Shalom Bayis (Peaceful Marriage)
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Thursday, August 3, '00 - Parshas Devarim 5760

All good that can be found in the human condition is SOURCED ENTIRELY IN A GOOD HEART (Pirkei Avos, chap. two). It therefore is basic that to have a good marriage, both partners 1. must choose each other, first and foremost, on the basis of each having a good heart; and 2. must relate to the other's heart 3. from his/her heart. This is done primarily by each giving of themselves VOLUNTARILY WITH A SWEET, PLEASANT ATTITUDE FOR THE GOOD, WELL-BEING AND HAPPINESS OF THE OTHER; treating each other with respect, patience, concern, responsibility, importance, gratitude and warmth; DOING ALL OF THIS WITH UNENDING CONSISTENCY which allows the other to SECURELY TRUST AND INTERNALIZE THAT SUCH IS THE BASIS FOR THEIR RELATING TO EACH OTHER. When the elements of the heart (e.g. spiritual values, good qualities and midos) provide the PRIMARY BASIS for men and women communicating, understanding and relating; happy, loving and peaceful marriage will be the universal and practical standard for Jewish couples. Therefore, to write comprehensively about tackling the troubles that I've discerned through my years of marriage counseling work experience, I must address "a good heart."

One must actively work on a "good HEART" through Torah. A word of caution and warning. NEVER assume that Torah automatically makes one a better or elevated person. The Vilna Gaon writes (Evven Shlaima) that a person's soul needs Torah just as the earth needs moisture. If I water a flower, it grows to be beautiful. If I water a weed, it grows to be terrible. Just as moisture causes that which was planted in the earth to sprout JUST AS IT NATURALLY IS, FOR GOOD OR BAD, Torah causes what is in a person's HEART to sprout naturally. If one's HEART is good, he will become spiritually elevated and better. If his HEART is evil or nasty, his Torah increases his evil or nastiness. One must purify his HEART; searching after and eradicating every trace of evil, sinful or mean thoughts, bad or impure traits and habits. ONLY IF ONE ACTIVELY STRIVES TO ELEVATE HIMSELF SPIRITUALLY, AND TO INCREASE HIS FEAR OF SIN, IN CONJUNCTION WITH HIS TORAH LEARNING, WILL HIS TORAH ELEVATE HIM. One's deeds derive from what is in the heart. TORAH INTENSIFIES WHAT IS NATURALLY IN ONE'S HEART. His Torah can make his sins and evil worse or his goodness and devotion to G-d higher. One must, therefore, work to elevate and purify his heart at all times throughout life, when young and old. This must not be construed in a discouraging fashion. The Gaon says, "It is impossible to kill the yaitzer hora (evil inclination) except with Torah." We need 1. TORAH and 2. THE SINCERE AND PURE INTENTION AND GOAL OF ELEVATING OURSELVES. WITHOUT BOTH, ONE HAS NO HOPE. What we must hear is that we must engage diligently in Torah, but with the SPECIFIC GOAL AND INTENTION TO ELEVATE OURSELF THROUGH TORAH! This is up to each individual's free will choice. Being a Torah Jew starts by having a good heart to put Torah into.

Among the serious troubles in shalom bayis in our times is in the domain of VALUES. To start with, people go to all kinds of lengths to make a lavish wedding, with "all the trimmings." They go into hock, beg or borrow. They and/or their children want what other people have at their weddings. They are driven by social pressure to conform with or beat what everyone else is doing to make a wedding fancy. Once upon a time, in the "old country," there was only a small gathering of close relatives at the chasuna, one violinist, the "fleishigs" was a watery soup, the photographer was cousin Feivel who took one black and white picture of the chupa and there was no week of catered sheva brachos. Now, people get lost in wedding arrangements and even have fights over them. Then, when the couple is married, instead of leaving them alone, parents and relatives often mix in. Young couples are impressionable and still can be molded by parents. After marriage, influencing in any way is generally detrimental to that marriage. Yet, meddling relatives are among the most marriage-breaking forces around today (as are bad midos, immaturity, selfishness, bad communication and psychological problems). Any spouse who is spoiled or egocentric will make unreasonable and unrealistic demands upon the other. A growing number of marriages, to an alarming extent, are finished within a month to a year. We can't even think about helping many of these couples because they are too immature, selfish and rigid to see or work on anything which is not their way. They are not raised to view a marriage partner as so important that one must bend one's will, behavior and fragile feelings on behalf of him/her, or on behalf of unity with that person; so that differences and pressures can be maturely and effectively handled. It's "what can you do for me?" "What can I take, demand and expect from you?" "How are you worth my being married to?" "Will you provide support (so he can learn or she can revel in comfort)?" Since 1. divorce no longer carries its old stigma, 2. there is much more sanction and place in society for unmarried women than before, 3. marriage has lost much of its worth, sanctity and specialness, and 4. brides and grooms are more selfish, ill-prepared, dysfunctional and immature than ever; divorce has become a commodity these days and marriage has become optional and disposable; like a tin can or plastic bag which gets thrown out after serving its use.

When a marriage prioritizes, or is based at all on, externals, looks, a fun personality, societal status or approval, talent, mental brilliance, material wealth - things which are nice if there but WHICH HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH LASTING TOGETHER FOR A LIFETIME - they are essentially ASKING FOR MARRIAGE TO SOONER OR LATER FAIL; OR TO BE MISERABLE TO MEDIOCRE AT BEST.

In marriage, two people are to become tied as if two separated halves are brought together to be one, a totality, a team. Many of today's young men and women are "incomplete" as human beings and ONLY TWO COMPLETE HALVES CAN ADD UP TO A COMPLETE WHOLE! Through conducting themselves with gentleness, sacrificing, devotion, giving, respect, honesty and acceptance of imperfections; in other words: MATTERS OF THE HEART; a couple is able to build a holy and loving connection that withstands the tests and troubles of "real life." The Steipler said that you should select someone for marriage with good midos - who will apply them in practical every day living (e.g. taking good care when the other is sick, taking out the garbage when necessary without being asked and never hitting nor getting angry). A "frum" person without good midos, derech eretz, peacefulness, kind deeds and a good heart to others; especially to the person (s)he marries; is a hypocrite who is living a lie and a contradiction. The values today are backwards and the results that they produce are also backwards. Only if we can return to fully prioritizing and living from a good heart can we stop substituting impressive weddings for impressive marriages.