Shalom Bayis (Peaceful Marriage)
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- Thursday, August 23, '01 - Parshas Shoftim 5761

The gemora (Yevamos 62b) says that A MAN HONORING HIS WIFE MORE THAN HE HONORS HIMSELF is a PREREQUISITE FOR MARITAL PEACE. That gemora makes clear that kavod [honor, respect] is more important to marital peace than love. Love is an emotion, which makes it subjective, limited, vulnerable and fragile. Kavod is from the same Hebrew root word as kavaid [heavy, weighty]. Giving kavod is attributing "existential" and psychological "weight" to the OTHER PERSON. Kavod is objective, solid, unvarying. It is based on the feelings, situation, needs and identity of the other person. When you have kavod for a person and when you act with kavod towards that person, you determine your behavior by the impact of your treatment on that person. Your conduct is adapted on behalf of the other person. Kavod behavior makes that other person a reality - and a very important reality - to whom you may only be good. The gemora talks to the man as if to say: if you do this, and if you make your wife secure about your love and respect for her, it is a normal woman's nature that she will give back in kind; it is the man's responsibility to "take the lead" [if a woman does not respond in kind to a husband's genuine love and respect, either the marriage has had a severely bitter history that will take time to repair, or she is probably a very disturbed individual]. Under "normal" conditions, it stands to reason that when a husband will 1. love his wife as much as himself and 2. have more kavod for the his wife than for himself, that the relationship will remain peaceful. My practical counseling experience has repeatedly shown me that, when a man-woman relationship deteriorates or ends, when a couple "falls out of love," these happen commensurately with how much KAVOD WAS NOT THERE. When a marriage is sweet, happy and successful, it is commensurate with how much MUTUAL KAVOD IS THERE, or, at least, was BUILT DURING COUNSELING.

Both spouses must have AND express genuine appreciation for one another steadily. Since, in the overall population, women are more sensitive about feeling appreciated and recognized, an important key for peaceful marriage is the husband conveying sincere and constant appreciation to his wife.

The Torah says [Deuteronomy 8:17], "You will say to yourself, 'My ability and strength have gotten this acquisition for me;' but you will remember G-d Who gives you the power to make achievements." Ohr HaChayim writes on this that the trait of appreciation is crucial because it means you can attribute cause of good to sources outside of yourself. If you can't do that, by definition, you think you have caused or brought all good and accomplishment which you have. This ingratitude can go so far as to be avoda zara [idolatry] because you believe that you gave yourself what, in truth, G-d gave you and that you are the sole cause of all your success. Since one without appreciation thinks he himself, not G-d, is solely responsible for his achievements and acquisitions, the ingrate is his own "avoda zara."

You must have profound appreciation for every benefit that you have from every person, from G-d and even from every inanimate object that caused you good. The Torah says (Exodus 7:19) that when Egypt's water was to be turned to blood, Aaron, not Moshe, inaugurated the plague. This is because the water protected Moshe when he was a baby in the basket. Moshe had to have gratitude to the water, so he could not be the one to start the plague of the water. Similarly, Chazal tell us, "Do not throw a rock into a well from which you drank water [Bamidbar Raba 22:4]."

When the shaliach tzeebur [reader, cantor] reads the repetition of the Shmoneh Esray, he represents the congregation. However, when he gets to the blessing "Modim [We thank G-d]," the congregation says "Modim De'Rabonon [a shortened version of "Modim"], because one must express thanks himself, he should not use an intermediary to express appreciation.

Spouses need to feel secure that they are appreciated. EVERY DAY make an "inventory" of all the benefits you receive from your partner, including the person's good qualities as well as things the person does. Find ways to regularly express acknowledgement of these things and appreciation for them. State how these reflect well on the other, how these make you admire and love the person, how your life is better or happier or richer, how it shows that the person is wonderful and special, and lucky and grateful you are for being married to him/her.

It is much more difficult to be in the wrong, and much more likely to build peace, when you strive to always speak politely, gently and as if there are two true sides to each story.

THE GREATEST THING IN HUMAN RELATIONS IS PEACE [Beraishis Raba]. Chazal say [Perek HaShalom] that every major thing ends on a note of "shalom," for example Birkas Kohanim [the blessings by the Kohanim] and Shmoneh Esray [standing prayer]. This tells us that one should never leave any thing without peace.

Since we pray Shmoneh Esray every day and, in it, beseech Hashem for peace, if one does not fervently want, with his entire heart, to have peace with every one in his life, and among all Jews, his prayer is livatala [in vain]. The prayer has Hashem's name, and saying G-d's name in vain is a serious sin. One who is in dispute with another, and does not genuinely yearn and strive for peace, prays three times a day, with G-d's name, in vain. Besides all sins associated with hate, alienation, anger or fighting; one can accumulate thousand of sins just by praying Shmoneh Esray daily - unless (s)he truly longs and works actively in all ways humanly possible for peace.

Rabbi Shimon Ben Gamliel (Avos DeRebi Noson 28:3) says that a person who brings peace into his house is considered by G-d as if he brought peace on the entire Jewish people. Imagine if you could have the Heavenly credit for making peace between every Jew who is in an argument with another individual, with a group, or each group with another group! You can have the same Heavenly reward as if you were responsible for bringing peace to each and every quarrel of every kind between any Jew or Jews. How? Bring peace into your home - AND KEEP IT THERE! You will be reckoned by Heaven with the same reward as if your caused peace between every Jew who does not have peace! That's pretty great! The midrash makes it even greater: "Great is peace for all blessings are contained in it [Vayikra Raba]." Peace must be loved, valued, appreciated and actively pursued. IN MARRIAGE, THE FIRST PRIORITY AND RESPONSIBILITY IS MAINTAINING PEACE WITH EACH OTHER AT ALL TIMES.