0nce when Rabbi Chaim Elazar Wax, the Rabbi of Kalish and author of Nefesh Chayah, was giving a lecture to his students, a man walked in and informed the learned Rabbi that he would like to tell him some interesting Torah ideas. The Rabbi, who was a modest person and always careful not to insult anyone, did not turn down the intruder's request, despite the fact that he had so brazenly interrupted the Rabbi's lecture. Taking a seat beside his students, Rabbi Chaim asked the man to begin.
The man started speaking, and it quickly became apparent that he did not know what he was talking about and his ideas did not make much sense. The Rabbi tried to concentrate on his words, but the students, who realized the abysmally low level of the lecture, were silent only for fear that their Rabbi would rebuke them; yet they could not refrain from laughing quietly at the nonsense the intruder was spouting so confidently. When he had finished his lecture, the Rabbi blessed him with success in learning Torah.
But the intruder was not satisfied with that, and announced that he would now like to give another lecture, and when the Rabbi did not Object, he launched into a second lecture, which made as little sense as his first. This time the students could not contain their amusement and broke out in loud, derisive laughter.
The Rabbi immediately apologized for their behavior, making the excuse that it was hard for them to concentrate on the ideas he was presenting, since they were presently learning a completely different subject. He then suggested that the man come back a different time when their minds would not be pre-occupied with other matters.
The intruder said goodbye to the Rabbi and left. But the Rabbi was still not satisfied that he had appeased him, and he continued to accompany him for about a quarter of an hour, trying to convince him not to take to heart the students' laughter; they really had no intended to insult him.
When the Rabbi returned to his students, he rebuked them, saying "My sons, if I had not successfully convinced our guest to forgive you, you would have lost your places in the World to Come. How could you have laughed at a Jew, especially one who learns Torah and embarrassed him in public? I worked so hard to erase any trace of a grudge from his heart, but from now on you must be careful when you deal with people, since this is an unforgivable sin.
(HIZAHARU BI-CHVOD CHAVREICHEM, p. 263)
Rabbi Wax's modesty prevented him from being angry, in spite of the lack of courtesy of the intruding guest. In marriage also we can prevent anger if we have enough humility.
"And none of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning." 1 This verse teaches us that once the angel of destruction has permission to strike, he does not distinguish between a tzaddik and a rasha, as it is written, "Go, my nation, enter your rooms...." 2
How is it possible that the angel is allowed to harm the tzaddik just as much as the rasha, when the tzaddik does not deserve punishment? Why is it wrong to travel at night? Why does the midrash bring so many examples of how tzaddikim took precautions? Why must the tzaddik be so careful when he is going to do G-d's will, when it would seem that he should already have the protection of G-d, since it is written, "Messengers involved in doing a mitzvah are not hurt, either on the way to the mitzvah or on the way back?"8
Even a great tzaddik is only human and has faults. Although he is on a high spiritual level, he will inevitably make mistakes and even occasionally sin. Our Torah, which is called the Torah of Truth, reveals the sins of our forefathers and prophets many times. These mistakes are presented to us to teach us not to despair when we err, but rather to look to the great tzaddikim who learned from their mistakes and went on to climb the spiritual ladder, so that we should endeavor to do the same.
Even the tzaddik is vulnerable, so he must be careful not to expose himself to danger. When there are people dying around him, this is a sign that the Angel of Death is at work, and it is extremely dangerous to be on the streets. At such a time someone who is a complete tzaddik might be able to walk the streets unharmed, but who can be absolutely sure that he falls into that category? Therefore the Torah says that everyone should judge himself as incomplete, and one should not put himself in any danger.
The idea of avoiding unnecessary danger is also raised in the next part of the midrash, which warns against traveling at night Our Sages say that a person should not travel at night, since that is the time of many lurking dangers. There are robbers and wild animals that seek their prey under the cover of darkness. One should not say that he need not be afraid of being hurt, since it is a common thing to be hurt at night, and, as previously stated, it is not advisable to be outside in a time of danger.
Both the tzaddik who avoids going out at a time of destruction and the person who refrains from night travel highlight the difference between having faith in G-d and acting precariously Having faith means doing the right thing, without worrying whether one will succeed, since one knows that by going in the right path he will have the protection of G-d. But one should not do something foolish and risky while believing his faith will protect him, since G-d does not want a person to put himself intentionally in either physical or spiritual danger.
The many proofs that the midrash brings all lead to the same point. All of the great tzaddikim, such as Avraham, Ya'akov, Moshe and Shemuel, did not rely on being tzaddikim, but they rather took precautions to ensure their safety. A tzaddik should not look upon himself as a tzaddik. Our Sages say that even if the whole world says you are a tzaddik, you should consider yourself in your own eyes a rasha. 9 Even when a tzaddik is on his way to do G-d's will, he is still afraid that some danger might befall him. This can be seen clearly in the case of Ya'akov, who was promised that G-d would be with him, and yet the verse testifies that he was still afraid. 10 Rashi explains that he was afraid that perhaps he had committed a sin which would cause him to forfeit the promised Divine protection.
Acknowledging that we all are capable of having faults, as Ya'akov and the other tzaddiklm did, will bring us to having better relations with our spouses. Often a person takes his spouse's mistakes to heart, yet he forgets that he himself is full of faults and frequently makes mistakes. One cannot possibly be harsh in his criticism of others once he is fully aware of his own shortcomings. First a person should be harsh with himself and strive to become perfect. Obviously very few people can make such a claim. Even if one thinks he has reached such a high level he is safer in assuming that there is still work to be done.
Arrogance Causes Anger
The real reason a person becomes angry at his spouse's mistakes is his own arrogance. He believes too strongly in his own self-importance. Thus, when his spouse makes a blunder and he does not get what he considers his due, he becomes angry, because he feels deprived and slighted. But that is not the way the Torah teaches us to behave. Moshe Rabbenu was praised for being modest, as the verse says, "And the man, Moshe, was very modest among all people on the earth."11 King David described himself as follows: "I am a worm, not a man." 12 This is also a commandment of our Sages, as we find it written in Pirke Avos, "Be extremely low [modest] in your spirits." 13
A modest person cannot become angry, no matter what another person does. The modest person will always be able to say, "I deserve all this aggravation and embarrassment, since I have so many sins that need atonement. Now, thank G-d, at least some of them will be forgiven. How can I be angry at the person who caused me this aggravation, when it is so good for me to have my sins wiped clean?" Thoughts such as these prevented the Rabbi in our story from losing his temper with the brazen intruder.
The arrogant husband will say, "Did I not tell you to have dinner ready? Why do I have to wait?" "Why are there no ironed shirts for me?" "How long does it take you to get dressed?" "Why is the house a mess when you had the whole day to organize everything?" The arrogant wife will say, "I cannot stand your coming home late. Why do I have to wait for you?" "Do you think that I am your slave, that I have to serve you?" "When will you start treating me the way I deserve to be treated?"
The more we work on being humble, the more we will avoid getting into arguments with our spouses, and the more we will experience the satisfaction of having a wonderful marriage.
1. Shemos 12:22
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network