Shalom Bayis (Peaceful Marriage)
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- Thursday, July 12, '01 - Parshas Pinchas 5761

When Chazal recorded the Talmud and midrashim, these were written very cryptically and concisely. Since the oral law was never to have been written, and it was only written because it was in danger of being forgotten, it was made brief to force students to obtain teaching from rabbis, to pass traditional Torah on from generation to generation. As generations grew weaker and weaker, commentaries had to be written to explain p'shat [meaning] and halacha [practical law]. This was done in the time of the Rishonim [earlier authorities]. As the generation weakened further, commentaries on commentaries, legal codifications and books on all subjects multiplied. This was in the time of the Acharonim [later authorities].

In the time of Chazal, we were able to extract Torah midos [character traits, personal qualities], hashkofos [life views] and behavior "upgrading" directly from the Talmud or midrashim. The commentaries, books and codes developed because we have been progressively losing the ability to extract such knowledge directly from Chazal's writings. We need clarification and explanation. The generations keep getting further from Sinai and keep getting battered by the persecutions and outside influences of golus [exile]. Our ability to learn keeps getting weaker and shallower. We can't take for granted that a "lomdin [sharp Torah intellectual]" will learn from the gemora how to be a mentsh. It has to be drummed-in systematically and ongoingly, or the student will not develop as a human being, adult and ben-Torah in "real life."

Although now, we are in a time of intense Torah learning, it has a shallowness when tested against criteria in the "real world of practical Torah life," such as shalom bayis, kids at risk, honesty in business or talking in shul. The people are more empty, materialistic, indulgent and self-centered than our pre-war grandparents. This is reflected in the attitude towards study - among many students as well as teachers. I commend and appreciate those yeshivos that blend emphasis on learning, midos and chesed, because this comes closer to Chazal's requirement of three pillars of Yiddishkeit: Torah, avoda ugmilas chasadim [learning, prayer and acts of kindness]. When school administrators make Torah abstract, want to cover masechtas or develop intellectual sharpness, as if they are concerned about a "score card," as a marriage counselor this worries me. When the student is shallow, immature or egotistical, he could be a candidate for being very lomdish [intellectual] - and very divorced. All those masechtas from seder Nashim [the marriage tractates of the Talmud] will teach him what makes halachic kiddushin [creation of the state of marriage] or which relatives are exempt from yibum [leverate marriage], but will not teach him in "the real world of Torah living" how to behave as an adult or a husband.

It is vital for parents to present a good and healthy role model in the home. This trains children how to constructively regard and treat a spouse. Parents who fight, criticize, disrespect or show anger in front of their children teach the children to view a spouse with contempt, conflict and adversity. The atmosphere in the family should teach children to treat people in general, and their future spouse in particular, with respect, responsiveness, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and all fundamentals of good marriage.

A beautiful midrash tells how a couple was married for ten years with no children. They had no animosity whatsoever, but, halacha permits divorce when there is no child in ten years. Since the Torah wants children, the husband wanted a divorce. They went to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochoi. Since they got married with a seuda [banquet], they had to divorce with a seuda. The husband said that she had his permission to take from his house the one thing she wanted most. At the banquet, she saw to it that he had plenty of wine and he got very drunk. She hired strong men to carry him home. When he woke, he remembered last being at the seuda. He was still tipsy and asked where he was. She said that he is home and reminded him of his generous promise that she could have the one thing from his home that she most wanted. She said, "All I want is you." Witnessing their deep love, Rabbi Shimon told them to stay married and blessed them. Within a year they had a child.

We do not have today rabbis as great as any holy Tanna like Reb Shimon. We cannot give blessings and guarantees which nullify a couple's obstacle to staying lovingly married. But we do see that people can be driven apart by causes that can be overcome. It takes enormous work, will power, honesty, introspection, responsibility and sacrifice. Not everyone is strong enough inside for this.

All MEN AND WOMEN MUST learn Torah regularly. Women have plenty of things that pertain to them such as laws of nida, lashon hora, midos, chesed and shabos. Men must learn every day and women should go to shiurim two or more times a week. The spirituality and civility of any marriage is impacted by the commitment to learning and proper davening BY BOTH. EACH MUST LEARN PRACTICAL MATTERS THAT PERTAIN TO RELATING, TO GROWING AS A PERSON, RAISING CHILDREN AND TO SHALOM BAYIS.

As far as I am concerned, there MUST be marriage preparation courses. Shidduchim should NOT be given until a single has successfully passed such courses. The material can be kept sufficiently tzneeyus [modest] while instilling sensitivity and the ability to communicate, weeding out psychological problems so they can be handled instead of covered or denied, teaching how to understand and relate to the other gender, how to overcome anger and differences like a mentsh, how to bring issues to a rov instead of making them into a fight or separation, working on midos and chesed in the marriage context, understanding the purpose of marriage in G-d's plan, doing tshuva for mistakes or wrongdoings against a spouse, having true spiritual values, responsibility, appreciation, trust, understanding how the opposite gender thinks, adaptability and numerous other relevant and serious issues that are vital to enduring, functional and peaceful marriage.

Until there are means for standardized, systematic and effective preparation, marriage in our generation is in danger of becoming a "lost art." I have taught such courses for singles and have changed lives. These can be adapted for younger and older singles, from high school to adult ages. I have gotten letters and calls thanking me after such courses stating the value and personal benefit. I have run into people later on and been told how they were beneficially impacted or they remember things I taught. Everyone in such courses is enlightened and changed for the better. They recognize what is important in choosing - and staying with - a spouse. More interestingly, they recognize how erroneous, self-sabotaging or destructive they would have been without the teaching. They would have been lacking in standards by which to judge how to select or relate to a spouse. These courses are "few and far between" but I know they can be done successfully, meaningfully and impactfully.