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Beloved Comanions - Insights on Domestic Tranquility From the Weekly Parsha

by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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Ki Sisa II

Contentment in Marriage

For I will expel the nations from before you and enlarge your borders; and no man shall desire your land, when you go up to appear before the Lord Your G-d three times in the year. (SHEMOS 34:24)

Once in his old age, the Chofetz Chaim gathered his family around him and said to them, "My children, you should know that in my entire life, I was always careful never to let anyone be pushed aside because of me, but rather I always chose to be the one to give in and be pushed aside for the sake of someone else. And my advice to you is to take the same path, since one who does so will always be content."

It once happened in the city of Grodna, Lithuania, that the Chofetz Chaim was walking on a narrow sidewalk. He saw that a general was approaching him from the opposite direction. The Chofetz Chaim immediately stepped off the sidewalk, so that the general would have enough room to pass by.

The general was amazed. He could not understand why this venerable old gentleman had rushed to step off the sidewalk. He approached the rabbi and asked him why he had done so.

The Chofetz Chaim answered, "In my entire lifetime, I have always been the one to give in to others and let them pass first."

The general said, "With such a noble character trait, you will live a peaceful life. K'TZES HA-SHEMESH BI-GVURASO, p. 203)

The Chofetz Chaim found contentment in showing honor and respect to other people. This is so because his behavior was consistent with G-d will, and true peace and happiness come from serving G-d. In marriage we can also find complete contentment since it is G-d's will for us to be married.

"And no man shall desire your land." Rabbi Eliezer said, "Those who go to do a mitzvah are not harmed, neither on the way to the mitzvah nor on the way back."

Whose opinion is this? The Tanna, as we have learned: Ben Yehudah explains, "The Torah has said, 'And no one shall desire your land' [while you are away in Jerusalem for the three festivals.] This teaches us that your cow will feed in the pasture and no wild animal shall prey upon it. And your chicken will feed in a garbage dump and no rodent will harm it. From this there is an obvious conclusion: if animals which are normally harmed will not be harmed, how much more so will it be for men, who are not usually harmed. But I only know that this applies 'on the way to do a mitzvah.' From where do I learn that the same applies also 'on the way back?' It is written, 'And you, will return in the morning and go to your tent.'2 This teaches that you will return and find your tent complete [in peace]."

Rabbi Ami says, "He who has land must go to Jerusalem for the festivals [aliyah l'regel], and he who has no land does not have to go to Jerusalem for the festivals."

Why is it that someone who goes to do a mitzvah is not harmed? Why is he not harmed even on the way back? Why is it that cows and chickens, that are normally susceptible to being preyed upon, will be completely secure after their owners have left for Jerusalem; What is the assurance that man will not be harmed? How did our Sages know that "your tent will be in peace"? How is it possible that only a person who has land must perform the mitzvah of aliyah l'regel?

Someone who goes to do a mitzvah is not harmed, since all harm comes from our not doing G-d's will. Once we do His will, He is on His guard to watch us and protect us. There is no such thing as harm by chance. It is all planned. It occurs when we need to be harmed for our own spiritual improvement. That is why even doing a mitzvah that seems dangerous to us (for example, it may involve significant financial risk), is really much safer than other actions When we do other things we have no guarantee what will happen, but when we are doing G-d's will, it is the safest thing to do, since He will certainly protect us.

A mitzvah protects a person. So whether we are on the way to do a mitzvah or coming back from a mitzvah, we are protected by the mitzvah. If we would not be protected on our way back, people would not be willing to do mitzvos Therefore a person who does a mitzvah has complete protection.

Why is it that cows and chickens, which are often preyed upon, will be completely secure, when their owners have left for Jerusalem at the time of the three festivals? According to our above explanation, this now becomes clear. Normally these animals lack protection, but when a person travels in order to perform the mitzvah of aliyah l'regel, this is no longer the case. Even the most vulnerable animals will not be harmed, since the mitzvah of their owner will protect them.

People also need assurance that nothing will happen to them, since traveling to Jerusalem can be dangerous because of armed robbers on the road. Therefore a person might be reluctant to undertake the long, dangerous journey. The Torah teaches us that there is no need for fear, since if even the animals, which are normally most vulnerable to attack, are now protected by the mitzvah, how much more so will a human being be protected, since he is far less likely to be in danger than an animal.

Our Sages have learned that a person is also protected on the way back from a mitzvah, from the verse which says, "And you will return in the morning and go to your tent." 3 This verse teaches us that you will return and find your tent complete (in peace). This may be derived from the extra words, "and go to your tent." These words are, in this context, unnecessary since it is obvious that when a pilgrim finishes performing the mitzvah in Jerusalem, he returns home to his tent. The Torah is teaching us that we need not fear what condition we will find our homes in when we return. "Your tent" alludes to the fact that one will find one's home in the same state in which he left it.

The fact that only a person who has land is obligated in the mitzvah of aliyah l'regel teaches us something important about this mitzvah. We commonly think that the whole purpose of this mitzvah is to serve G-d in the Holy Temple. However, the integral purpose of the mitzvah, apart from bringing the sacrifice, is to strengthen our faith and trust in G-d. For a person to set off for Jerusalem, leaving his home, land, and all that is precious to him unguarded, requires a tremendous amount of faith in G-d. Normally a person would lock up all his possessions, but in this case he goes up to Jerusalem leaving everything unprotected.

Thus doing this mitzvah develops in a person's heart the trust that he is being watched over and protected by G-d. Any lack of faith that a person had in the past would now diminish, because for this mitzvah he would need to have total reliance on Hashem, which would certainly strengthen his faith. Therefore if one had no land, there was no spiritual test of faith involved in leaving for Jerusalem. Such a person was free from this mitzvah, since he would not have been able to experience its deeper purpose, which was to test his faith in G-d's protection.

Being Married is Doing G-d's Will

In general, no harm can come from our being married, just as it does not come from doing any other mitzvah Some people might mistakenly feel that they are losing out by not being free to do what they want whenever they want. They may feel confined, since they must tell their spouses where they are going and what they are doing.

But these limitations are really for a person's own good. When someone has supervision, he more easily does the right thing. He does not have to face temptations that confront single people. We can see this from the words of the Talmud: "If I had married at the age of fourteen, I would have finished off the yetzer hare." 4 Thus being married is our best protection against sin.

Even if we do have occasional complaints about our spouses, we are still better off being married. Even in a marriage where a spouse feels discontented, it is still better to be mildly discontented than to sin. We find this in the words of our Sages. When Rabbi Chiya was being tormented by his wife, instead of complaining about her, he said, "It is enough [for me] that she raises our children and saves us from sin."5 To be tormented must have been quite uncomfortable for Rabbi Chiya, but to be vulnerable to sin would have been much worse (This is not to say, of course, that a person should put up with abuse in a marriage which could damage one's physical or mental health. If one believes he or she is in such a situation, he should seek the advice of a competent rabbi immediately and perhaps ask for a referral to a G-d-fearing marriage counselor.)

But in general, when we look at marriage, we should be aware that we are doing G-d's will, and we must have patience to deal with all the difficulties that arise in a normal marriage. It is often our lack of patience that causes disputes. Matters should always be discussed in a calm tone, at a time when one is not angry. Always try to concede as much as possible, remembering that for the sake of peace between a man and his wife G-d was even prepared to have His holy name erased. 6If He sacrificed this just for the sake of peace, then we should also be prepared to sacrifice a great deal for the sake of having peace at home. We see that this was the method of the Chofetz Chaim, to always concede, and he testified that it brought him contentment in his life.

If we trust in G-d that our marriages will work out and we take care to interact with our spouses with love and patience, then our marriages will be a source of deep and lasting blessing for ourselves and our children.

1. Shemos 34:24
2. Devarim 16:7
3. Devarim 16:7
4. Kiddushin 29b
5. Yevamos 63a
6. Shabbos 116a

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