of us.

WHAT COUNTS FIRST AND FOREMOST ARE A GOOD HEART AND GOOD MIDOS. These tell us what the person will use his intellect and talents for, whether he is close to G-d or to his own ego. Rabbi Elimelech of Lizinsk writes that the ONLY REASON A PERSON IS BORN IS TO CHANGE HIS NATURE FOR THE BETTER.

The world is torn down by people hurting and harming each other. In contrast, the world 1. has "salvations" when we guard against harming one another (Shabos 31:a) and 2. "will be built by lovingkindness (Psalm 89:3)."

Late in life, Rabbi Shimon Schwab, leader of German-Jewry, was wheelchair bound. Since he couldn't easily get outside, he once asked a visitor what was happening in the Jewish world. He was told that the newest chumra [Torah stringency] was yoshon [using flour from the previous year]. Rabbi Schwab asked, "What about basics like derech eretz?"

Rabbi Chayim Veetal, the famed mystic, asked: if midos are so fundamental, why is there no mitzva to have good midos among the 613 mitzvos? Because midos are so fundamental that you can't have the 613 mitzvos without them! You do not have to tell an architect to build a house and a foundation for it. Anyone who knows architecture knows a foundation is basic - it goes without saying. Midos are a foundation for Torah. They are such a basic prerequisite to Torah that the Torah expects them to be there before the Torah can be learned or observed! In other words, if good midos aren't there, Torah surely isn't there.



Watch for opportunities to exemplify derech eretz in your home with your spouse and your children. Watch how the quality of your marriage goes up.

If your wife asks you to take out the garbage or bring home a quart of milk, learn from this the first time that when the garbage fills up or the milk runs low - anticipate her wishes and take the garbage out or bring the milk in - yourself. Similarly, if your husband likes a coffee with breakfast or likes his seforim (holy books) put back on the shelf in their proper place after the children use them, don't wait to be asked to make sure that breakfast includes coffee the way he likes it or to put his sefer back on its shelf after your little Yonk'l finishes his chumash homework. Anticipate each other's feelings, needs and wishes in advance - before they have to be mentioned.

When the other has a problem, be as supportive, understanding and patient as you can. Stay cheerful, gracious and pleasant except when you are genuinely burdened and your spouse can help or be supportive. There is no gain expressing depression, trouble or tension where your spouse will only be made sad and can't help in any way. Don't do things that will bother, irritate, ignore, disrespect or pressure your spouse.

Always be polite and thoughtful; give compliments and express appreciation. Hold the door for your wife (it is NO violation of tzneeyus and it IS giving her derech eretz). If your wife feels that because of tzneeyus she should walk behind you, then hold the door so that she walks behind your back. Tell her that her clothes look nice. Tell your husband that some achievement of his makes you proud of him.

If your spouse likes something, bring presents of that kind home. One young man found out his new bride likes ice cream. She came home to find a milk shake from the ice cream store in the refrigerator. One man's wife made a passing remark that her shaitl (wig used to fulfill the law requiring that a married woman cover her hair) was wearing out. Shortly thereafter, her husband came home from her shaitlmacher ("wig lady") with a brand new shaitl as a surprise. An engaged young man told his bride-to-be that he doesn't like the look of wigs. Out of respect for his feelings, during her "bridal shopping," she acquired an array of kerchiefs and hats (which would satisfy the law requiring that her hair be covered) so that she would not need any wig.

The Arizal said to Rabbi Moshe Kordevaro that he had a ruach hakodesh (Divine inspiration) that if the two of them went (from their town of Tzfas) to Jerusalem right away, they would bring Moshiach. Rabbi Kordevaro said that he would just tell his wife that he is leaving for Jerusalem. When he came back, ready to leave, the Arizal said that, in the time he took to say goodbye to his wife, the opportunity passed and it was too late. Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, the "Father of the Mussar Movement," said that we see from this that you cannot bring Moshiach if it means doing so on the "cheshbon" of one's wife. It was more important that Rabbi Kordevaro give derech eretz to his wife than bring Moshiach with the great Arizal!

Some people make the mistake of thinking "derech eretz" altogether is corny or old-fashioned; or just for saints who want "extra credit." Some people make the mistake of thinking derech eretz is fine in public, but not with one's spouse nor children; or derech eretz is fine for wife and children but not for strangers.
The thing which comes before the Torah is not something to make any mistakes about. Not with anybody. Never.



Each owes the other. The marriage must function in practical daily life. The Jew has no mentality of "my rights," "my entitlements." Each one's job is to GIVE for the other's satisfaction and good. Your partner has rights and entitlements. From you. Let's see what they are, from the Torah and its sages.

A man may not diminish provision of all the food, clothes and affection that his wife needs (Exodus 21:10). He must provide financial support (standard kesuba). He should share the benefits of his life and not cause her pain (Kesubos 61a). He must never be angry or frightening; he must promote her feeling joyous; and as his financial or social station rises, he must give her more money and status accordingly (Rambam, Hilchos Ishus). He must love her as much as himself and honor her more than himself (Yevamos 62b), give tangible expressions of honor such as jewels and ornaments (Sanhedrin 76b). Relative to what he can afford, he should eat and drink less that he can afford, dress himself according to what he can afford, and honor his wife and children with more than he can afford (Chulin 84b). He lets her be in charge of household matters; he must be careful with her honor; and is to never cause her to cry, to hurt or to curse him (Bava Metzia 59a). He must fully acknowledge and appreciate her for all which he accomplishes as a consequence of her support, encouragement or assistance (Kesubos 62b). He must give his wife compassion and protection (Hakdoma, Tur Evven Ho'Ezzer). He must take care of her needs before his own (Beraishis Raba 39:15). He must nurture a relationship of love and closeness with his wife (Iggeress HaKodesh, attributed to Ramban). During the first year of marriage, he may not leave his wife overnight, so she may grow secure with his love for her (Chinuch #582). He must take time to speak with her, and obtain and respect her opinions (Letter by Rabbi Akiva Aiger).

Men: never belittle your wife's role as a wife or mother. King Solomon (Proverbs 1:8) told children to "Never abandon the Torah of your mother." You may ask, "It is the father who learns and teaches Torah in the home, so why does the verse say, 'Torah of your mother?'" When the mother provides an atmosphere of love and warmth, this nurtures the child, providing the secure foundation which permits him to understand Torah. He doesn't have to look at life through defenses, complexes and insecurities. Torah is life, not an intellectual exercise. Her dusting, shopping, cooking, setting the table, diapering and sewing is her Torah! These are to her what Torah is to him. For such a supportive and cooperative wife, his Torah generates two measures of Heavenly reward: for him and her. The Torah does not take root except in the child who has a nurturing, stable and spiritual home; whose atmosphere has been contributed by a woman whose behavior, values and demeanor support and promote Torah in healthy and spiritually motivated children. Such a wife deserves her husband's utmost appreciation, admiration, kindness and respect. If you give these to her and fulfill your obligations to her, she will give back. If you are sincere, consistent and responsible (if your wife is psychologically normal and not an abusive or immature advantage-taker), you will not lose.

The wife is obligated to serve her husband, revere him like a king and honor him exceedingly much (Rambam, Hilchos Ishus, chapter 15), tend to matters of the home and practical daily life (Bava Metzia 59a), obey him and do his will (Nedarim 66b). Where her honor and his are in conflict, she is to defer to him (Kiddushin 31a). She must not cause him pain; if she hits or refuses to go to mikva, she can be subject to divorce without kesuba payment (Shulchan Oruch, Evven Ho'Ezzer). When he is angry, she should calm him; when he is hurt, she should soothe him; when he has been done bad to, she should comfort him; when he is worried, she should restore him; when he is pressured, she should minimize requests; and cancel her will for her husband (Shlaw HaKodesh). She should diminish his sadness, his worry or anything which is hard on his heart (Shaivet Mussar). She should raise her man up and she is responsible for her duties (Kesubos 61a).

A wife is a man's "aizer kinegdo (help against him, Genesis 2:18)." The commentaries wrestle with the apparent contradiction of "help against." If she's a help, she can't be against. If she's against, what kind of help?" Rashi explains that if the husband is worthy, she will help him in life. If he is evil, she will be against him. Ralbag says that we see from the fact that she is the "aizer kinegdo," there is no partnership, no equality. She has to help him in his mission in life. Rashi is telling us that he has to be a mentsh and Ralbag is telling us that her job is to help him do his job in life.

This may be hard for some self-proclaimed "moderns" to digest, but marriage is work, serious work; with clearly defined roles, assignments and responsibilities. For those who ask, "Says who?" G-d, Chazal, Rishonim, Gedolim and Poskim. Those who count in determining what a Jew does! The "flip side" is that those husbands and wives who consistently and thoroughly fulfill their obligations, do so with a good heart and attitude, are mature, conduct themselves with good midos and psychologically normality, and obey the Torah and its authorities, will also fulfill "Its [the Torah's] ways are pleasant and all of its paths are peace" (Proverbs 3:17).

Tractate Yevamos (62b) bottom-lines things saying plainly, "Marry and have children!"

Tractate Pesachim (113a) says that a man should flay carcasses in the market place (hard, foul-smelling work) and earn honest wages rather than say, "I am an honored and great man and this work is beneath my dignity."

No one is degraded by honest work. It is a mitzva to work to support a wife and children (Shulchan Aruch, Evven HaEzzer, chapters 69-74) in an honest, self-sufficient manner (exceptions do exist e.g. the husband is a Torah scholar who deserves to be supported while he studies or the wife came into the marriage independently wealthy - take practical questions to an orthodox rabbi).

"If a person cannot afford to buy [both] a candle for shabos and wine for kiddush, a shabos candle takes precedence; and, similarly, if a person cannot afford to buy [both] a candle for shabos and a candle for Chanuka, a shabos candle takes precedence; because of PEACE in the house, for there is no PEACE without light [which the relatively larger shabos or yom tov candle provides; Orech Chayim, Hilchos Shabos, 263:3]."

"A pauper who sustains himself from charity must sell his clothing, or must borrow or must rent himself [as a hired worker] in order to have wine for the four [Passover seder] cups" [Orech Chayim, Hilchos Pesach, 472:13]. "And the [yom tov/holiday] candle for the house is a higher priority than the four cups [if he can't obtain money for both wine and candle] because of PEACE in the house" (Mishna Brura #41, commenting on the above Passover halacha].



The first step in producing a happy wife is: not producing an unhappy wife. The Talmud (Bava Metzia 59a & b) puts it better than I could. Let me bring several marriage teachings found there.

"Rav said, 'A man must always be careful with the paining of his wife. Because her tears come readily, her pain comes quickly.' Said Rabbi Elazar, 'Since the destruction of the Holy Temple, the gates of prayer [in Heaven, where the prayers of an individual, who prays without a minyan, have to pass] are shut, but the gates of tears are not shut.' [Since a woman doesn't pray with a minyan, her prayers are heard if they are with a sincere heart; a man who prays without a minyan may or may not be heard - it is up to Heaven each time; men who pray with a minyan are heard by Heaven.]

"Rav also said, 'A man who acts upon his wife's advice will fall'...Rabbi Papaw expressed objection to [his colleague] Abayei, saying, 'Everyone says that if your wife is short, bend down and listen to her whisper [go out of your way to act upon the advice of your wife - a seeming contradiction with the authoritative Rav].' It is no contradiction [each has a specific domain of leadership]. He is the leader in religious matters, she is leader in household matters.'

"Rabbi Hisda said, 'All the gates [in Heaven] are shut except the gates of pained feelings'...Rabbi Elazar said, 'All punishments come through an intermediary, but punishment for causing pained feelings comes directly and rapidly from G-d.'

"Rabbi Yehuda said, 'A man must always be careful that there be food in his house, for over matters of food a fight is guaranteed to come.'

Rabbi Helbo said, 'A man must be always careful with his wife's honor because blessing is found in his home only because of his wife, as the Torah says [Genesis 12], "And [G-d] gave good to Avraham because of her [Sara, his wife]." And accordingly Rava said to the men of the town of Mehuza, 'Treat your wives as precious because this is prerequisite to becoming wealthy.'

We will see from the following how far the obligation of kavod for a wife goes.

[To give context, let me start with this introduction. The following story is based on the above-mentioned gemora in Bava Metzia. Rabbi Eliezer was a tzadik for whom Heaven did miracles and for whom Heaven called out to the Rabbis saying that Rabbi Eliezer's rulings in Torah law were always correct. The Rabbis had a difference with Rabbi Eliezer and, since they arrived at their position through the Talmudic methodologies for determining law, they held to their verdict. In order to maintain rabbinic unity, they excommunicated Rabbi Eliezer (who was very sensitive), and he cried as a result. Rabbi Gamliel was the leader of the rabbis and of the generation. Heaven sought to drown Rabbi Gamliel (who was on a boat at the time) for hurting Rabbi Eliezer. By praying that his motive was to promote peace, not to spite Rabbi Eliezer, the storm subsided just in time. It was clear that Heaven was on Rabbi Eliezer's side. After the standing prayer, "Shmoneh Esray," there is a supplication prayer ("Tachanun"). Supplication is said on all days which have no holiday characteristic. On any day when supplication is said, the law requires that there be no interruption between Shmoneh Esray and supplication. Rabbi Eliezer's wife was the sister of Rabbi Gamliel. On the day on which he was nearly drowned, she became concerned for her brother's life. If Rabbi Eliezer would say his supplication prayer, Heaven would kill her brother. So, she came to the synagogue which he regularly prayed in and, when he finished Shmoneh Esray, she interrupted him from saying supplication. She came every day, day in-day out. On Rosh Chodesh (the first of every Jewish month) there is no supplication, so she would not need to come. A Jewish month can have 29 or 30 days.]

"From this day on, she did not permit him to say supplication prayer. One day she thought it to be Rosh Chodesh and she did not come to interrupt him. She was mistaken for, that month, Rosh Chodesh was the next day. He said supplication prayer, and she said, 'You have killed my brother.' At the same time, an announcement came from Rabbi Gamliel's house that he just died. Rabbi Eliezer asked his wife, 'How did you know?' She answered, "I learned in my father's house that all gates [in Heaven] are shut except the gates of pained feelings.'"

I'll make some observations about the above Talmudic excerpt. If a man ever hurts his wife's feelings, he would have to be insane. G-d literally counts the tears and punishes severely for each tear that he makes his wife cry. Any man with reason should be frightened of causing pained feelings to his wife - or causing even one teardrop.

It is an open prohibition in the Torah not to hurt any Jew. Classic cases include:

* hurting feelings,

* shaming,

* calling someone by a disparaging nickname,

* harassment,

* joining an argument to the loss or detriment of someone,

* giving bad advice or misleading,

* taking unfair advantage or

* cheating monetarily.

For any manifestation of causing pain to another Jew, Heaven is swift and severe in paying retribution. Heaven killed Rabbi Gamliel, Torah giant and the leader of his generation, for causing pain to Rabbi Eliezer and causing him to cry. Heaven is rapid in punishing for hurting a Jew. And this is all the moreso when it is a case of a husband hurting his wife, especially when it brings her to tears. OK guys? You got your work cut out for you! All smiles for the rest of your life. Remember, not one tear (gals, remember: no provoking or advantage-taking; G-d knows all the tricks better than you do!).

Sefer Yerayim says that a face can cause pain. The same way that hurting or shaming with words can brutally hurt feelings, one can cause this brutal pain by the face, eyes and expression. The appearance of a face is conveyed into the other person's heart.

After the Talmud has cited teaching after teaching about honoring a wife and about not hurting a wife, one may wonder why it gives a long recounting Rabbi Eleazer's disagreement with the Rabbis.

"Hilchos Derech Eretz [Laws of Civil, Polite, Thoughtful Behavior]" by Rabbi Yakov Davidson of Boro Park, Brooklyn, is a contemporary, scholarly book which goes through dozens and dozens of selected Torah laws, analyzes them and shows that the foundation of these laws is in the Torah's will that the Jew behave as a "mentsh," with derech eretz. Rabbi Davidson writes, in Hilchos Derech Eretz, that the Talmud wants to show the extreme extent to which a man must give honor to his wife and to never hurt her. This is why the story of Rabbi Eliezer is juxtaposed next to the teachings about honoring and never hurting a wife. Even if she comes to speak to him between Shmoneh Esray and supplication, when it is prohibited to interrupt, he would let her speak to him. Remember that we are talking about a tzadik for whom Heaven did miracles and on behalf of whom a Heavenly voice chastised the rabbis. He is someone who knew Torah law to the satisfaction of Heaven itself! He was pure and righteous. When it came to honoring his wife, we may rely that he had his priorities straight! So much would he honor, and refrain from paining, his wife, that if she would want to speak to him between Shmoneh Esray and supplication, Rabbi Eliezer would allow her to interrupt. It wasn't just one day. It wasn't just a fluke. It was day after day after day. So stringent is the obligation to honor, and never to hurt, one's wife!



When the above gemora says that a husband in the boss in religious matters and the wife is the boss in household matters, we have one of the Talmudic bases for "traditional roles," this time in terms of defining areas of specialty.

The man is in charge of religious practice and custom in the family, and education of the children. If the spouses come from different religious cultures (e.g. Lithuanian ["Litvak"], Chasidish, Sefardic, etc.), there cannot be two different sets of customs. The custom goes after the husband. The wife must adapt to the husband. There has to be a unified mode of religious operation. He (or his orthodox rabbi) is the "last word" in religious issues. If a woman who is not a Kohain marries a Kohain, she can eat truma [his sanctified foods] which only a Kohain is allowed to eat. She has assumed the status of Kohain and is in the same group "category" as her husband. He does not stop being a Kohain - she takes on the status of a Kohain. This is extended to all other group, cultural or custom category of Jew.

Some "modern" women question whether a woman's adoption of a husband's custom is prejudicial. Firstly, this is a question coming from a culturally conditioned frame of mind. It's not a question of democracy or equality, so the question is somewhat artificial. Second, Torah necessarily must be transmitted by tradition. The tradition must be passed on from generation to generation "in the pure." Ever since the 12 tribes, who already in Biblical times had differences in custom, pronunciation of Hebrew and text for prayer, Torah was transmitted by a uniform custom within each home. When a man and woman married someone from a different tribe, or when a Cohen married a non-Cohen, the wife always took on the status and practice of her husband. It was always a "100% package deal." The Torah allows for there being different customs - as long as they are "kosher" - but within any family there has to be one "pure" custom, which goes after that of the man. Thirdly, a marriage is like a team or a machine in the sense that all elements have to add up and come together to work effectively. Man and wife have roles which add up to a totality and the team or machine can smoothly and successfully function when all players or parts fulfill their role. It's not discrimination. The team players or machine parts don't argue over which player or part does which job. There's no disparagement, emotion nor value judgement. It's a time-proven system getting the job of life done by the one best suited by nature to fulfill each role.

One's wife should always encourage her husband to learn Torah and to constantly grow in scholarship and character.

The woman is the boss of how the home inside looks and operates. If the pink shades should be changed for blue, if the kitchen needs another set of dishes, what's the grocery shopping itinerary, if household expenses have to be made - her way is the way its going to be (finances permitting). The wife is the boss of cooking, sewing, shopping, caring for children, keeping house, clothing, cleaning, and training of daughters.

The wife needs independence in her domain, so the husband should not supervise her with detail or strictness - only in a general way that assures that all accords with Torah law. If given this independence, she will do her job and be relatively fulfilled by doing, or at least delegating, it. This will contribute to a peaceful, calm, unified and happy home. Together with being independent and "boss," she has to be commensurately responsible in her domain. For example, if her husband depends on her to have breakfast ready at a certain time (so he can get to work on time), she must be reliable to have breakfast ready punctually each day. He is responsible to work. She is responsible to keep the home "working" smoothly.

Each spouse must respect the other in the other's dominion. Being "boss" in one's domain never means being strict, mean, condescending, rigid, a "big shot," or a tyrant. Being a "boss" means being the one responsible to do or to delegate the things that have to be done in each respective area of "specialty," talent or natural strength. In Torah, leadership is commensurate with "responsibility for those led." The more you are responsible for the welfare of others, the more you are considered a leader.

Neither spouse should ever be lazy about his or her responsibilities nor a tyrant over the other fulfilling his or her responsibilities in the other's domain ("you are lazy," "you didn't do what you're supposed to do," "you didn't do enough"). You would be wiser to tolerate or to help your spouse than to criticize. It just takes a little sugar to turn lemons into lemonade. There are MANY THOUSANDS more multiples of eternal reward for a mitzva done happily and pleasantly than one done mechanically or begrudgingly or with resentment or like its a nuisance. Just a spoonful of sugar, OK?

Other matters (besides man-religion and woman-home) can be the domain of either spouse, depending on who is stronger or more capable in the domain in question (ask your orthodox rabbi for practical questions). Other matters merit your spouse's advice based upon the competence or insight of your spouse in that subject area. Seek each other's advice and insight. When you act on each other's input, it will show respect and that your partner matters. If nothing else, you will practice communication. Find ways to consider your spouse an expert so that you have reason to go to your spouse to seek assistance. You can attribute more importance to your spouse by being seen as responsive, and you have more to express appreciation for. Look for opportunities to have your spouse be right, be good, be expert, be recognized. This can warm the relationship.

If either partner has a talent or strength, or if the house has the need, each will contribute in any area appropriately and graciously.

The "classic" couple assumes "traditional roles." The husband learns Torah and works honestly for a living. The wife cooks, cleans, sews, raises children. At this point, when presenting this in public, someone in the audience invariably asks about the working woman. Depending on individual circumstances, it would be a question regarding your individual marriage. Whenever there are individual questions (on any subject), take them to a known, experienced orthodox rabbi for instruction. However, I tell people that my source for basically advocating traditional roles is the Talmud (Yevamos 63a) wherein Eliyahu HaNovi [Elijah the prophet] says that a man brings home wheat and his wife cooks it into bread, and a man brings home flax and his wife sews it into clothing. There you have it: traditional roles in Judaism.

We see - on the strength of prophesy! - that a man and woman have different and complementary jobs. They are different. Their differences are designed by G-d and all have purpose. Their differences are not designed for conflict; their differences are designed to enable the man and woman to come together as two different halves who add up to a complete, functioning and peaceful whole. Different players in a ball game add up to a team so they can win the game. Different players in a marriage add up to a team so they can win the game of life. A Jewish husband and wife are obligated to get along and to make each other happy. Gendered roles are no contradiction to a happy and fulfilling marriage...the are a major element of it.

One woman, at one of my lectures, stood up and burst out screaming at my advocating gendered traditional roles. She was an accomplished professional! She had a masters degree! She was mother of several children! She did it all! I asked her gently if she would let me share the Talmudic source. She ranted about how everything I said was fine till I got to this, and she stormed out.

She had also said that she was divorced. She was obviously very defensive, angry and unhappy. Her husband apparently had not made her happy. She didn't convince me by her behavior or "track record" that she had more answers than the Torah. Her declaration of independence from traditional roles appears to be correlated, if anything, with unhappiness. A psychotherapist who had attended several of my courses and workshops was in the audience. He shook his head left and right when she stormed out, as if to say, "Poor girl." If someone has a valid case, it can be presented with softness, intelligence, substance, security and calm. The merits will speak for themselves. More noise does not equal more merit. Including between husband and wife.

By contrast, I know two observant families in which the husbands are working men with unglamorous salaried jobs. Both of their wives are practicing, hard working medical doctors. These two marriages are stable. Each boasts a romping crew of children. The two women are energetic, brilliant, well-adjusted, talented and capable. They manage homes, careers and motherhood. It can be done. Often, it's a question of what the roles mean psychologically in each case (e.g. within the macho man or the accomplished wife).

Jewish marriage laws, in the aggregate, promote a happy, strong, respectful, peaceful, calm and functional marriage, when the laws and principles are all consistently observed in good faith by both the husband and the wife - with the right values and attitudes.

In my counseling and workshop experience, the more couple were traditional in their roles, midos and behaviors, the more happy, stable and enduring their marriages were. Modern values are callous and superficial and, generally, are destructive to human relations and inner fulfillment. The values of Yaakov are always in battle with the values of Esav. Yaakov represents the home, family, compassion, Torah and tradition. Esav represents power, money, politics, militarism, physical achievements, materialism and externals. This battle of values is the age old struggle between Yaakov and Esav, and is a testing ground for the Jew. Passing this test is an intrinsic component of the Jew's loyalty to the Torah.

The first woman clearly has a lot of pain, resentment, tension, insecurity, loneliness, defensiveness, bitterness and anger inside. Ironically, her profession is as a psychotherapist. Her life was crafted by Esav. Her way, the sun hasn't shone for her.

In the case of the other two women, each woman sees to the responsibilities of her domain. One, has children who are as old as the late teens, who help with the house, cooking, baking and babies. The other, I believe, uses a housekeeper part-time and, when the husband comes home from work, he cares for the children part-time. The roles and duties, which have no psychological meaning or agenda, are worked out in the latter two homes SO THAT THE PRACTICAL FUNCTIONS OF LIFE ARE SUCCESSFULLY ACHIEVED. The marriages are not subordinate to the arrangements. The arrangements are subordinate to the marriages. In good cases, the marriages are at one with the arrangement. If you ever want to differentiate a sincere motivation from a self-serving one, ask:

* is my goal objective truth, independent of my feelings or interests?

* does it cause me to do anything which the Torah prohibits?

* will my marriage or children suffer?

* does it violate peace, kindness, good character, consideration for any other person, or pleasantness?

* will it have any subtle or indirect harmful effects (e.g. if a woman who opts for a career chooses to be a lawyer, she may learn aggressive or rude emotions which negatively effect her character and temperament, which could come to damage her marriage relationship; or may be too time consuming to allow her to fill her obligations to her marriage or children)? - consider ramifications; including impact on energy, time, temperament and her devotion at home.

The "acid test" is: is it consistent with a peaceful and lasting marriage. Any question, please ask your orthodox rabbi. Before you run out screaming that you need to go to grad school.

Keep in mind that the Jewish marriage is a matter of halacha (Torah law). Treatment of a spouse, obligations to a spouse are matters of Shulchan Aruch (practical law), mussar (ethical requirements) and psok (case by case rabbinical instruction). Therefore, by studying Torah law, we see what constitutes a good, Torah sanctioned relationship; we see the ingredients and definition of a good relationship; we see the behaviors which give the relationship the capacity to achieve peace, happiness and longevity. This is NOT subject to individual discretion or innovation. This is all mandated down to the last detail by the wisdom and will of our Creator.



Rabbi Shimon Ben Gamliel (in the Talmud, Avos DeRebi Noson 28:3) says that a person who brings peace into his house is considered by G-d as if he brought peace on the entire Jewish people. Vayikra Raba adds: "Great is peace for all blessings are contained in it."

Tractate Sota (17a) Rabbi Akiva explained that when a husband and wife are worthy, the Divine Presence dwells with them and when they are not worthy, fire burns them. Rava said that when the fire is caused by the woman, it is worse, comes faster and is more punitive than the fire caused by the man. This is learned by the fact that the first two letters of the word isha (wife) form the word aish (fire) whereas the first two letters of the word ish (husband) do not form the word aish [there is a letter "yod" in-between which means that ish is further away from aish; i.e. a woman's ability to embitter a marriage is greater than a man's].

Tractate Derech Eretz Raba (Chapter 6) recounts a beautiful story of judging l'kaf z'chus (with benefit of doubt) in marriage. "Once Hillel invited a guest for a meal. A pauper came to his door and said [to Hillel's wife], 'Today I am to marry and I have no livelihood.' She gave the entire meal [to the pauper]. Then, she kneaded another dough, cooked another meal and brought it to [Hillel and his guest]. [Hillel gently] said to her, 'My sweetheart, why did you not bring [the meal] to us immediately?' She described to him all that happened. He said to her, 'My sweetheart, I never judged you to be guilty. I only judged favorably, because all of your deeds were only for the sake of Heaven.'"

Derech Eretz Raba (chapter four) says, "One should always be pleasant when entering and leaving" (especially his house).

Derech Eretz Raba (chapter eleven) teaches that "He who hates his wife is one who murders."

Derech Eretz Zuta (chapter three) says, "Be humble and beloved to all, and even moreso to your own household."

Derech Eretz Zuta (chapter nine) teaches, "A house with dissention is destroyed."

Tractate Kesubos (50a) says that Heaven counts supporting one's children and supporting orphans as full-time fulfillment of the mitzva of giving charity (you get the mitzva every moment).

Tractate Kesubos (61a) says that a husband must share the benefits of his life (e.g. wealth or honor in the community) with his wife...a wife is given to a man for life and not for pain (he should care for her so as to keep her from pain)...she is responsible for the performance of a wife's duties.

Tractate Kesubos (62b-63a) recounts how Rabbi Akiva's wife sacrificed to enable him to learn Torah and how he honored and appreciated her. Rabbi Akiva, one of the greatest sages of the Talmud, grew up knowing no Torah. He was an uneducated shepherd. His employer's daughter recognized that he was modest and of superlative character. She said that if he would learn Torah she would marry him and he agreed. He married her and went away to yeshiva. Her wealthy father, infuriated that his daughter would marry the shepherd, disowned her. She lived in abject poverty and by herself for twelve years. When he returned, he had advanced to the point at which he had twelve thousand disciples. When he was arriving home, he heard an old man say to his wife, "How long will you live as a widow?" She replied, "I would have him learn another twelve years." Rabbi Akiva said, "This is her will," and he immediately about-faced and returned to yeshiva for another twelve years. When he returned home, he had twenty-four thousand disciples. When she heard that Rabbi Akiva was finally returning, she ran to meet him. Her clothes were those of a poor beggar and she fell on her face to kiss his feet. His students, thinking that this strange woman was publicly dishonoring their rabbi with immodest behavior, were about to push her aside. He told them to leave her alone and said to them, "All of my Torah and all of your Torah is hers!"

Tractate Sanhedrin (22a-b) states several things about the value of marriage. When a man divorces his first wife, the altar cries tears (i.e. Heaven considers the divorce to be sorrowful). The death of a first wife is as grievous as the destruction of the holy Temple. The world is dark for a man whose wife has died in his lifetime; his strength and intellect diminish. There is no joy like one's first marriage. A woman's character is undetermined before marriage and the right man makes her complete. The death of a husband is felt by none but his wife and the death of a wife is felt by none but her husband.

Tractate Taanis (23b) tells us that Aba Chilkia was a tzadik. When there was a drought, the townspeople came to his home to ask him to pray to Hashem for rain. He and his wife went to the roof and went to the opposite corners to pray. The clouds formed over his wife (answering her prayer). The people asked why the rain came in the merit of her prayer (since he was a tzadik). He answered that when he gives kindness, he does it by giving money to the poor. When his wife gives kindness, she personally cooks and serves food herself; which is more direct, immediate and meaningful.

Tractate Nedarim (66b) recounts the following event, which demonstrates how far the imperative goes for a wife to do what her husband tells her to do. Keep in mind that the absurd elements of the story stem from misunderstanding, not entitlement to be absurd! A Babylonian Jew went to Israel and married. He spoke Aramaic and she spoke Hebrew. He said to his wife, "Cook for me two talfi." He meant calf feet. In her dialect it meant lentils. When she presented two little lentils on a plate, he was furious. The next day he said, "Cook for me griva (a bathtub full of food)." Since yesterday she only cooked two lentils, he thought she would always cook less than he asked for. Sincerely trying to make up for yesterday's misunderstanding however, she literally filled the bathtub with cooked lentils. Dismayed, he ordered, "Bring me two butzini." He meant melons, she heard candlesticks. When she came back from the store with candlesticks, he got excited again. "Go break them on the raisha de bava! He meant: the gate of their house, she heard: on the head of the Chief Judge. She went to the courthouse. Rabbi Bava Ben Buta was in the middle judging a lawsuit. She walked straight up to him and smashed the candlesticks over his head.

"What did you do that for?!"

"My husband ordered me to do this."

"For doing your husband's will, may G-d bless you with two sons who will achieve greatness."

Midrash Beraishis Raba teaches how a husband should take care of a wife. The Torah writes (Genesis 12:8) that Avraham prioritized his wife before himself. Avraham traveled and pitched "oheloH (his tent)." In Hebrew, the suffix "H" makes a noun possessive in the feminine gender (i.e "her" object). The masculine possessive comes with the vowel "O" as a suffix (i.e. "his" object). The Torah in Genesis 12:8 uses the strange combination of vowel "O" and the consonant "H" with the noun "ohel (tent)." The translation of the text as spoken is "his tent," and the translation of the text as written is "her tent." So what is the meaning of the Torah's placing of this unusual "O" and "H" together? The midrash explains that Avraham first pitched the tent of Sara, his wife, before he pitched his own. We see this because the "H" is a consonant which is more dominant in Hebrew grammar than a vowel ("O"). The Torah is teaching us that whenever a husband needs to do something for himself and his wife, he must take care of his wife's needs first. This will apply to all forms of help, respect, kindness and consideration for his wife.

The gemora (Bava Metzia 85b) says that a jar with one pebble in it makes big noise when shaken. A jar completely filled with pebbles makes no noise, no matter how hard it is shaken. This is analogous to a person being provoked or in a dispute. If he makes noise (gets angry, impatient, nasty, etc.), it is proof that he is essentially empty, like the jar with one pebble when shaken. If the person has wisdom, he speaks gently, softly and with real content. He is quiet, like the jar that is full - no matter how much he is "shaken." He responds to provocation, resolves conflicts or differences, without turbulence or harangue. Instead, he always proceeds in all that he does with quiet, calm, wisdom and substance.

Tanna DeBay Eliyahu (Chapter one) expounds the conversation between Esther and Mordechai (Megillas Esther, chapter four). The Talmud (Megilla 13a) teaches that Esther and Mordechai were married (she was only Queen to King Achashverosh because the king basically kidnapped her). The wicked Haman convinced Achashverosh to kill all the Jews. Mordechai sent a message to Esther to go to the king to annul the decree. Esther sent a message back that if the king doesn't call someone to his presence, the uninvited visitor is killed. Mordechai sent a reply back saying that silence at a time when the entire Jewish nation is threatened is not an option, and her rise to Queenship was the Providential hand of G-d, precisely so that Esther would be able to intervene in this emergency. Esther sent a message back to Mordechai saying to gather all the Jews together and to fast for three days. She would fast also. In the merit of the entire Jewish nation fasting together for three days, Esther prayed that Divine mercy and salvation would be aroused.

This midrash (Tanna DeBay Eliyahu) teaches that Mordechai spoke properly in his message to Esther. Esther's first reply (no one can visit the king uninvited and live) was not proper. Mordechai's insisted that national annihilation overrides concern for formality, and that Esther was elevated to her position precisely so that when an emergency would come upon the Jews, she would be the agent of salvation. Mordechai's reply was proper. When Esther replied to gather the Jews for a national fast, so that G-d would soften the heart of Achashverosh (so that he would willingly receive her visit to plea for the Jewish people), she replied properly.

The midrash is teaching that we learn from this that when two people speak, if A says something improper, and then A repairs the impropriety and behaves properly (such that no damage resulted), B should look away as if the impropriety was never done ("forgive and forget"). When we consider that the biblical model for this principle is between a husband and a wife, we see that "classic" manifestation of overlooking and forgiving and moving on is between husband and wife.

Midrash Vayikra Raba tells of a woman who attended Rabbi Meir's discourse on shabos evening. She came home late and her husband asked where she had been. She said she was at Rabbi Meir's discourse. He said that he swears that he will not allow her in the house until she spits in Rabbi Meir's face. The woman went to Rabbi Meir's discourse and through his ruach hakodesh [holy spirit] he discerned that she was upset and he understood her predicament. Rabbi Meir asked if there was a clever woman was in the audience who could cure eye trouble. A neighbor told the woman that this was her chance to release her husband from his vow. She sat down before Rabbi Meir and was frightened. He said, "Spit in my eye seven times and I will be cured." After she did, Rabbi Meir said, "Tell your husband: You told me to spit once and I spat seven times." His disciples complained, "Will people thusly mistreat Torah?" He replied, "Am I greater than the Creator? Great is peace! G-d's name is written in holiness and may not be erased. Yet [in the case of the sota - suspected wife] G-d said [of His name], 'Let it be blotted out in water in order to make peace between husband and wife.'"

Midrash Eicha Raba (3:9) says that the verse (Eicha 3:27), "It is good for a man to carry a burden from his youth," refers to taking on the burden of marriage - a wife and family. Madrich LeChasonim explains that a man should marry as young as is reasonably possible. When the young man marries, it is fundamental that he accept on himself a frame of mind that this is an obligation. He should accept this burden on himself at all times and under all conditions. He should never throw off this burden from upon himself for his entire lifetime.

A midrash (source not known) is cited in the famed and respected sefer, Menoras HaMeor, section "To Marry a Wife," part four, chapter two.

"The sages said in a midrash that one wise woman directed her daughter when she was about to marry, saying to her, 'My daughter, stand before your husband like before a king and serve him. If you will be like a maid to him, he will be like a slave to you and he will honor you like his master. And if you will make yourself big upon him, he will be like a master over you against your will; and you will be, in his eyes, cheap like one of the maidservants.'"

What is true greatness in the eyes of G-d? Being insulted and not insulting back, and hearing oneself disgraced and not replying (Shabos 88b). Who does G-d love? The one who does not get angry and the one who is not strict about getting his/her way (Pesachim 113b). A person is obligated to constantly make himself be gentle (Taanis 4a). Three traits identify a Jew: (s)he is bashful, is compassionate and actively does kindness. Anyone without all these three traits is suspected of not being among our people (Yevamos 79a). Which is the most important trait? Humility (Avoda Zora 20b). Who pleases G-d? The one who pleases people. Who does not please G-d? The one who does not please people (Pirkei Avos chapter 3). What is the crux of the Torah? Love each other Jew as yourself (Yerushalmi Nedarim chapter 9) and do not do to another any hateful thing (Shabos 31a).

Tractate Brachos 57b says that three things bring a man satisfaction: a beautiful home, a beautiful wife and beautiful possessions.

Tractate Brachos 61a says that Elisha the Prophet followed the words and advice of his wife. Even though he had the attribute of prophesy, he was able to recognize that there was merit and wisdom in his wife's words and advice.

Kidushin (34b) says, "It is a man's obligation to make his wife happy."

Tractate Chulin (58b) has an aggadata (allegorical story). "For seven years a female mosquito quarrelled with [her husband] a male mosquito. She said to him, 'I once saw a human being from Mechuza [a town whose people enjoyed swimming] bathing in water. When he came out, he wrapped himself in a sheet. You came and settled down upon him and sucked out blood and you didn't let me know!'"

We see from this aggadata that a husband must share the pleasures of life with his wife. He must not keep or sneak them for himself and not hide from his wife what he does with his time. The Chazon Ish, possibly learning it from here, said that a husband must let his wife know when he's leaving, where he's going, what he is going to be doing and when he is going to be back. If he goes away on a journey, he must, every day, phone or write her a letter; and bring her gifts from the places that he visited. If he deprives her in any such ways, she will feel bad and "drive him crazy" about it "for seven years," meaning to say, for a long time.

Tractate Chulin (84b) says that a man should eat and drink less than in accordance with what he can afford, dress himself in accordance with what he can afford, and he should honor his wife and children more than in accordance with what he can afford. The wife and children are dependent on the husband, and the husband is dependent on the One Who Spoke And The World Was Created.

Tractate Chulin (89a) says that the world is kept in existence in the merit of the one who keeps restrained at the time when a fight the merit of the one who humbles himself.

Tractate Chulin (141a) says, "Great is peace between husband and wife."

Pirkei DeRebbi Eliezer (chapter 13) says that G-d put his name between husband and wife: He put the letters "yod" and "heh" (which form a name of G-d) into the names for "ish" and "ishah" (Hebrew for "man" and "woman"). G-d said: If the couple will go in My ways and observe My laws, then My name is between them and this will save them from all trouble and anguish. If they will not go in My ways and observe My laws, then, when I am taken out of their marriage, they take the "yod" out of "ish" and the "heh" out of "ishah" and that leaves them with only "alef" and "shin" which spell "aish [fire]" and that fire will consume them.

Tractate Shabos (62b) says that a man must never give a wife cause to curse him, for a justifiable curse (e.g. not spending on her in accordance with his means) can bring poverty.

Tractate Shabos (118b) Rabbi Yosi called his wife his "home," never "wife." Rashi explains that Rabbi Yosi spoke with wisdom even in his plain speech. By referring to his wife as his "home," he is adding a message that she is the essence, the central figure of their house. Madrich LeChasonim [Guide To Grooms] explains Rabbi Yosi beautifully by writing: the home is the essence of life, the wife is the essence of the home, therefore the wife is the essence of life, to the husband. It seems appropriate to add that she transforms a "building" into a "home" and into a refuge from the world, where he may have fulfillment and independence.

Tractate Shabos (119a) tells us that the Talmudic sages used to help their wives prepare for shabos every Friday. Rabbi Safra heated meat. Rava salted fish. Rabbi Huna lit the lantern. Rabbi Papaw prepared the candle wicks. Rabbi Hisda sliced beets. Rabah and Rabbi Yosef chopped wood. Rabbi Zeira lit the fire. Rabbi Nachman ben Yitzchok carried utensils, clothes and delicacies (to honor the coming Shabos), as if he were receiving the most distinguished rabbis as his guests, with the attitude that he was frightened about honoring them properly and about exerting himself adequately for these most important guests (such is the honor to be accorded Shabos). These distinguished rabbis did not see it as beneath their station to honor Shabos or to help their wives. Further, joint preparation before shabos by a husband and wife brings G-d's presence into the house.

Tractate Shabos (152a) says, short and to-the-point, "the happiness of one's heart is a wife."

Tractate Sanhedrin (76b) says that a husband should adorn his wife with attractive jewels and ornaments, to make her more respectable (this is a practical, concrete way of attributing honor to his wife). Besides giving honor, these make a woman very happy (even though men may have trouble understanding why!).

In tractate Taanis (20b), Rabbi Ada Bar Ahava was asked by his students to what he attributed an extraordinarily long life. He answered, "I was never stern within my house."

Tractate Nida 31b says that a man can be appeased, a woman cannot be appeased. Watch out for the feelings of a wife! Be very careful for her sensitivities and emotions. Even if a man tries to appease his wife after he has hurt her, some of the pain will continue to stab her and stay within her. Once a husband has put that impression and that sting and that insecurity into the woman's emotions, they are very difficult and slow to go out of her. Never hurt or upset a wife in the first place, but if, Heaven forbid, you do, be very big and forthcoming and make amends rapidly, sincerely and fully. It's not a question of what's right and wrong or of what is reasonable. It's entirely a question of what will or won't work. The wife may never use this to take advantage. The point is not for her to have a way to abuse him. The point is that there won't be abuse by anybody.



The esteemed sixteenth century mystic, Rabbi Chayim Veetal wrote, "The characteristics of a man are measured exclusively by his relationship to his wife. This means that he may engage in kindness to the general population: loans, gifts, caring for the sick, comforting mourners, giving joy to newlyweds, and more. Certainly he will be happily rewarded at the time of his accounting, for he has many merits for his acts of goodness. However, know and believe that Heaven investigates how he behaves with his wife. If he also bestowed kindness upon her all of his life, it is happy and good for him. However, if he is cruel, neglectful, angry, strict, merciless, unkind or irresponsible in his house, this outweighs all the kindnesses that he did for those outside of his family, in his Heavenly judgement."

In the "Igerress HaKodesh (The Holy Letter, on marriage, attributed to Ramban, Rabbi Moshe Nachmanides, 13th century)," we see something beautiful about marriage. Great is the husband's obligation to nurture the relationship of love and of closeness between a husband and his wife, every day, every year, in every circumstance, under every attitudinal environment, until the end of his life.

The famed commentator, Rashi, writes (on Yevamos 62b and Bava Metzia 59a) that a husband must never disparage, insult, cheapen, shame, disrespect, neglect or hurt his wife in any way; these are harder on a woman than on a man; these are more severe to a woman than to a man. He writes (on Rosh HaShana 6b) that it is imperative that a man make his wife happy, and a "classic" way to do this is to give her nice clothes that will please her. On Bava Metzia 94a he writes that if a man marries a woman on condition that is exempt from any marriage obligation imposed by the Torah, the marriage takes effect but the condition does not because "there is no such thing as half a marriage." In other words, a marriage and its obligations are synonymous. It's a "package deal."

We see that is imperative that a husband be very, very sensitive and careful never to shame, cheapen, embarrass, degrade or hurt the feelings of a woman - and how much moreso for your wife. This obligation to never bring feelings of shame or degradation upon a Jewish woman is seen in practical Jewish law. For example, 1. if a man and a woman come to bais din (Torah court) simultaneously with a case, the judges are obligated to hear the case of the woman first; and 2. if a man and woman come to a door simultaneously to beg charity, the homeowner must give to the woman first; and 3. if a man and woman are simultaneously kidnapped and there isn't enough ransom money to save both, the woman is saved first because she is subject to abuse of her person. All of this is because a woman's shame and vulnerability are more than a man's.

The Chazone Ish (Rabbi Avraham Yeshaia Karelitz, 1878-1953) wrote to an engaged young man, "Pay attention every moment to the fact that a wife has pleasure from being attractive in her husband's eyes. Her eyes are always looking to him and she always hopes that she is adored by her husband. She needs to be praised for her cooking the meals which she serves and she brings to him every single day. If she hangs a picture on the wall or places a plant on the table, she does all this for him and he is obligated to see and to recognize good on every occasion. He must speak to her about matters of the house and of the children. All the time that he does not pay attention to her, to the matters of the house, to her work and to her efforts and to her burdens, even if in things that he considers to be small things, over the course of time, he is going to distance her from him, and separate them apart from one another, and this will lead, more and more, to fighting, Heaven forbid."

While household things seem small in a man's eyes, they are life itself to a wife. The husband has to see and to recognize (the Chazone Ish makes a point to use double language: see + recognize) these things and her efforts regarding them. He has to understand the woman's mind and needs. He has to constantly be diligent and sensitively responsive to his wife, her efforts and burdens, her appearance and that of the house, her handling of the children. Whenever the husband does not abide by this, the wife cannot feel fulfilled, at peace, loved, respected or appreciated.

The Chazone Ish is making a central point. Whereas a man may not be able to comprehend, if he lived to be a million, a flower pot to be a big deal, the wife puts her heart into seeking an environment that he will approve of, that she is responsible for, that she will be loved for. It's never the flower pot. Her heart is on the line. He's understanding his wife's heart. Hopefully, to use "matrix language," to love her heart with his. The Jewish home is for the perpetual practice of chesed. The world is for the perpetual practice of chesed. How central to life is practicing chesed with one's spouse and children!

The Chazone Ish wrote that it is obligatory for a husband to make his wife happy constantly, to show love and closeness and endearment. When Pirkei Avos says, "Do not speak too much to a woman, including one's wife," this is only for non-necessities or for that which is frivolous. This does not apply AT ALL during the first year of marriage, when the relationship is solidifying, nor to any diminishing of kavod, closeness, derech eretz (civil, polite or thoughtful behavior), unity, gentleness or peacefulness. He must speak with her about all needs of life, of the home and of the children. When he goes out he must say to his wife where he is going and when he comes back, he must say what he did, whether for big or small things. The Chazone Ish teaches that these things convey concern, value, attachment, importance and respect to her.

The holy Piasetzner Rebbe lived in Poland in the generation before World War Two. He was known for saying to his chasidim, on just about every occasion on which he spoke, "Remember that the most important thing is to always do good for another Jew."

One of his chasidim was a youth when he heard this from the rebbe. The loving words of his rebbe, heard over and over on many occasions, sunk deeply into his mind. When the war came, the young chasid was taken to a concentration camp. Whenever he could, he would do a kindness for another Jew in the camp. After the war, the chasid said that it was the words of his rebbe, "Remember that the most important thing is to always do good for another Jew," and finding opportunities to act on those words and to focus on doing good for other people, that kept him going through the horrible torture of the camp.

Look for ways to remember and to apply the holy rebbi's powerful and loving words, especially to your spouse and children.

A husband is to approach his wife (for physical relations) never by force or pressure, but only by obtaining her will through first talking nicely to her and making her happy. He must honor her more than he honors himself and love her as much as he loves himself. He must spend money on her to do good for her. The more money he has, the more he is to spend on benefitting her. He must never be frightening, depressed or angry with her. His speaking with her must always be gentle. The Torah also commands the woman in conduct. She must be extremely modest (especially in demeanor, regarding covering of hair and as to her clothing. She should minimize levity and silliness, she should not speak on the subject of marital relations, she should not refrain from being with her husband, especially to pain him. She should obey all of his words, instruction and will. She must honor her husband exceedingly and view him as an officer or king, and she must distance herself from anything he dislikes. This is the way holy men and women in Israel conduct themselves in their marriages, and through this, they will live a beautiful life together. [Rambam, Hilchos Ishus 15:17-20].

If the wife is permissible, it is a mitzva to be together on shabos (Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chayim 280:1 and Mishna Brura #1). On erev shabos, a couple must avoid quarrels and the husband must show extra affection and love (Chafetz Chayim - Mishna Brura #3).

Rabbi Chaim Shmuelovitz, Rosh Yeshiva of the Mirrer Yeshiva in Jerusalem in the previous generation, said that if a husband will fulfill his obligations and the wife will fulfill her obligations, they will live a happy and tranquil life together. Troubles begin when the husband is only concerned that the wife meet her obligations to him and the wife is only concerned that the husband meet his obligations to her.

A young man came to the Steipler Rov in B'nei Brak, Israel, who was one of the leading Torah authorities in the previous generation. He said to the Steipler that he had a problem. He was in kollel learning full time. His wife was working to support the family and was raising the family also. The family was growing and needed more time and attention than his wife could now furnish. The wife required that the husband take a half hour a day from his learning to provide help to the children. The young man asked the Steipler which half hour in his chock-full learning schedule should he give up in order to give a half hour to his wife. The Steipler sat and patiently went through this man's schedule with him, including what he was doing in kollel and what was happening at home in the family's schedule. The Steipler went through every segment of the day and chose a half hour time that would be the greatest help to the young man's wife and children.

A while after the Chafetz Chayim lost his first wife, he married again. Once when an older man, he built his sukka in a certain location behind his home. After he finished the sukka, his second wife said, "I think it would be better over there." Without a word, he agreeably took the sukka apart and rebuilt it in the other location to which she referred. Then she said, "You know, you were right the first time. It's better where it was." Again, without any grumbling, the elderly Chafetz Chayim dissembled the sukka a second time and built it again in the original place. Take a lesson from the Chafetz Chayim in honoring a wife and in shalom bayis.

Madrich LeChasonim writes that for a husband to fulfill, "Love your neighbor as yourself," with a wife, he must feel love for her under all circumstances literally as he feels for himself. He must feel all her inner feelings as deeply as she feels them, he must share her pains and joys, and carry this as a yoke. The couple is obligated to join their daily lives together. Other than violation of another person's privacy, they should openly and closely communicate. This builds the relationship, warmth and their bond. They bring their unique, albeit different, contributions together.

Rabbi Shimon Shkop wrote (Shaaray Yosher) that every month when the wife immerses in the mikva, she is reliving the wedding day, each time, on a progressively deeper and deeper level. The wedding time is when the couple does the most to please each other. Every month, the couple can renew and "recharge" their love on a deeper and deeper level, throughout a lifetime.

Menoras HeMeor writes, that the midos of the parents influence and mold the children. It is vital to constantly and vigilantly demonstrate fine midos at all times - for the wellbeing and wholesomeness of yourselves, your marriage and for your children. This applies for good or for bad; to tone, treatment, speech, the feelings that are conveyed. Midos are instilled in those who see you and in the next generation and have far-reaching ramifications. You are a link in a chain of Jewish generations and spiritual continuity. You should strive to mold the next generation into being what the previous Torah generations were. When spouses give over love; to spouse, to children, in his and her general mode of operating; this creates a love-atmosphere; and this love goes over to your children and on for generations. The tone that you set in your house is what your children learn and absorb - and give over when they are spouses and parents.

What is the essence and purpose of life? To continually work every moment on midos (Vilna Gaon, Evven Shlaima). Words which come out of the HEART enter into the HEART (Alshich to Deuteronomy 6:6). We must emulate G-d's traits (Sota 14a), behave with moderation (Rambam Dayos, chapter one) and be holy (Leviticus 19:2) by separating from our earthly nature (Rashi). For the record, remember too that these imperatives to behave like a good-hearted "midos-rich" mentsh ALWAYS APPLY, REGARDLESS OF WHETHER OR NOT YOUR MARRIAGE IS BREAKING UP, ALIENATED, SPITEFUL AND/OR HOSTILE. Even if you do not like any aspect of your spouse, or anything (s)he may have done, the Torah prohibits revenge, grudge, cruelty, lashon hora, hate, machlokess or anger.

Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler would tell couples on their wedding day to be ever careful to remember the desire in each other's hearts to give pleasure and happiness to one another. He would tell them, "Take care to strive always to keep this desire new and strong as it is on this joyous day. As soon as you start to take or to make demands on each other, your happiness and satisfaction are finished." Marriage that is based on demands or taking, that is not based on giving, will eventually come to pain, anger, sorrow and frustration. Marriage predicated on continual, mutual and "on target" giving, specifically designed to please and to do good for the other partner, will bring a life of fulfillment and happiness (Michtav Mi'Eliyahu, volume one, Kuntrais HaChesed).

Normally flattery is considered a sin. Orchos Tzadikim writes that a husband may flatter a wife for marital peace. He should speak gently, appealingly and appeasingly to his wife, to make her happy and comfortable.

A Jew used to regularly beat his wife. After she no longer could take it, she disclosed her husband's habit of beating her. Word got to some chasidim of the famed Satmar Rebbi, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, and they met the man and brought him to the saintly Rebbi. When the Rebbi asked why the man beat his wife, the man's answer was that ever since he was a child he used to beat up his sisters. The Rebbe told the man - in no uncertain terms - that he was never to hit his wife ever again and that he had to differentiate between the behavior of a reckless, mean little child and a married adult.

Rabbi Shneuer Zalman of Liadi, a major Torah scholar and saintly founder of Lubavitch Chasidus, lived about two hundred years ago. He lived on the second floor of a house and his son, Rabbi Dov Ber, lived with his wife and baby on the ground floor.

Rabbi Dov Ber was once absorbed in his learning with such concentration that he didn't hear his baby fall out of his cradle right next to him.

Upstairs, Rabbi Shneuer Zalman heard his grandson fall. He came right down and soothed the crying baby. When the child had been comforted, he returned the baby to his cradle. Rabbi Shneuer Zalman told his son, "It is meritorious to be so engrossed in learning Torah that you don't hear a knock at the door or a distracting noise. But you must always be able to hear the cry of a child. You don't achieve attachment to G-d if you neglect to do G-dly actions in this world. No matter how absorbed you are in holiness, no matter how close to G-d you feel, you must never fail to hear the cry of a baby. You must never fail to do what is needed for someone who is helpless or dependent. No matter what holy activity you are ever involved in, you must never fail to be concerned about another person."

Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian (1876-1970) was one of the great, holy men of recent generations. His love for Jews and devotion to spiritual self-development was legendary. When he was a newlywed, his young wife became critically ill and she was saved from death by miracle, which the S'fas Emmess (Chasidic Rabbi of Gur) said was done through Eliyahu the Prophet.

When he was an elderly widower, Rabbi Lopian was a guest for dinner at the home of a certain couple. At the end of the meal, the couple had to excuse themselves for something that required them to leave the rabbi alone for several minutes. When they came back, the couple was astonished to find that the venerable and humble rabbi had, quietly and without any fanfare, washed and dried all the dishes.

Pela Yo'etz writes (in the section on "zivug [getting married]"), that the marriage which operates by following the Torah and its sages is the marriage which will be blessed by G-d and be happy. This couple will have a pleasant, calm, fortunate and good life; and will have a sweet lot in olam habo (eternal life).

To make this practical, always apply two statements from the first chapter of Pirkei Avos. Apply these two precious teachings to both "sur mayra (abandoning bad)" and "asay tov (actively doing good)."

1. Speak little and do much.

2. Study is not the essential thing, but rather action is.

Then, you can progress from "sur mayra" and "asay tov" to: "bakaish shalom virodfayhu (seek peace and chase after it)."



Rabbi Avraham Pam, Rosh Yeshiva of the famous learning institution Torah VoDaas, said that if you find that your wife doesn't have the same nice midos as when you married her, it is because you are not treating her with nice midos. If you treat her nicely, your wife will go back to behaving with the nice midos you remember from when you married her (heard personally from Rabbi Pam).

Rabbi Shalom Shvadron has been the beloved maggid (ethical teacher) in Jerusalem for many decades. In one of his discourses, he told of an incident which occurred when he was a younger man.

His young daughter became very ill with a contagious disease. He had to give considerable time, attention, energy and concern. At one point, the girl needed to go to the doctor, so Rabbi Shvadron dutifully walked his daughter through the Jerusalem streets to the doctor's office. The young father had grown bitter with all of the imposition caused by the illness, and it showed on his face.

On the way, they met Rabbi Isaac Sher, the great Rosh Yeshiva of the famed mussar Yeshiva, Slobotka, of B'nai Brak, Israel. Rabbi Sher asked, "Where are you going?" Rabbi Shvadron replied, "I'm taking my daughter to the doctor." Rabbi Sher asked a second time, "Where are you going?" Rabbi Shvadron figured that Rabbi Sher didn't hear so he repeated, "I'm taking my daughter to the doctor." Rabbi Sher asked a third time, "Where are you going?"

It occurred to Rabbi Shvadron that the wise Rosh Yeshiva was actually telling him something. When Rabbi Sher saw that the young rabbi was ready to listen, the sage said to Rabbi Shvadron, "Any big animal can take a little animal to the doctor. What differentiates a human being from an animal? When a human being does a chesed (act of kindness), he doesn't do it like 'he has to.' That much an animal can do. A human being considers doing a chesed for another person a z'chus (merit, honor, privilege). When one's spouse or child needs something, such as any form of care or help, you always do it - and in a spirit of love and kindness."

Several years ago, a rabbi, who I am acquainted with, arrived at his wedding day. His grandfather was in his late eighties and had been married the better part of sixty years. His grandfather pulled him aside before the ceremony and spoke as follows.

When his wife had become a nida, when they were physically forbidden to each other, he would buy her flowers for shabos. He, also specifically then, bought her presents and gave her compliments for her cooking or for things which she did. When she came home from the mikva, he took his wife out on a date, to spend time with her, so that she would feel that he had a complete, not a physical, interest in her, and that his love for her was unconditional.

He made a point, throughout their relationship, no matter how busy or tense or difficult life ever was, to regularly spend quality time with her.

He would talk to her about his life, Torah learning, decisions, activities, about what is going on his life. Through this he created the sense in her that he is truly sharing his life with her and that she should constantly feel involved in his life. Through these actions he kept showing to her that she is an unmistakably important part of his life. He kept showing that HER IMPORTANCE WAS IMPORTANT TO HIM.

However, he was always making sure never to unnecessarily burden or trouble or worry her. He would only tell her his problems when she could, as a practical matter, help him or encourage him. If it were something negative, he would only tell her when there was a benefit to be derived from the telling. He would share what was going on so that she would feel she was important and involved in his life. He was steadily showing that she was valuable in his mind and heart.

When they had a difference, they approached each other as if the other were sage counsel with a wise and weighty opinion to be seriously considered. They consistently discussed differences with gentleness, adaptability, open communication, respect and calm. They would always together work out a resolution that was peaceful, amicable and mutually agreeable.

The point of all of this is that this couple (i.e. the grandparents of the rabbi) NEVER ONCE had a single fight in their entire 60-year long marriage. The grandfather was beckoning to his grandson to conduct the marriage that he was on the verge of entering into in the same way, and so that the grandson would enjoy the same blessing of nonstop peace as a result.

A chassidic rabbi has novel approach to solving marital troubles. When couples have shalom bayis problems, the rov sends them away to a hotel to be alone on mikva night. He discreetly raises funds specifically to support this. If there is anything for the public at large to learn from this, it is to be active in practical and constructive ways in helping couples to achieve marital peace.

Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetsky was famed within his lifetime (1891-1986) for being a tzadik (saint, one who fulfills all of the Torah). Three stories about him involve his saintliness in marriage.

A few years after his first wife passed away, Reb Yaakov (as he is affectionately called) felt ready to re-marry. He was about sixty. Reb Yaakov was Lithuanian and followed the customs of Lithuanian Jewry. His second wife was Polish and followed the customs of her part of Poland. Reb Yaakov, also, had a private custom of never eating dairy on Fridays. He said he had no idea why, but that it was a custom in his father's family. He was confident that it had a holy basis and he observed it uncompromisingly.

He married his second wife shortly before the holiday of Shevuos. It is customary to eat dairy on Shevuos. As it turned out, Shevuos that year came out on Friday. His wife's custom for the first day of Shevuos was to prepare a lavish dairy kiddush, and then serve a traditional meat meal after the kiddush. They were married such a short time that they couldn't have possibly learned all of each other's customs. The rebitzen thought that she would please her husband by preparing a generous dairy kiddush featuring that Shevuos favorite: cheesecake! On a Friday.

Rabbi Kaminetsky came home from synagogue with a gathering of guests, all yeshiva scholars. When he walked in, his bride was proud as a peacock. She honored yom tov as if for a king. The house was nearly wall-papered in cheesecake! She had evidently spent enormous time and care, buying, baking and preparing a royal spread. It was obvious that her intentions had been extremely selfless and noble. Inside himself, he was aghast. While he knew he had to express delighted surprise to his rebitzen, he was in a real dilemma. He had a vow never to eat dairy on Friday. He had a vow to keep a wife happy. Not eating would break her heart. Eating and breaking the vow to never eat dairy on Friday was not an option.

She said that she had to go into the kitchen to make some last minute arrangements. He had a moment to think. He turned to the three among his guests who were the greatest scholars. He explained the dilemma. "You three are Torah scholars. You can form a bais din [court]. You will do hataras nedarim [the Torah court procedure for canceling vows, which may only be done under certain conditions - fortunately this case contained an allowable condition - ask your local orthodox rabbi if you have practical questions].

They finished the vow-canceling ceremony just in time.

Story number two about Reb Yaakov tells of him coming to a dinner sponsored by a major Torah organization. He was with Rabbi Shnayer Kotler, late Rosh HaYeshiva of the prominent Lakewood Yeshiva. Appreciate that BOTH WERE VERY HUMBLE MEN.

Both of these distinguished Torah giants were about to come in the main entrance of the banquet hall. Reb Shnayer said, "Let us not go in this way. I know of a back entrance. If we come in this way, everyone will stand up to give us honor. Let us not impose on an entire crowd."

To his astonishment, Reb Yaakov said insistently, and surprisingly out of character, "Let us enter specifically through this main door."

"But, why?" said Reb Shnayer, in amazement at his friend who was world-famous for humility.

"Our wives are in there," Reb Yaakov replied. "When the entire crowd stands, this gives honor to our wives."

Once Reb Yaakov, who lived in Monsey, was in New York City for a simcha. A young man from Monsey was asked to give the tzadik a ride home. He gladly agreed and eagerly introduced himself to the Rosh Yeshiva as his ride. Reb Yaakov said that he first had to inspect the car before he could accept the ride. He got into the back seat and sat for a moment. He then came out of the car and said he would accept the ride. The reason he went into the car first was to make sure the seat would be comfortable for HIS WIFE.

When Rabbi Shlomo Heiman, Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshiva Torah VaDaas in Brooklyn during the early '40s, passed away, a group of his devoted disciples went to make a shiva call (a visit to comfort a mourner during the seven days of mourning) to his widow. She told the group that she was going to tell the young men how to be husbands who will make their wife happy.

The Rosh HaYeshiva was a busy man. He always made a point to have at least one meal, generally supper, every day with his wife, making it a point to talk with her on whatever she felt it necessary to talk about, for 45 minutes to an hour each day (spending what we call today "quality time").

Every evening from 8:30 to 10:45 she would go out to raise funds for poor orphans. When she came back tired each evening, she always came home to find the kitchen table set. On it were a teacup, sugar, tea, a plate with cut cake. The kettle had freshly boiled water. Each night she would protest that this service does not befit a busy, esteemed Rosh HaYeshiva. He would protest back that she was making busy rounds and that she is tired and needs refreshment. When she would go back to the bedroom to pull down the sheets, she would find, each evening, that her husband had already done the job.

Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach was one of the world's leading Torah authorities. One time a visitor came over to his house to talk to the sage. All of a sudden, in the middle of the conversation, the rabbi started buttoning his coat and making it very neat. It seemed very out of context and the visitor was puzzled. Rabbi Auerbach explained, "The Talmud says that when a husband and wife dwell together in peace, the divine presence dwells with them. My wife and I dwell in such peace. Since it is time for her to be coming home, the divine presence is coming. Should I not be presentable?"

Several years ago, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach lost his elderly wife. It is customary, when one spouse loses the other, for the survivor to ask the departed spouse for forgiveness if ever the surviving spouse hurt the deceased. While eulogizing his wife, Rabbi Auerbach put his audience into shock by saying emphatically, as if speaking to his wife, "I do not forgive you and I do not ask you to forgive me!" Seeing that the audience was stunned, and that such a radical statement from such a scholar was entirely unexpected, he continued, "Let me explain. In 54 years of marriage, my wife never once hurt me, and I never once hurt my wife. Forgiving is not relevant when there is nothing to forgive."

Ezra wanted to honor shabos by taking a nice shower and cleaning himself well. The kids tied up the shower for a long time and his wife grabbed the shower as soon as she was able to, after standing over a hot stove all Friday afternoon. It was getting near to the coming of shabos. He started getting angry, banging on the bathroom door and demanding that his wife "hurry up and get outta there." He banged a second time. "It's almost the z'man [time]! C'mon, hurry up already and get outta there!" He banged the door with a loud boom. His wife came out of the shower, irritated and nervous from his noise and pressure. Since he was in the shower so close to the end of the time when showering would be allowed, he was also nervous and agitated. They were both pretty tense and hostile by the onset of shabos, saying nasty things and verbally jabbing at each other. Ezra's rav was a huge talmid chochom who knew shas, halacha, midrash, mussar, TaNaCH, poskim, rishonim and major seforim - all "at his fingertips." At shul, Ezra bragged to the rav that he "won" in his effort to rush his wife to let him into the shower in time for shabos. The rav told him, "Washing for shabos is a mitzva if you do it but it is not an obligation that one has to do. If you do it, you get a mitzva. If you don't do it, it is no sin. Whereas, if you make a fight with your wife, that is a sin, and the whole thing is not worth it. If you can't shower, as another option, you can wash, with warm water, your hands and face and, if possible, your feet. You can't make a fight with your wife in order to honor shabos. To be so adamant, you don't want to honor shabos. You want to honor yourself. It's better that you not shower and that you have shalom bayis. In such a case, avoiding the fight and keeping peace is your mitzva."

Besides the mitzva of peace, the gemora tells us that anything that comes through a sin is never a mitzva (Suka 30).

A rabbi, who was a teacher among the Lubovitcher chasidim, was walking down the street with one of his disciples. A young couple came over. The wife said to the rabbi, "Isn't it a violation of shabos to stir soup while it's on the stove? Tell my husband so he'll know!" The wise rabbi looked pensive for a moment and said, "I'll have to look it up and let you know." The couple marched on. Then, noticing the puzzled look on his disciple's face, the rabbi said, "She was upset. You and I both know the law is as she said. If, however, the question wasn't 'hard' enough to 'have to look up,' it would have made her husband appear foolish, and that would have made their fight worse."



The midrash [Kohelless Raba, chapter one] identifies seven distinct and separate stages of life.

1. In the first year, a baby is called "king." Everyone jumps whenever he cries, everyone fusses about him, hugs and kisses him and jumps at his "command." He is a ruler over all and no one can rule him. 2. At the ages of two and three he is called "pig." He is happiest playing in mud, getting himself filthy, frolicking and having happy-go-lucky irresponsible fun. 3. At ten, the child "jumps like a young goat." 4. At twenty he is a horse, egocentric, preening and beautifying himself, yearning to get married and driven by physical, animal desires. He is visceral and lives from appetites and hormones, rather than intellect or soul 5. Upon marrying, the person becomes a donkey, a beast of burden. 6. Upon having children, the person becomes a brazen dog, in order to provide bread, seeking after livelihood. 7. When old, the unlearned person becomes a monkey, a babbling bent over fool; and the Torah sage becomes a king, saintly and majestic with his learning, wisdom, life experience, spiritual growth and shining face; having earned accomplishments, distinction and honor. As a baby, one is like a king because Hashem made him cute and adorable. This was a one-time gift. When elderly, after a lifetime of Torah, he is a king because he made himself glorious with Hashem's "system" for life and Hashem's purpose for His giving life.

Rabbi Yechezkel Levenstein z'l, former mashgiach [spiritual administrator] of Ponovezh Yeshiva in B'nei Brak in the post-war generation, said that in each of the seven stages in this midrash the person cannot see or understand the stage which is before or after it. His ability to understand, see or experience life is entirely colored, shaped and determined by the stage which a person is in.

In fact, the original Hebrew does not refer to "stages of life." Although the midrash indeed describes seven stages of life, the word used by the midrash is "olamos (worlds)." In other words, when in each stage, one perceives life as if that stage defines the world. That stage is all one knows at the time. It is the whole world to the person. All of one's ideas, wants, focus, priorities, interests, opinions and behavior are determined by the stage in life that one is at. Rabbi Levenstein specified that the stage of the single person, before marriage, the horse, is characterized by "blinders." Just as a horse with blinders only sees what is in front of him, in his immediate and narrow focus, the single person likewise goes with blinders, just like the horse, seeing a narrow focus and centered around himself.

Any stage, other than the life-stage that one is in, is alien to a person, even one stage away. You might ask, "Even the stage I just got out of - is that also alien?" Yes - even the stage previous to yours, even though you were just there - it is foreign and incomprehensible. You do not live in that "world" any more, your mind does not operate there. "Having been there" is not the same as actually being there. Therefore, if one marriage partner is in a different stage of emotional development from the other, they will not understand each other, relate well nor be able to communicate. This is particularly evident when I do marriage counseling and one is on a higher level of emotional or relational development than the other. The one less developed has no idea what the other is getting at or fussing about when demanding maturity, communication, understanding or mentshlach behavior. They say things like, "You're just too sensitive," "You're impossible to please" or "Stop playing with verbal toys." The person cannot see or understand "another world," does not want (or is not equipped) to care about another's feelings or condition.

We see a similar lesson from the holy Hebrew language itself. The word for bachelor is "revak." The letters of the root word are: resh vov kuf. In grammar, vov is a light consonant. As such, "revak" is related to the word whose root is the same, minus the vov in the middle. The Hebrew word composed of the remaining two consonants, resh and kuf, is "rock," which in Hebrew means "only." The unmarried person sees the world in terms of him or herself only. Regrettably, so does the immature married person.

People tend to behave subjectively. This is often wrong and harmful. Life presents constant shaalos (practical Torah law questions), conflicts and nisyonos (tests). One must act in each and every thing according to objective Torah law, and as a mentsch. It takes enormous introspection, character, honesty and work on oneself to get beyond one's subjectivity and self-interest, to factor other people adequately into one's decisions and behavior.

Subjective behavior stems from what people really want deep inside, from what their opinions and interests are, and from "where they're really at." The only way to assure proper and objective behavior is to consult the Torah (or a Torah authority) to determine what our actions and opinions must be.

People in any one of the seven stages of life totally operate in terms of that stage. They do not understand any stage before or after. Even if one intellectualizes stages before or after, it is detached or idealized abstraction. It is not truly felt, perceived, experienced or understood. And it is possible for people to remain at a given level in terms of maturation and development even after their age should have them at a higher level. In my marriage counseling work, I repeatedly see people whose emotional maturity level and chronological age have little or nothing to do with one another.

Therefore, to the extent that one's understandings, opinions, behaviors and drives operate at a given level, and one has not come to the level which life requires of him at the given time, one is not going to manage successfully - in human development, maturation and relationship terms. For example, a person is at the emotional development stage of the self-centered, self-adoring and self-impressed pre-marriage stage. He has entered into marriage because he is lonely or he is at the age where "it is expected." His chronological age is not going to be even with the requirements that life imposes on him after he steps out of the chupa. His years may be enough for marriage, but (S)HE as a person isn't enough for marriage! Yet, he says, and believes in his mind, that he is marriage material. His very motive of loneliness or social approval has a selfish basis. True marriage means making another person important and happy. Marriage means to become an unconditional provider of good to a spouse and children - with the atmosphere predominantly peaceful.

Once a person gets past the stages of babyhood, one progressively comes to greater and greater levels mental understanding and emotional maturity. Accordingly, one's level of responsibility for his behavior grows and his ability to function more and more wisely and responsibly should grow. But since people can get locked in stages that they don't grow beyond, they may not make it, in human development terms, through all the stages of development by the time they grow old.



We continue our discussion about seven distinct and separate stages of life.

Each stage is called an "olam [world]," teaching us that people are locked in to their opinions, wants and perceptions due to their life-stage, maturity level and subjectivity-level. So, it is probable that, more often than not, they will act and speak based on their internal "content" (or lack thereof!). Each person only sees and understands the world based on his stage. Therefore, life is, to him, the "world."

After twenty, the midrash stops referring to ages and, rather, refers to milestones or events at which new stages happen. This tells us that people can be locked in to stages and levels of maturation indefinitely, and might never proceed towards king at the end of the list - even if they live to be very old. In my marriage counseling work, I see people married for decades who have never left the stage of the immature, hormone-driven and egocentric horse.

As one grows and proceeds through life, one passes though progressive levels of added capacity for responsibility and giving to others.

Therefore, it is all the more vital to cultivate humility that enables one to go beyond his "blinders" that are part of his self-absorbed horse stage. The earlier that the trait of humility is assimilated, the sooner and more fully he absorbs fear of sin. This prompts him to learn Torah, to act in all things according to Torah law and to acquire a lifetime of wisdom and meaningful experience. Torah, at the bottom line, is not opinions. It is objectivity, it is life, it is what G-d says is mandatory and for the best. To make it from the stage of horse to the stage of marriage starts with humility that allows one to see beyond himself, to see another person there in real and substantive terms, and to see the Torah of G-d and its applicability to every moment, in every situation and at every stage of life.

When Avraham came to the land of the Plishtim [Philistines], he said that his wife Sara was his sister. The Torah says that she was very attractive. King Avimelech took her for a wife and G-d came to him in a dream and said not to touch Sara or else Avimelech would die. Avimelech ran to Avraham and asked why he said that Sara was his sister when she was actually his wife. Avraham replied that he feared he would be killed so that any man who would want her could take her because "There is no fear of G-d in this place [Genesis 20:11]." Malbim, in his famous commentary on the Torah, points out that Avimelech's country was relatively civilized. Nevertheless, it does not matter how sophisticated, philosophical or progressive a country or society is. When human beings want things, they can legislate, manipulate, or pervert any laws they wish. They can even pass a law that somehow allows a man, who wants someone else's wife, to kill the husband, take her and get away with it. Man-made laws cannot be trusted. Only G-d's law can be. Only when there is fear of G-d at the root of law and action is there a basis for trust and a standard upon which to consistently rely.

Only when there is fear of Hashem, and action that is only according to His law, can behavior be considered to be right, good and wise. In our context, lacking fear of Hashem causes the failure to behave according to one's stage in life, to its responsibilities and to what life objectively requires at each moment.

The Torah cites that one of the descendants of Noach was Yokton [Genesis 10:25], whose name is related to the Hebrew word koton (small). Rashi says that he made himself small to be humble. The Torah cites that Yokton had 13 sons, each of whom became a leader of a nation. Each son became accomplished and distinguished in his own right. Because Yokton was humble, he merited that all 13 of his children would become great and successful. Keeping the marriage context in mind, humility is crucial for the producing of good children - as well as progressing and maturing beyond the stage of horse.

The gemora [Avoda Zora 20b] teaches that humility leads to fear of sin, which leads to enduring wisdom [Pirkei Avos, chapter three]. Torah wisdom brings us through the stages of life, and brings us to functioning as mature and responsible adults throughout life. This is what brings one through the journey to old age, which is the stage at which we see what one has done with his life - who he really was, and what he made of himself as a Jew and human being. If he degenerates into a babbling monkey, then the culmination of his life is idiocy, filth and waste. That is the profit of investing in a life of egocentricism and this-worldliness. This is what King Solomon refers to as "hevel" [everything of this world is ultimately nothingness and futility; Ecclesiastes 1:2]. Keep in mind that the midrash above, upon which this series is based, and which reports the seven stages of life, is built from the book of Ecclesiastes writing the word "hevel" seven times. This is the basis for the seven life-stages, the seven "worlds" which one sees and passes through. If one passes through each stage according to his own devices and inclinations, the culmination of his life is the foolishness of a monkey. His life was empty and purposeless.

The conclusion of Ecclesiastes is that all that life amounts to is one's fear of Hashem and fulfillment of His mitzvos. If one passes through the seven "worlds" of earthly life with fear of Hashem and through Torah, he shines with the glory and majesty of a king.



We continue our discussion based on the midrash [Kohelless Raba, chapter one] which identifies seven distinct and separate stages of life. Let us briefly review.

1. In the first year, a baby is called "king." 2. At the ages of two and three he is called "pig." 3. At ten, the child "jumps like a young goat." 4. At twenty he is an egocentric and visceral horse, who lives from appetites and hormones, rather than intellect or soul. 5. Upon marrying, the person becomes a donkey. 6. Upon having children, the person becomes a brazen dog. 7. When old, the unlearned person becomes a monkey; and the Torah sage becomes a king. Each stage is called an "olam [world]," teaching that people perceive the world entirely from the perspective of their stage at any time. That stage is the person's entire world. We showed that maturity requires a progression from humility to fear of sin to Torah wisdom. The word "revak [bachelor]" is related to "rock [only]." The unmarried person thinks in terms of him or her self only.

Rabbi Yechezkel Levenstein, who taught the lesson from the midrash about the seven stages of life [that each stage is its own world], was once walking in the hall of the Ponovezh Yeshiva, accompanied by a grandson. An American came into the Yeshiva to visit. He was obviously a classic tourist. He had a camera, together with several lens attachments, hanging on a string around his neck. When he saw Rabbi Levenstein, the tourist couldn't decide whether or not to take a picture of him. So, he came over and asked, as if the answer would decide whether he was "worth" a picture, "Who are you and what do you do here?" Rabbi Levenstein answered quite simply, "I'm Chatzk'l the shamash [servant]."

After the tourist left, his grandson asked why the esteemed and venerable rabbi referred to himself by a casual nickname and as a servant. Rabbi Levenstein replied, "What is a mashgiach? I make sure the boys are alright and that they come to doven and learn. I'm just a shamash."

This grandson, now an esteemed scholar in his own right, said that we see, from this story of his grandfather, that great Torah people do not need praise and compliments. They are secure, ego-free and self-sufficient. To put it into our context, they are humble. Rabbi Levenstein had been through the progression of 1. humility to 2. fear of sin to 3. deep and enduring wisdom. Such a scholar has made himself into a king and is one from whom we stand to learn and gain.

Starting after the horse, the life stages are not determined by, nor limited to, any chronological age. Starting after the horse, the stages depend on levels of maturation, of life events or milestones and of human development. The gemora [Pesachim 113b] describes the characteristics of a horse - and they all are very non-complimentary, shameful and bodily-oriented (arrogant, promiscuous, ravenous appetite, etc.). A key crossroads for the journey through the stages of life is whether one gets past the stage of self-oriented, physical horse, and sees beyond the blinders which limit the vision of horses.

A young newliweded husband told his wife to make steak for supper. She made chop meat. He got angry. She said that he was in kolel, she was working two jobs to support them, she grew up in a poor family in which they could afford chop meat and they could not eat steak. Since he slept late, she felt he was lazy and unfit for staying in kolel. She felt resentment that he demanded steak and expected her to earn the money to feed his rich taste. She demanded to know what he was going to do to provide a livelihood. He said that his rich grandfather would arrange something. She demanded to know specifically what that meant. He repeated with indifference that his rich grandfather would arrange something for him. A fight followed. She demanded a divorce. He got "one up" on her by abandoning her and making her an agunah.

Before they were married, both of these people would have been certain that they were ready for marriage. The wife, although she had more grounding in matters of financial practicality and responsibility, was not a communicator. She did not discuss with him what she was going to buy or prepare, or why; she just acted on her own as she saw to be right. This was provocative and disrespectful of her husband. She challenged and provoked him about money in a way that escalated the tension and made for confrontation. He was "stuck on steak," to the point at which he would "declare war" on her over it. He was unrealistic, infantile and in utter denial about anything beyond his "horse blinders." It was as if he viewed her as being in his life as a steak dispenser, not as a wife or person. He had no sense of responsibility, of priorities nor of human relations. He never saw that verse of King Solomon's wisdom [Proverbs 15:17], "Better is a meal of a vegetable and love is there than a luxurious beef meal and hate is with it." What he was doing in kolel is beyond me, because he obviously had no connection to Torah. What he was doing in marriage is equally beyond me, because he obviously had no connection to any stage beyond the self-absorbed horse. They both had what to learn about relating to another person in "post-horse," "post-revak" life. Imagine if the above silly couple would have gone to a Torah counselor or posek to learn what to do, instead destroying their marriage over a portion of chop meat and a taking of rigid positions. I tell couples that their policy should be, "We don't have fights, we have shaalos." I ask them, "Would you rather be yourself or would you rather be effective?"

A young man married. Over the first year, the wife's health was not good. She cried to a friend of mine, "He told me that in the first year of our marriage I've been sick 58% of the time! He's been keeping records of when I'm unhealthy! He's complaining about how much he has to take care of me and that I'm not at his service!" The husband didn't understand that when he stepped out of the chupa, he had responsibility to care for her. Had he been sick, she would have cared for him. He was still a revak, as one alone and out for himself. He was still a horse.

At the stage of horse, a person shows whether he can humbly and objectively interchange with a spouse, children, fellow humans and the world outside of his skin; following, and growing in, fear of Hashem, Torah and mitzvos - every moment and under all circumstances for the rest of his or her life. How one proceeds from the crossroads at the horse stage determines whether one is headed towards completing and culminating his life as a monkey or a king.