Shalom Bayis (Peaceful Marriage)
What Marriage Can't Last Without:
















Imagine if we had alive today a genius, a holy and righteous tzadik whom knew all wisdom, a Torah giant whom the whole world accepted as pious and authoritative. And, imagine that you personally had access to him.

You want to know, "What, in one word, is the essence of the man-woman relationship? What is the foundation for 'doing marriage right?'"

You'll be glad to know that Jewry has access to something quite akin to this.



Rabbi Yehuda Lowe, best known as the "Maharal," and best known for the "golem" (the clay-man which the Maharal animated with mystical power) which he built to protect the Jews of Prague from brutal blood libel persecutions in the 1500's, stands as one of the greatest geniuses in Torah history. Just about everything he taught and wrote evokes universal marvel and awe. Think about it. Whom do you know, besides G-d Himself, who can bring clay to life?

In one of his books, Nesivos Olam, he essentially answers the question, "What, in a word, is the essence of the man-woman relationship?"

His starting point is studying the significance of:

1. the adjacency of two incomprehensibly cryptic back-to-back statements in the Talmud [Taanis 8a] and

2. their relationship to a midrash (which is alluded to in the second of the two cryptic Talmudic statements).

After citing these, he strings them together and develops the material brilliantly, and establishes the "punchline" as being the one bottom-line essence of marriage. He "really goes to town."

Let's have a peek. Get ready to have your eyebrows raised.

What follows is my free translation/digest of the essay by the Maharal.



The attribute of "faith" is spoken of in tractate Taanis.

"Rabbi Ami said, 'Rains do not fall except because of the people who have faith in G-d, as is written, "Truth will sprout from the earth and righteousness will look down from Heaven (Psalms 85:12)."' Rabbi Ami also said, 'Come and see how great are the people of faith. From where will we see? From the weasel and the well. Whereas one can have faith in the weasel and the well, how much moreso must one have faith in G-d!'"

What this means is that those of faith [i.e. who are trustworthy, so that you may have faith in them] do not change. Heaven is the source of moisture. Rain is in the power of Heaven and Heaven never changes because it is for the provision of moisture and rain that G-d created the Heavens. Therefore, we learn that one may have faith in Heaven for that which It was created [to provide]; and that there is an unchanging, unending relationship between a Provider who is faithful to provide and those who are to have faith in that provision, since the Provider is never-changing. If ever one party changes, violating the relationship of one having faith and the other being a dependable and faithful provider, this destroys the relationship, causing commensurate change in the second party.

The verse in Psalms, brought as a proof-text, demonstrates that this matrix stands on the principle of "faith," because Heaven provides moisture and the earth receives it - creating the model for 1. the provider and 2. the receiver. The earth can have faith (there will be "sprouting") and Heaven will be righteous (to reliably send down the necessary sustenance). Through this, a non-changing relationship of mutual roles and of faith is established which joins together, into a relationship, those on earth with Heaven. The verse says, "Truth will sprout from the earth," to indicate that the earth can have faith that Heaven provides the moisture that the earth needs to receive.

In order for the faith relationship between Heaven and earth to operate, there must be the same never-changing faith relationship between each person here on earth and the next person here on earth. Then, this will be reflected in Heaven participating in its faith-relationship as Provider to earth. There is no greater model of faith than this relationship between Heaven and earth and this is the SAME as the RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN MAN AND WOMAN, in the nature of which the man is a provider, and the woman is receiver, like the Heavens provide and the earth receives. If the relationship is violated, this is elimination of the faith which is its foundation.

When both a husband and a wife are faithful, there is no greater relationship. When each is faithful, without end and without change, to all the obligations of the relationship, each may have faith in the other at all times.

This is the meaning when the Talmud states that WE LEARN FAITH FROM THE WEASEL AND THE WELL and that there is no greater case from which to learn about faith.

[We could graphically chart the parallel elements of the Maharal's exposition:

1. Heaven 1. Earth
2. Husband 2. Wife
3. Weasel 3. Well as to clearly show the development and correspondence of the elements.]

In [a classic book called] "Oruch," a midrash is brought which elaborates this cryptic, incomprehensible reference to the weasel and the well (which, of course, provides linkage to the Talmudic statements, which also refer to this same weasel and well). [It starts out sounding like a children's story. But, the way the Maharal ends up weaving it all together is nothing short of profound and fascinating.]



Once there was a teenage girl who was traveling to visit her father. She erred in her route and went to an uninhabited place. When it got to midday it was burning hot. She became so thirsty that she was near delirious. Finally, in the distance, she noted a pit and ran to it. She saw a bucket next to it and understood that there was water down there. She rapidly lowered herself down to the bottom of the well and drank to her heart's content.

When she finished and was restored, she looked up and saw that, in her excitement, she had climbed such a long way down that there was no way that she would be able to climb back up. She started screaming for help.

A man came by and heard her voice, which he followed to the pit. When he arrived, she was so far down, that he was not able to discern her or whether she was even human. He asked if she was a human being, and, after she said she was, he asked her how she came to this predicament. She told him. He said that he is a Jew and a Kohen, the holy people who serve in G-d's Temple in Jerusalem. He asked her which nation she was from. She was also a Jew. [Jewish law forbids a man and woman from touching when they are not married nor immediate blood relatives.] He said that a Jewish man can't just shlep a woman on his back. "If I rescue you, will you marry me?" "Yes," she replied.

When she had been saved, they each said their name, family name, and the name of the town each lived in. They covenanted to be married in full accordance with Torah law, and that he would come to her parents' home for her. He asked, "Who will be the witnesses that we are committed to marry each other?" Just then, a weasel went by. She said, "The Heavens, the weasel that just ran by and the well which you just shlepped me out of will be the witnesses that we will not cheat each other." With this pact in place, they both went home.

The young woman remained true to her commitment FAITHFULLY. As it worked out, she was growing into a lovely young lady and courters started to come, seeking marriage. To every man, she gave refusal. She was "spoken for," so "nothing' doing." Young men kept coming and coming and coming, trying to win her. It just wouldn't stop [she must have been an extraordinary girl - both in character and in attractiveness]. When the suitors just kept coming and coming, she conducted herself as if she went insane and tore her clothes, until the men altogether stopped coming.

The Kohen, on the other hand, returned home and promptly forgot altogether about this young woman and his commitment to her. "Out of sight, out of mind." [At this point, the women in the audience say, "just like a man!"]

He married a different woman who became pregnant and gave birth to a baby. After the birth, a weasel strangled the infant to death.

She became pregnant again and gave birth to a second baby. After the birth, this baby fell into a well and drowned.

The wife said to her husband, "If my two babies would have died normal deaths, I would accept the deaths as G-d's judgement. Since my babies both died unnaturally, this cannot be without sin! Tell me your deeds! Why did my babies die through a weasel and a well?!"

It hit him and he remembered that the Heavens, the weasel and the well were the enforcers of his marriage pact with the young woman whom he rescued. He recounted the story. His wife said, "Go to this woman. She is the mate destined to be given to you by G-d." He divorced his wife and left for the other woman's town.

When he got to the town and asked to be directed to this girl, every one told him that she had gone crazy and that he should forget about her and return home. When he got to her father, he told his betrothed's father the story and announced that he was here to marry the girl. "But my daughter has 'lost her mind.'"

And his reply to the girl's father was, "I ACCEPT HER WITH ALL HER FAULTS!" [He came around fully in his capacity to accept responsibility and commitment. He learned his lesson. He became a relator in whom a spouse could, from now on, have unbending faith.]

He went to his betrothed, and she started her "crazy act." He reminded her of the story of the weasel and the well, and her mind returned to normal [in the midrash's going out of its way to say that her mind "returned to normal," this gives us the additional message that if one becomes habituated or conditioned in any kind of crazy behavior, it actually adds craziness to the mind - a profound message 1. in today's tough and complex world and 2. in the context of serious or troubled man-woman relationships; she had to actively and consciously restore her mind back to a normal state from a crazy state]. She said, "I was always steadfast in our commitment."

They had many children, became wealthy and were faithful to each other for the rest of their lives [end of midrash].



You must know that these two things, the weasel and the well, correspond to male and female.

The weasel corresponds to the male. This is corroborated by the fact that weasel [in Hebrew, CHuLDaw] is from the same root word as thrusting [in Hebrew, CHaLawDaw], and by the related fact that the nature of the weasel is to dig. The digging, thrusting, active connotation represents the male.

The well is the opposite, being an open receptacle, corresponding to the female.

The male-female relationship is the same as the relationship of Heaven to earth. In each case, there is an active provider (Heaven, or, the male) and a receiver (earth, or, the female). Both are relationships of faith, meaning:

* that each (the provider and the receiver) must be entities of total, unchanging, unending faithfulness, so much so

* that either one may always have total, unchanging, unending faith in the other.

When the weasel and the well were the witnesses enforcing the sacred covenant to marry, they were each designated to be witness to their corresponding corollary:

* the weasel - male, and

* the well - female,

towards the end that the faithfulness between the man and the woman be ensured so that this faithfulness would endure permanently.

You must know that the man and the woman have a relationship together exclusively based on faith. Any falsity, breach of integrity, is antithetical to the union of husband and wife. Marriage and violation are mutually exclusive.

When the weasel and the well were designated as witnesses to enforce the union of the man and woman, it constituted designation of the marriage relationship as a relationship of trustworthiness; with each partner:

* to be faithful and

* permitting the other partner to have faith,

mutually and together. Therefore, the children born to the first wife had to be lost specifically through a weasel and a well, precisely because the weasel and the well were the enforcers of man-woman faithfulness [the first marriage was a breach of faith to the first young woman].

Understand that the reason that the young woman remained faithful is that the female is naturally inclined to more faithfulness than the male. We see that the female corresponds to faith by virtue of the fact that "faith" [in Hebrew, "emuna"] is a feminine-gender word. The male corresponds to "truth" [in Hebrew, "emess"], a masculine-gender word. The female is less inclined to truth than to faithfulness, and a male is less inclined to faithfulness than is the female [end of Maharal's essay].



How do we tie this to practical, concrete relating?

For example, in a traditional Jewish family, a husband is responsible for earning a livelihood, learning Torah regularly, teaching the sons Torah, etc. A wife is obligated to keep the house, raise the children, cook, sew, clean, etc.

Regardless of whether you have any variations in your individual case (e.g. two-income family, whatever), there are other roles that go into your relationship, besides technical activities and prescribed arrangements.

For example, chapter one brings out fundamentals of making a marriage work, of making a marriage peaceful, and of giving it the capacity to endure. Among the things in which the partners have this obligation (to be unchangingly faithful) are practical exchange of:

* love

* respect/honor

* humility

* responsibility

* active and targeted giving

* active maintenance and pursuit of peace

* relating heart to heart

* providing happiness to each other at every possible moment

* keeping the "goodness flow" mutual ("even steven"),

at all times, and such that your partner can have unswerving faith in you and your nonstop provision of these to your partner. The test is passed when both partners steadily:

* can know and

* can be secure, trusting and reliant;

that each:

* has the other's love, respect, loyal devotion, support, alliance; and

* has fulfillment of all of the roles, emotions, needs and obligations, that the relationship requires from the other.

Faith and trust in marriage must be complete, or else there will be doubt, worry, suspicion, insecurity, tension, divisiveness, misery and degeneration of the marriage. I tell audiences that trust is like "kosher"...if a food is 99% kosher, it is 100% traif! ANYTHING less than 100% won't work. Same, too, in the marriage bond. A partner is not fulfilling his/her responsibility to the marriage until he/she gives the other the ability to have 100% faith, security, confidence, reliance and trust in him/her...without change or end.

There are also, for example, midos (character traits: both elimination of bad and abundance of good), communication, compromises, expressing appreciation and compliments, buying presents, acts of thoughtfulness, patience, self-control, keeping promises, punctuality, all forms of reliability and honesty, provision of emotional security and emotional support, accepting your partner's faults graciously and without destructive nagging or criticizing, stability and consistency, fidelity, helping each other to grow and to bring out each other's potential, constantly treating each other as important and as valuable, gentle and constructive criticism, halachic resolving of differences, working TOGETHER to raise and to train the children with a uniform and effective approach, creation and maintenance of a loving and respectful home atmosphere, allowing for male-female differences (e.g.needs, nature, temperaments, priorities, relating styles, etc.), spending "quality time" together regularly (and, enough of it! - quality without sufficient quantity won't work) for the development and enrichment of your relationship, paying attention to your spouse, ongoing courtesy, etc. We'll come back later in more detail to such topics on how to constitute a successful relationship.

Incidentally, it is also vital to spend sufficient, warm and nurturing quality time with each of your children individually.

View the Jewish marriage as having three partners: husband, wife and G-d. For a marriage to have blessing and success, each one must be true and devoted to the other two.



When G-d took the Jewish people out of Egypt, He saved us in order that, at Mount Sinai, we would become His people, the people of the Torah. The giving of the Torah is the marriage of the Jewish people and G-d. Revelation was commitment.

Egypt was idolatrous and incestuous. It stood for everything that Torah - and marriage - don't. The Torah couldn't be given immediately after leaving, nor near the boundary of, ancient Egypt. The Jewish people were not yet utensils which could contain the Torah. The 50 days between the Exodus and Revelation were days of cleansing from slavery in a depraved environment. The Torah wasn't given until completing 50 full days of purification, and developing the ability to fear violating the Torah (Be'er Haitiv #1, Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chaim 494).

The journey from Egypt to Sinai is analogous to the journey from singlehood to marriage. After leaving Egypt, the Jewish People came to Pi HaChirus, which means "the beginning of freedom."

The Talmud (Avoda Zara 20b) says that humility leads to fear of sin. Pirkei Avos (chapter three) says that wisdom which is preceded by fear of sin lasts permanently. The Maharsha says that Israel went through a three step preparation for receiving the Torah. 1. Upon leaving Egypt, the Jewish people had to attain to the trait of humility. 2. Then they had to attain to the trait of fear of sin. 3. Only then were they able to receive the Torah. Lets's study why.

What are humility, fear of sin and receiving the Torah? Humility is the cancellation and the elimination of ego. To the extent that one is humble, one has "cleansed self" out of oneself. The more one is humble, the more "room" there is in one for any other person or G-d.

To have a relationship with a person requires the emptying out of ego/sense of self to allow realization of the existence of and obligation to another entity outside of oneself. The Torah, which was brought from Heaven to Earth by Moshe, referred to him as the most humble of all who would ever live. Since he had cleaned himself out of ego, he was a container for the Torah with no contamination or distortion that could arise from personal sense of self or self-interest. Torah could exist in him the way it was given by G-d. His Torah was pure because he was pure.

The Jews started, under Moshe's instruction, to purify and to humble themselves. They slipped and were attacked by Amalek at Refidim. The midrash (Mechilta) tells us that Amalek attacked because the Jews weakened their hold on the Torah. They won the war by looking up during the battle, remembering to look to Hashem.

After finally instilling the trait of humility, the Jews were able to comprehend an Entity outside of themselves to Whom they had obligations. But, it was not enough that they come to such realization of G-d and commitment to His will. That commitment had to be real. How do we determine that recognition of another and commitment to another is real? One truly understands a commitment to an Entity outside of oneself when one is afraid of violating that commitment to the other. Only then is the person serious. Only then is the capability of committing real. When this is achieved, one can make a commitment that will last. The Jews had to go through humility, fear of violation and then they were capable of making a commitment to receive the wisdom of the Torah such that it would endure.

When G-d created the universe, He created it on condition that Israel accept His Torah (Avoda Zara 3a). When the Jews came to Mount Sinai, the Torah makes a point to say that the Jews travelled from Refidim (Shmos 19:2) and encamped with the unity of "one person with one heart" (Rashi and Mechilta on this verse). The next verse tells us that Hashem instructed Moshe to "say to the Jewish women and tell the Jewish men" to get ready for the giving of the Torah. Why did the Torah add separate instruction for the women and the men? Because men and women have different natures and should, accordingly be spoken to differently. Speak to the women in a soft, sensitive, intuitive, emotional manner; speak to the men in a logical, tough, direct, analytical manner.

Let's go back to our marriage analogy.

When departing from the "Egypt of singlehood," one proceeds to "The Beginning of Freedom." In the analogy, leaving singlehood is the beginning of freedom - freedom to be one's complete self and potential as a human being. The Targum Yonason there tells us that the Jewish people found jewels strewn all over the desert floor, and they became wealthy. In our analogy, readiness to marry means being able and value a spouse as a jewel, to see another human being as precious, the way one sees jewelry. Then, Hashem miraculously brings the mate (Beraishis Raba 64:8), just as He miraculously opened the Yam Suf (Reed Sea).

The single must also go through the three steps of preparation. First, the individual must cultivate humility to allow recognition of another, and the obligations of marriage. One must be sufficiently empty of ego and sense of self to attribute reality to another person and his or her needs. Only when enough humility is in place, will the person assimilate what another person and commitment to him/her mean. What is the measure of sufficient ability to recognize and to identify with another person and commitment to this person? What is the measure of sufficient humility? When one has developed fear of sin - fear of any and every violation of the relationship and of its responsibilities. When one has fear of violation of commitment - fear of hurting another, fear of failing to fulfill all of one obligations - then the person is ready to take commitment seriously, so that one's commitment will last.

If one "weakens one's hold on the commitment," just as Amalek attacked the Jews, one in the marriage context will suffer. By looking up to Hashem, obeying the will of Hashem, one may be saved. For this to be real, one must "travel away from Refidim" - away from being one who weakens one's hold on one's obligations, from being one who slips from the purity necessary to come to faithful commitment.

Rather, the couple should be two separate people, the emotional woman and the cerebral man, who, regardless of their differences and separateness, are as "one person with one heart." Then the two can be together in a permanent commitment relationship, just as Hashem "married" the Jewish people at Sinai.

The giving of the Torah is an analogy to marriage (Taanis 26b). Just as a groom marries his bride, G-d married the Jewish people. The Torah is the holy commitment which bonds the Jewish people and G-d the same way that marriage is the holy commitment which bonds man and wife.

The Torah was given ("matan Torah"). It is up to the individual to receive it. Marriage is an analogy to Torah. It is given, but it is up to you to accept and fulfill what is presented beginning when you are under the chupa.

In the marriage of husbands and wives, each must also distance and cleanse from the self-slavery and impurity in which a single or immature person might indulge. The culmination of the greatness of one's self-creation is when one may conduct marriage in the way of the righteous, and in the way of G-d.

King Solomon wrote (Proverbs 5:19), "You will always be engrossed with your love for her." The Yalkut, commentaries, Rambam, and Talmud (Eruvin 54b) explain this verse to refer to Torah with some citing analogy to the love between male and female. Two of the nice ideas that fit our parallel is that when one is really devoted to one's love, one constantly renews that love by ongoing devotion to it and it remains dear at every moment to the one who truly loves. In love for Torah and for one's wife, one can keep that love going at all times, continually. By being engrossed in and attentive to that love, one plays a constant and active role in the maintenance of the permanent love-commitment to a wife. This parallels the Jewish nation's permanent love-commitment to the Torah.

By attaining the permanent bondedness of marriage, one also parallel's the fulfillment of the condition for which G-d created and maintains the universe (that the Jews accept His Torah).

By viewing marriage as requiring the three steps of 1. humility leading to 2. fear of sin and 3. permanent commitment, the marriage can be approached so as to have the potential to last.

By adding the element of trustworthiness; by each keeping all commitments; by each being unchanging and faithful; by each fulfilling all duties required by the marriage; by treating each other as a precious jewel; by conducting the marriage according to the Torah; the marriage is able to actualize its potential to endure and to remain for a lifetime.



Everything in marriage fits into the Maharal's all-encompassing message. This includes all the roles, the responsibilities, the standards, the commitment and the exclusivity which the relationship demands. I tell couples, from this treatise by the Maharal, to view every single facet and function of their marriage as the object of "faithfulness" such that, in regard to each facet or function, YOUR PARTNER CAN HAVE FAITH IN YOU. This means faith that is FULL, WITH NO CHANGE AND NO END. Faith is a fulcrum upon which the stability, endurance, quality and happiness of marriage hinges. Marital roles and responsibilities come in "many flavors." You have to have all of them available in your "inventory," your repertoire, at all times steadily. Thank you, Maharal.

In marriage, the single most important:

* emotion in the heart is "ahava,"

* form of actions in the ongoing practical relationship is "kavod," and

* state prevailing is "faith/trust"

in EACH partner, at ALL times.

A marriage whose character, atmosphere and behaviors are defined by ahava (love) and kavod (honor/respect) FOR each other and by faith (emuna) IN each other, will avail the highest possible quality of relationship, inner-fulfillment and all 'round success.