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Ki Seitzei

"If a man marries a wife, and comes to her and hates her" (Devarim 22:13).

One of the most important foundations of Judaism and the Jewish home is complete harmony between a man and his wife. The Talmud teaches that one of the greatest mitzvahs is restoring peace between married couples and there are countless stories of how the most prominent rabbis went out of their way, sparing no effort, to reconcile differences between them. Often it takes lots of patience, understanding and even ingenuity. We should learn from them to use these virtues in our own home situations so that we never, G-d forbid, need their services to help us preserve peace and tranquility between us and our spouses.

The following story is recounted in Aleynu Lishabeach, by Hagaon, Harav Yitzchak Zilberstein Shlita.

Not much after their wedding, a newlywed couple was up in arms against each other. But it wasn't because of the usual reasons. The source of their animosity was the phrasing of a prayer.

Before our Patriarch, Ya'akov, passed away, he was visited by his favorite son, Yosef, who was then King of Egypt. Yosef brought along with him his own two sons, Efraim and Menashe, to receive their grandfather's blessings. Ya'akov placed his hands upon their heads and said: "May the angel who redeems me from all evil, bless the lads; and may my name be declared upon them, and the names of my forefathers Avraham and Yitzchak, and may they proliferate abundantly like fish within the land" (Bereishis 48:16).

This prayer is known by its first two Hebrew words, HaMalach Hagoel, and it is customary for us to repeat it daily when we recite the Shema before going to bed. In many homes, mothers say it nightly with their children, together with the Shema, as they put their darlings to sleep after a hard day of play.

One who is not fluent in Hebrew often makes interesting mistakes when reading prayers from the prayer book. As this couple began life together, the new groom overheard his new bride err as she repeated Ya'akov's words, by misplacing the comma. What she said, basically, was: "May the angel who redeems me from all, --- evil bless the lads" etc. The young man didn't know whether to laugh or cry. He explained to his wife that she was reading the paragraph incorrectly and added that the way she said it she was inviting the Evil Angel into their home, G-d forbid.

The young woman did not reply and her husband was sure that she had been convinced but, perhaps, was too embarrassed to comment. However, the next night, he heard her repeat the mistake. This time he "blew a fuse" (some people have very short fuses) and demanded that she stop inviting disaster into their lives (as was, in fact, taking place). However, she suddenly revealed to him that he had not married some meek pushover. From the same mouth which had always pronounced sweet expressions, a tirade of words came gushing. "You won't teach me how to say HaMalach Hagoel," she shouted at him. "I learned to say it exactly as I do from my mother. How dare you demand that I change my family's custom. If you have a different family custom then that is fine. You continue to say it your way and I'll continue to say it my way. But what right do you have to insist that I have to say it your way?"

The husband was shocked at his wife's attitude and at her verbal attack and decided that he had to prove that he, as "the man of the house," could outdo her. We can very well imagine where this prayer for blessing took this unfortunate couple in their newly built home.

Luckily, soon after, the great tzaddik, the Skulener Rebbe ztvk"l, came to visit their town. The pair, who were barely talking to each other by now, decided that they would go together to visit the holy Rabbi and tell him their problem and, of course, abide by his decision.

Although it was obvious that the bride's mother had misread the text, as perhaps her own mother had done before her, the wise Rabbi understood that merely siding with the husband would not restore love and tranquility between the newlyweds. On the contrary, it would only be a source of future, perhaps greater, confrontations as the man would always lord it over her that he had been right. The Rebbe buried his head in his hands for quite a while; as if he were deep in thought, contemplating the difficult shailoh (Halachic question) brought before him. Finally, he turned to the young man and said, "Why are you so sure that your wife is wrong in the way she reads the paragraph? I happen to think that her family's custom is very proper and correct! I will explain it to you. We all know that the Gemara teaches that on Friday night every head of the household is accompanied from the Synagogue by two angels, one good and one evil. If the angels find the house prepared for Shabbos properly, the good angel pronounces a blessing that next week the tranquil scene should repeat itself, and the Evil Angel must answer 'amen' against his will.

"Your wife's mother probably had this in mind when she recited the prayer with her daughter. Her intentions were surely that the Good Angel should redeem her from all misfortune, but then she added that the Evil Angel too should bless the children and answer 'amen' against his will."

The husband heard the Rebbe's explanation and began to "understand" his wife's custom. It was not as outlandish as he had thought.

Once the young man had calmed down, the Rebbe turned to his wife and said, "But I have the feeling that your mother probably said the prayer this way in some era of plague which was causing great anguish to their community. Therefore she prayed that even that 'Evil Angel' should have no influence over her family and should be forced to bless them instead.

"However, today," continued the Rebbe, "that the plague has passed, thank G-d, and we are not in any particular danger, it is possible and recommendable that you return to the regularly accepted way of reciting the prayer, with the comma after the word 'evil' rather than before it"

Amazingly, the woman also "understood" the words which were explained to her calmly and patiently, and shalom bayis was restored to the newlyweds who now respected each other the way they were supposed to.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel