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by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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G-d shall enlarge Yefet, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Kena'an shall be his servant. (BERESHIS 9:2)
The Chofetz Chaim was once a guest at the home of the local rabbi. The rebbetzin prepared an elaborate meal in his
honor, and since she was in a hurry she forgot to mention to the maid that she had already salted the soup. The maid also salted the soup, as she usually did.
When the salty soup was served to the Chofetz Chaim, he did not express any dissatisfaction, but swallowed the soup to the last drop.
The rabbi, on the other hand, upon tasting the salty soup showed distaste and pushed away his bowl. He looked with wonder at the Chofetz Chaim, who had apparently not perceived the strong taste.
Quietly, without anyone noticing, the Chofetz Chaim caught him by the sleeve, and begged him to finish the soup and not reveal that it was too salty. He said, "I imagine that out of haste to do the mitzvah of receiving guests, the maid salted the soup twice. If she will find out, she will have great sorrow and regret. The rebbetzin will also be angry, and they might get into a fight. Let us not react at all. On the contrary, we will praise the soup and say it was very
tasty! (HTZAHARU Bl-CHVOD CHAVREICHEM, p. 118)
The Chofetz Chaim's behavior was a perfect example of chesed. Instead of thinking of himself, he thought only of the discomfort that the maid might feel. We can learn from his example to institute chesed in our marriages. We have an obligation to do so, and also stand to receive great reward for our efforts.
G-d did not bring Avraham to the world, except as a reward for Shem, who had prophesized for four hundred years to the nations of the world, yet, they would not accept his prophecy. G-d did not bring the kingdom of Greece to the world, except as a reward to Yefes, who honored his father, Noach, by covering him. G-d did not bring the kingdom of Rome to the world, except as a reward for Esav, who was crying and sighing at the time when Yitzchak blessed Ya'akov our father.2 G-d did not bring Haman to the world except as a reward to Agag, who was crying and sighing when he was in captivity, that his descendants should not be lost from the world.
How could Shem deserve the great merit of having the Jewish people as his descendants only because he continued his prophesy? How could it be that the whole Greek empire came to the world because of one action by Yefes? What was so great about Esav's crying when he lost the birthright to his brother, Ya'akov? What was so great about Agag's crying about losing his descendants?
When Shem gave prophesy to the world about the presence of G-d, he was scorned, ridiculed, and looked upon as a fool by everyone. Nevertheless, Shem had the quality of perseverance, and continued teaching G-d's existence for four hundred years. In this merit, he was rewarded that his own descendants would be a holy nation which would accept his prophecy.
This is a lesson for people who live in a non-religious neighborhood and try to influence their fellow Jews to do mitzvos. Even if they see no improvement in other people and all their advice is disregarded, they should know that they will be rewarded with children who will have an intense dedication to yiddishkeit. Just as Shem tried to help others and was rewarded with children who accepted that help, we, too, will receive the reward of observant children when we try to influence others to be observant.
"G-d did not bring the kingdom of Greece to come to the world, except as a reward to Yefes, who honored his father." When his father became drunk, Yefes was tempted to scorn him for his unbecoming behavior. Nevertheless, Yefes remained loyal to his father, and treated him with respect despite his shortcomings. For that one action of overlooking a shortcoming and giving honor, the entire Greek empire came to the world. This demonstrates the greatness of the reward for such an action.
We can utilize the above lesson to learn the importance of having patience for our spouses when we perceive a shortcoming. It is easy to criticize and take advantage of someone's mistakes. But to bravely ignore the mistake and give the person proper honor despite this mistake is a difficult task. It is so much easier to complain when dinner is not ready on time, or when one's spouse comes home late. It is must harder to take it in stride and forgive without making some hurtful comment. But see what great reward awaits those who can overlook others' mistakes - the whole Greek empire was built on such a quality.
"And G-d did not bring the kingdom of Rome to the world, except as a reward for Esav, who was crying and sighing at the time when Yitzchak blessed Ya'akov our father." Esav's sighing was a sign that he envied someone doing mitzvos. Even though our Sages say he committed some of the worst sins possible, such as murder, adultery and idol-worship, at least he gave a sigh. Giving this sigh showed that he still had a conscience. He felt something for yiddishkeit, even if he did not practice it. Even this is a promising spiritual level, since it might one day lead to teshuvah. When a person has no feeling at all for Torah and mitzvos, then he is very unlikely to change.
This also applies to disputes that occur in marriage. Even if we make many mistakes with our spouses, if at least we recognize that we have done wrong, then there is hope that we will improve and that things will change for the better. The first step is to realize that one must try to improve one's behavior. One must work on building a loving relationship through goodwill and by constantly giving to one's spouse. Being aware of these principles is similar to Esav's sigh and gives hope for improvement in the future.
If a spouse thinks that he has no flaws and that he is the best possible spouse, then it is a very sad situation. It is more probable that he is arrogant and does not want to accept criticism. Even the best husband or wife could be even better, since there is always room for improvement. A person who wants to improve must constantly take account of the things that he does for his spouse, and what else he can do, or what can be done better. Contemplating how to become a better spouse is the first step towards success.
"G-d did not bring Haman to the world except as a reward to Agag, who was crying and sighing when he was in captivity, that his descendants should not be lost from the world." Agag had no spiritual aspirations, but he did have a sense of responsibility for future generations. When he saw himself in prison with the possibility that he may never be free to have children, he gave a cry and a sigh. That cry and sigh showed that he was thinking of others besides himself. In that merit Haman came into being, since thinking about the benefit of others is one of the basic principles of chesed; and chesed is one of the foundations upon which the world stands.
Chesed is also the foundation upon which every successful marriage stands. Always being concerned about how you can assist your spouse is the glue that keeps marriages together. When each person is only interested in his or her own needs, then it is not a true marriage, but only an alliance made for convenience. Two people can live together as if they were married, and have no idea what true marriage is, or how really happy they could be if only they would put some effort into their marriage.
We must constantly focus on doing chesed with our spouses. In return for his chesed, Agag received the great reward of having a large nation as descendants. If that was the reward for a gentile who had many sins, we cannot even imagine how great will be the reward of an observant Jew when he does chesed. We find throughout the whole Torah stories which teach us that we should do chesed. Marriage brings with it a tremendous responsibility to work on chesed, and not act selfishly. Our minds should always be planning how we can say and do things that will please our spouses.
Of course we should not do mitzvos for the sake of receiving rewards,
but rather we should do them for the sake of Heaven, and in the
end the reward will come. Nevertheless, we learn from the above
midrash the outstanding, reward that waits for the person who
chesed, and a great benefit of being married is that it gives
us countless opportunities to do chesed. We can anticipate the
additional reward of having long and happy marriages with righteous
children as our descendants.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network