Shalom Bayis (Peaceful Marriage)
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- Thursday, August 2, '01 - Parshas Vo'eschanan 5761

King Solomon tells us, "Enjoy life with the wife you love" [Kohelless 9:9]. The Torah says [Deuteronomy 30:19], "I put before you life and death, blessing and curse, choose life." The Siporno says that "life" means to use your free will to choose eternal life. In other words, at every moment of life, in every thing one does, one is faced with a decision to do a thing the way G-d wants or the way the person wants. One adds spirituality to him/herself by choosing and doing each thing G-d's way. By adding spirituality over and over, by choosing the good, one creates spirituality that can live beyond life in this world, beyond life in the physical body, and bring his/her soul to eternal life.

When King Solomon tells one to enjoy LIFE with his spouse, he is indicating that the only true enjoyment is utilizing marriage as an opportunity to do mitzvos and kindness, to please and get along with the person you are married to, every moment you are together in earthly life.

There is an interesting dilemma in halacha. For ownership of any possession to be transferred from person A to person B, there has to be a formal and halachic act of "kinyan [acquisition]." Without kinyan, there is no transfer of ownership from one person to another. This being so, when a host gives food or drink to a guest, there is no act of kinyan, so there is a problem: all guests could potentially be thieves and all hosts could be "machshol" [doing an act that causes another to sin, which is itself a sin].

However, since the host gives "reshus [permission]" to the guest to accept and have the meal, snack or beverage, it is used permissibly and "reshus" circumvents any wrong by either. The host is using his property to do kindness, in the course of which he is TRANSFORMING HIS PHYSICAL POSSESSIONS INTO MITZVOS. This is similar to the Mishna in Pirkei Avos which says that the truly religious person says, "What is mine is yours and what is yours is yours." Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch says on this that G-d wants people to come to HAVE OWNERSHIP of possessions so that they can PRACTICE LOVE AND MERCY BY RELINQUISHING OWNERSHIP of them for the benefit of others, in the service of G-d. Similarly, Rabbi Yisroel Salanter said that people often make the mistake of making another person's spirituality their religious "cause," and this frequently turns out to cause destructive things like criticism, ridicule or antagonism; which are very UNreligious. Reb Yisroel said that the other person's spirituality is your materialism and THE OTHER PERSON'S MATERIALISM IS YOUR SPIRITUALITY. Spirituality is NOT: you made a terrible bracha, you did the mitzva wrongly. Spirituality is: do you have what you need, can I do anything for you, what can I give you?

The Torah does NOT consider it good enough to wait for opportunities for generosity to present themselves. King Solomon says, "CHASE charity and kindness" [Proverbs 21:21]. You have to actively keep seeking to cause good deeds to happen, through your possessions [charity] and your self [kindness].

In marriage, to enjoy life with the one you love, LIFE must focus on true spirituality: care for the other; applying kindness, unselfishness, humility, respect and good midos on an ongoing basis and with a pleasant attitude; chasing actively after opportunities to do charity and kindness for each other; giving the other "reshus" to benefit from you and what is yours; constantly transforming your actions and property into mitzvos; making the other's materialism your spiritual CHOICE at every possible moment; and giving each other a LIFE to ENJOY in this world and helping each other to build spiritual LIFE in eternity.

Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler [Michtav Me'Eliyahu] would tell couples on their wedding day to seek to give happiness and satisfaction to each other, to give of themselves for each other's good every day for the rest of their lives. Only through this will a couple retain the joy and love with each other that they feel on their wedding day. Based on background from TaNaCH and Chazal, he taught that happiness in marriage is dependent on mutual, constant and voluntary giving. Spouses who are takers come to develop expectations and a demanding spirit and orientation. No spouse can live up to the demands and expectations of anyone with a "taker" mentality; so only fighting, anger, bitterness and dissatisfaction come. By one giving to the second, the second is not made into a taker, since the second is GIVING the first spouse the OPPORTUNITY TO GIVE. Since the act is INITIATED BY THE GIVER, the second is a "RECEIVER," not a "taker." Spouses who are givers will do all that they possibly can for the good and happiness of the other. They develop the ability to be happy and satisfied with what the other can give. THEY ARE REALISTIC AND GOOD-NATURED TOWARDS EACH OTHER. THEY EACH RECEIVE ALL THAT IS POSSIBLE AND APPRECIATE THAT THE OTHER GIVES AS MUCH AS IS HUMANLY POSSIBLE TO GIVE. Couples who voluntarily, sincerely and graciously are mutual givers seek to please each other all that they can. Their attitude is NOT "How much can I take?" It is "HOW MUCH CAN I GIVE - FOR THE GOOD AND HAPPINESS OF THE OTHER?" Rabbi Dessler teaches that when a couple lives like this, THEY EACH WILL BE HAPPY AND SATISFIED AND STAY TOGETHER JOYOUSLY ALL OF THEIR LIVES.

One of the first criteria in one's Heavenly judgement is how one treated his spouse during earthly life (Rabbi Chayim Veetal). Hashem looks to people's interpersonal acts in the order of how close people are to him. If a person is a "tzadik" who is generous and kind with strangers, and is hurtful, mean or neglectful to one's spouse and children, Hashem waits to see how the person will treat those closest. Until Hashem is satisfied with how one treats them, He does not pay close attention to how the person treats others. When Hashem is satisfied how one treats those closest, he then examines and judges how one treats the next level (those a bit further, then those further, etc.). Hashem wants to be "satisfied" that one treats his/her spouse and children superbly. Reward for treating strangers well is overwhelmed by the punishments for treating one's closest in any harmful, neglectful or mean way. The people closest are first!

How much happiness should a spouse give the other? How much chesed [kindness should each spouse do for the other? What is the measure? I can offer two excellent ways to answer. One answer I derive from the Torah's story of Yitzchok's marriage to Rivka. Yitzchok's mother Sara had died. When Rivka married him, he was comforted for the death of his mother and he loved Rivka. She was so good to him that he forgot his grief from the loss of his mother! In other words, the proper measure of good by each spouse to the other is to be so sweet and kind that you make the other forget the pains and pressures of life. When you effectively shield the other from sorrow, disappointment or stress; when you comfort and strengthen each other, even at the worst times; and bring out the other's love for you from how good you are; you satisfy the obligation of being a satisfactory Jewish spouse. The second answer I saw in a sefer many years ago. You do not do enough goodness for your spouse until (s)he is AMAZED with you, AMAZED with how kind and sweet you are to him/her. These two principles establish how to measure how good to be to your partner.