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by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler

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Yisro - II

Being Patient With Our Spouses' Mistakes

You shall have no other gods before me. (SHEMOS 20:3)

Once in his early years, Rabbi Yoseph Dov Halevi Soloveitchik, later to become the Rabbi of Brisk and author of beis Halevi, wished to visit the renowned Torah scholar Rabbi Shlomo Kluger, the Rabbi of Broide in Galicia. But to travel from his hometown in Lithuania to Broide, was quite expensive, and Rabbi Yoseph Dov did not have the means to pay for the trip. As a solution to his problem, he proposed to a certain wagon driver going to Broide that he engage him as a helper for the trip. The wagon driver agreed, and they set out on the long journey.

As they were travelling along, while Rabbi Yoseph Dov was holding the reins, the horses turned off the paved road and went astray. The enraged wagon driver insulted Rabbi Yoseph Dov and struck him.

When they arrived in Broide, Rabbi Yoseph Dov went to see Rabbi Shlomo Kluger, who welcomed him warmly, and then the two rabbis conversed about various Torah-related issues. The Rabbi of Broide was so greatly impressed by the sharp intellect of Rabbi Yoseph Dov that he invited him to speak the following Shabbos in the largest shul in Broide.

Everyone came to shul to hear the young guest speaker. Among the multitude was the wagon driver who had hit and insulted Rabbi Yoseph Dov. When he saw who the guest speaker was, he nearly fainted. This brilliant genius was the very person he had treated so badly. After the speech, the wagon driver went over to Rabbi Yoseph Dov and humbly begged his forgiveness. Rabbi Yoseph Dov comforted him and said, "If you would have hit me because I did not know Torah, it is possible that you would have sinned against me. But you hit me because I did not know the ways of wagons and horses. on that account you were justified. I am truly very ignorant in that field."


In spite of the wagon driver's mistake, Rabbi Yoseph Dov was patient and forgiving. These same attributes are very much needed in marriage, where we must be very patient and forgiving when our spouses make mistakes.

The verse "You shall have no other gods before me" refers to the prohibition of worshipping idols. Concerning that, we find in the midrash the following discussion. Zunin Raba asked Rabbi Akiva, "My heart and your heart know that there is no reality in worshiping idols. But the question is, why do we see people going to worship idols when they are suffering from pain and illness, and then coming back fully recovered, devoid of illness or pain."

Rabbi Akiva said to him, "I will tell you a parable to answer this question. "There was once a trustworthy person in whose hands all the inhabitants of the city were accustomed to depositing money without witnesses. Once a man came along and brought witnesses when he deposited money. But the next time the same man deposited money without witnesses. The trustworthy man's wife said to her husband, 'Let's deny that any money was deposited, since he now has given us an excellent opportunity to steal. We could claim that he always deposits with witnesses, and now he has none. That would constitute sufficient proof that there was no deposit.'

"He said to her, 'Because this fool has done what he has done, should we lose the good reputation that we have built up?'

"The same applies to pain. and suffering. When they [pain and suffering] are sent to a person, they are first made to swear that they will leave that person on a certain day, through a certain person, and with a certain medicine. If the appointed time comes when suffering is destined to leave a person, and that person goes to the place of his idol, the suffering says to itself, 'We should really not leave, because it might appear as if there is something genuine in worshiping idols, since the idol will seem to have been the cure of this man.' Then it changes its mind and says, 'Because of this fool who did not behave properly, shall we abandon our promise?' "

(YALKUT 289)

Why was the trust that the honest man had built up so precious to him? What is meant by the pain being made to swear that it will leave at a certain time? How can we understand the idea that the pain thinks it should not leave and then changes its mind? What was Rabbi Akiva's answer to Zunin?

When the trustworthy man saw an opportunity to steal and make a large sum of money, he preferred not to do so. His reasoning was that through his efforts he had painstakingly built up an admirable personality trait and a good reputation, so that although the foolish man had left himself open to being cheated, the trustworthy one was nevertheless not going to forfeit these two precious achievements, just because of one man's foolishness. One act of foolishness does not justify another act of foolishness.

The idea that the pain is made to swear that it will leave at a certain time teaches us that all the pain that a person suffers in this world is planned and calculated exactly to fit his needs. Not only the degree of pain, but even its exact duration is carefully planned by G-d according to His judgement. That is what our Sages meant when they said, "When they are sent to a person, they are first made to swear that they will leave that person on a certain day." A person is not given pain for even a moment more than he deserves or needs.

The pain thought it better not to leave, but later changed its mind. This final decision was made because even though it would appear that the idol had ended the pain and therefore would gain credibility, nonetheless it was inevitable that the truth would eventually prevail. Since the truth was that the time for the pain had come to an end, it was better to adhere to the truth and let the foolish idol worshipers believe what they wanted. In other words, a person who understands and lives by truth need not change his stance because other people are doing stupid things. One must remain steadfast in the pursuit of truth, while knowing that if those involved in worshiping falsehood and vanity so desire, they can also see the truth. Whatever the consequences may be, there is no room for turning aside from truth or avoiding the proper actions that a situation demands.

This was also Rabbi Akiva's answer to Zunin. We are not responsible for the idol worshipers' mistakes. Even though their cause will gain strength if a person becomes cured while visiting idols, this does not take precedence over the fact that the designated time has arrived for that person to be cured.

Just because they find from their visit to the idol support for their mistaken notion of idol worship, this does not change anything in G-d's plans to cure the person at the time when He had originally planned to do so. If they wish to remain fools, the door is wide open; G-d will not change His plans because of fools.

Everyone Makes Mistakes

In marriage also, we commonly find that our spouses make foolish mistakes. To err is only human, and we all have human spouses. Our task is to be sure we do not react foolishly when we discover those mistakes. If we need to bring the problem to our spouses' attention, we must be calm and cool, and with great patience and love, point out what went wrong. In no way should we show arrogance or ridicule, since this would be very insulting and likely to kindle an argument. just as in the opening story in which the Rabbi did not react foolishly, even though the wagon driver had done so, we also should not react foolishly when our spouses make mistakes.

Always cushion the blow when telling your spouse of his/her mistake when you feel that it must be pointed out. You could start with a sentence like, "I know I am always making mistakes, and now I found out that you can make one too." Or say, "I thought you were perfect, but now I have found out that you are human and make mistakes." You can also say, "Honey, whatever mistakes you will ever make, I will always love you."

The worst thing to do is to be foolish enough to become angry. If you lose your temper, you will not be able to correct the mistake, since your spouse will become offended, and instead of learning from the mistake, will start defending him/herself. You will not gain anything from a fight with your spouse, except a lot of needless aggravation. Being angry is a mistake, and bear in mind that one foolish mistake does not justify another.

our Sages say that a person does not succeed in Torah until he makes mistakes. 1 The holy Chazon Ish writes in his collection of letters, Igros Chazon Ish, that he was well aware that he made many errors, both in his logical reasoning an in his understanding of the Talmud. If even the holy Torah cannot be acquired without stumbling first, then it must b that mishaps are an expected and necessary part of personal growth.

Slip-ups are so much more to be expected when it comes to married life, where two different dispositions are trying to unite. There must be errors; it would take a miracle to have marriage in which each spouse did not make mistakes once in a while. But the trial of the marriage is how each one weathers the other's mistakes. If it is with love and patience then the marriage will last. But if it is with anger and impatience, then the marriage faces a crisis every time- a mistake is made. No error justifies acting with anger Everything can be worked out, and since even G-d, Who is flawless, forgives our mistakes, how much more must we imperfect human beings be full of forgiveness for each other.

Just as G-d has the patience not to react in kind to foolish actions, so also must we learn to have tremendous patience with our spouses.

1. Cbagiga 14a

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