Back to Parsha homepage
Beloved Comanions - Insights on Domestic Tranquility From the Weekly Parsha

by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
Archive of previous issues


Avoiding Spiritual Conflict In Marriage

And if you will not listen to Me, and you will not do all of these commandments.
(VAYIKRA 26:14)

The great Napoleon conquered many lands. Once when engaged in combat with Russia, he arrived at a city that was well fortified by a huge wall, and his army was unable to break through the wall in spite of heavy bombardment. Having no other choice, he put the city under siege, and no one was allowed to leave or enter until the city surrendered. Days went by, but there was no sign of surrender, and it seemed as though the inhabitants must have had a large supply of food. Despair began eating away at the hearts of Napoleon's generals, since they saw how their soldiers suffered from the harsh conditions due to their being out in the open. Finally several of the generals approached Napoleon and suggested that he give up on this city and let the soldiers return home.

When Napoleon saw the despair of his soldiers, he came up with a daring plan which he then proposed to his generals. Napoleon himself and another officer would disguise themselves as farmers and enter the city as spies in order to discover its true situation. If they would see that the inhabitants were simply hanging on in great hardship, then they would know that it was only a matter of days before the city would fall. But if they found that the city had stored up a lot of food and could hold out indefinitely, then Napoleon's army would retreat and return home. His plan was unanimously accepted.

And so Napoleon and an officer disguised themselves, and entered the city quietly at night. They walked around looking for vulnerable spots for an attack and then they entered a tavern, which was full of Russian soldiers drinking to relieve their hunger pangs. Napoleon and the officer listened carefully to what they were saying, and they heard of the dire condition of the city. Food was so scarce that children did not have anything to eat, and the army was so demoralized that it was ready to surrender. This was great news for Napoleon, and he was about to leave the place to return to his army so that he could command them to attack.

However, one of the Russian soldiers in the tavern had once visited France and had seen Napoleon. Now he saw that one of the strangers in the tavern was Napoleon and he recognized him immediately. He said to the other soldiers, "Look at that farmer sitting there. I swear that he is Napoleon and no one else"

A tremendous fear fell upon Napoleon and the officer, since they knew that if they were recognized there would be no escape for them. Fortunately, some of the other soldiers, including the commanding officer, refused to believe the soldier's words and said, "Stop being foolish. How could Napoleon himself be here? Would he not be afraid of us?" The officer with Napoleon, wanting to dispel any doubts about their identity and to prevent any further attention, called out to Napoleon to bring him a glass of wine from the bar. Napoleon understood his intention and went to get the wine, while all the Russian soldiers were carefully watching them.

When Napoleon brought the wine, the glass slipped from his hand and fell to the floor. The officer attacked Napoleon, kicking him and throwing him to the ground in mock anger. When Napoleon got up, he received a slap in the face, and after that he turned and ran out of the tavern. The soldiers in the tavern laughed uproariously at this and made fun of the soldier who had recognized Napoleon, telling him how wrong he was, since no one would dare to treat the famous Napoleon in such a disrespectful manner. Meanwhile the officer paid for the drinks and left the tavern, where he met Napoleon and they returned together to their army.

As soon as they had safely returned, the officer fell at Napoleon's feet and begged forgiveness for the way he had Insulted and hit him, explaining that he had judged such a display to be necessary in order to insure his safety.

Napoleon bugged and kissed the officer and said to him, "My gratitude to you is so great that in return for the kicks and slaps I received from you, and for saving my life, I will give you the highest position in my army and will bestow upon you the most precious gifts."

As a result of their successful mission, the city was attacked a few days later and Napoleon was victorious.

The suffering that Napoleon received was for his own good, and in spite of the fact that it hurt him, it saved his life. The conflicts that we have in marriage are also for our good. We should not fall into despair because of disagreement, but rather we must focus our attention on learning how to minimize it.

"And if you will not listen to Me, and you will not do all of these commandments." 1 You might think that a person who does not learn Torah, might nevertheless do mitzvos. The verse teaches us, though, "and you will not do."2 From here we learn that someone who does not learn Torah in the end will not do mitzvos.

You might think that a person who does not learn Torah nor does mitzvos, nevertheless might not dislike others who do learn Torah and do mitzvos. The verse teaches us, though, "and if you will hate My laws."3 From here we learn that someone who does not learn Torah nor does mitzvos, in the end will come to hate those who do learn Torah and o do mitzvos.

You might think that a person who does not learn Torah, does not do mitzvos, and dislikes those who learn Torah and do mitzvos, nevertheless might not hate the talmidei chachamim, the Torah scholars.

The verse teaches us, though, "and if your soul will hate My judgements."4 From here we learn that someone who does not learn Torah, does not do mitzvos, and dislikes others who learn Torah and do mitzvos, in the end he will hate talmidei chachamim.

You might think that a person who does not learn Torah, does not do mitzvos, dislikes those who learn Torah and do mitzvos, and he hates talmidei chachamim, nevertheless might at least allow other people to practice Torah and mitzvos. The verse teaches us, though, "and not to do." 5 From here we learn that someone who does not learn Torah, does not do mitzvos, dislikes those who learn Torah and do mitzvos, and hates the talmidei chachamim, in the end he will prevent others from doing mitzvos.
(YALKUT 673)

Why must a person learn Torah in order to do mitzvos, when it would seem that even if a person never learns he could still remain observant? Also why do our Sages say that someone who does not learn Torah and does not do mitzvos, will dislike others that do so, when it seems that one could appreciate other's efforts even though he himself does not practice? The next step is that he will even come to dislike talmidei chachamim. How can that be explained as a consequence of the previous conditions? Why would someone go so far as to prevent others from learning Torah and doing mitzvos?

The reason that a person must learn Torah to do mitzvos is that the learning of Torah alone makes a person recognize his obligation to fulfill the mitzvos. This is true since only by learning will he have seen the source for what he is doing and thereby can he fully appreciate the importance of his actions. Without this appreciation and depth of understanding a person's powerful natural tendencies pull him further and further from Torah until the mitzvos are no longer a part of his life. Other motivators, such as doing something just because you saw your parents do so does not give a person any strong motivation. One can easily dismiss his parents' practices as old-fashioned and no longer relevant. Similarly, other motivations are easily rationalized away. But, once he has learned about the different mitzvos from the Torah, he cannot easily discard them, since he will come to know that they are true and therefore will feel compelled to perform them.

Another possible reason that the learning of Torah alone will keep a person involved in doing mitzvos is the unique pleasure experienced when learning Torah. This pleasure fills a person with enthusiasm. Realizing the incredible depth behind the ideas gives one the incentive to put them into practice. The learning not only inspires one to do mitzvos, but also to continue learning. And furthermore, only when a person learns Torah can he understand how and why he must be careful about all the details and particulars of the mitzvos.

Our Sages say that someone who does not learn Torah and does not do mitzvos, in the end will dislike those who do so.

It might seem as though one should be able to appreciate the observance of others even though he himself does not practice. However, the Torah has insights into human psychology and knows that if someone does not practice Torah despite the strong urgings of his conscience, this will bother him terribly, and therefore he will look for a rationale to quiet his conscience. The rationale he finds is to say to himself that all those who practice Torah and mitzvos are mistaken and behaving improperly, while he is the one who is doing the correct thing by not practicing. Once he convinces himself of this falsehood, his conscience is appeased, and he has no problems anymore. That is why our Sages say that when you do not practice, you will eventually come to dislike those that do.

The next logical step is that he will even come to dislike Torah scholars, since they are the people who are closest to perfection in their actions. They learn Torah fervently and are very careful to do mitzvos properly, and thus they reach high levels of spirituality that this person cannot even dream of. This causes him to be envious of them, since he sees how high they have soared spiritually, whereas deep inside he knows how low he has sunk. This envy eventually causes him to hate the Torah scholars, since they are a thorn in his side. This also explains why he hates others who are observant.

After this he will fall to an even lower level where he will actively seek to prevent others from learning Torah and doing mitzvos. The idea here is that once he has made up his false theory to legitimize his actions, he becomes so intoxicated with this theory, that he really believes that he is practicing goodness while all those that are involved with Torah and mitzvos are practicing evil. He goes even further, and decides that he wants to save others from making mistakes, and that he will actively try to prevent them from practicing Torah and mitzvos. This shows us how far a person can go to justify his actions.

Encourage Your Spouse to Grow Spiritually

It is not uncommon in marriage that one spouse may improve spiritually and leave the other spouse far behind. This of course causes trouble, since it can lead to envy and jealousy. The result can be, as mentioned in the midrash, that one can even come to hate the other and will try to prevent one's spouse from continuing to improve.

For example, a husband may decide that he wants to learn every evening. This is of course a positive action, since it will cause him to grow in Torah and mitzvos. But his wife's reaction might be opposition, since his learning in the evenings means that he will spend less time with her. She may say to her husband that she does not want him to learn or that she cannot stand to be alone. The best reaction on her part would be for her to encourage her husband, and to try to grow spiritually together with him.

Or a wife might decide that the couple should be more careful not to speak lashon hara, or should begin buying food with a better hechsher. The husband might disagree and claim that he does not need any additional caution regarding lashon hara, and that the kashruth supervision which they now rely on is quite adequate. The best way for the husband to react would be to agree to any spiritual improvement that his wife wants them to make. The best way to avoid conflict in these areas, is to always have time to show your love to your spouse. If a person is so busy with his work or his learning that he does not have time for his spouse, the spouse feels isolated and does not want to cooperate in other areas. I once met a couple where the husband was growing spiritually, but was unable to convince his wife to cover her hair, even though the majority of women in the community did so. In the course of a conversation with the husband, I discovered that he barely spoke to his wife because of his involvement in his work. My advice to him was to show his love to his wife and to find time for her, and only then would he find that his wife was willing to accept new religious standards.

Since marriage is a mutual bond, one must try by all means to rise spiritually together with one's spouse. This can only be done if love and affection are shown constantly, since only then will the spouse not feel imposed upon and be willing to accept changes. Growing spiritually without having the spouse participate in the growth, is dangerous to the marriage. it is essential that both husband and wife show love and affection to one another, and then through this love they will be able to grow and improve spiritually as one harmonious unit.

1. Vayikra 26:14
2. Ibid.
3. Vayikra 26:15
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid. 26:14

Back to Parsha homepage | Previous Issues

This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
For information on subscriptions, archives, and other Shema Yisrael
Classes, send mail to

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel