|Back to this week's Parsha||
by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
|Archive of previous issues|
How goodly are your tents, O Ya’akov, your dwellings, O Israel. (Bamidbar 24:5)
One Shabbos, Rabbi Boruch Ber Leibovitz, the Rabbi and dean of the Kamenitz Yeshivah, took a walk with one of his students. While they were conversing in Torah they passed a fellow Jew, who greeted the Rabbi, saying, “Have a good Shabbos, Rabbi.”
Since the Rabbi was so deeply engrossed in what he was discussing with his student, he did not hear what the man had said, though he knew that the passerby had said something. So he turned to his student and asked him, “What did that man say”?
“He said ‘Have a good Shabbos, Rabbi’”, replied the student. When the Rabbi heard this, he ran after the Jew until he caught up with him so that he could ask his forgiveness for not having answered his greeting immediately. Then he took his leave with a warm smile and the words, “Have a good Shabbos, have a good Shabbos.” (Hizaharu Bi-Chvod Chavreichem, p. 335).
Rabbi Boruch Ber was careful to pay attention even to a passerby on the street. All the more so, we must pay attention to our spouses, with whom we are obligated to do chesed.
The Talmud tells of a sage who, whenever he referred to his wife, would never say “my wife,: but would instead say, “my home.” In doing so, he was constantly reminding himself that without a wife, he did not have a real home.
“How goodly are your tents, O Ya’akov, your dwellings, O Israel.” Rashi comments that this verse refers to the fact that the Jewish people do not have the entrances of their tents open towards their neighbors’ entrances. (Shabbos 118b)
Several difficulties can be found with the above passage. Firstly, what is the connection between a woman and the symbolism of a home or a tent? Secondly, common decency demands that no one, no matter what his religious affiliation, should be peeping into his neighbor’s house. So what’s so special about the way the Jews positioned their entrances not to face each other?
We see from several sources that “tent” may indirectly refer to a characteristic of women. This is alluded to in the case of Avraham, who, when he was asked by the angels where his wife was, answered, “She is in the tent.” Such juxtaposition is also found elsewhere, for example, “She is blessed from women in the tent”, where the verse is referring to Yael after having killed the general Sisera. She is referred to as being in the tent. A tent indirectly refers to women because it is symbolic of modesty. For example a tent keeps one’s personal matters from public view. So too, righteous Jewish women have a special gift for personal modesty.
The deeper idea behind “not looking into his neighbor’s entrance” is that Jewish marriage can be so satisfying that it leaves a person no desire to covet his neighbor’s wife. Jewish marriage provides the means for a man to find in his own wife all the possible happiness he could ever want. There is nothing further to look for when a man is content at home. However, just as success in any other venture depends on the effort one puts into it, the same applies to marriage. Here too, one must earnestly strive for improvement, and realize that success will not come easily.
Men commonly make the mistake of being overly critical of their wives. They complain about their wife’s cooking and housekeeping skills, how they discipline the children, or countless other things. The list can be endless if a man expects to receive from his wife only the best possible service and care.
Focusing on a spouse’s perceived shortcomings is a great error. Marriage provides a golden opportunity to do chesed and to give of ourselves to another person. Kindness is not found in demeaning perfection, but rather, it means forgiving and accepting shortcomings. No one has a greater opportunity to show kindness than a married man or woman. And, when someone is kind, he is building himself and his personality in the way the Torah prescribes. He will, at the same time, be building a happy and successful marriage.
With these insights in mind, we can explain the above verse in another way. “How goodly are your tents, O Ya’akov.” In Torah, the image of a “tent” could be referring to the concept of marriage as it should be. This verse was spoken by the gentile prophet Bilam, when he praised Jewish marriages for the wonderful bond they create. Jewish marriage has such positive potential because it can bring real contentment and help tow people master the virtue of kindness. It is as though Bilam is saying in this verse, “What a pity that we haven’t such a concept of marriage as the Torah has; in comparison, it seems like we look at marriage merely as a possibility to exploit one another.”
Additionally, we can better explain the end of the verse: “your dwellings, O Israel.” Why did the Torah start the verse with the word “tent”, and end with the word “dwellings”? A dwelling refers to a more permanent structure, while a tent can easily be dismantled. Here the Torah is hinting to us the very nature of marriage itself. The beginning of a marriage is similar to a tent which is very fragile and unsteady. Only as time passes, can the marriage gain strength and stability.
Therefore, one should be aware that every marriage begins as a tent, since each person comes from a different home and background. Both individuals must strive together to create harmony in the new household. And so, despite the fragile beginning, the Torah promises us that the marriage will develop into an unshakable union if both husband and wife will constantly show chesed and tolerance toward each other.
When a person commits himself to a marriage based on chesed, the tent becomes transformed into a dwelling, a permanent structure. If a husband and wife are giving and sensitive to one another, together they will create a strong and deep bond. Only when the union between a husband and wife is built on the foundations that the Torah specifies for a successful marriage, is it transformed into a “goodly” dwelling.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network