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Forgo Your Honor for the Sake of Shalom BayisAdapted from Lev Eliyahu by Rav Eliyahu Lopian, zt"l
Then the kohen shall write these curses on a scroll and erase it in the bitter water. (Bemidbar 5:23).
Tanna R. Yishmael, How great is Shalom that Hakadosh Baruch Hu commanded us to erase his great Name in order to bring shalom between a man and his wife.
R. Meir used to give a drasha Friday evening in the Shul. There was a woman there who always came to hear his drasha. One evening the drasha ended late. By the time she came home the candles in the house had gone out. Her husband was furious. He asked her, "Where have you been!?" She answered, "I was listening to R. Meir's drasha."
This man was very impudent. He told her, "Don't walk into this house until you go and spit in R. Meir's face." With that he threw her out of the house.
Eliyahu appeared to R. Meir and told him, "Because of you that lady had to leave her house." He told R. Meir the details of the incident. What did R. Meir do? He went and sat in the main Shul. That lady came to the Beis Medrash to daven. When R. Meir saw her he made himself as if he had an eye infection. He asked her if she knew how to perform the remedy of spitting in eye. The woman froze in fear, and answered, "No." He told her, "All you have to do is to spit in my eye seven times, and it will cure it." She did so. Then he told her, "Go tell your husband, you told me to spit once in R. Meir's face. I spit seven times!"
The talmidim observed this incident and were shocked. "Rebbe. How can you disgrace Torah like that? If you would have told us, we would have brought her insolent husband here and whipped him and forced him to take his wife back." R. Meir answered, "The honor of Meir should not be greater than the honor of his Maker. The Great Name is written in utter holiness. The possuk tells us to erase it in water in order to bring peace between a man and his wife, so the honor of Meir even more so!" (Medrash Raba 9:20)
R. Meir's talmidim had a very justified argument. How can the rebbe, a Gadol Batorah, degrade himself to such an extent? There was an alternate way of bringing back marital accord: the husband was impudent and should be whipped into submission and forced to take his wife back. And you'll notice that we don't find R. Meir disagreeing with his talmidim. He merely said that he was learning from Hakadosh Baruch Hu.
R. Meir derived from this possuk a fundamental lesson: in order to instill peace between a man and his wife, it is proper to forgo one's honor and not even be concerned about the kavod of Torah. Hakadosh Baruch Hu has unlimited resources. In His ultimate wisdom, He could have found a different way to assess the honesty of the sota without having to degrade His honor and have His Name erased. And yet, He commanded us to go ahead and erase the Holy Name. If it is so important to Hashem, R. Meir derived, then he shouldn't be concerned about his own kavod or the disgrace to Torah even if there was an alternative. Let us take this further and truly understand how tremendous this lesson is and the depth of Hashem's ways. Who are we talking about? Who is this woman for whom the Torah tells us to erase Hashem's Holy Name? This is a sota suspected of illicit relations with another man. Even if the water proves her innocence, she is still a scoundrel. She was warned by her husband to stay away from this man and in spite of his warnings she went into seclusion, alone with him. Even if she did nothing there, the very fact she was alone with another man is a terrible violation of marital loyalty. It is a sure sign of how low she has sunk into the ocean of lust. Her yiras shomayim is almost nill. In spite of this, in order to permit her to return to her husband Hakadosh Baruch Hu said, "Let my Name be erased with the water in order to permit her to her husband and bring about shalom bayis!"
The Torah tells us, "Follow His ways" (Devorim 28). R. Meir's lesson is not just a righteous act, middas chassidus. This is a halacha. The Medrash in cites this incident with Meir several times and applies the possuk, "Seek peace and pursue it" (Tehillim 34). We have to love to do chessed (ahavas chessed) and pursue sholom.
Since we are studying an article by Rav Eliyahu Lopian, it is appropriate to mention the following incident which demonstrates Rav Elya's tremendous humility. When he was an elderly widower, Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian was a guest for dinner at the home of a certain couple. At the end of the meal, the couple had to excuse themselves for something that required them to leave the rabbi alone for several minutes. When they came back, the couple was astonished to find that the venerable and humble rabbi had, quietly and without any fanfare, washed and dried all the dishes.
A while after the Chofetz Chayim lost his first wife, he married again. Once when he was already an older man, he built his sukka in a certain location behind his home where he always had built it. After he finished the sukka, his second wife said, "I think it would be better over there." Without a word, he agreeably took the sukka apart and rebuilt it in the other location to which she referred. Then she said, "You know, you were right the first time. It's better where it was." Again, without any grumbling, the elderly Chafetz Chayim disassembled the sukka a second time and built it again in the original place. Take a lesson from the Chafetz Chayim in honoring a wife and in shalom bayis.
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