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Beloved Comanions - Insights on Domestic Tranquility From the Weekly Parsha

by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler

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Shemos - II


And a man of the house of Levi went and married the daughter of Levi. (Shemos 2:1)

A rabbi who was a guest at the home of Rabbi Eliyahu Chaim Meisels for about two months, related the following story:

During the entire two months I was with him, there was never a meal on Shabbos at which less than ten people participated. Therefore there was always a zimun with the addition of Elokeinu [as part of the Grace after the meal]. Generally there were about twenty people at each meal.

One Friday night, in the middle of the Shabbos meal, after the Rebbetzin had served the soup, the door opened and in walked an uninvited guest. He hung up his coat and began singing Shalom Aleichem loudly. While singing, he put his hands in his belt and walked around the room as if he owned the place. The Rebbetzin went over to him and asked him to please shorten his Shalom Aleichem and other prayers, since she had already served the soup and it would become cold. He agreed and sat down to make kiddush. When he began to drink the wine, he started coughing violently until he almost choked. He continued coughing throughout the entire meal.

At the end of the meal, the Rabbi got up from his chair and went over to his unexpected guest and greeted him heartily, ignoring the fact that he had not been invited. Although the man did not greet his host in return, the Rabbi, instead of rebuking him for his atrocious manners, asked him about himself. The guest told the Rabbi that he was visiting from another town and that he suffered from a chronic illness which affected his lungs. Since he could not find anyone in shul to invite him home for a Shabbos meal, as they were all afraid they might catch his illness, he had decided to go to the house of the Rabbi.

The Rabbi assured him that he was most welcome, and invited him to be his guest the next day also.


Rabbi Maizels did not rebuke his guest, but rather practiced self-restraint towards him. Maintaining self-control even in trying times is an important thing to do in marriage also, where we must always do everything possible to act with kindness.

"And a man from the house of Levi went." 1 Where did he go? He went in the way that his daughter advised him. We have learned that Amram was the greatest Sage in his generation. When he heard that Pharaoh had said, "Every son that will be born to the Jews shall be killed," 2 Amram said, "In vain are we striving." Then he went and divorced his wife. Following his example, all other Jewish men also divorced their wives.

His daughter said to him, "Your decree is worse than Pharaoh's decree. Pharaoh made a decree only against the boys, but your decree is against the boys and the girls. Pharaoh decreed only in this world, but your decree is in this world and the World to Come. Pharaoh is wicked, and it is doubtful whether his decree will be fulfilled. But you are a tzaddik, and your decree will certainly be fulfilled, as it is written, 'And you make a decree, and it lasts.' " 3

He went and brought back his wife. The rest of the Jews also brought back their wives. "And married the daughter of Levi."4 It should have been written that "he brought her back." But this is teaching us that he made a real wedding. He led her under a chupah, and Aharon and Miriam were dancing in front of her, and the holy angels were saying, "The mother of the sons is happy."5

(YALKUT 165)

What was Amram's mistake that caused his daughter Miriam to correct him? How could she know better than her father, who was the greatest Sage in his generation? Why did Miriam use three different arguments to convince her father, when it seems that one would have been sufficient? Why did Amram make a grand wedding when he took his wife back, instead of having just a simple ceremony, which would had sufficed, since she had already been married to him once?

Amram's logic was quite simple. He believed that since there was a decree that all male children would be killed, he could not justify putting a woman through all the pain of pregnancy and childbirth, only to end up seeing her child murdered. A person should have children when he is able to take care of them and give them life, but what was the purpose of having children just so that they could die? Therefore, he reasoned that it was preferable not to bring children into the world, and he decided to divorce his wife. Perhaps the reason he divorced his wife, rather than merely preventing her from becoming pregnant, was that no permissible methods of contraception were known at that time. Or perhaps it would be more reasonable to say that since the birth of a male child would mean certain death, he was not willing to take even the slightest risk of causing the death of his children.

But his daughter Miriam disputed her father with three arguments. One was that there was no reason for the girls to suffer and not have the chance to live, because of the boys. Even if, G-d forbid, all the males of the Jewish nation were killed, there might still be a continuation of the Jewish people, since all children born to Jewish women are considered Jewish, no matter who the father is. 6 Therefore, Miriam claimed that her father's plan would lead to the complete destruction of the Jewish people, while her plan would leave a chance for its continuation.

"Pharaoh decreed only in this world, but your decree is in this world and the World to Come." In the second argument, she said that when a baby is born, he has a chance to gain entry into the World to Come. But if he is never born at all, there is no possibility for him to enter the World to Come, since this world is the only corridor that leads to that world.7Miriam's claim was that no matter what happens to a person in this world and no matter how much he suffers, it is always worthwhile to have been here, since only through this world can a person gain entry to the World that is eternal.

"Pharaoh is wicked, and it is doubtful whether his decree will be fulfilled. But you are a tzaddik, and your decree will certainly be fulfilled." Here in the third argument, Miriam was giving her father a lesson in trusting G-d- Our Sages say that even if a sharp sword is at a person's throat and impossible odds are against him, he should not give up hope of being rescued by G-d's mercy. 8Miriam claimed that by divorcing his wife, her father was not giving G-d a chance to reveal His mercy.

Even though it seemed that there was no logical chance for the decree to be abolished, in reality, Amram's positive response to Miriam's arguments caused the decree to be cancelled. We learn this, our Sages say, from the fact that after Moshe was born and hidden on the Nile, the wise men of Pharaoh decided to abolish the decree, because they saw in the stars that the savior of Israel was in water. They interpreted this to mean that he had been drowned, and hence no longer posed a threat to the Egyptians.9 It was possible for Moshe to be born and later put into the Nile only because his father Amram took back his wife. So we see that Amram's act of trust in G-d caused the decree to be abolished, and Miriam's prophetic words, that Hashem would show His mercy, came true. Miriam needed all three arguments in order to convince her father, since he might have been able to dispute one of them, but it would have been impossible for him to dispute all three.

"He led her under a chupah, and Aharon and Miriam were dancing in front of her, and the holy angels were saying, 'The mother of the sons is happy.' "10 The return of Amram's wife, Yocheved, was cause for joyous celebration. Amram loved his wife dearly, and only after he had come to the conclusion that he could not remain married to her did he commit the painful act of divorcing her. Therefore, when Miriam convinced him that he was wrong and that he should continue living with his wife, he was full of joy and celebrated at the second wedding accordingly.

His great rejoicing upon being reunited with his wife reveals how brave he had been to divorce her in the first place. He forced aside his deep feelings of love for her and did what he thought the Torah obligated him to do. This is really a lesson in courage, where one accepts the Torah as one's guide, while one's personal feelings are set aside, no matter how painful this might be. Rabbi Meisels in the above story also exemplified the high spiritual level of being able to overlook his own suffering in order to do mitzvos which the Torah commanded of him, in this case the mitzvah of honoring guests.

Marriage Teaches Us Lessons In Self-Restraint

This lesson of self-restraint also applies to married life. At certain times physical contact with our wives is permitted to us, while at other times it is forbidden, in accordance with their monthly cycles. We must look at these days of separation as opportunities for us to demonstrate the self-restraint required of us by Torah law. This cycle of separation and reunion helps us to constantly renew and revitalize our relationship with our spouses. It is as if we have been divorced and are once again remarried. just as Amram experienced renewed joy when he was reunited with his wife, so too, we gain a similar sort of pleasure when we observe this law of the Torah. This midrash hints at the importance of bearing as many children as possible. Miriam's and Amram's whole discussion revolves around the need to ensure the perpetuation of the Jewish people by continuing procreation. People tend to worry only about their personal comfort, instead of thinking about how much the Jewish nation will benefit if another child comes into the world. Miriam's and Amram's actions in the midrash indicate that in fact the latter consideration should take precedence over the former.

But bringing children into the world also brings greater responsibility for the husband. He should realize that he must help a great deal with every child in the family, and not expect his wife to bear the entire burden. Children are a joint venture which both father and mother must share. Together they must care for them, and train and educate them in the ways of Torah. Every child needs to be surrounded by the love and attention of both parents, and all this is part of the responsibility of bringing children into the world. it is an essential part of marriage to share all aspects of raising children, and never should one spouse be so busy that he does not have time for his children.

A mature marriage is one in which both responsibilities and pleasures are shared, while the primary goal of building a Jewish home and family to sanctify G-d's name is always kept in mind.

1. Shemos 2:1
2. Shemos 1:22
3. Iyov 22:28
4. Shemos 2:1
5. Tehillim 113:9
6. Shulchan Aruch Even Haezer 4:19, see Eitz Yoseph on Sotah 12a
7. Midrash Mishlei ch. 6 par. 8
8. Berachos 10a
9. Midrash Shemos Rabbah, Margalios, (ch. I par. 61)
10. Tehillim 113:9

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