CONTENTS AT A GLANCE
TO THE TORAH MIND THERE
IS SOLUTION, NEVER ADVERSITY
LEARNING, MIDOS AND
HOLINESS - FOUNDATIONS OF THE TORAH HOME
DERECH ERETZ IN MARRIAGE
MARRIAGE IS A PACKAGE OF
OBLIGATIONS AND RESPONSIBILITIES
NEVER HURT A JEWISH WIFE
MALE AND FEMALE ROLES:
PREJUDICE OR SUBSTANTIATED TRADITION?
FROM CHAZAL [SAGES OF
TALMUD AND MIDRASH]
FROM POST-TALMUDIC TORAH
RECENT GEDOLIM [TORAH
GREATS] ON MARRIAGE AND FAMILY
THE SEVEN STAGES OF LIFE, PART ONE:
DIFFERENT STAGES ARE DIFFERENT WORLDS
THE SEVEN STAGES OF LIFE, PART TWO:
HUMILITY, FEAR OF SIN AND WISDOM
THE SEVEN STAGES OF LIFE, PART THREE:
ENDURING HORSES, ENDURING MARRIAGE AND SUCCEEDING IN LIFE
TO THE TORAH MIND THERE
IS SOLUTION, NOT ADVERSITY
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!
LEARNING, MIDOS AND
HOLINESS - FOUNDATIONS OF THE TORAH HOME
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
* sees him apply what he has learned in
practical life and
* sees him improve as a person from what he
her respect and admiration for him zooms
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.
The Vilna Gaon says that Torah DOES NOT
AUTOMATICALLY MAKE A PERSON BETTER. If one learns without intending to be spiritually
perfected, Torah will INTENSIFY WHAT IS NATURALLY IN THE PERSON - including the bad! TORAH
WILL ONLY MAKE BETTER THE PERSON WHO LEARNS IT FOR THE SPECIFIC PURPOSE OF PURIFYING HIS
HEART, INCREASING HIS FEAR OF HEAVEN AND SPIRITUAL ELEVATION. TORAH IS POWERFUL BUT IT
DOES NOT SUBSTITUTE FOR THE INDIVIDUAL'S FREE WILL. THE ESSENTIAL PURPOSE FOR WHICH G-D
CREATED HUMAN LIFE IS FOR PERFECTION OF MIDOS (PERSONALITY AND CHARACTER TRAITS) AT ALL
TIMES. AT EVERY MOMENT WHEN ONE IS NOT WORKING ON MIDOS, ONE IS WASTING HIS LIFE (Evven
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
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.
DERECH ERETZ IN MARRIAGE
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.
MARRIAGE IS A PACKAGE OF
OBLIGATIONS AND RESPONSIBILITIES
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
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
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].
NEVER HURT A JEWISH WIFE
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
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,
* calling someone by a disparaging
* 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!
MALE AND FEMALE ROLES:
PREJUDICE OR SUBSTANTIATED TRADITION?
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
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
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
* 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
FROM CHAZAL [THE SAGES OF
TALMUD AND MIDRASH]
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
comes...in 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
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.
FROM POST-TALMUDIC TORAH
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
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
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
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
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
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)."
RECENT GEDOLIM [TORAH
GREATS] ON MARRIAGE AND FAMILY
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
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
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 SEVEN STAGES OF LIFE, PART ONE:
DIFFERENT STAGES ARE DIFFERENT WORLDS
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
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
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.
THE SEVEN STAGES OF LIFE, PART TWO:
HUMILITY, FEAR OF SIN AND WISDOM
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
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.
THE SEVEN STAGES OF LIFE, PART THREE:
ENDURING HORSES, ENDURING MARRIAGE AND SUCCEEDING IN LIFE
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.