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by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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And you shall make holy garments for Aharon your brother for honor and for splendor. (SHEMOS 28:2)
Once Rabbi Yoseph Zundel, the famous tzaddik from Salant, was in Vilna and had been given a letter to deliver to Rabbi Gershon Amsterdam.
Rabbi Yoseph Zundel went to Rabbi Gershon's house to deliver the letter, and after the door was opened he handed the letter to Rabbi Gershon. Rabbi Gershon was unaware of the agent's real identity, and upon seeing the poorly dressed man standing there, he thought that he was a simple wagon driver. Rabbi Gershon wanted to give him the tip that was customarily given to wagon drivers, and invited him to come in for a glass of whiskey.
Rabbi Yoseph Zundel, knowing that our Sages say, "All that the baal ha-bayis says you must do," drank the whiskey.
When Rabbi Gershon heard that the "wagon driver" was running an errand from Salant, he began questioning him about the famous tzaddik, Rabbi Yoseph Zundel of Salant, unaware that this was the identity of his guest. Rabbi Yoseph Zundel began to mutter and tried to downplay his own merit. Rabbi Gershon was amazed that anyone could speak disparagingly of the famous tzaddik, and became suspicious of the identity of his guest, and finally asked him his name.
Upon hearing that his name was Zundel, he understood what a distinguished guest he had in front of him, and he said to him, "G-d does the will of those that fear Him," 2 meaning that since he feared G-d and did not wish to be recognized, his will was done." (LA-ANAVIM YITTEN CHEN, p. 339)
Rabbi Zundel made no demands of his host to uphold his honor, and readily accepted any lack of respect he may have suffered. The same should apply in marriage, where we should make no demands from our spouses, while constantly giving our assistance to them.
"And these are the clothes that they should make." 3 Our Sages have taught, "A person should always be as modest as Hillel." There is a story of a gentile who was passing by a synagogue and heard a scribe reading the verse, "And these are the clothes that they should make." 4 The gentile came to the scribe to request an explanation of the above verse.
The gentile asked, "Who is going to wear these clothes?"
The scribe answered, "The Kohen Gadol."
The gentile said to himself, 'I will go and get converted so that I can become a Kohen Gadol."
He came to Shamai and told him why he wanted to become a Jew, and Shamai pushed him out of the house with a measuring stick for building that he had in his hand.
The gentile then came to Hillel and said to him, "Convert me so that I shall become a Kohen Gadol."
Hillel converted him on the condition that he had requested. Afterwards Hillel said to him, "Is it possible to appoint someone to serve the King without knowing the King's rules? Go and learn the King's rules."
The gentile went and began learning Chumash. When he arrived at the verse, "Any stranger [who is not a kohen] that shall come near [to serve in the Temple] shall die," She asked, "To whom is this verse referring?"
He was told, "Even to someone as important asking David." The gentile came to the following conclusion: the Jews are so precious in G-d's eyes that they are called "sons," as it is written, "My son, my firstborn, O Israel,"6 and nevertheless it is written, "Any stranger that shall come near shall die;" 7 thus for a convert who is not as precious, and comes with his staff and his pack, will this not be so much more the case [that he will die]? YALKUT 379)
What attracted the gentile to make him seek out an explanation of the verse? Why did Shamai push him out of the house? Why did Hillel accept him? What caused the convert to realize that he was making a mistake by asking to become a Kohen Gadol?
The gentile walking past the synagogue was impressed by the verse describing the beautiful clothes that the Kohen Gadol wore. He thought that since he was doing the Jewish people a favor by joining them, he was in a position of strength, and could ask what he wished before he converted. To him, wearing the clothes of the Kohen Gadol represented the utmost glory, and he coveted that glory for himself.
But Shamai, who knew that it was impossible for a convert to become a Kohen Gadol, since one's father must have been a kohen, did not accept such behavior. Shamai must have felt that it was a privilege to become a Jew and be a part of the nation chosen to serve G-d. Anyone who made conditions for his acceptance was belittling that privilege. Since Shamai felt the gentile's words were an insult to Judaism, he threw him out. His abrupt response is shown by the fact that he was shoved out immediately with whatever Shamai happened to have in his hands.
Hillel, on the other hand, had a different philosophy. He felt that if a gentile would become Jewish and enjoy the fulfillment of serving G-d and learning Torah, it would be a pity to deny him that privilege. Even though the gentile came with a mistaken conception, Hillel felt that he truly admired the beauty of Judaism and was sincere in his desire to become a part of it. He was lacking fundamental knowledge of Judaism, but was searching for a way to partake of its beauty.
We previously asked what caused the convert to realize that he was making a mistake by asking to become a Kohen Gadol. The convert saw that there was no special favoritism for those who do not fulfill the commandments of the Torah. One can be the greatest rabbi on earth, but if he goes against the Torah and tries to serve in the Beis Ha-mikdash when he is not allowed to do so, he receives the death penalty. This taught the convert how much justice there is in the Torah. It does not matter who you are. The truth of the Torah takes precedence over everyone.
When the convert realized this, he understood how foolish he had been in asking to become a Kohen Gadol. He understood that if the Torah tells us that this is only for one who is born a kohen, then that is the absolute truth. Anyone trying to achieve that position when he is not a kohen, is denying the truth of the Torah. Since he had come to know how true and beautiful the Torah was, he backed down from his previous demands. He humbly accepted the Torah without any conditions. In this way he validated Hillel's more positive approach to the convert.
In a manner similar to that of the convert in this midrash, many people make demands and conditions in their marriages. They want their spouses to do this or that and complain bitterly when their desires are not fulfilled. Their mistake parallels that of the convert. They do not realize the beauty and truth that lies in marriage, just as he did not realize the truth and beauty of the Torah.
Marriage is a Privilege
Getting married is not an opportunity to make demands. It means that you now have a partner with whom you can share and to whom you can give. We get married so that we can have someone to be kind to and to love. That is the true opportunity which marriage affords.
Making demands in marriage stems from haughtiness. A person may think that he or she is overly important and whatever he demands must be fulfilled. If a person was modest, he would have very few demands. Who is he to tell another person what to do? Every decision must be made together after mutual consultation. Doing things only after first discussing them together shows modesty and humility, which are two very positive character traits for a Jew to have. We can learn from the actions of Rabbi Yoseph Zundel of Salant how modest and humble a person should be.
It is a good habit to reflect every day, "What did I do today to make my spouse happy?" You can call home from work to say hello. You can bring home flowers or a small gift. You can offer to do something to help your spouse with her tasks. Or you can simply smile when you walk into the house. Any extra effort you make will be appreciated by your spouse and will cause the love between you to grow and mature.
A couple came to me recently, and the wife complained that whenever her husband comes home from work, he immediately starts learning Torah, hardly speaking a word to her. I told him that it was very commendable for him to be studious, but he must learn to balance his time. It was crucial to his marriage for him to find a little time every day to show his wife that he loves her and cares about her needs. A good time to do this is when he comes home after being away all day. She does not expect very much, I told the husband. She just wants to feel that there is affection between you, then she will be willing to let you learn as much as you want. The wife heard my words and nodded her approval with deep emotion.
Seeing the potential beauty of marriage is the beginning of success. One must realize that it is not only an obligation to be married, but more importantly, it is a privilege.
1. Pesachim 86b
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network