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Beloved Comanions - Insights on Domestic Tranquility From the Weekly Parsha

by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler

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Vayishlach - II

Spend More Time With Your Spouse

And when she was having difficulty in childbirth, the midwife said to her, fear not; this is also a son for you. (Bereshis 35:17)

Rabbi Eliyahu Ha-Kohen Dushnitzer, the mashgiach of yeshivah of Lomza in Petach Tikvah, had a son who left Israel to live in America. This son owned an orchard in Ramat Hasharon, which he signed over to his father before he left. Because the prices of oranges and other citrus fruits was very low, it was a difficult time for those who owned orchards, and often the expenses in upkeep were more than the income received. Such was the case with Rabbi Eliyahu, and he had to go in debt in order to maintain the orchard.

This saddened him greatly, since he did not want to be in debt, and yet the debts were mounting constantly. He was also afraid that he might pass away before clearing his debts, and then he would be considered a wicked person, as the verse says, "a wicked man borrows and does not pay back."1 Therefore he prayed a great deal about the orchard and also asked his friends to pray for him, so that he would be able to sell the orchards and repay his debts.

One of his students in the yeshivah became a real estate agent after he got married, and he searched until he found a buyer, an American Jew, for Rabbi Eliyahu's orchard. The agent arranged for Rabbi Eliyahu to meet the prospective buyer, at which time all three traveled to see the orchard.

On the way to the orchard, Rabbi Eliyahu said to the prospective buyer, "Since the Torah says, 'And you shall not cheat one another,' 2 1 must tell you the defects of the orchard. One tree has worms, another has fruits which fall off constantly, another is dried up, etc. Also, don't forget that our Sages say that if you hire workers and do not supervise them, you will be throwing away your money. 3 Therefore, if you are not going to work the orchard yourself, you are not going to make a profit."

The prospective buyer listened patiently to Rabbi Eliyahu, and then decided that he would buy the orchard anyway.

When they arrived at the orchard, Rabbi Eliyahu began showing the buyer all the defects that he had mentioned on the way. And still all this did not sway the man to change his mind.

Suddenly the prospective buyer took out a little bottle from his coat pocket and swallowed some pills. "What's the matter?" asked Rabbi Eliyahu with concern. "Don't worry, rabbi," the man answered, "I have a weak heart and the doctor told me to take these pills every four hours."

As soon as Rabbi Eliyahu heard this, he canceled the whole deal and was not willing to sell the orchard to the man at any price. He said to him, "May G-d send you a complete recovery, but I will not sell you my orchard on any condition."

"What do you care?" asked the frustrated buyer. "I am willing to buy it!"

Rabbi Eliyahu answered, "Because you do not see that the orchard is not good for you, does not mean that I am allowed to cheat you. If you have a weak heart, you will not be able to work it by yourself, and if you hire workers I know that you will lose money. There is nothing more to say. I will not sell you this orchard ' "

With these closing words, Rabbi Eliyahu returned to Petach Tikvah.


Rabbi Eliyahu was extremely careful when it came to resisting harmful temptations. He practiced great self-sacrifice and self-control for the sake of doing Chesed' with another person. Having such extreme sensitivity and caring for the deeper needs of another person is also the way to be successful, in marriage.

During a dangerous period, when Jews were being killed if they did not convert, two students of Rabbi Yehoshua disguised themselves as common peasants. They were approached by a gentile minister who recognized their disguise, and he threatened to force them to convert unless they would answer his questions. One question was the following. "Why is it written at the death of Rachel, 'And when she was having difficulty in childbirth, the midwife said to her: Fear not, this is also a son for you' "?

They answered, "This is the proper way to comfort a woman in childbirth, to tell her not to fear, that she has a son."

"No," replied the minister, "Your rabbi, Yehoshua, explained this verse differently. Every one of the twelve sons of Ya'akov who was born had a twin sister born at the same time. The extra word also teaches us that for Rachel this last time there were two girls born, not just one, and that was the comfort that the midwife meant."

"And Rachel died and she was buried on the road to Efras."4 What did Ya'akov see that caused him to bury Rachel on the road to Efras? He saw that in the future the Jewish exiles were going to pass by there on their way out of Israel, and he buried her there so that she would request mercy for them at that time, as it is written, "So says G-d, 'A voice in the heights is heard, lamenting, bitterly crying. Rachel is crying for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her sons that are gone.' So says G-d, 'Stop your voice from crying and your eyes from [filling with] tears, since there is a reward for your action', says G-d, 'and the children will return from the land of the enemy.' 'And there is hope for your future,' says G-d, 'for the children will return to their borders.' "5

(Yalkut 136)

Why does the midrash relate the details surrounding how the verses was explained by the minister, and what can we learn from the incident? How can we understand the explanation of the minister since it does not seem to answer the question, as the birth of an extra twin girl would not necessarily comfort a dying woman? Also, why could Rachel not request mercy for the exiles even if she had been buried at a burying place more respectable than by the side of the road? Why was Rachel, rather than the other matriarchs of the Jewish nation, chosen to pray for the Jews going into exile?

We can learn from the circumstances surrounding this incident that even though the minister hated Jews and was ready co kill them, yet he loved to hear the wisdom of the Torah He looked upon the Torah as intellectually challenging, even though it had no bearing on his own actions and what he did in his life. Even though he liked the concepts of the Torah, if on a whim he decided co kill a Jew, it would not bother him in the least.

The midrash is showing us how wrong is this approach to Torah. Torah is not merely a book of knowledge; it is also full of ethical lessons which we must apply to our own lives. We should learn Torah so that we can become better people, to know what to do and how to do it correctly. Our Sages say, "There is wisdom among the gentiles, but there is no Torah."6 They may mean by this that gentiles only learn the wisdom of the Torah in an external way, not integrating what they learn into their own lives.

The explanation that the minister quoted does not seem to answer the question, since it's quite possible that knowing that an extra twin girl was going to be born would not bring comfort to a dying woman. But this really depends on the quality of the person who is dying. Most people might not be greatly consoled to hear on their deathbed that they seem giving birth to three children instead of two. But for someone of the caliber of Rachel, who had struggled all her life to be the mother of Ya'akov's children, the news that Another child was being born to her was indeed comforting.

The verses that speak of the childbirth of the matriarchs teach us that every birth was momentous to them. For they understood on the deepest spiritual level that every child born to them meant that one more soul would be serving G-d and doing His will. They saw in every child a continuation of the great heritage of Ya'akov, so the more they could perpetuate this great heritage, the more satisfaction they felt. They saw this as the greatest purpose of their lives, and no personal tragedy, nor even death, could lessen their devotion to pursuing that goal.

The reason why Rachel would not have been able to request mercy for the exiles had she been buried at a more respectable burying place away from the road was that in Another place she would have had an obstacle to her requests that G-d should have mercy on the Jewish people at the time of their exile. In order for a person to succeed in paying for someone else, he must feel the other's plight as if it were his own. Only when prayer comes from the bottom of one's heart, will it be heard and fulfilled by G-d.

Ya'akov knew that burying Rachel on the side of the road would give her a first-hand view of the plight of those going into exile. They would pass by in their torn clothes, with their few possessions on their backs on the way to a hopeless future in a foreign land. Witnessing, their plight would inspire Rachel to pray for them with such heartfelt devotion that her prayers would have a greater chance of being answered. It is for this reason Ya'akov decided that in order for Rachel's prayers to be effective, she must be buried at the exact place where the exiles would pass.

Rachel was selected to pray for the Jews going into exile instead of our other matriarchs because her life had been filled with suffering even greater than theirs. She had seen her intended husband stolen away by her unscrupulous father, Lavan. She had found herself barren while her sister and maidservant gave birth to one child after another. And finally she had died an unnatural death in childbirth, and thus never had the chance to enjoy her children.

All this suffering made her the most suitable person to pray for the Jewish people, for she was the one who truly understood suffering, and could therefore identify with the exiles' plight from the bottom of her heart. She had the broken heart that G-d listens to, as it is written, "A heart that is broken and crushed, G-d, You will not despise."7

Ya'akov made a great sacrifice. Every husband wants his beloved wife to be buried near him, or at least in the most honorable plot he can obtain. Yet Ya'akov, decided that the Jewish nation needed the prayers of Rachel, and that he must relinquish his Personal feelings for their sake. Ya'akov, showed through his actions that the good of others was his main priority in life and that to him the needs of others outweighed his own.

A Happy Marriage is Worth More Than Wealth

Ya'akov's self-sacrifice is an excellent example for us to follow in marriage. A person tends to see only what he wants or needs, and forgets that in a successful marriage he must give preference to his spouse's needs rather than his own.

You should be ready to sacrifice your own comfort for the sake of your spouse. If your spouse feels cold and you feel hot, you should be prepared to close the window for your spouse's comfort rather than your own. If your spouse likes a certain dish and you do not, be prepared to make the dish that your spouse likes anyway. If your spouse has a certain taste in clothes, dress according to your spouse's taste, even if it is not your own.

Of course this does not mean that you should always suffer, but the idea is that you should try as much as possible to accommodate your spouse. In so doing so you will be doing chesed for your spouse's sake. If you want everything the way you like it, it would have been easier to stay single. Getting married means that you are willingly going into a situation which requires constant giving; for without giving there is no success possible in marriage.

Train yourself to practice self-restraint. For example, it is written that if one leaves on his plate some food which he finds tasty, this is an effective way Of developing self restraint, Once you take the first steps in learning self restraint, you will be better able to control yourself in your dealings with your spouse, and you will be able to be less demanding of your own desires. Another helpful technique for gaining self-control is to think of others who are much less fortunate than you are, and then try to be thankful for what you have.

A famous billionaire once said, "Only a business failure can have a successful marriage." That may be true, but it begs that question what is the worth of success in business when you do not have a happy home? A person must put his spouse before his business. Business is not a goal in itself, but rather a tool for gaining the means with which to live. Our primary goal should be devotion to living a life filled with Torah and mitzvos, and this begins with committing Yourself to consistently doing chesed for your spouse. People who remain at work for long hours, and talk and think only about business, are likely to find a dissatisfied spouse when they eventually come home.

The truth is that your spouse needs your attention more than your money. So, we must all work straightening out our priorities and recognize which are the matters of greater importance in our lives, and which, like business am merely a means to accomplish the others.

1. Tehillim 37:21
2. Vayikrah 25:17
3. Bava Metzi'a 29b
4. Bereshis 35:19
5. Yormiyahiu 31:14,15
6. Midrash Eicha 2:13
7. Tehillim51:19

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