Back to Parsha homepage Archive of previous issues

Lech Lecha

What to Look At

And it came to pass when he was come to near to enter into sarai his wife, "behold now, I know that you are a beautiful woman."
(Bereshis 12:11)

Rabbi Yoseph Dov Soleveitchik, the famous Rabbi of Brisk and author of Bais HaLevi, was, at an earlier stage of his life, the Rabbi of Slotzk. One day he was sitting in the Bais Midrash in Slotzk learning Torah with his son, Reb Chaim, when one of the local butchers barged in in a fury. He started cursing Rabbi Yoseph Dov, who had ruled against him in a Din Torah the previous day. The butcher claimed that the other party had bribed the Rabbi, and that was the reason he had unjustly ruled in favor of his opponent.

The furious man unleashed a seemingly endless stream of curses and insults, and even threats of physical harm followed. The Rabbi remained silent throughout the outburst, and when the butcher finished he left the Bais Midrash. Rabbi Yoseph Dov then stepped back and murmured, "You are forgiven, you are forgiven."

The following day, when the butcher went out to buy oxen for Shechita [slaughter], oxen attacked him and he was killed on the spot.

When Rabbi Yoseph Dov heard of the fate of the butcher he was appalled. "Who knows? Perhaps because of my unwillingness to forgive this man he was punished, and I caused the death of a fellow Jew."

His son Reb Chaim said to him, "Father, you did forgive him; why then are you so worried?"

His father thought that Reb Chaim was just trying to pacify him, and questioned him again and again to see if it was true that he had actually forgiven the butcher. Reb Chaim adamantly maintained that it was true, and he even showed his father the spot where he had stood when he uttered the words of forgiveness. Only after Reb Chaim was finally able to convince his father, did Rabbi Yoseph Dov finally calm down.

Nevertheless, he had great sorrow over the case, and cried at the butcher's funeral as if the man had been his closest friend. Not only that, but he also said Kaddish and learned Mishnayos for the departed soul for an entire year after his death. He also fasted every year on the day of the butcher's yahrzeit, Which a son customarily does for his father.
(K'tzes Ha-shemesh Bi-gvuraso, p. 173)

Rabbi Soleveitchik's sorrow shows us to what extent a person should be considerate of and concerned for another person. Being married also requires of us a high level of consideration for another person, in the form of complete devotion to our spouses.

"Behold, now I know that you are a beautiful woman…"(1), were the words that Avraham said to his wife before going to Egypt. These words indicate that he was surprised about her beauty. About Jov it is written, "I have made a covenant with my eyes, and why should I look upon a virgin".(2) he did not look at a virgin, but he did look at his own wife. But Avraham did not look even at his own wife, as it is written, "Behold, now I know…." From his words we may infer that until this time he was not aware of her beauty, which implies that he did not look at his own wife.
(Yalkut Lech Lecho 67)

How is it possible that Avraham did not look even at his own wife, and what could possibly be wrong with doing so? Jov, who was on a lower spiritual level than Avraham, did look at his wife, but did not look at other women. What is wrong simply looking at other women?

Avraham did not look at his wife because of his quest for holiness. He wanted to be entirely immersed in torah and spirituality, and he feared that even looking at his own wife would cause him to be on a lower spiritual level. But one might think that a wife might be insulted by such behavior, since her efforts to present a pleasant and attractive appearance are made for the sake of her husband, and Avraham did not even look at his wife.

We might understand this behavior if we look at it from a different point of view. Every wife wants her husband to be happy. She will do everything possible for his satisfaction and success. A husband is the center of a woman's life, and all her thoughts revolve around him. When she cooks, cleans the house or looks after the children, she wants to find favor in her husband's eyes.

So when Sarah agrees that Avraham did not have to look at her, it was because she knew that Avraham's true happiness came from his closeness to G-d. in order for him to develop that closeness on a high level, it was necessary that he not even look at his own wife. She was not insulted by this, since she knew that his motives were holy and that he was not neglecting her. Thus she was willing to forgo the pleasure of being admired by her husband. For her there was no greater pleasure than making her husband happy, and if his happiness depended on abstaining from looking at her, she was happy to comply.

Our Wives Want us to be Happy

This lesson is true in every marriage. If our wives see that we really love to learn Torah or to participate in shiurim [Torah classes], they will gladly let us go, and forgo their own desires to have us spend that time with them. For when they see our sincerity, that we love Torah with all our hearts, they will happily comply, since their utmost desire is their husbands' happiness.

A woman's life is always focused on her husband. Men have many interests, and their wives are not always on the top of the list. But women have a different nature. Their world is their husbands, and there is nothing in the world that interests them more. That is why women are willing to make such great sacrifices in order to make their husbands happy. Rabbi Akiva's wife Rachel allowed him to learn torah for twenty-four years, without his coming home for a single visit. This was due to her great love for her husband, and her desire to see him happy.

Jov, on the other hand, was on a different level, and did look at his wife. But he did not look at other women, even if they were unmarried, as the verse says, "I have made a covenant with my eyes, and why should I look upon a virgin".(3)

The idea conveyed by the verse is that he did not look at other women, since he knew that this would take away from his devotion and love for his own wife. He would see the beauty of other women, and he might find them even more attractive than his own wife. This would cause him to appreciate his own wife less. This possibility was so unacceptable to Jov, that he made a covenant with his eyes not to look at any women other than his wife.

This shows Jov's sincere devotion to the completeness of his marriage. He was not willing to hurt his wife, even in the smallest or most indirect way. By dwelling on the beauty of another woman he would have deprived his own wife of the full admiration she deserved. He knew that his mind must be free of other women if he was to be entirely devoted to his wife. Another woman might give him momentary excitement, but no women would give him the love and devotion of his own wife. He knew that he would be showing ingratitude by looking for these fleeting pleasures, because his wife was giving all of herself, and she deserved to receive all his attention.

Jov showed true devotion to his wife. Even when she was not present, he was faithful to her. He prevented his eyes from straying to other women, so that they would be truly appreciative of the beauty of his wife. Such actions definitely caused a great love to grow between him and his wife, since the more that is done to improve a marriage, the more one receives from it. It gave him great pleasure to see his wife, since she was the only woman he saw.

The piety of these righteous men serves as a model for us. We to should abstain from looking at other women or flirting with them. Besides the fact that it is forbidden by the Torah, it also poisons a marriage, for marriage is a bond between two. If these temptations influence us, then we must control them by involving ourselves more in learning Torah. Only Torah has the power to fully correct a person.

The Rambam writes,(4) "Put your concentration and thoughts in the words of Torah, and broaden your mind in wisdom, for thoughts of forbidden relations only occur in a heart of empty wisdom." There is only one antidote to these types of thoughts, and that is immersing oneself in the learning of Torah.

The knowledge that attraction to other women can seriously damage a marriage can help us behave correctly. Armed with Torah as an antidote for these destructive desires, and a full awareness of the tragic consequences of not correcting them, a person will have the tools and motivation to correct the problem before it is too late.

1. Bereshis 12:11
2. Eyov 31:1
3. Jov 31:1
4. Isurey Bi'ah 22:21

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