CONTENTS AT A GLANCE
BUILDING A STRONG MARRIAGE FOUNDATION: HOW
TO MAKE OR BREAK YOUR MARRIAGE, Fifty Six Parts
A MARRIAGE IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
2. MARRIAGE IS A COMPLETE
3. PREPARING IN ADVANCE TO BE
A "MARRIAGEABLE ENTITY"
4. THERE'S NO SECOND YEAR
WITHOUT THE FIRST YEAR
5. RAYIM AHUVIM: THE COUPLE AS
6. WISDOM ABOUT BUILDING A
MARRIAGE FROM THE CHAZONE ISH
7. FROM THE WISDOM OF TALMUDIC
SAGES ON MARRIAGE
8. THE VOICE OF WISDOM FROM
9. A JEWISH HOME IS
CHARACTERIZED BY LOVE AND KINDNESS
10. MORE ON WARMTH AND
KINDNESS IN THE JEWISH MARRIAGE AND HOME
11. RESPECT IS PREREQUISITE
12. ACKNOWLEDGING AND
APPRECIATING YOUR PARTNER
13. KEYS TO BUILDING A
14. SINGLE REALITY IS
DIFFERENT FROM MARRIED REALITY
15. THE IMPORTANCE OF
COMMUNICATION AND ADAPTABILITY
16. MEN AND WOMEN ARE
17. COMMUNICATE TO GET INTO
EACH OTHER'S "WORLD"
18. ASK QUESTIONS RATHER THAN
19. STEADILY BUILDING A GOOD
20. YOU CAN MAKE EVERYTHING
IN YOUR MARRIAGE NICE
21. IF THINGS BETWEEN YOU
22. LOOK AT ANGER AS AN ENEMY
24. LEARN FROM OTHER PEOPLE'S
BLUNDERS AND DON'T INVENT YOUR OWN
25. SETTING THE STAGE FOR
PROPERLY TALKING A PROBLEM OUT
26. YOU CAN REJECT THE ISSUE
BUT NEVER THE PERSON
27. WHEN YOU HAVE A
DIFFERENCE OR QUARREL, WHEN IS THE RIGHT TIME TO RESOLVE IT?
28. ALWAYS BEHAVING LIKE A
MENTSH WITH YOUR SPOUSE
29. THE SEVEN ELEMENTS OF A
COMPLETE RELATIONSHIP [Part A]
30. THE SEVEN ELEMENTS OF A
COMPLETE RELATIONSHIP [Part B]
31. THE SEVEN ELEMENTS OF A
COMPLETE RELATIONSHIP [Part C]
32. MIDOS [Part A]: "ME
DOSE" VS. "MEEDOS"
33. MIDOS [Part B]:
CONQUERING, FIXING AND BUILDING MIDOS
34. MIDOS [Part C]:
SENSITIVITY TO YOUR IMPACT ON OTHERS
35. MIDOS [Part D]:
ACCOUNTABILITY FOR YOUR IMPACT ON OTHERS
36. MIDOS [Part E]: THE
FOUNDATION OF ALL GOOD MIDOS IS HUMILITY
37. MIDOS [Part F]: PRACTICAL
APPLICATION TO LIFE
38. FAMILY PURITY: BALANCING
PHYSICAL DISTANCE WITH RELATIONSHIP CLOSENESS
39. FAMILY PURITY: HEALTHY
BALANCE OF SPIRITUALITY AND MARITAL LOVE
40. FAMILY PURITY: HAVING A
STRONG RELATIONSHIP IN THE CONTEXT OF TORAH
41. FAMILY PURITY: PUTTING
HOLINESS INTO YOUR RELATIONSHIP
42. FAMILY PURITY: ITS ROLE
IN DEFINING YOUR RELATIONSHIP
43. UNITY, TORAH AND
AWARENESS OF G-D ARE KEYS FOR HAPPY AND SUCCESSFUL MARRIAGE [Part A]
44. UNITY, TORAH AND
AWARENESS OF G-D ARE KEYS FOR HAPPY AND SUCCESSFUL MARRIAGE [Part B]
45. UNITY, TORAH AND
AWARENESS OF G-D ARE KEYS FOR HAPPY AND SUCCESSFUL MARRIAGE [Part C]
46. THE MARRIAGE RELATIONSHIP
IN ONE WORD: TRUST
47. WORKING EMOTIONS AND
ISSUES OUT COMFORTABLY WITH A COUNSELOR
TORAH-LOYAL COUNSELORS FROM ALL OTHERS
49. TORAH CRITERIA FOR
PICKING A COUNSELOR
50. TORAH RESPONSIBILITIES
FOR THE JEWISH COUNSELOR AND CLIENT
PRACTICALITIES OF BEING A TORAH JEW [Part A]: NEVER HURTING OTHERS
PRACTICALITIES OF BEING A TORAH JEW [Part B]: THE REALITY OF G-D'S JUSTICE
PRACTICALITIES OF BEING A TORAH JEW [Part C]: TRULY BEING A GOOD PERSON
54. A "TORAH AND
MITZVOS" TONE FOR THE HOME AND FAMILY
55. KEYS TO MAKING YOUR
56. THE GREATEST THING IS
ALWAYS HAVING PEACE
BUILDING A STRONG MARRIAGE FOUNDATION: HOW
TO MAKE OR BREAK YOUR MARRIAGE, Fifty Six Parts
PART ONE - STARTING A MARRIAGE IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
In our current generation, a major and
frightening percentage of marriage-age Jews have never been married, are miserably unhappy
or failing in marriage, are separated or are divorced. To contribute to the quality and
quantity of Jewish marriages, I offer this eclectic, multi-faceted multi-part series
covering fundamentals of successful, healthy and spiritually-based marriage and relating;
meticulously researched, written and re-written over the course of approximately three
This version replaces a shorter version
which was on this sub-site in the past, representing an expansion to nearly three times
the original length. All previous content is preserved herein, although it may be
redistributed. One of the goals of the redistribution was to make the length of each
article more uniform. Even though there still are variances in article lengths, they are
not as extreme. Even if you have seen this site before the expansion, you will want to
study it again now. There will be a wealth of material furnished throughout, on a vast and
diverse set of central topics.
If you want to drive from New York to Los
Angeles, you can't just get in a car, drive in any direction that your mood takes you,
keep turning at every place you get a whim to go left or right, and expect to reach Los
Angeles in one lifetime. Furthermore, the sooner and more often that you veer off the
course, the more likely you will head away from your destination. And, you generally will
not know what to do when you see a sign saying that the next exit is Nova Scotia!
Marriage is the same way. You can't just
hop under a chupa, rent an apartment and then do anything you want, moving or turning at
any time according to any whim or fancy, and expect to get to happy and peaceful marriage
in one lifetime. And the earlier in the marriage that you "drive off course,"
and the more often that you make wrong turns or moves, the worse your trip will be and the
further from your destination you will end up. Marriage, like that car trip, needs a map,
route and destination. And, the sooner you set your course in the right direction, and
keep going steadily in the right direction, the more likely you'll be headed where you
need to go. USE THE TORAH AS YOUR MAP AND ROUTE; LET HAPPINESS, PEACE AND SUCCESS BE YOUR
The Torah is the world's "instruction
book." If you buy a computer or car, you don't know how to use it without consulting
its manufacturer's instruction book. Until you know your new car, don't get on the
highway. Until you know the word processor's programs, you won't type your first letter.
You don't know how to live in G-d's world until you learn the "Manufacturer's
Instruction Book: the Torah." Failure in relationships can be counteracted by
learning the "programming" that G-d put into His "products," such as:
the world, the human species, the male, the female, personal improvement or the marriage
"What was is that which will
be...there is nothing new under the sun" [Koheless 1:9]. Since every type of mistake
and problem has happened already, very many times, doesn't it just make sense to learn
from the mistakes of others rather than to replicate them yourself - and make life
miserable for yourself and those around you? Since there have been people in the world who
have had experience and wisdom, it makes sense to draw upon what they have to offer. Most
importantly, since EVERYTHING is in the Torah [Pirkei Avos, chap. five], let us look there
and learn how to do things correctly and successfully - now, not later, and from now on!
This multi-part, multi-faceted series is
for couples who are about to be married, are in their "shana rishona (first year of
marriage)," or who have been married for any duration of time. It is designed to help
"set the course" and help "hit the target" of happy, peaceful and
successful marriage. It will span from preparing before marriage to be a
"marriageable entity" to succeeding after marriage over the "long
run." This series will be focused on making the couple's marriage foundation strong
and solid, creating a close bond and better communication, constructively resolving
differences and handling life issues, building a compatible and stable and pleasing
relationship and on "aiming their marriage in the right direction." Such issues
can "make or break" a marriage. Some of the material will be on the subject of
laws and principles of the first year while others will be advice on conducting a solid,
nice and lasting Jewish marriage at any time. Whether you've been married for one, twenty
or forty years, THERE IS NO TIME BETTER THAN THE PRESENT TO WORK ON MAKING YOUR MARRIAGE -
AND THE REST OF YOUR LIFE - BETTER! Sources for the material will be from our sages (from
Talmudic to contemporary times), mature married couples, and my years of research, Torah
learning, experience as a marriage counselor and dealing with the issues brought by live
audiences when I speak in public.
Never forget that every aspect of life is
governed by Torah and is to be a manifestation of avodas Hashem (service of G-d) to be
performed in kedusha vitahara (holiness and spiritual purity). A Jew is obligated to be a
kidush Hashem (sanctification of G-d) and never a chilul Hashem (profanation of G-d) - in
one's home as well as outside. A yardstick by which to measure one's marital "track
record" is how it conforms to the Torah and whether steady kidush Hashem arises from
it (whether only your spouse knows or whether more people know). The reader will find a
constant and abundant supply of teachings and insights throughout this series, on how to
succeed in marriage, thereby succeeding with your Creator as well as with your spouse.
It is vital that a couple have a set of
common goals, have common values and a sense of common mission, so that they are a
"team" in life. By having this mentality in the fundamentals of life, the couple
has a purpose that they share together. The more this is the case, the more the two have
in common, the more there will be a sense of bondedness that will enable the couple to
withstand the trials and tribulations of life together. Their "common cause" is
greater than either of their egos. It is vital that when there are difficulties,
regardless of whether imposed by life or between themselves, that the sense of bondedness
be solid so the difficulties never constitute deflection from or damage against the
marital relationship. Difficulties - whether life hardships imposed upon one or both of
the spouses or differences between the spouses - should be tasks to be handled based on
the merits of the issues and what the Torah says to do. If difficulties that come up in
the course of life drive the two apart, there is an intrinsic weakness in the
relationship. A solid marriage is unchallenged by a difficulty - it is a task to be
handled together, as "allies" and friends.
As my late grandfather said to me when he
was about 79, and had about half a century of marriage "under his belt,"
speaking with utmost simplicity, in his thick Yiddish accent, with that striking
"ring of truth," and the penetrating warmth of a mature heart, "Marriage is
two people pleasing each other." Then he shook his head slowly left and right with a
disapproving face, and continued with sage experience and concluded, "Without that,
you have nothing."
PART TWO - MARRIAGE IS A COMPLETE PACKAGE
One cannot understand marriage as
consisting of some isolated tasks. There is more to marriage than working for a
livelihood, doing laundry or sending a child off to school each morning. These are
technicalities that can be done by a robot or stranger willing to provide them. Marriage
is a totality that incorporates an entire range of tasks, including many which are
intangible, such as devotion or respect for example, as will be demonstrated in many ways
throughout this series. Readiness for marriage requires the capacity for the full range of
technical tasks, emotional and communicative development, responsibility, trustworthiness
and much more - with all in each married person.
The yaitzer hora [evil inclination] comes
into each person at birth, while the yaitzer hatov [good inclination] only comes into the
person at bar mitzva. Rabbi Yisroel Salanter was asked why this is justice. The evil
inclination has a "head start." Doesn't this make it impossible for a person to
have an even struggle between choosing good and evil? Doesn't this make it just about
impossible to have a fair chance at doing good and earning olam habo [eternal life]?
Rabbi Yisroel replied that evil is
ultimately illusion and Torah is the only reality. The job of the yaitzer hora is to make
sin look real and to tempt people into choosing it. If a person had his yaitzer hatov from
birth, he would always know that evil is stupidity and false so there would be no
milchomas hayaitzer [war between good and evil within the person]. We would see sin for
the emptiness that it ultimately is. The yaitzer hora needs the "head start" to
make it possible for evil to seem real, so a person can fight between two forces that
appear to be real: one only seeming real (evil) and one actually being real (good).
Extending Reb Yisroel's idea to our
context, readiness for marriage is having the capacity to distinguish between what is
good, true and real vs. what is evil, false and illusory. When coming into marriage, one
must have gotten far enough ahead in the quest (to have one's good inclination capable of
beating the evil inclination) to maintain a relationship in which the person treats a
spouse in an exclusively (or, at least, primarily) good manner. Willingly and consistently
recognizing and choosing to do good is a way to measure whether one has sufficient
readiness and maturity for marriage. This includes recognizing the reality of, and one's
obligations to, the other person.
The Torah tells us that the pig is unkosher
because it does not chew its cud, even though it has the kosher characteristic of split
hooves. Rabbi Elimelech of Lezensk says from this that Jews should be careful about those
Torah requirements that others trample on with their feet. The Jew must be vigorous to
guard all mitzvos. The pig does not have all signs of kashruss. The one sign it has, the
split hoof, is on the foot, with which it walks. The Jew should split from the other(s)
who trample on mitzvos, walk away from other(s) who do not keep ALL mitzvos. Learn from
the pig that to be "kosher" means to separate, like one hoof, from the other
that "tramples (picks some mitzvos and rejects others)," and be like the
"kosher" species that has all kosher signs: that keeps all of the mitzvos.
Many people today trample on those numerous
mitzvos that apply between people in general, and spouses in particular: to love, to
honor, to never hurt feelings nor bear a grudge, to be peaceful and responsible and
trustworthy, to sincerely apologize and do tshuva [repent] for all mistakes at the other's
expense, etc., etc. Many people these days "trample" on mitzvos that apply to
marriage. What Rabbi Elimelech says applies here. To have a "kosher
relationship," each must do ALL of the mitzvos that pertain to relating as husband
and wife. If many other people do not do so, if many "trample" on the
obligations of a Jewish spouse, you must, nevertheless, do all that is required to have a
"kosher marriage relationship."
The Torah tells us in Parshas Bechukosai
that G-d will severely punish violations of the Torah. "If with this [punishing], you
will not obey Me and you treat Me keree [lightly]"...[the punishments get worse;
Leviticus 26:27]. Rabbi Yisroel Salanter translated "keree" as related to the
root "kereerus [coldness, freeze]." When warm enough to be liquid, water is used
to purify, such as in a mikva or when ritually washing hands. When frozen, it becomes ice,
which can contract tuma [spiritual impurity]. This is how coldness affects service of G-d.
When cold, water's power to purify is not only destroyed, frozen water can itself become
impure. Like ice, when cold and indifferent to obeying some or all of the Torah, the
person's service of Hashem is contaminated. The more one treats Hashem's Torah lightly,
the more he experiences punishment. The more one serves G-d with warmth, joy, devotion and
drive, the more he makes himself a receptacle for abundant blessing.
Marriage requires water [in a kosher
mikva]. Therefore, Rabbi Yisroel's teaching has intriguing connection to the marriage
relationship. The conduct of the laws of how to treat a spouse must be pure, not treated
with keree - coldness, lightness nor indifference. The more one treats their spouse
lightly, the more their marriage will be experienced as punishment. A spouse must be
treated with warmth, appreciation and respect; each must be diligent, considerate,
devoted, have a pleasant attitude and voluntarily be driven to behave properly with the
other. This is a component of their service of G-d and will make their marriage a
receptacle for abundant blessing.
A chosid asked Rebbe Yehoshua Rokeach of
Belz for a blessing to die as a righteous Jew. He replied that even the evil heathen
Billam prayed, "Let me die the death of the righteous" [Numbers 23:10]. The
Rebbe said that the most important thing is to LIVE as a righteous Jew, which is even more
important than to die as a righteous Jew.
Sources all over the Torah stress that
midos is the most fundamental work of a Torah Jew. The Vilna Gaon calls work on midos the
essence of life. Elimelech of Lezensk says that a person is only born to work on
self-improvement. Rabbi Chayim Veetal calls midos the foundation of the Torah's
commandments. Rabbainu Yonah says the Divine Presence cannot rest on anyone with bad
midos. Rambam says that each trait must be at the correct measure for the soul to be
healthy. Character development is crucial to all aspects of life in general and to
marriage in particular.
Rabbi Yehoshua Laib Diskin referred to
midos as "eyeglasses." If you wear blue glasses, you see everything as blue. In
the same way, midos determine how you see things. If one has good midos, he or she sees
everything according to those good midos. If one has bad midos, one sees everything
according to those bad midos. Rabbi Elimelech of Lezensk says, "A person must ALWAYS
see the good attributes in another Jew and NEVER his shortcomings." Constantly see,
focus on and appreciate the good in your spouse. To be able to look away from
imperfections, as well as to live like a mentsh - or have a successful marriage - each
partner must have good midos.
Rabbi Avraham Pam z'l, Rosh Yeshiva of the
famous learning institution Torah VoDaas, said that if you find that your wife doesn't
have the same nice midos as when you married her, it is because you are not treating her
with nice midos. If you treat her nicely, your wife will go back to behaving with the nice
midos you remember from when you married her (heard personally from Rabbi Pam).
PART THREE - PREPARING IN ADVANCE TO BE A "MARRIAGEABLE ENTITY"
When Chazal [our sages] 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 during exile and persecution, 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 generations weakened further, commentaries on commentaries, legal
codifications and books on all subjects multiplied. This was in the time of the Acharonim
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
all 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 assimilate and internalize Torah, to
develop as a human being and adult 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,
talking in shul, being inconsiderate of neighbors or amplifying music at simchas at volume
levels that seriously and permanently damage people's ears. The generation is more empty,
materialistic, self-indulgent, self-centered and indifferent to what is not of personal
interest, than our pre-war grandparents and great-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 [character development] and chesed
[active kindness], because this comes closer to Chazal's requirement of the three pillars
of Yiddishkeit: Torah, avoda ugmilas chasadim [learning, prayer and acts of kindness].
However, when school administrators make Torah abstract, want to cover numerous masechtas
or to develop intellectual sharpness within limited measures of subject matter, as if they
are concerned about a "score card;" as a marriage counselor this worries me. In
the Torah, in the same place that we are called the "chosen people" most loved
by Hashem, we are also called "few in number" [Deuteronomy 7:6-7]. From this we
see that THE TORAH PRIORITIZES QUALITY - WHILE THIS GENERATION, IN CONTRAST, PRIORITIZES
QUANTITY. When the student is shallow, superficial, immature, egotistical or removed from
practical application, 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 kidushin [creation of the state of marriage] or
which widowed relatives exempt a man from yibum [levirate marriage to a childless widow],
but will not teach him in "the real world of Torah living" how to behave as an
adult, a mentsh or a spouse.
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, insult or show anger in front of
their children teach the children to view a spouse with contempt, conflict, power-plays,
viciousness 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 a couple has 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 [Rabbi of the Mishnah] 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, maturity and unselfish sacrifice. Not everyone is
strong enough inside for this. But this is a goal that each Jew must work for.
As far as I am concerned, there MUST be
marriage preparation courses. Shiduchim 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, learning how to be unselfish
and compromising, 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 constructively, 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,
trustworthiness, consideration, 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 conduct 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 or said. 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
PART FOUR - THERE'S NO SECOND YEAR WITHOUT THE FIRST YEAR
"Vayochel Noach, a man of the earth,
and he planted a vineyard. And he drank from the wine and he became drunk" [Beraishis
9:20-21]. Commentaries differ on the translation of "vayochel," since it comes
from a root that can mean "start" or "debase [secularize the holy,
diminish, profane]." The baalay mussar [masters of ethical teaching] tell us from
this that one must be very careful whenever starting something new. There is a force in
human nature that makes people incline their endeavors towards the self-serving, material
or profane. Since Noach viewed planting wine as his first priority and task after the
world was destroyed, he DEBASED himself by STARTING life in the "post-flood"
world with that which makes man drunk. In new endeavors, e.g. starting a new marriage, it
is imperative to be especially careful and be diligent to direct it on a course of Torah,
spirituality and holiness. The way a thing starts substantially determines its direction
When G-d made a wife for Adam, he put him
to sleep (Genesis 2:21) before forming her from his rib. Rav Shimon Schwab, z'l, former
leader of German Jewry, astutely notes that when G-d presents her to Adam, nowhere does
the Torah mention that G-d woke Adam up! Rabbi Schwab notes that in the morning blessings,
the blessing thanking G-d for removing sleep from our eyes is followed by the blessing
beseeching G-d for success in Torah, mitzvos and salvation from sins. What's the
connection? Rabbi Schwab discerns that once G-d put Adam, the progenitor of the human
race, to sleep, mankind remained spiritually asleep thereafter. When G-d gave the Torah at
Sinai, the Jewish people underwent spiritual re-awakening. Only through pure involvement
in Torah can a person be spiritually awake. Since this story comes just before the first
man met the first wife, this is particularly relevant to - and important for - shalom
bayis [marital peace]. Marriage can only be "spiritually awake" and free from
sins, when conducted and governed entirely by Torah. This is especially essential to young
couples whose foundation is not yet solid.
There is a mitzva for a husband to spend
the "shana rishona (first year of marriage)" closely with his bride. Sefer
HaChinuch is a classic and authoritative listing and study of the 613 commandments in the
Torah. Mitzva number 582 is titled, "A groom must rejoice with his bride during the
first year." There is an actual TORAH COMMANDMENT upon the husband to rejoice with
his wife for their first year of marriage, to make her happy, to get close to her and to
build a secure relationship with a solid foundation.
I know of one esteemed Yerushalayim rabbi
who says that this "first year" is not literal..."FIRST YEAR" IS A
MINIMUM. "First year" does NOT MEAN A CALENDAR YEAR - and the laws of the
"first year" apply AS LONG AS THE RELATIONSHIP NEEDS THEM TO APPLY in order that
the relationship become strong, close and stable; and for THE WIFE TO TRUST HER HUSBAND'S
LOVE. To put it another way: "THE FIRST YEAR OF MARRIAGE" IS A MEASURE OF
RELATIONSHIP SOLIDIFICATION - NOT A MEASURE OF TIME! You could be married for decades
without leaving your "first year" status OR ITS OBLIGATIONS, if your
relationship is not adequately worked out to the Torah's satisfaction. For any personal
marriage questions, ask your experienced orthodox rabbi.
Now, I will digest the discussion of the
mitzva of "first year" from the Torah as explained in Sefer HaChinuch. The
source in the Torah is when a soldier is exempted from war during his first year of
marriage so that he can use that year to be with his wife and make her happy (Deuteronomy
A groom must rejoice with his bride for a
full first year of marriage. He may not take a trip away from her overnight. Even if he
"must" leave overnight for "an important reason," he may damage the
gains that the "first year" is designed to give to the marriage. Even if she
gives her consent, a rabbi must be asked before he can go, because she probably does not
really feel at peace in her heart with his leaving her overnight in this early, fragile
stage of her marriage. He should not be drafted by the government or municipality; so that
he can be with his wife, and make her happy and secure. The root of this mitzva is in G-d
wanting creation of population in the world, through a marriage of holiness and purity. By
a husband and wife living together with exclusivity and commitment, for a lifetime, they
produce a family. By the husband staying with the wife for a full year, he will become
accustomed to her, attached to her, she will become endeared to him, and he will think of
her regularly and favorably. He will put the possibility of thinking of another woman more
and more out of his mind as he puts his wife more and more into his mind. Their
familiarity with and love for each other grows. Therefore he and his wife grow closer to
each other. They grow into each other's hearts. They will grow more and more exclusive in
each other's minds. They will produce children so as to produce favor from G-d; through
the loyalty, devotion and sanctity with which they characterize their marriage
relationship and creation of a family. By their producing children, as G-d wants, they
increase G-d's love for the Jewish people.
One of the elements of my research has been
interviewing people about marriage: veterans of happy marriage, Torah gedolim, therapists,
people who have been through divorce and "learned lessons," matchmakers, dayanim
who officiate divorces, etc. Let me share some of the ways successful, mature,
experienced, wise, learned people have capsulized marriage. Marriage is:
* taking care of a person * spending a
lifetime making someone else happy * being with someone you're comfortable being yourself
with * completing each other (A is complete where B is lacking and B is complete where A
is lacking, so they "add up" to a more complete "team") * devotion *
TRYING to build a relationship with another person over a lifetime * adaptability *
commitment (don't think, "If it doesn't work, we can get divorced" - have the
firm idea right from the start and all along that it is for keeps) * constant forgiving *
overlooking (e.g. faults or mistakes) * accepting less than perfect (or less than all that
you want) * giving in * giving yourself up * accepting what marriage "costs" for
what it "gives."
No one said anything grandiose about
"saving the world" or "getting a catch." All answers focused on
getting along, making each other happy or living maturely and responsibly; day in and day
out, for a lifetime. Everything else is subordinate. Getting along and making each other
happy must be a stable, ongoing, fundamental and practical state. Before this, nothing is
appropriate, in place, effective nor healthy. If you can't get along with a spouse and
make a spouse happy, at least reasonably consistently, there is something seriously
lacking that had better be immediately and effectively addressed and fixed.
You can't save the world till you build
your foundation - and that means a solid and secure marriage comes before anything
grandiose. Of course, people are not perfect but we must differentiate between faults that
are neutral and faults which harm others. One must not enter marriage if he or she has
faults capable of harming another. There has to be sufficient shlaimus (wholeness,
perfection and internal integration) to "be safe" and to have a successful
marriage. Only a person with adequate shlaimus can be half of a couple that has shlaimus.
A couple with shlaimus can make a contribution to the world (beyond the marriage itself).
As a practical matter, you can't do things out of order and succeed. Only when these three
"Shlaimus stages" (1. self, 2. marriage and 3. community) are properly sequenced
in their place, prioritized and operational; there can be blessing and success. When a
couple are bonded, G-d is bonded with them. G-d treats one the way one treats a spouse.
Crucial to success is 1. bringing a reasonably developed self to marriage, 2. then adding
up to a functional couple and 3. then proceeding to a productive life; both growing
together and contributing to service of Hashem and the Jewish world thereafter.
PART FIVE - RAYIM AHUVIM: THE COUPLE AS LOVING FRIENDS
In the wedding ceremony, a couple is
refered to as "rayim ahuvim" (loving friends). It is axiomatic and
self-understood in Judaism that being married and being friends are synonomous. However,
one of the elements that I most often see missing in troubled couples, in my marriage
counseling work, is the absence of any sense of friendship, loving or otherwise, in the
couple. Therefore, in this article, I shall address the aspect of marriage that has to do
with the couple being best of friends. This can make any marriage, regardless of its
present situation, better.
A friend is someone you can talk your heart
out with, be emotionally secure of and appreciated by and someone you can be yourself with
(minus hurtful faults, deeds and habits). You share your lives as if they are one. You
respect each other as if the absense of respect, or the presence of disrespect, do not
exist in our universe.
It stands to reason, then, that the couple
who are friends will talk every day about how their day went, what they are stressed or
hurt or frightened or troubled or sad with and how they each can support, strengthen and
comfort each other. The talk occurs freely, without reservation nor embarrassment, on a
steady basis on all or most days. Each shows approval of the other, is not critical and
strives to reply as wisely, compassionately, "on-target" and helpfully as
Topics to be discussed include what
occurred during each one's day as well as all subjects which involve them both, such as
the children, sizable and necessary purchases, maintaining the home, "life
Besides this, the couple makes a point to
spend so-called quality time together. This can be a problem because in some families,
especially large ones, it seems that there isn't even time to breathe. So let me divide
this point, depending on certain criteria.
If the marriage is new or is troubled, the
couple must make time together and this must be on a steady basis. It is the commitent to
that time which will be the most important and constructive component. Each must know that
the other "owns" that time, as steady as a rock, in order to achieve the
constructive impact that spending the time together contributes. The couple will use the
time to enjoy each other's company, like a dating couple or, to be on my point, like best
of friends. They will be themselves and try to make the time as pleasant and rewarding as
possible FOR THE OTHER! The time must be spent so that, after the system falls into place,
1. each EAGERLY looks forward to it, considering it a highlight of life and of the
marriage, and 2. each feels progressively more warmth and attachment to the other as a
result of the sessions. Activities can be whatever makes BOTH happy (at least somewhat;
or, alternatively, makes one happy this time and the other happy the next time) and allows
them to do the activity together (eating out, taking a walk or drive, miniature golf, a
boat ride, museum, whatever). It should not be allowing the other to sit there while one
does something meaningful to him or her alone. The goal is quality time, not giving the
other permision to be in the same room with you. I stress that the regularity is one of
the most important elements of this program. It should occur in new or troubled marriages
at least once every week, more is OK, less is not. Individual appointments or regular
times cannot be broken unless there is a genuine and serious emergency. Skipped sessions
MUST be made up as soon as possble, so that the count of sessions is not diminished (it is
only a bit redistributed). The quality time program must be a life priority for both
people for the effect to be achieved and the goal successfully achieved.
In the busy, large family, where the couple
has no significant marital troubles, the quality time may have to be on a "catch as
catch can" basis. The ability to meet regularly for quality time sessions may just
not be there. In such a case, the couple will spend quality time on those once-in-a-while
occasions when circumstances permit, perhaps for a shabos away or a longer vaction. The
longer format can make up for the longer intervals between "quality time
sessions" and for their relative infrequency.
When you are with your best friend, you
never have to think twice about how to express something that matters to you. With your
spouse, you should also feel at one with yourself, as well as with each other. When there
is something on your heart or something you want to discuss, you should never be inhibited
or embarrassed about doing so. A couple should share and discuss just about all things in
their lives. There are some exceptions required by halacha. For example, a spouse may not
1. tell over lashon hora (slanderous speech) that one heard, 2. tell something told in
absolute confidence and privacy by another person, 3. reveal a sin of one's youth on which
the person did tshuva (return/repentance) and which has no application since the time when
the person became married or 4. reveal a problem which is not life-impacting about which
the other would worry and could not offer any practical help. If it is not a thing which
is a halachic exception, the couple should freely share and communicate about all which is
going on in their lives. The norm would be to speak together - it is the exception when
Some people forget that the basics of all
interpersonal relationships apply in marriage also! for example: ono'as devorim (the
prohibition against hurting feelings), derech eretz (civil, thoughtful and polite
behavior) and "love your fellow Jew as yourself." Some people make the mistake
on the latter by saying if I like/dislike a certain thing I will treat the other the same
way. The other may have different feelings or taste. Loving the other as yourself requires
that the person who enjoys symphony recordings gives the other the parsha tapes that the
other likes to listen to. Give the other as much pleasure as you get with symphony
recordings by giving parsha tapes. Do not insist on giving your spouse symphonies. You may
give yourself pleasure, but you will make the other suffer. That is NOT love. That is not
a friend. A loving friend makes the other happy, comfortable and satisfied.
If the other is hurt, disappointed, sad or
uncomfortable; you should feel as bad for the other as the other feels for himself. That
is a measure of genuine love. This applies all the moreso when you are the cause of your
spouse's hurt. If either one wrongs the other, with or without intent, one must apologize
and go through the four steps of tshuva sincerely and immediately. The four steps for an
interpersonal tshuva are: 1. feel genuine remorse, 2. admit what you did wrong, 3. commit
to never doing the wrong again and 4. appease the person, doing what it takes to
"make it up" and enabling him or her to "forgive and forget" so that
you can both move on as if nothing bad ever happened.
The successful couple views itself as a
"team" or "alliance." Life requires many roles from married couples.
The gemora [Bava Metzia 59a] says that the man is in charge of religious matters and the
wife is in charge of household matters. In other things, the one who is strongest or best
equipped to tackle that role or task should be the one to do so. When I speak in public
for audiences, I give the analogy of a baseball team. The first baseman loses when the
second baseman loses. The catcher is out of the game if the pitcher won't throw his balls.
Everyone wins or loses together and must play together as a joint effort for the good of
the team. Marriage requires numerous functions and responsibilities. They must be done. If
a couple quibbles over who should or should not do whatever duty or task, the couple loses
the benefits of that task. The division of roles should never be a cause of fighting. I
know of two female frum doctors who cook and serve shabos meals like any other wife. Both
husbands have salaried jobs. These wives never berate their husbands for being less than
doctors. Each member of these two couples occupy the roles appropriate to them and in
which they each are most effective. They share caring for the house and children, so that
these couples don't argue - they function. Whenever there are differences, mature couples
have means of resolution that is considerate, fair, effective and two-sided. Whenever
possible, they avoid conflicts in the first place. One will voluntarily give in one time,
the other the next time, or they will come up with a creative and good-natured option that
eliminates all or most of the negatives and essentially retains the necessary and positive
elements of the issue at hand.
Being loving friends is an intrinsic part
of the Jewish marriage. Making this loving friendship something real and practical is a
very central and crucial part of the marriage relationship.
PART SIX - WISDOM ABOUT BUILDING A MARRIAGE FROM THE CHAZONE ISH
Whenever a Torah sage is referred to with a
phrase instead of his actual name, it is either the title of his most famous book, the
initials of his name, or a reference to a key attribute. "Chazone Ish" means,
"the image of man;" in other words, one who was such a tzadik and scholar that
he is the model of what a human being should be. This appellation was appropriately and
popularly applied to Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz (1878-1953), a paragon of Torah and
saintliness who wrote a major and brilliant work of Talmudic scholarship which he titled,
He emigrated from Europe to Bnai Brak,
Israel in 1933, thus surviving World War II and maintaining a precious link with Europe's
great pre-war Torah heritage. He became recognized as an authority on all matters of
Jewish life and law. Thousands streamed to his modest house, or wrote to him from all over
the world, for his advice, encouragement or Torah law rulings. Till this day, especially
in Bnai Brak, there are those who follow his teachings. Among the subjects he had been
asked for guidance on was shalom bayis. Primarily from private letters, some of his wisdom
on marriage survives. Selections of these form the basis for a good percentage of this
The Chazone Ish wrote to an engaged young
man, "Pay attention every moment to the fact that a wife has pleasure from being
attractive in her husband's eyes. Her eyes are always looking to him and she always hopes
that she is adored by her husband. She needs to be praised for her cooking the meals which
she serves and she brings to him every single day. If she hangs a picture on the wall or
places a plant on the table, she does all this for him and he is obligated to see and to
recognize good on every such occasion. He must speak to her about matters of the house and
of the children. All the time that he does not pay attention to her, to the matters of the
house, to her work and to her efforts and to her burdens, even if in things that he
considers to be small things, over the course of time, he is going to distance her from
him, and separate them apart from one another, and this will lead, more and more, to
fighting, Heaven forbid."
While household things seem small in a
man's eyes, they are life itself to a wife. The husband has to see and to recognize [note
that the Chazone Ish makes a point to use double language: "SEE AND RECOGNIZE"]
these things and her efforts regarding them. He has to understand the woman's mind and
needs. He has to constantly be diligent and sensitively responsive to his wife, her
efforts and burdens, her appearance and that of the house, her handling of the children.
Whenever the husband does not abide by this, the wife cannot feel fulfilled, at peace,
loved, respected or appreciated. She will feel pained, cheapened, put-off, provoked and
The Chazone Ish is making a central point.
Whereas a man may not be able to comprehend, if he lived to be a million, a flower pot to
be a big deal, the wife puts her heart into seeking an environment that he will approve
of, that she is responsible for, that she will be acknowledged and loved for. It's never
the flower pot. Her heart is on the line. He's understanding his wife's heart, hopefully
to love her heart with his. The Jewish home is for the perpetual practice of chesed
(active lovingkindness). The world is for the perpetual practice of chesed. How central to
life is practicing chesed with one's spouse and children! A wife's happiness can live or
die from her husband's responses to, and his view and treatment of, her.
This principle must be adapted to your
individual wife. For example, one man I know told me that he and his wife are very
spiritual. She does not think in terms of materialistic property. She would not be likely
to put potted plants in their home, so he would not have opportunity to recognize her for
"decorating" his livingroom to make his home attractive for him. In his case, he
would appreciate her keeping a chumra (Jewish law stringency) that is important to him,
doing kindness in the neighborhood, going steadily to Torah classes, praying with devotion
twice each day, caring for or training the children, cleaning or repairing clothes, using
her personal talents in productive or admirable ways, cooking what he likes or her working
on good midos. Each man must show love, appreciation and recognition for the things that
apply to his individual wife.
The Chazone Ish wrote that it is obligatory
for a husband to make his wife happy constantly, to show love and closeness and
endearment. When Pirkei Avos says, "Do not speak too much to a woman, including one's
wife," this is only for non-necessities or for that which is frivolous. "Do not
speak...wife" DOES NOT APPLY AT ALL DURING THE FIRST YEAR OF MARRIAGE, when the
relationship is solidifying; and this ALSO DOES NOT APPLY in any case that results in his
diminishing of kavod (honor, respect), closeness, derech eretz (civil, polite or
thoughtful behavior), unity, gentleness or peacefulness with his wife.
He MUST SPEAK with her about all needs of
life, of the home and of the children. When he goes out he must let his wife know when he
is leaving, where he is going, what he is going to be doing, when he plans to be back and,
when he comes back, he must say what he did, whether for big or small things. The Chazone
Ish teaches that these things convey concern, value, attachment, importance and respect to
If he goes away on a journey, he must,
every day, phone or write her a letter; and bring her gifts from the places that he
visited. If he deprives her in any such ways, she will feel bad and drive him crazy about
it "for seven years," meaning to say, for a long, long time.
The gemora [Tractate Chulin 58b] has an
aggadata [allegorical story]. "For seven years a female mosquito quarrelled with [her
"husband"] male mosquito. She said to him, 'I once saw a human being from
Mechuza [a town whose people enjoyed swimming] bathing in water. When he came out, he
wrapped himself in a sheet. You came and settled down upon him and sucked out blood and
you didn't let me know!'"
We see from this aggadata that a husband
must share the pleasures of life with his wife. He must not keep or sneak them for himself
and not hide from his wife what he does with his time.
Owing to the common reference (in the
Chazone Ish's letter and in the gemora) to "seven years," I suspect that the
Chazone Ish may have learned some of his "rules" for how a man should treat his
wife from the above gemora. Unless a husband's treatment of her is sterling, he will
"pay" for mistreating or shortchanging her by her making him suffer about it
"for seven years" [i.e. for a painfully long time!]. Conversely, if he treats
her with respect, care, affection and consideration; the marriage will be peaceful,
harmonious, happy and successful.
One time a visitor came to visit the
Chazone Ish, who had an uncharacteristically sad facial expression. The Chazone Ish
explained. A man with serious trouble came to him and he gave the man advice. The Chazone
Ish later heard indirectly from another person that the man applied the advice and was
very successful. He continued, "People think nothing of coming to tell me of their
tzoros [troubles] but they do not tell me of their happiness. This is why I am sad."
We learn from this to be very considerate of another's feelings, to share as much
happiness as we possibly can and to tell people good news or when things work out well.
Apply this with all people - especially your spouse (and any rov who you ask for help
Halacha (Torah law) governs every aspect of
life. There is a right thing to do and a wrong thing, a permitted thing and a forbidden
thing. Let us not forget that halacha applies to interpersonal relating and conduct in
general, and to that of marriage in particular. If married couples would refer their
questions and differences to a rov for direction or instruction, much strife and
unhappiness in marriage could be eliminated. The Chazone Ish said that the FIRST CRITERIA
FOR BEING A FRUM JEW is keeping ALL OF HALACHA. Let all Jews refer their issues, questions
or difficulties to halacha. Keeping ALL halachos, including the inconvenient or difficult
ones, is key to being a Torah observant Jew. In my marriage counseling work, I repeatedly
tell couples that their policy should be, "We don't have fights, we have shaalos
[rabbinical questions]." If they would apply this steadily, about 99% of all marriage
troubles would immediately disappear.
PART SEVEN - FROM THE WISDOM OF TALMUDIC SAGES ON MARRIAGE
Tractate Sanhedrin (76b) says that a
husband should adorn his wife with attractive jewels and ornaments, to make her more
respectable (this is a practical, concrete way of giving honor to his wife and making her
very happy, even though men may have trouble understanding why!).
Kidushin (34b) says, "It is a man's
obligation to make his wife happy."
A MARRIAGE IS FOR LIFE AND NOT FOR PAIN.
This Chazal makes it clear: if it hurts, it is not the Torah's idea of a marriage!
Marriage is for home, children, family, refuge from the world, mutual support and concern;
for building a functional and productive life. Marriage partners, by definition, are
instruments: for each other's happiness and well-being and for the achievement of each
one's purpose, goals, potentials and spiritual perfection. This gemora also says that a
wife should raise her man up and be responsible for her duties. A practical message here
is that a woman should never nag, criticize or "put down" her husband; or she'll
alienate his affection. She should constructively bring out his potentials. A husband must
share the benefits of his life (e.g. wealth or honor in the community) with his wife
Tractate Pesachim (113a) says that a man
should flay carcasses in the market place (hard, foul-smelling work) and earn honest wages
rather than say, "I am an honored and great man and this work is beneath my
dignity." No one is degraded by honest work. It is a mitzva to work to support a wife
and children (Shulchan Oruch, Evven HaEzzer, chapters 69-74) in an honest, self-sufficient
manner (exceptions do exist e.g. the husband is a Torah scholar who deserves to be
supported while he studies, or the wife came into the marriage independently wealthy, or
he has been debilitated by illness or injury - take practical questions to an experienced
The first step in producing a happy wife
is: not producing an unhappy wife. Let me bring several pertinent teachings from the
"Rav said, 'A man must always be
careful with the paining of his wife. Because her tears come readily, her pain comes
quickly.' A husband must honor his wife because blessing comes into the home only in the
merit of the wife. If there is not enough food in the home, a fight will follow"
[Bava Metzia 59a-b]. This last point brings us to the next Chazal.
The Midrash [Bamidbar Raba] tells us that
one who cheats in business will leave his ill-gotten money (by dying young) or his
ill-gotten money will leave him (e.g. doctor bills, losing investments, robbery, etc.).
The gemora tells us that when Rabbi Huna failed to pay a worker who he suspected of
stealing from him, his merchandise on the market became worthless. The sages told him that
even if he suspected that the worker stole, failure to pay his salary was not allowed and
his livelihood had been punished by Heaven. When Rabbi Huna paid the worker, his business
made a fortune [Brachos 5b].
Tractate Sota (17a) Rabbi Akiva explained
that when a husband and wife are worthy, the Divine Presence dwells with them and when
they are not worthy, fire burns them. Rava said that when the fire is caused by the woman,
it is worse, comes faster and is more punitive than the fire caused by the man. This is
learned by the fact that the first two letters of the word isha (wife) form the word aish
(fire) whereas the first two letters of the word ish (husband) do NOT form the word aish
[there is a letter "yod" in-between which means that ish is further away from
aish; i.e. a woman's ability to embitter a marriage is greater than a man's, e.g. if the
man neglects or disrespects her, or if she has a shrewish temperament].
Derech Eretz Raba (chapter eleven) teaches
that "He who hates his wife is as one who murders."
Derech Eretz Zuta says, "Be humble and
beloved to all, and even moreso to your own household" (chapter three). "A house
with dissention is destroyed" (chapter nine).
Tractate Taanis (4a) says, "It is
obligatory that each Jew constantly train his personality to be gentle, as it says
[Ecclesiastes 11:10], 'Remove anger from your heart.'" This cryptic and fundamental
Chazal tells us that 1. anger and gentleness are opposite ends of a "midos
spectrum," 2. conquering anger, and getting to a full-time gentle temperament, is a
lifelong constant task, 3. it is normal to expect that one must work hard on removing
anger and becoming gentle and 4. this is a full-time obligation. This is especially so in
marriage, where people are close and live with each other daily.
Tractate Chulin (84b) says that a man
should eat and drink less than in accordance with what he can afford, dress himself in
accordance with what he can afford, and he should honor his wife and children more than in
accordance with what he can afford. The wife and children are dependent on the husband,
and the husband is dependent on the One Who Spoke And The World Was Created. The world is
kept in existence in the merit of the one who keeps restrained and silent at the time when
a fight comes...in the merit of the one who humbles himself (89a).
Tractate Shabos (62b) says that a man must
never give a wife cause to curse him, for a justifiable curse (e.g. not spending on her in
accordance with his means; or failure to give her enough attention, respect, appreciation
and affection) can bring poverty.
Tractate Shabos (118b) Rabbi Yosi called
his wife his "home," never "wife." Rashi explains that Rabbi Yosi
spoke with wisdom even in his plain speech. By referring to his wife as his
"home," he is adding a message that she is the essence, the central figure of
their house. Madrich LeChasonim [Guide To Grooms] explains Rabbi Yosi beautifully by
writing: the home is the essence of life, the wife is the essence of the home, therefore
the wife is the essence of life, to the husband. It seems appropriate to add that she
transforms a "building" into a "home" and into a refuge from the
world, wherein he may have fulfillment and independence.
Rabbi Yosi Haglili had a mean, sarcastic,
lying and angry wife who humilated and hurt him constantly. His disciples collected enough
money to pay her kesuba so that he could divorce her and marry a good woman. The nasty,
evil wife married the town watchman who, shortly after their marriage, became blind and
incapable of working. She had to lead him around town and collect charity, as her
punishment from Heaven. Since he knew the town, he asked his wife why she did not lead him
to the house of Rabbi Yosi Haglili, who he knew lived nearby and was known to give much
charity. She admitted that she was his divorced wife was too ashamed to face him. He began
to beat her and her screams brought a crowd. Rabbi Yosi Haglili heard the commotion. When
he found out what the situation was, he provided a room for them and supported both of
them for the rest of their lives [Beraishis Raba 17:3]. Note that if Rabbi Yosi Haglili
was generous, forgiving and non-vengeful with his former sadistic wife, kal vichomer [how
much moreso] must one be generous, forgiving and non-vengeful with one's present spouse -
especially if he or she is not a certified sadist!
The Talmud (Yevamos 63a) quotes Elijah the
prophet as saying that a man's job is to grow wheat and bring it home and his wife's job
is to cook it into edible food; his job is to grow fiber and to bring it home for his wife
to sew it into wearable clothes. We see - on the strength of prophesy! - that a man and
woman have different and complementary jobs. They are different. Their differences are
designed by G-d and all have purpose. Their differences are not designed for conflict;
their differences are designed to enable the man and woman to come together as two
different halves who add up to a complete, functioning and peaceful whole. Different
players in a ball game add up to a team so they can win the game. Different players in a
marriage add up to a "team," with their different natures and roles, so they can
win the "game" of life.
When a woman obeys her husband, even for
silly things, she merits having two sons who will be chachomim [wise and learned; Nedarim
66b]. "What was it about Yael that salvation came through her [when Israel was
attacked by Sisra; Judges, chapter four]? The sages said, 'She was a kosher wife who does
the will of her husband.' From this the sages said, 'You have no kosher wife except she
who does the will of her husband' [Yalkut Shoftim 4:42]." For a wife to do the will
of her husband is brought as halacha [Ramo, Evven Ho'Ezzer 69:7].
The gemora [Megila 31:b] tells us "If
mature people say to you, 'Destroy,' and youth say to you, 'Build,' destroy and do NOT
build, because destroying by the mature is building." More and more young couples
these days are running into serious marriage troubles, or breaking up, sooner and sooner
after their marriage. One or both will be rigid, one-sided, have "all the
answers" or otherwise be difficult or impossible to reason with. They will be certain
that destructive behaviors are valid. But when young people think they are building, they
can be totally destructive. It is only by accepting, internalizing and acting according to
the constructive wisdom and experience of mature and learned people that they will behave
properly...and truly be able to build.
PART EIGHT - THE VOICE OF WISDOM FROM POST-TALMUDIC SAGES
Rambam (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon) writes
(Hilchos Ishus, chapter 19) that a husband must never frighten a wife, must always speak
gently with her, and never be depressed or excited with her. He must always respond to her
when she speaks to him. He must spend for jewelry and clothing for her, especially for yom
tov (holidays). The more wealthy he gets, the more he should spend on her.
G-d created male and female to give both
goodness, pleasure, commitment from each other and companionship; creating her to be a
help to him in life and to be considered a part of him. The wife must love and serve the
husband. He must give love, respect, compassion, protection, affection and material
support to his wife [Arba Turim, Introduction to Evven Ha'Ezzer].
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, satisfaction and happiness of the other. They develop the
ability to be pleased with what the other can give. They are realistic about what the
other can give and are good-natured towards each other. They each receive ALL THAT IS
POSSIBLE and they each 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.
Pela Yo'etz writes (in the section on
"zivug [getting married]"), that the marriage which operates by following the
Torah and its sages is the marriage which will be blessed by G-d and be happy. This couple
will have a pleasant, calm, fortunate and good life; and will have a sweet lot in olam
habo (eternal life).
The wife HERSELF must serve food, set the
table, remove food and utensils after meals and make his bed. If they can afford a
servant, the servant may launder clothes, cook and bake. If work, housekeeping or tending
to children do not fill up her day, the wife is not allowed to be idle or waste time. A
woman must use her time productively. She cannot demand that her husband spend beyond his
means for household help. He must provide for her medical needs as long as he is married
to her and he must accomodate her need for extra or different foods while she is pregnant
or nursing [Shulchan Oruch, Evven Ha'Ezer, chapters 79-80]. Each must stay distant from
anything which might lead to infidelity or causing of jealousy and each must never look at
another member of the opposite gender in a manner of enjoyment, staring or personal
interest [Rishonim and Poskim]. Neither may view the other as a servant nor as inferior.
Each should voluntarily want to fulfill responsibilities to the other and do so with
ongoing honor, care and consideration.
When her husband is angry, the wife should
calm him; when he is hurt, she should soothe him; when he has been done bad to, she should
comfort him; when he is worried, she should restore him; when he is pressured, she should
minimize requests; and cancel her will for her husband (Shlaw HaKodesh). She should
diminish his sadness, his worry or anything which is hard on his heart (Shaivet Mussar).
Rabbi Akiva Eiger was a very busy man. In a
letter, he wrote that after a full and hard work day, he would make a point to speak to
his wife until midnight each night. They would discuss Torah philosophy and observance. He
considered her opinions, regarded her with dignity, attributed importance to her input. He
appreciated her character and intellect. He also, in that letter, praised her for
shielding him from monetary worries, allowing him to engage in Torah scholarship (The
letters of Rabbi Akiva Eiger).
In "Igerress HaKodesh (Holy Letter, on
marriage, attributed to Ramban, Rabbi Moshe Nachmanides)," we see something beautiful
about marriage: Great is the husband's obligation to nurture the relationship of love and
of closeness between a husband and his wife, every day, every year, in every circumstance,
in every attitudinal environment, until the end of his life.
The Torah requires that we give kindness
and compassion, even when actual participants in disputes. We see this from the following
case in Jewish law.
Basically, Jewish law prohibits causing any
damage. However, it is argued in the Rishonim [early authorities] whether one who will
have a very major loss may save himself by causing another person a very minor loss, on
condition that he pays the other for the loss. As an example if A has a container with
valuable honey and B has a container with cheap wine, and the container with the honey
springs a slow leak, can A say to B, "Spill out your three dollar wine, I will pay
you for it, and let me salvage my thousand dollar honey with your container." The
Ramo (Shulchan Oruch, Choshen Mishpot 264:5) says that some Rishonim require that the
owner of the cheap wine spill it out for the benefit of the owner of the valuable honey,
while other Rishonim rule that the owner of the honey has absolutely no right, even for
reimbursement, to require that the owner of the cheap wine incur any loss or damage (e.g.
the wine may have sentimental value or be difficult to replace).
Shulchan Oruch HaRav (Hilchos Shi'aila
Uschirus ViChasima, 6) beautifully resolves the impasse by writing that a "baal
nefesh (spiritual person)" will be stringent on himself and lenient on the other -
i.e. the person who is in jeopardy of losing the valuable honey should seek not to harm
the owner of the wine, and the owner of the wine should seek to save the honey for its
owner. The Jew cares about, and wants to do good unselfishly for, another Jew.
See how you can apply this in your life in
general, and in your marriage in particular. This is extra important when in a dispute,
especially one in which one party stands to be hurt or suffer loss in any way. The Jew's
obligation to have compassion for another applies even when people have differences.
The Kotzker Rebbe said that the yaitzer
hora [evil inclination] has two parts: 1. it makes the person sin and 2. it makes the
person believe the sin is a mitzva. If you have fights over "religion," make
sure you have true Torah sources to justify your position. If one uses religion to have
negative impact on another person, if his or her motivations are sincerely religious, the
person is called a "chosid shoteh [pious idiot]." A frum idiot can be very
neglectful and dangerous to others and seriously needs chinuch [Torah education] and the
straightening out of his or her priorities. If his or her motivations are malicious, the
person is called "rasha [evil]." Often, these days, a person who uses religion
to hurt himself or another has serious personality or mental problems. Such people need
help from a good mussar rebbi and an experienced private counselor. True Yiddishkeit is
NOT at any other person's expense or to any other person's detriment - it causes benefit
and happiness for others. It is characterized by responsibility, concern, consideration,
respect, giving, humility, honesty and kindness. A person who knows Torah and is vicious
or harmful to any other person is called a "chamor noseh seforim [a donkey carrying
books]." The Torah prohibits damage to people and property at all times, whether by
action or by passive neglect. A Jew must not be a "kailee lera [instrument of
bad]" against others, and all the moreso, against one's spouse and children. If one
uses religion to do evil against another, you can be sure the yaitzer hora and/or mental
illness has overpowered the person. A Jew is required to be a "kailee letov
[instrument of good]" to others and, all the moreso, to one's spouse and children.
Anyone who hurts another is plain evil. Generally, if something prevents or breaks peace,
it is not Torah and G-d has no part of it (take practical questions to a qualified rov).
If one's Yiddishkeit spreads benefit and happiness to others, especially those closest to
him or her, the person is a paragon of true Torah.
PART NINE - A JEWISH HOME IS CHARACTERIZED BY LOVE AND KINDNESS
One of the first criteria in one's Heavenly
judgement is how one treated his or her spouse during earthly life (Rabbi Chayim Veetal).
Hashem looks at people's good 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 one's
spouse and children, He does not pay close attention to how the person treats others well.
When Hashem is satisfied with how one treats those closest, He then examines and judges
how one treats the next level (those a bit further, then those further, level after level,
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. Hashem is neither
fooled by, nor interested in, people pretending to be tzadikim with strangers. First comes
one's spouse and children, then other relatives, etc. The closer people are, the higher
Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai was walking with
his disciple Rabbi Yehoshua past where the Bais HaMikdosh [Holy Temple] had stood. It had
just been destroyed by the Romans and they had witnessed the destruction. Rabbi Yehoshua
started crying. Rabbi Yochanan said to him, "Yehoshua, my son, why are you
"Because the House that gave us
atonement for our sins no longer exists."
"You don't have to cry. It says in the
prophet [Hoshea 6:6] that Hashem says, 'I want chesed, not sacrifices.' That tells us that
every time that someone does a chesed, Hashem furnishes as much atonement as the
sacrifices of the Holy Temple. Chesed is just as effective as the sacrifices to achieve
atonement (Avos DeRebi Noson 4:5)."
The power of doing chesed with your own
self, heart, energy, time and resources, is of such magnitude that it equals the atonement
that the Bais HaMikdosh achieved for us when it existed. Now that we don't have the Holy
Temple, we still have acts of kindness. Stop crying, start doing chesed!
Keep in mind that the Temple was destroyed
because of acts of petty, personal and purposeless hatred between Jews; Jews spoke lashon
hora (defamation, slander) against one another; and because each one demanded his rights
very strictly. The repair, obviously, comes from the reversing of these evils. Do acts of
lovingkindness, speak well and favorably about Jews and be strict for the rights of
others. We must be as good, loving, kind and generous to eachother as we possibly can be
at all times.
The Torah says, "Love your fellow Jew
as yourself [Leviticus 19:18]." Rabbi Akiva called this the most fundamental
principle in the Torah [Yerushalmi Nedarim 9:4]. Acts of kindness, forgiveness, patience,
generosity, encouragement and other good deeds and attitudes are mitzvos from the Torah
[De'Oraisa]. When one does a good deed for another Jew; when one overcomes the temptation
to do bad (bear a grudge, hurt, hate, slander, abuse, neglect, etc.); making the other
feel the way he would want to feel; he gets a mitzva de'Oraisa. Consider that, since the
destruction of the Holy Temple, we are missing many of the mitzvos from the Torah. When
was the last time you brought a korban Pesach [Passover sacrifice], brought netta revai
[the fourth year's produce], had atonement from the kohain gadol on Yom Kippur? We have
lost numerous mitzvos from the Torah due to the destruction of the Holy Temple. But every
time you do a loving deed, you can add Torah mitzvos and compensate for the absence of the
many mitzvos that we have lost due to the destruction of the Bais HaMikdosh. Keep yourself
busy with these interpersonal mitzvos as much as possible (balancing this with other
requirements of life). The closer people are to you, the more you should be busy treating
them lovingly. Make your spouse and children feel that you love them as much as yourself.
Each time you do, you get a mitzva de'Oraisa.
Michtav Me'Eliyahu compares becoming a
master of chesed to a profession. To become a master of a trade, one must study it at
length and learn all its facets. If you want to be a jeweler, you must study the quality
and shape of stones, how they fit into a ring, etc. If you want to be a bridge-builder you
must know what materials hold the weight of traffic and stand up to the wind. To be a
doctor you must study biology, chemistry, diseases, medicines and their side effects,
surgery, etc. To become a master of kindness, you have to study people's needs, feelings,
situations, sensitivities, etc. Applying this to marriage, you have to literally study
your spouse as a person - what makes him/her tick, feel good or bad, what is his/her
taste, when would (s)he rather be given support vs. left alone? Study the person you
married like there is a "graduate degree" for pleasing and getting along with
him/her, for being a "Ph.D. of chesed" with your spouse. Then, spend a lifetime
acting like a professional, an active and on-target master of kindness towards your
spouse. With effort and practice, you'll get better and better over time.
It is good policy for a husband to
frequently bring home presents, things that she would like, things that regularly make her
see thoughtfulness and that she is appreciated, things that make her know that he values
and loves her. If she likes ice cream, come home from work with a milk shake or cone. If
she would like a plaque that says she's the best wife or mother or homemaker, bring it
home from the stationary or gift shop. She should also get to know her husband's likes and
taste to find ways to please and accommodate him. If he is a "chocoholic," bring
your husband the chocolate he likes periodically. This policy does not necessarily require
spending any, or major, money. The point is to do things that are touching, that
"register," that are heartwarming and show thought and that convey great
importance to the other person. Do so on a regular enough basis so as to create TRUST that
this is the TRUE TONE AND BASIS OF THE RELATIONSHIP.
To put it another way, view marriage as two
people being each other's "happiness factory." In case this sounds corny or
idealistic, be reminded that it is a Torah obligation to make Jews happy (in ways, of
course, that accord with Jewish law). Any time you do anything that makes another Jew more
happy (or less unhappy), it is a mitzva (Sefer Ahavas Chesed). When any Jew needs help, it
is a mitzva to provide his needs. Whenever you do any mitzva for another Jew, it is
obligatory to do it derech kavod (with honor), with pleasantness and in the best way that
is in your power to do.
The closer anyone is to you, the higher
your obligations are and the higher the priority that person is. How much moreso, then, is
one obligated to make one's spouse and children consistently happy. Consider the happiness
of your spouse to be your number one priority or job in life. You might ask your rabbi to
help fill in details to "program" this in your individual situation. Determine
1. how to balance this with other life priorities and obligations, 2. how to implement the
plan so as to accord with Torah law and so as to be done effectively and 3) how to
"target" your efforts to genuinely pleasing and benefitting your individual
The Jewish home is for the perpetual
practice of kindness, love and honor. Often, it's the little things, or responsiveness to
your spouse's individual (or gender-based) feelings, personality or activities, that can
matter the most.
The prophet Jeremiah (9:22-23) writes,
"Let not the wise one praise himself for his wisdom, let not the strong one praise
himself for his strength, let not the rich one praise himself for his riches; but let the
one who will praise himself do so in this: that he understands and knows Me, that I am G-d
Who does lovingkindness, justice and generosity on the earth, because in these I delight,
These are two of the most beautiful verses
in the Prophets. G-d takes being good and fair to others quite, if I may say, seriously.
The message in these two verses is as strong as it is heartwarming. When I speak in public
on this, I ask my audiences, why does the prophet add "on earth?" Jeremiah's
prophesy is clear: don't be arrogant, don't be a braggart, don't be a pompous snob; be
nice, be kind, do the right things. When was the last time you were haughty on Jupiter?
When was the last time you were a saint on Saturn? What is being added that I wouldn't
otherwise know, so much so that the prophet had to specify "on earth?" Remember,
wordings in the Bible and Talmud are precise and significant.
If I am good, nice, angelic, righteous in
the abstract, it is worthless. Again, it must be ON EARTH. Kindness, justice, goodness
only matter in down-to-earth, practical, real-life situations; when deliverable to ON
EARTH "real live" recipients.
Further, the prophet is telling us that we
have no basis to be arrogant or self-aggrandizing. Intellect, power and wealth are gifts
given by G-d, for reasons known only to Him. He gives gifts to whom He sees fit. If you
must praise yourself for anything, praise yourself for what G-d likes: you steadily do
kindness, justice and goodness in daily life. Realize that people are an opportunity and a
test to practice the things in which G-d delights, and to influence others to practice
these things steadily and generously. Better yet, if you want to praise, praise G-d for
His generosity to you and realize that what He has given to you is for you to be
administrator over. Resources are to be used for the constant practice of lovingkindness,
justice and generosity ON EARTH. Gifts are RESPONSIBILITY, not food for bragging,
indulgence and self-aggrandizement. G-d is not looking at what you have. G-d is looking at
WHAT YOU DO WITH WHAT YOU HAVE. Will you BE and DO good TO others who are real-live people
in real-life situations ON EARTH, with your earthly resources? This is what would delight
G-d with you!
And, the closer someone is to you, the
higher the priority to BE and DO good TO him/her. And, there is no one closer than your
spouse and children. ON EARTH.
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. Your ability to love and give should
have enough quality and quantity to comfort and support your partner and see him or her
through the rough times and bring him or her back to a happy state of mind as much and as
soon as humanly possible.
The midrash (Yalkut Shimoni on Aishes
Chayil) tells of how Rabbi Meir's two sons died on the same day - on a shabos afternoon,
when Jewish law does not allow tending to the dead. He loved his sons very much. His wife
wisely broke the news to him in a gradual way. Upon learning that they died, she asked her
husband to learn that afternoon in the bais medrash [yeshiva], then to make havdala [the
ceremony which concludes shabos], then to have malava malka [the after-shabos meal]. She
then said to her husband that a deposit was entrusted to them. She asked him whether they
should return the deposit to the one who entrusted her with it, not revealing the identity
of the deposit. He replied that she certainly should return the deposit. She revealed to
him that their two sons were the deposit and they were claimed back by Hashem. This is, of
course, a model and inspiration for softening pain and consideration for a spouse's
feelings. This event is especially inspiring when you appreciate that they were her sons,
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, sweet, good and thoughtful you are to him/her. There are many
supports for this. For example, the Vilna Gaon tells us that doing good things for people
that the Torah requires is NOT chesed [kindness] because these are din [law requirement].
Only when you go "lifnim meeshuras hadin [beyond the measure of law]" of your
own volition is it coming from you and is, therefore, true kindness. If a person is
merciful, is bashful, and likes to do lovingkindness, that is evidence he is from the
Jewish people [Yevamos 79a].
Aside from this, we are required by the
Torah to emulate G-d: His traits and deeds ["Viholachta bidrochov,"
"Acharay Hashem Elokaychem tailaichu"]. He does wondrously [maflee la'asos] and
creates in His world amazing things such as food growing from tiny seeds, natural
processes, beautiful mountains and flowers and other wonders of nature. Rabbi Avigdor
Miller z'l said to appreciate that a fruit grows and Hashem turns it ripe to inform us
that it is ready to eat. G-d created the world with lovingkindness [Tehilim 89:3]. The
Torah begins and ends with acts of lovingkindness [Sota 14a]. In countless ways, G-d
provides kindnesses to mankind. Our obligation to emulate G-d requires each person in
marriage to voluntarily go beyond the requirements of law, extend him or her self and give
with their hearts till each is constantly amazed with the other.
These two principles, to be comforting and
amazing, establish how to measure how good, sweet, thoughtful and kind to be to your
All of the foregoing must always add up to
peace, and the quality and constancy of marital peace is the measuring rod by which all of
this must be judged. Till there is peace, you haven't even started work on your marriage.
PART TEN - MORE ON WARMTH AND KINDNESS IN THE JEWISH MARRIAGE AND HOM
The gemora (Kidushin 41a) says that the
reason it is required to see a person before marrying is because the Torah says,
"Love your fellow Jew as yourself (Leviticus 19:18)" and you have to go into
marriage knowing that you will HAVE TO AND BE ABLE TO LOVE THE PERSON YOU MARRY! Don't
ever forget. It is a mitzva to love and be nice to every Jew - INCLUDING THE ONE YOU
MARRY! Anyone who says that there is no love in a religious Jewish marriage doesn't know
what he or she is talking about.
Rabainu Bachya wrote that one's eternal
reward for any mitzva is determined ENTIRELY by the quality of the internal intentions and
feelings that one does it with.
Kindness is giving what a recipient wants,
and doing it in the nicest possible way. The other person's materialism is your
spirituality (Rabbi Yisroel Salanter). Does the person have all he needs, is there
anything you can do for him, is there anything you can give him? Kindness - whether with
your spouse, children or the community at large - is entirely determined by whether it is
good and pleasing for the recipient. It must be done with a warm, cheerful, enthusiastic
and respectful attitude. The same way that you would like to be loved, respected and given
to unconditionally, so does the next person; and the same way you must be zealous to do
G-d's will, and you must be zealous to not violate His will.
The prophet tells us [Micah 6:8],
"[G-d] has told you, human being, what is good and what G-d requires of you; that you
do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your G-d." Notice that we only have to
"do" justice. If Plony breaks your window, he has to pay for it but he does not
have to love doing it. WHEN IT COMES TO CHESED (ACTIVE LOVINGKINDNESS), YOU ARE REQUIRED
TO DO IT WITH LOVE! If that is hard for you, remember that you also have to WALK HUMBLY
WITH G-D - doing what He "requires of you."
Another prophet quotes G-d, "I want
kindness more than sacrifice [Hoshea 6:6]." The midrash (Yalkut # 522, on this verse)
says that acts of kindness that Jews do for each other are precious to G-d. Based on the
same verse, Rabbi Yochanon Ben Zakai says that every act of kindness done for a Jew makes
up for the atonement of the lost korbonos [sacrifices] of the destroyed Holy Temple [Avos
DeRebi Noson]. To create merit, EVERYTHING must be done with modesty, sincerity and
humility. Humble yourself and submit to the will of G-d to do all of His mitzvos - without
picking and choosing the ones that suit your convenience.
Tractate Taanis (23b) tells us that Aba
Chilkia was a tzadik. When there was a drought, the townspeople came to his home to ask
him to pray to Hashem for rain. He and his wife went to the roof and went to the opposite
corners to pray. The clouds formed over his wife (answering her prayer). The people asked
why the rain came in the merit of HER prayer (since he was a tzadik). He answered that
when he gives kindness, he does it by giving money to the poor. When his wife gives
kindness, she personally cooks and serves food herself, which has more merit. Acts of
kindness done by a person him or her self are more direct, immediate and meaningful than
In the seven wedding blessings we describe
spouses as rayim ahoovim (loving friends). We also say there that G-d created everything,
including marriage, for His kavod (honor). In everything you do in your marriage, DOES IT
HONOR AND SERVE G-D? Do you ACT TOWARDS YOUR SPOUSE WITH KINDNESS, LOVE, FRIENDSHIP,
GENEROSITY, COMPASSION, RESPECT AND HUMILITY? Can you consider each other best and closest
Menoras HaMeor writes that to be blessed
with good children, the couple must truly, purely and exclusively love each other, in
conjunction with sincerely wanting good children. "Yaakov worked seven years for [to
be able to marry] Rachel but these [years] were in his eyes like a few days because of how
much he loved her (Genesis 29:20)."
If a home truly has a kindness atmosphere,
it will develop into a steady center for mitzvos; such as: shiyurim (Torah
classes/lectures), vaados (groups that regularly gather to perform mitzva projects e.g.
work on lashon hora or midos, saying Tehilim or arranging practical care for the sick,
matchmaking local singles or fund raising for charities), hospitality for guests, etc.
My maternal grandparents, z'l, were huge
baalei tzadaka and chesed (givers of charity and kindness). For example, on shabos there
were typically six to eight guests at their meals and on Pesach there would literally have
been dozens of guests at their seder, with table after table lined up from the dining room
to the living room, hosting as many as about 40 or 50, including people who had no other
place to go or who were unreligious and would not have attended a kosher seder otherwise.
My grandfather, Moshe (Morris) Schwartz of the Bronx, made a very good living, but after
what he needed to live and take proper care of his family, he very warmly, generously,
cheerfully and continuously gave the rest of his money away to yeshivos, orphanages, shuls
and other tzadakas in the U.S. and Israel. He volunteered and gave his time and abilities
generously for very many organizations too.
One shabos in 1942, Akiva Predmesky, z'l,
the rabbi of my Zaida's shul, Williamsbridge Jewish Center, announced a building campaign,
because the shul needed to expand, and he requested pledges. My Zaida pledged $6,000
(which in 1942 was a phenomenal amount, perhaps half a million in today's dollars).
The next day, the rabbi was in his office.
My grandparents knocked, then entered. My Zaida handed the check to Rabbi Predmesky, who
was stunned. Normally he had to wait six months and he only then got the check after
chasing the donor. Here was a SIGNIFICANT CHECK THAT WAS VOLUNTARILY WALKED IN BY THE
DONOR THE VERY NEXT DAY after pledging! He asked my grandmother, "Mrs. Schwartz, this
is a large amount of money. Are you in agreement with this?"
My grandmother replied, "Some men like
to spend their money by going to Florida. If this is what makes my husband happy, this is
what makes me happy."
They were married in 1926, before my Zaida
succeeded with his wholesale kosher meat business in New York City, Mizrach Kosher
Provisions. They had gotten to the United States separately from the Ukraine shortly
before the 1924 immigration quota was legislated. Most of my grandmother's family left the
Ukraine after her and they were closed out by the quota. They had to settle in Canada.
While engaged, my grandmother started crying deeply. My grandfather asked her why. She
said she was pained by the fact that only one sister was in New York able to come to her
wedding. Her other siblings and her parents were in Toronto (travel in 1926 was not
convenient or cheap). My grandfather told her strongly and assuringly, "Don't you
worry. They're all going to be here!" At the time he was a salaried working man, and
a Yiddish-speaking immigrant too, but, to make his kallah happy, he cheerfully and at his
own expense, provided her entire family with round trip train fare, places for all of them
to stay in New York City and nice clothes for the chasuna. These two anecdotes remind me
of how my grandparents were extremely warm and kind.
When my Zaida Moishee (as we affectionately
called him) was an elderly man, and a widower living alone, he gave up driving. By then he
had moved from his house into an apartment building and lived on the third floor. But,
whenever he asked me to drive him someplace, he would go downstairs and wait for his ride.
He would stand on the sidewalk, never "standing on ceremony," because it was not
right to impose on someone doing you a kindness, to make him park in New York City or to
make him wait for you. Zaida came from a tradition of kindness. His father, my
great-grandfather, was a merchant and the only well-off Jew in his Ukrainian
"shtaitl." He had about 75 cows, not for business. They were exclusively used to
give free milk, butter and cheese to the numerous poor Jews of the town by my
great-grandmother. May we, in our cold, rushed and complicated generation, have the merit
to be as kind, responsible, considerate, soft, loving, cheerful and rich in basic good
midos and derech eretz as our forebears were in "the good old days."
PART ELEVEN - RESPECT IS PREREQUISITE FOR PEACE
The gemora (Yevamos 62b) says that a man
loving his wife as much as himself and 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. You adapt your
conduct 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". Under "normal" conditions, when a
husband will 1. love his wife as much as himself and 2. have more kavod for the his wife
than for himself, the wife will respond likewise with love and respect for him. Then, the
relationship will remain peaceful [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]. 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.
In a six-week seminar I ran for
marriage-minded singles at a shul, I discussed this gemora. One fellow asked how to
practice this respect and honor that I kept emphasizing. So, I took a survey and asked the
women around the room to tell the men what they feel. The women, fairly consistently,
basically said that they: * wanted the man to show that he is thinking of her, * wanted
the man to show that she is important to him, * valued presents - not because of the
spending of money (it could be hand made [no money] or very inexpensive) - it would show
that he took time and that she is on his mind and is important to him, * wanted the man to
discuss things so as to show that she is a factor in his life, decisions, concerns, etc.,
* wanted courtesy and consideration. This survey matched teachings of Chazal, Chazone Ish
and other sages we've heard from throughout this series.
Chazal and gedolim refer to various things
that matter to a woman which a man might not comprehend or value but which he nevertheless
MUST RESPECT AND BE ATTENTIVE TO ON HER TERMS, including, for example, jewelry, clothes,
decor of the home, where they live, always having enough food in the house, and his
treating her at all times with love, appreciation and honor. Just because you can't see
justification for your spouse's wants, taste, mentality or feelings, that does not mean
they are not there. IT IS YOUR UNDERSTANDING THAT IS NOT THERE. If, in such matters, you
act based on your own thinking, a fight is guaranteed to come.
The gemora paraphrased above (Yevamos 62b)
tells us that a marriage will have peace if the man gives more honor to his wife than he
gives himself. If his behavior honors her and satisfactorily addresses her feelings, she
will perceive his treatment as honoring towards her because she - not selfishness, his ego
or his male thinking - determines how he behaves towards her. If his wife is
psychologically normal, she will grow to trust him and will give honor back to him of her
own volition. If this procedure is maintained consistently, and both constantly honor each
other and seek to please each other and treat each other as "weighty" and
important, Chazal promise that the result will be sustainable peace.
[The Torah's] ways are pleasant and all of
its paths are peace [Proverbs 3:17]. For behavior to be "Torah behavior," it
must be BY DEFINITION pleasant and peaceful. Being pleasant to another person must conform
with what it takes for that other to consider it pleasant - not what you impose from your
own thought process. This is often a serious mistake in marriages, even ones that are
decades-old. Behavior in marriage must please the other. If it doesn't, that behavior must
be adapted and changed. You honor that person by defining behavior which impacts that
person by THAT OTHER PERSON'S DEFINITION OF PLEASING AND SATISFACTORY BEHAVIOR AND SUCH
THAT IT RESULTS IN SUSTAINED PEACE WITH THAT PERSON.
The gemora (Bava Metzia 58-59) has a long
discussion about the seriousness of paining another's feelings (particularly with hurtful
words or by embarrassing). Chazal make a point there to emphasize that a woman's feelings
are much more quickly hurt than those of a man, that a Jewish husband must be diligent to
guard against hurting his wife's feelings and that, instead, he must actively and
constantly honor her. Even a little remark can have massive impact on a wife's vulnerable
feelings - for good or bad - and a man may have no idea of how much he is saying...in her
perceptions. A husband has to be very careful. A slight comment can cause pain or
happiness. The fact that he has no understanding of how or why MAKES NO DIFFERENCE. If he
makes a mistake, let him apologize immediately upon finding out and willingly change the
behavior at fault. MARITAL RESPECT IS A FULL-TIME JOB.
When conflicts occur between kavod
[respect, honor] for a spouse and kavod for a parent or in-law, there are very specific
halachos for these situations. When such conflicts present themselves in the course of
life, one should ask a shaalah [Jewish law question] to a qualified rov who is an expert
in the subject matter. Parental difficulties qualify for the same experssion that I use
for conflicts between spouses: don't have fights...have shaalos!
I will summarise some of the halachic
principles involved, so that you have a better idea when to ask a shaalah (do not poskin
or decide on your own without a rov).
When a woman gets married, her strict Torah
law obligation for honoring parents is discontinued so, if there ever is a conflict
between honoring husband or parent, she is to honor her husband (this is not license for a
neurotic husband to command respect from his wife at the expense of her parent). Since any
spouse [man or woman] must honor parents-in-law, since all Jews are obligated in honor of
other Jews, and since we want to optimize peace and derech eretz [civil, polite thoughtful
behavior] between all Jews, the general practice is for both spouses to honor both sets of
parents in-law. The only time in actual practice that a wife favors honor for her husband
over a parent is when there is a considerable conflict. When a husband gets married, his
honor obligation to his parents is unchanged. If there ever is a conflict between the
honor due his wife and due his parent, or if there is any threat to peace, a shaalah must
be asked of a qualified rov.
Parents in-law are not allowed to hurt any
Jew, speak lashon hora (slandering speech) or be guilty of any other bain odom lichavairo
(interpersonal) sins. When they hurt or abuse a child or child-in-law, they are guilty of
the sin in the same way that one is guilty for hurting ANY person. If the sin provokes the
child to a sin (in return), the parent is additionally guilty of machshol (causing another
to sin), breaching peace, being a rodaif (pursuer, assailant) and being a mazik (cause of
damage). If a parent damages the property of a child, or hits a child after the child
reached adulthood, the parent can be taken to bais din [Torah court] by the child, the
same way any other Jew can bring a case to bais din for a halachic [Torah law] cause. If a
parent is unbearable or out of control, the halachic recourse is to discontinue contact
(e.g. leave town, don't take the abusive parent's calls, etc.). This way the child
protects himself from abuse, harm or suffering, without any active disrespect.
Rabbi Moshe Bick, z'l, was a noted Torah
law expert. He cited bad midos and parental meddling as the two biggest causes of divorce.
Parents must exercise restraint and discretion when acting in any way that can instigate
quarrel in a child's marriage or harm a child's shalom bayis [marital peace] in any way.
Parental meddling can seriously damage the lives of their children and grandchildren. This
is MORE evil and cruel than inflicting any harm on anyone else, since the closer someone
is to one, the higher the obligation to be good to that person. Husband and wife are
obligated to respect each other and have peace with each other at all times. A match is
part of Heaven's design for the world and marriage is holy (its inauguration is called
"Kidushin" [sanctification]). Without halachic justification, as stated by a rov
or dayan, tampering with shalom bayis is tampering with Hashem, playing with fire, risking
the ruining of generations. The Torah requires profound kavod [respect] by each spouse
towards the other. It should go without saying that abuse of a spouse, by the other
spouse, is one of the greatest violations of marital, as well as bain odom lechavairo
[interpersonal], obligations. The famed kabalist, R. Chayim Veetal, says that when one
does constant mitzvos with strangers, but he or she mistreats or neglects anyone in
his/her immediate family, the punishment from Heaven will vastly overweigh the reward for
all of the kind deeds.
The more that (psychologically sound)
people promote peace and respect in others, the more sensitive to these, and better at
them, they become in their own life. Therefore, it will help one's own shalom bayis to
help promote respect and peace in other couples. This does not include manipulators,
neurotics, abusers and others with sick or damaged personalities. They learn to live on
two levels. They can pretend to be things they are not, so much so that they fool
themselves. They can act beautifully with strangers and be monsters in their own personal
lives. They promote their own insecurity or personality illness when they pretend on the
surface level to be things they truly are not.
To the extent possible, we should promote
peace, with every couple we possibly can, even with couples who have been married for many
decades. When the three angels visited Avraham, they complimented Sara to endear Avraham
to her (Rashi to Genesis 18:9). At that time, Avraham was 99 years old and Sara was 89. It
is never too late to promote peace. The following midrash shows that Avraham understood
honor for his wife very well on his own!
Beraishis Raba teaches how a husband should
take care of a wife. The Torah writes (Genesis 12:8) that Avraham prioritized his wife
before himself. Avraham traveled and pitched "oheloH (his tent)." In Hebrew, the
suffix "H" makes a noun possessive in the feminine gender (i.e "her"
object). The masculine possessive comes with the vowel "O" as a suffix (i.e.
"his" object). The Torah in Genesis 12:8 uses the strange combination of vowel
"O" and the consonant "H" with the noun "ohel (tent)." The
translation of the text as spoken is "his tent," and the translation of the text
as written is "her tent." So what is the meaning of the Torah's placing of this
unusual "O" and "H" together, using one letter that could be read two
possible ways? The midrash explains that Avraham first pitched the tent of Sara, his wife,
before he pitched his own. We see this because the "H" is a consonant, which is
more dominant in Hebrew grammar than a vowel ("O"). The Torah is teaching us
that whenever a husband needs to do something for himself and his wife, he must take care
of his wife's needs first. This will apply to all forms of help, respect, kindness and
consideration for his wife.
The Arizal said to Rabbi Moshe Kordevaro
that he had ruach hakodesh [Divine knowledge] that if the two of them (who were very holy
men) went (from their town of Tzfas, Israel) to Jerusalem right away, they would bring
Moshiach. Rabbi Kordevaro said that he would just tell his wife that he is leaving for
Jerusalem. When he came back, ready to leave, the Arizal said that, in the time he took to
say goodbye to his wife, the opportunity passed and it was too late. Rabbi Yisroel
Salanter, the "Father of the Mussar Movement," said that we see from this that
you cannot bring Moshiach if it means doing so on the "cheshbon" of one's wife.
It was more important that Rabbi Kordevaro give respect to his wife than bring Moshiach
with the great Arizal!
A while after the Chafetz Chayim lost his
first wife, he married again. Once, when an older man, he built his sukka in a certain
location behind his home. After he finished the sukka, his second wife said, "I think
it would be better over there." Without a word, he agreeably took the sukka apart and
rebuilt it in the other location to which she referred. Then she said, "You know, you
were right the first time. It's better where it was." Again, without any grumbling,
the elderly Chafetz Chayim dissembled the sukka a second time and built it again in the
original place. During the entire time, he was calm and patient, without any anger over
the time and energy he lost. Being the Chafetz Chayim, he could have used the time writing
seforim (holy books) or learning Torah and involved in "rumo shel olam [the heights
of existence;" Sefer Shalom Bayis]. How much moreso must we, who are less likely to
be "movers and shakers" of Torah and spiritual contribution, be patient,
anger-free and respectful in marriage! Take a lesson from the Chafetz Chayim in honoring a
wife and in shalom bayis.
PART TWELVE - ACKNOWLEDGING AND APPRECIATING YOUR PARTNER
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.
A husband must express appreciation to his
wife for things which she does around the house in general and does for him in particular.
The Chazone Ish writes that she is constantly looking to her husband to sensitively
recognize the things that she does for him, for the home and for children. Never assume
that your wife understands that you appreciate her and the things she does. The gemora
says that "unexpressed words are not words [Kidushin 49b]." The midrash says,
"Words between yourself and G-d can be forgiven but words between yourself and
another person cannot be forgiven until you make it right by appeasing the person
[Sifra]." You must actively and sincerely express appreciation for all things that
your spouse does for you, your home or children.
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. A person without appreciation thinks he himself, not G-d, is solely
responsible for his achievements and acquisitions. The ingrate puts himself into G-d's
position and 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
Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer, Rosh Yeshivah
of Aitz Chayim in Jerusalem between 1925-1953, was invited to the bar mitzva of a former
student. It struck him that about 20 years went by since the talmid had his own bar
mitzva. He said to the talmid, "Thank you." His talmid asked him why. Rabbi
Meltzer said, "Seeing you made me ask myself, 'What have I done with my last 20
years?'" I had a hirhur tshuva [inspiration to do repentance] for not doing enough
with the time G-d gave me. Because of you, I had the merit of doing the mitzva of
tshuva." We see from this that we are obligated to appreciate even indirect or
intangible benefits from another.
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 everyone must
express thanks himself. One should not use an intermediary to express appreciation that he
If one must appreciate something inanimate,
intangible or indirect, how much moreso when you have what to appreciate from a person!
You owe that person extremely good treatment. You are obligated to return good to the
person who gives good to you. This is especially so with the person you are married to,
who does things for you every day.
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 how lucky and grateful you are for being married to him/her.
Chazal (Derech Eretz Raba) say that a
husband who makes his wife feel hated is a murderer. It is a woman's nature that a wife
needs to feel appreciated, recognized, needed, loved, respected and wanted by her husband.
It is vital that he act and live with this in his mind at all times. If, for example, he
does not like a dish that she cooked and wants her to not serve it to him again, his first
and foremost message must be that he appreciates that she spends time and energy shopping,
shlepping the groceries and ingredients home, seasoning and preparing the recipe, cooking
in a hot kitchen (while tending to children, laundry, the doorbell and ringing phone!) and
serving the meal - all for him. If he criticizes her meal, it will be like emotionally
killing her. Women in marriage counseling repeated claim to be in unbearable and intense
emotional pain when a husband fails to appreciate her and her work on his behalf, is
unresponsive or disrespectful to her or ignores her needs or feelings. Each partner must
never take the other for granted.
The gemora (tractate Kesubos 62b-63a)
recounts how Rabbi Akiva's wife sacrificed to enable him to learn Torah and how he honored
and appreciated her. Rabbi Akiva, one of the greatest sages of the Talmud, grew up knowing
no Torah. He was an uneducated shepherd. His employer's daughter recognized that he was
modest and of superlative character. She said that if he would learn Torah she would marry
him and he agreed. He married her and went away to yeshiva. Her wealthy father, infuriated
that his daughter would marry the shepherd, disowned her. She lived in abject poverty and
by herself for twelve years. When he returned, he had advanced to the point at which he
had twelve thousand disciples. When he was arriving home, he heard an old man say to his
wife, "How long will you live as a widow?" She replied, "I would have him
learn another twelve years." Rabbi Akiva said, "This is her will," and he
immediately about-faced and returned to yeshiva for another twelve years. When he returned
home, he had twenty-four thousand disciples. When she heard that Rabbi Akiva was finally
returning, she ran to meet him. Her clothes were those of a poor beggar and she fell on
her face to kiss his feet. His students, thinking that this strange woman was publicly
dishonoring their rabbi with immodest behavior, were about to push her aside. He told them
to leave her alone and said to them, "All of my Torah and all of your Torah is
Rabbi Hiya's wife constantly caused him
pain. However, whenever he found something she would like he would buy it, wrap it nicely
and bring it to her. When Rav heard of his practice, he asked Rabbi Hiya why he did it.
"We are required to appreciate our wives that they raise our children and save us
from sin (Yevamos 63a)." One of my rabbinical instructors, Rabbi Avraham Asher
Zimmerman, z'l, pointed out to me several lessons in this gemora. Rabbi Hiya judged his
wife favorably, never took revenge and recognized that she was not a perfect person but
she did have good attributes.
The verse (Proverbs 18:1) says,
"LeTaava yivakesh nifrad (self-indulgence will pursue isolation/separateness)."
If, in your relationships, you just do what you want, if you just act according to the way
you think, if you limit the definition of reality to what is in your head; you could end
up separated. Being out for yourself forces the creation of "apartness" because
you and the other person essentially become mutually exclusive. You make the other person
feel that your primary goal or interest is to take, to satisfy yourself. Taking leads to
degeneration and destruction of a relationship. No one was born just to feed the other's
needs. To the extent that the other falls short of a taker's needs, expectations or
demands, the taker is disinterested, frustrated or hostile. The other person can only be
left feeling disrespected, abused, shortchanged, unhappy, pushed away, used, depleted or
left-out. Knowing the taker isn't worthwhile. It could be downright painful and
humiliating. This is the opposite of marriage - devotion to each other.
The trait of hakaras tova (appreciation,
recognizing good) is a Torah imperative. In a relationship, it is a practical as well as a
Torah imperative. Each must feel that his or her qualities, traits, attributes and
contributions are fully and steadily recognized and appreciated. This (together with
feeling loved, respected and securely able to trust) is prerequisite for the couple's
satisfaction, sense of attachment and emotional fulfillment to be complete; especially for
the wife, for whom the need to feel appreciated, loved and respected is generally a
powerfully emotional force.
PART THIRTEEN - KEYS TO BUILDING A SERIOUS RELATIONSHIP
As a counselor, I see repeatedly that one
of the significant pitfalls causing marriage relationship trouble stems from the inability
of spouses to securely be themselves and have accepting responsiveness from each other.
Every human being has faults, insecurities and stresses. They are imperfect as people and
in their ability to handle certain stimuli.
In a healthy marriage, neither would ever
intentionally do anything to hurt the other, would feel terrible if ever either did, would
do tshuva immediately, make it up to the hurt party, the hurt one would "forgive and
forget" and they would move on.
In a healthy marriage, each person can feel
secure being his or her own true self and the other is positive and supportive about all
such issues (e.g. being oneself, fulfilling one's mission and potential in life). A spouse
who is not succeeding with livelihood, who lost a loved one, who was humiliated, had
aggravation or stress, is exhausted or had any life disappointment, could feel emotionally
crushed, drained or fragile. Real life is not just a bunch of fragrant roses and happy
times. During marriage, adversity and pain show themselves to either of the partners,
through no fault of the other partner.
If the other has a bad day, a tough life
situation or a vulnerability, a good spouse will be accepting, help build the other up,
help see the other through the difficulty and provide "back up." A good spouse
will understand, or at least work hard to come to understand, what the other is feeling
and going through. It is important to be able to articulate that you understand the
other's difficulty, to be encouraging, to give credit for and to feel proud about any
positive efforts the other is putting forth to cope with or deal with the situation.
If the other needs "space" (time
to be left alone), then that sometimes is the way to be supportive. Since backing off
altogether may be too passive and may be misinterpreted as abandonment in the other's time
of trouble, I suggest being "active passive." For example, if a husband had a
stressful day at work and asks to be left alone to read in the living room, I would tell
the wife to bring something he likes to nosh or drink on a napkin or dish and set it down
next to him without a word. She is showing care and support, showing that she is caring
and AVAILABLE should he want her, in a touching and considerate way, while leaving him
alone to come back to himself at his own pace. If the wife is stressed or exhausted and
needs to relax, the husband can, quietly and without fanfare, make the beds, wash dishes
or, if he can afford it, bring supper home from a restaurant. Neither should use stress as
an excuse to take advantage of nor to neglect the other. This principle applies when there
is "genuine overwhelm."
Rambam writes that a spouse should not be
excited or depressed. One should not burden the other if there will be no positive
outcome, for this will only cause a second person to feel terribly for no constructive
reason. In general, one should prefer to tell good things to other people. One should only
tell bad things when there is a to'elless [constructive need or purpose] achieved by
speaking. If the other can give positive help, advice, support or encouragement, this
would be considered a legitimate purpose that would permit telling distressful
In a marriage, a husband and wife are
"eeshto kigufo" [considered as one person]. Halacha is very specific about the
kinds of things that should be shared vs. kept private in marriage. Private mail addressed
to one spouse, another person's secrets told to one spouse in confidence, secrets about
your past (on which you did tshuva shlaima and which have no relevance anymore, that would
make the other think poorly about you unjustifiably) and lashon hora told to one spouse
are examples of material that should be kept private. But, besides such halachic
exceptions, in general, the relationship should be a close, sharing, trusting and
Rabbi Aryeh Levine was known as the
"Tzadik of Jerusalem" in the post-war generation. One time his wife's knee was
in pain. He took her to the doctor who asked what was wrong. Rabbi Levine answered,
"My wife's knee hurts us." He identified with her hurt as if it were his own. We
see from his personally taking her and his saying to the doctor, "hurts US,"
that a spouse must have so much empathy, care and attachment that (s)he feels, shares and
addresses (with positive actions and attitudes) the other's feelings, whether pained or
Each should speak about their day, their
fears and hurt, what is going on in their lives. The other should be responsive as the
other needs. When there is much going on, time has to be set aside specifically, to share
their lives and give support and friendship, as often as needed. Communication should be
direct and uninhibited, with no fear of rejection, dispute, condemnation, obstacle or
attack. Each should relate from inner person to inner person, heart to heart, with no
pretense or embellishment, with no need to seek after approval. Acceptance and
supportiveness should be unconditional and freely given by each, as the other needs, with
a positive and loving attitude. Each should feel fully secure that the other is there and
available whenever needed. If that moment is not good (e.g. your wife is feeding a baby
when you want her attention), time will be given graciously and cheerfully as soon as
circumstances permit. The MOMENT is being rejected - the person is never rejected.
Even if this entails sacrifice, the couple
should show unity, peace and calm in front of all other people, and most importantly in
front of their children, people who might meddle or who might speak lashon hora. They
should only reveal difficulties (in private) to qualified people who stand to help or be
supportive and whose intentions are honorable and constructive. Each spouse should try to
always speak in a positive fashion TO AND ABOUT THE OTHER. Being a "positive
spouse" requires speaking only well of each other in front of people and never giving
any one else - including relatives - a basis for meddling into or talking against their
shalom bayis. Each should always have a sincere and pleasant tone, so that "being
positive" is authentic and trustworthy.
We call a couple "rayim ahuvim [loving
friends]." They should act as best friends, designate regular time to be together,
communicate in a sharing manner about their deepest feelings. They are to each other both
family and friends. They share the closest relationship two people can have, so much so
the Torah considers them one person. When Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach lost his wife, he
said there was nothing either ever did to hurt each other, so he had no need to ask her
forgiveness. Rabbi Shlomo Heiman was Rosh HaYeshiva of Torah VaDaas during the early '40s.
His wife went out every evening from 8:30 to 10:45 to raise funds for poor orphans. Every
evening, of his own volition, the busy Rosh Yeshiva made the beds; then boiled tea and cut
cake in time for her return, so she could have refreshment; because she spent each evening
In a Torah marriage the two learn to
understand and feel for each other so much, he or she could say with authenticity and
credibility that they each feel what the other is going through and will spontaneously
jump to do everything humanly possible to help, to care, to participate in doing all that
is needed; doing so with diligence and a positive attitude - as if the other were the same
PART FOURTEEN - SINGLE REALITY IS DIFFERENT FROM MARRIED REALITY
When couples come to see me for marriage
counseling, or when one comes in alone because the other refuses to come, some of the
cases involve extremely and rigidly one-sided behavior. One of the things I see often, in
one way or another, at the root of a couple's marital trouble is: one or both members of
the couple have constructed a reality in their head which exclusively factors in that
person but does not factor in the reality of the other one. When that reality produces
something (a view, demand, goal, idea, bias, feelings, etc.) for that person, the person's
mind has no concept of how there is no overlap between his or her reality and the other
partner's reality. Such a person is blind to the other's reality. Therefore, they force
and steamroll their reality onto the other. Since the other has a separate and excluded
reality, there is a major collision of interests, perceptions, demands, energy, direction,
etc. The result is war, Rachmana litzlon.
One of the major tests of readiness for
marriage is the ability to recognize, accept and adapt in honor of another person's
"separate reality." Part of the "single-person mind-set" is "I am
all there is, I am all that matters." Another word for this is: infant. An infant
opens its mouth and wants a bottle produced on demand. Case closed...you can't debate with
an infant...of ANY age! Such a person is equipped to be successfully married to one
Sefer Alay Shor (analyzing Proverbs
5:15-16) writes that a baby is born with all of his attributes in the form of potential.
The baby entirely needs others to give to him and to take responsibility for him. As the
child grows, there are progressive stages during which he increasingly learns that he is
not alone, that the world does not center around him. The ratio of others giving to him
and taking responsibility for him gradually diminishes in relation to his gradually giving
and his assuming responsibility for himself and others more and more. He gradually becomes
socialized and tamed. He can't put his finger in the wall socket, grab the next child's
toys, stay up to any hour. He has to clean his room. He has to say "please" and
At one point in a normal, healthy person's
maturation and development, the amount of giving and of taking responsibility for this
youth (by others) and the amount of giving and of taking responsibility for others (by
this youth) grows to be equal. Thereafter, the youth increasingly gives more than he takes
and he accepts more responsibility for others than he requires from others. After this
point of "crossover" to giving more to others (than taking from others) and to
accepting more responsibility on behalf of others (than needing from others), the person
is defined as ready for marriage! This is when the person achieves adulthood and can begin
to bring his abilities and virtues from potential to actual, in the world. Where one
genuinely stands in relation to giving and to fulfilling responsibilities on behalf of the
good of others are prime measure of readiness for a lasting marriage.
The difference between something that is
called gadol [big] and something that is called koton [small] is that a thing which is big
gives to others and a thing which is small takes from others. The moon is called the
"small light" because it takes light from the sun. A child is called
"koton" because he depends on the table of others. A "gadol hador [biggest
of a generation]" is a leader and guide in Torah who the generation needs. The heart
is called a "big organ" because it supplies nourishment to the entire body
[Rabainu Yerucham]. In order to be ready to marry, one must be ready to be a gadol: one
who gives to and dependably supplies the needs of others; and not to be a koton: one who
takes from or depends upon others.
The "married-person mind-set,"
therefore, is the mind-set of focusing on there being a reality of another person, whose
reality exists outside of your own skin and your own mind, who you are spontaneously and
voluntarily focused on taking responsibility for; adapting and accommodating your
thoughts, feelings and actions for; and being a giver to please and benefit; all on a
steady and committed basis. For example, a person mature enough for marriage must be able
to compromise, communicate, sacrifice, have patience and consideration, resolve
differences peacefully, cooperate, be flexible and cheerful, appreciate, behave politely
and accept not having his or her own way.
King Solomon tells us [Proverbs 27:19],
"As water reflects a face with a face, in this way the heart of one person reflects
the heart of another person." You can have direct impact on how much love and
friendship will exist from another by how you show love and friendship to that person. If
you want a relationship with another, take the lead by showing the person heartfelt warmth
When the other has a problem, be as
supportive, understanding and patient as you can. Stay cheerful, gracious and pleasant,
except when you are in need of support because you are genuinely burdened AND your spouse
is able to help. There is no gain expressing depression, trouble or tension where your
spouse will only be made sad or hurt and can't help in any way. Don't do things that will
bother, irritate, ignore, disrespect, pressure or unnecessarily worry your spouse. Always
be considerate of the other's feelings. Evaluate IN ADVANCE before you say or do a thing.
Ask yourself, "What impact will this have on my spouse?" Determine if it is an
objectively good and Torah-justified impact.
Vayikra Raba (Emor) tells of two friends.
One sold a carob tree to the other. The buyer found a fortune of jewels in the trunk. Not
wanting to be a thief, he insisted that the seller take the treasure back. The seller said
that he sold the tree "as is" and taking the fortune would make him the thief!
Both insisted that the other take it, and neither would. They went to the king, who ruled
that one's son marry the other's daughter and to give the fortune to the couple. A
"Jewish fight" starts with feeling yourselves to be loving friends, who could
not think of hurting or shortchanging the other; and, to do so would be criminal. Each
wants the other to win and plays the lawyer for the other's side of the story, and the
advocate for the other's good. When the two cannot settle the matter themselves, refer to
the King - Hashem, His Torah, through a known rov who is an expert in the subject of the
The Talmud (Sanhedrin 32b) asks how to
establish precedence when two boats, going in opposite directions, meet on a narrow river
where the water is too narrow to cross. There are two criteria given for deciding who can
force the other to back up: the one with the heavier load or the one closer to its
This is a valuable principle for resolving
impasses in human relations. If one is carrying a heavier burden or is involved in a
project which is in the process of being achieved, that person is deemed to be in greater
objective need and wins precedence. Say, a wife is emotionally drained or hurt, she has a
"heavier burden." If a husband is doing work and needs momentum or must meet a
deadline, he is "closer to a destination." When differences "rock the
boat," give priority to the resolution most consistent with: long-run peace; the
least damage, hurt or loss; objective need; honesty and the most constructive outcome.
PART FIFTEEN - THE IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNICATION AND ADAPTABILITY
An important test for the healthiness of
your relationship is: when you have differences, can you resolve them fairly to the
reasonable satisfaction of both of you? Do you approach each other respectfully - even
when you have differences? Do you consistently speak to each other in a gentle and
respectful tone? Do you take time to genuinely understand each other's position or
feelings? Are you each responsive to what the other says each time? Can you compromise,
sacrifice and extend yourselves to please each other and get along? Do you take difficult
questions to a rov whose ruling is mutually accepted as final - with no resentment,
lingering negative emotions, power struggles or personality clashes? Do you always have
some functional, workable solution; some system for resolution and maintaining constant
peace? In short, can you effectively communicate?
Some spouses talk "past" or
"at" each other, not with each other. It's destructive enough when one partner
does it. The second also might communicate and act as if in his/her own world. When both
are so self-absorbed, rigid and unresponsive, there is nothing to work with.
The midrash [Koheless Raba] refers to the
stage of youth that precedes marriage as the "horse." Rabbi Yechezkiel
Levenstein, late mashgiach [spiritual supervisor] of Ponevich Yeshiva in B'nai Brak, said
that this shows that a youth only sees what he wants, like the proverbial "horse with
blinders." A person entering marriage has to grow past the "horse stage" of
only seeing himself and what (s)he wants to see.
Consider this example. A young newliweded
kolel husband told his wife to make steak for supper. Without a word to him, she made
chopped meat. On her own, she decided they couldn't afford steak. He was infuriated
because she disobeyed. She said that he was in kolel, she was working two jobs to support
them, she grew up in a poor family in which they could afford chopped meat and they could
not afford steak. Since he slept late, she felt he was lazy and unfit for staying in
kolel. She felt resentment that he demanded steak and expected her to earn the money to
feed his rich taste. She demanded to know what he was going to do to provide a better
paying and more realistic livelihood. He said that his rich grandfather would arrange
"something." She demanded to know specifically what that meant. He repeated with
delusional indifference that his rich grandfather would arrange something for him. An
argument followed. She demanded a divorce. He got "one up" on her by abandoning
her and making her an agunah.
Before they were married, both of these
people would have been certain that they were ready for marriage. The wife, although she
had more grounding in matters of financial practicality and responsibility, was not a
communicator. She did not discuss with him what she was going to buy or prepare, or why.
She just acted on her own as she saw to be right. She challenged, disrespected and
provoked him about money in a way that escalated the tension and confrontation. He was
"stuck on steak," to the point at which he would "declare war" on her
over it, be unrealistic, infantile and in utter denial about anything beyond his
self-serving "blinders." It was as if he viewed her as being in his life as a
"steak dispenser," not as a wife or person. He had no sense of responsibility,
priorities, propriety nor human relations. He never saw that verse of King Solomon's
wisdom [Proverbs 15:17], "Better is a meal of a vegetable and love is there than a
luxurious beef meal and hate is with it." What he was doing in kolel is beyond me,
because he obviously had no connection to Torah. What he was doing in marriage is equally
beyond me, because he obviously had no connection to any stage beyond the self-absorbed
horse with blinders who can't see left or right of what he wants. They both had what to
learn about relating and communicating to another.
That same midrash about the
"horse" says that when one becomes ready for marriage, he has transitioned from
"horse" to the stage of "carrying burden." By definition, we see from
this midrash, PREREQUISITE TO MARRIAGEABILITY IS THE ABILITY TO CARRY RESPONSIBILITY FOR A
SPOUSE AND CHILDREN.
In my practical counseling work, I have
seen many couples who were not able to communicate or relate. Some were not on speaking
terms and, even in some cases, were living separately already. By showing them how to
communicate, to be more adaptive and considerate, to be responsive to each other and show
good faith in their efforts, they were able to come back together, live as a functional
couple, have more children and please each other. If a couple has the will and maturity,
they can generally remedy their marriage problems. If they have children, it is imperative
- a Torah obligation - to do everything humanly possible to keep their marriage alive,
peaceful and healthy. Once married, a person loses the right to be selfish in ways that
negatively impact his or her spouse. Once a couple has a child (all the moreso if more
than one child), they lose the right to be selfish in ways that negatively impact the
child - including not running to separation or divorce, Rachmona litzlon.
I tell couples who have trouble relating
and/or communicating that I am more interested in the integrity, authenticity and
sincerity of their involvement in the counseling process than in the individual mistakes
they make with each other. People cannot un-learn years or decades of behaviors,
attitudes, habits, emotions, reactions, defenses or thought processes overnight. It is
realistic to expect mistakes and backslides along the way, especially towards the
beginning of the counseling process. If they are committed to "the process,"
their mistakes become milder, becoming more "few and far between." They
gradually learn the meaning and seriousness of their mistakes, and of their shortcomings
or history which cause the mistakes. They get more grip on themselves. Then, when they
make a mistake, they feel worse for wronging the other than the victim feels for being
wronged. They apologize and do tshuva more rapidly, fully and sincerely. They learn to
determine behavior by what is good for the other and workable for the relationship. What
counts most is both spouses having the will to go through the process perseveringly until
successfully achieving their goals and needs together.
PART SIXTEEN - MEN AND WOMEN ARE "PROGRAMMED" DIFFERENTLY
When Hashem instructed Moshe to get the
Jewish people ready to receive the Torah at Sinai, Hashem said (Exodus 19:3), "Say to
the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel." "Say" means soft speech,
"house of Jacob" means the women; "tell" means to speak firmly and
"sons of Israel" means the men. Thus, the Torah teaches that we must speak
differently to men and women: we are to speak to women with softness, feeling, sensitivity
and respect; to men strongly, directly, analytically and logically. These accord with the
nature, personalities and "wiring" with which Hashem created the different
"Rav said, 'A man must always be
careful with the paining of his wife. Because her tears come readily, her pain comes
quickly.'" "Said Rabbi Elazar, 'Since the destruction of the Holy Temple, the
gates of prayer [in Heaven, where prayers have to pass] are shut, but the gates of tears
are not shut.'" "Rabbi Hisda said, 'All the gates [in Heaven] are shut except
the gates of pained feelings'...Rabbi Elazar said, 'All punishments come through an
intermediary, but punishment for causing pained feelings comes directly and rapidly from
G-d.'" [If any person is made to cry, the one who made the person cry will be
brutally punished by G-d. If a husband hurts his wife to the point of crying tears, he is
setting himself up for serious trouble and retribution. Since a woman is pained easily, a
husband must always be extra careful to never wrong his wife and to never hurt her
feelings]. "Rav also said, 'A man who acts upon his wife's advice will fall'...Rabbi
Papaw expressed objection to [his colleague] Abayei, saying, 'Everyone says that if your
wife is short, bend down and listen to her whisper [go out of your way to act upon the
advice of your wife - a seeming contradiction with the authoritative Rav].' It is no
contradiction [each has a specific domain of leadership]. He is the leader in religious
matters, she is leader in household matters'" [Gemora Bava Metzia 59a-b].
Often men speak to women as men, and women
speak to men as women. In marriage and dating; miscommunication, non-communication and
blindness to the other-gender's "programming" leads to trouble and the
disruption or ending of relationships. If men and women would learn to allow for and to
accommodate gender differences, they would have fulfilling and blossoming relationships.
Sometimes gender difference plays a part in
communication or problem-resolution difficulties. For example, some women in counseling
express substantial emotional pain because their husbands have no grasp of what an issue
means to her emotionally. He will typically make judgements or use logic to determine what
he considers valid or allowable. Otherwise, in his mind, things cannot have emotional
significance. He is blind to his impact on her, causing her extreme pain and distress, in
the process. For her, the feelings are very real and, as a counselor, I see that they are
usually valid and are a legitimate part of her female nature. Even if told repeatedly, he
doesn't get it when she says she has feelings or that an issue matters to her. Since he
doesn't grasp that her feelings about something exist, his shalom bayis will likewise not
be allowed to exist!
A guy dated a young woman. She complained
that after a five hour date he didn't so much as offer her a soda. He figured she would
ask if she wanted something (he wasn't especially thoughtful). She never dated him again.
One woman asked her husband what he would like for dinner. He said it wasn't important and
thought nothing more of the subject. She was hurt because she wasn't simply asking what he
wanted. SHE WANTED HIM TO DISCUSS WITH HER WHAT THEY WOULD HAVE TOGETHER. He thought
"menu," she thought "relating." A woman told her husband she needed
him to buy her new dresses. He protested, "But you have a whole closet full of
clothes!" "Yeah," she answered, "but this one's out of style, that one
I was seen in already two times, this one is the same as my neighbor has...". In her
mind, she had no clothes. In his mind, she was overloaded.
A young couple came to me for counseling.
He saw everything through logic, she through feelings. Because she could not hold a
conversation from a logic vantage point, he came to despise and disrespect her. Because he
was blind to her feelings, she was in excruciating emotional pain and terrified about his
leaving her. She was a devoted wife who sincerely tried to give her all to him. She took
care of all areas that mattered. She kept the home and herself attractive, she treated him
with respect and attentiveness. But, she could not think logically. He had no idea how to
regard or treat a woman or that he was sadistic and causing her massive emotional pain. He
wanted to give numerous LOGICAL REASONS to not remain married and for her to not feel
hurt; instead of ACKNOWLEDGING HOW MUCH HE WAS CAUSING HER HURT, appreciating the
"maalos (good attributes)" she had, and recognizing how much he was missing
about what a normal, mature and proper marriage is. It took many sessions to make
breakthrough with him. He was emotionally undeveloped and had no grasp of or concern about
the impact of his behavior on her. Even a logical man, when mature and healthy, has and
understands emotions on some reasonable level and should be "reachable" when
circumstances require his dealing with them.
Imagine if the fellow who never offered his
date a soda would have asked the girl early on if she wanted anything, or if he had the
"seichel" to say HE FELT LIKE STOPPING FOR SOMETHING AND HOW DOES SHE FEEL ABOUT
THAT? so she would be comfortable about having something. Imagine if the couple had better
communication when the woman was hurt because her husband answered her "to the
point" saying that he wasn't concerned about the dinner menu. Remember to adapt for
the other gender's nature and mind-set: speak softly, with sensitive emotion and
consideration to women; be direct and specific to men. Be clear with and have respect for
I have even done counseling where the
couple did not have a fight between themselves. One had a problem that was impacting the
relationship and the other sought to be helpful but did not know how to go about it. I
must give this couple credit. They were a "team" and "best of
friends." The supportive one knew the problem was not the other's fault and they were
working together on their common goal: seeking a substantive resolution together. Couples
who come in harmoniously are beautiful and heart-warming to see and work with.
Your goal in communicating should be
getting done all of the practical functioning that needs to be done AND to make each other
feel pleased, loved, respected, peaceful and cared for every day of your lives together.
PART SEVENTEEN - COMMUNICATE TO GET INTO EACH OTHER'S "WORLD"
The Talmud (Zevochim 30b) discusses a
halachic question which a student asked Rebbi (Rabbi Yehuda HaNosi, the compiler of the
Mishna; who expressed himself - in the Mishna and in his private life - with very concise
language). The way Rebbi answered could have been interpreted two ways, leaving a serious
and practical problem in understanding what Rebbi meant in his brief reply. Do we
understanding the more lenient or more strict decision on the law? From the words alone we
could not clearly or conclusively determine what the law is. This stood to be a major
problem for the Talmud. However, the Talmud continues, we understand which of the two
possibilities he meant based on whether he expressed himself with anger or with
gentleness, because his tone showed what the basis of his answer to the question was.
Therefore, by virtue of the fact that Rebbi's tone was gentle, we learn that his words
were indeed sufficient to clearly determine the law and that it is lenient.
We see from this profound lesson in the
Talmud that tone is meaningful enough, in communication terms, to determine a legal
verdict! A harsh tone, in interpersonal communications, will close a person up and will
put the person off to you; whereas, "A soft reply will undo fury" [Proverbs
15:1]. Never be fooled into thinking that words may be divorced from the tone, emotions,
volume, facial expressions and body gestures which come with those words; so that you
don't find yourself divorced from the one with whom you erred. There are numerous elements
- besides words themselves - that go into a communication. Every element contributes to
what is perceived and understood by the one to whom the communication is delivered. All
components of how one expresses himself are very impactful and very significant.
Not that the Torah needs substantiation, a
scientific study conducted about twenty years ago found that only 7% of communication was
achieved through words, 38% through tonality (e.g. voice and emotion) and 55% through body
language and gestures (e.g. facial expression, arm motions). To effectively convey a
communication, all three components must be integrative, consistent with and supportive of
each other. If you say loving words with a nasty, disinterested or impatient tone; or with
a threatening or unkind physical movement or expression; you will drown out the words. The
meaning that will be conveyed and understood will be most determined by physiology [body
motions and physical "signals"], the next measure by tonality, and the least by
the words. Effective communication requires positive and unified presentation of all the
elements of communication. If your body gestures or facial expression will be negative,
speak on the phone, so they won't be seen and harm the communication. Similarly, if your
vocal tone or emotion will be negative, write. If your words will be negative, send an
impartial and articulate emissary to deliver the message. In marriage, you are generally
forced to relate in person. Obviously, your communication abilities must be consistently
good. This may require ongoing practice, development and patience with each other.
One of the most frequent "common
denominators" that I see in my counseling work with troubled marriages is: people do
not relate to the reality of the other spouse. They project from their own minds what they
think the other one should be and do. This, of course, originates from the first partner's
internal emotions, experience, background, shortcomings, perceptions, biases and neuroses
within. Therefore, there is no or little overlap with the reality of the other person's
feelings, situation, personality, needs and history. The "human reality" of the
second person can thus be harmed by being ignored, rejected or abused. And, for sure, the
first person is NOT RELATING with the second person. This, in varying degrees, is a
typical foundation of marriage trouble. And, when both parties approach each other like
this, it is all the worse.
Therefore, only when each in a couple
relates and responds to the reality of the other, including responsibility for the impact
of all behavior by each upon the other, and recognition that the genders operate very
differently, can we even BEGIN to call what they have a "relationship." It may
be hard work, but the Torah obligates man and wife to respect and relate to the
"reality" of who the other is; of how each feels, what each wants or needs in
each situation; to make each other happy, to help each other and to retain peace and calm
at all times.
Sometimes a person behaves, reacts or
speaks the way he does because of an underlying reason that has no ostensible connection
with the subject at hand or its merits. The person may be too timid or insecure to speak
up, too inarticulate to think of the words that accurately reflect the person's intended
meaning, the person might have some demons or psychological baggage blocking an
appropriate or "on-target" response to, or participation in, meaningful and
useful dialogue. A person's self-image, psychological history or experience might impact
the person's perceptions, positions or emotional composition. I very often find that, as a
marriage counselor, one of my major roles is as "translator." Another role that
I have to often fill is "explorer:" where does this behavior, thinking pattern,
emotional intensity or association, response, fragility, rigidity, perceptive distortion,
hostility, defense or escapism come from? Some people act because of what they believe
others will think about their actions. The Mishna [Eduyos 5:6] says that it is good to be
called an idiot by everyone for an entire lifetime when it means that you are NOT called
evil by G-d for one moment. The meraglim (12 spies) were sent by Moshe to look over Israel
[Kenaan]. The spies saw that the people there were huge. When they returned with their
report to Moshe, ten of the spies said [Numbers 13:33], "And we were in our eyes like
grasshoppers and thus were we in their eyes." The people became frightened upon
hearing this and did not want to enter the "promised land" [this is when G-d
decreed that they shall remain in the desert for forty years - as the people's
punishment]. If the people in Kenaan were large, this could explain the spies saying they
were as grasshoppers in the eyes of the Kenaanites. The Kotzker Rebbe said that the root
of the sin was that the spies also saw THEMSELVES IN THEIR OWN EYES as small as
grasshoppers. A Jew never concerns himself with what others think of him, especially
non-Jews, Jews without Torah or anyone with subjectivity or self-interest. We only concern
ourselves with what G-d "thinks" of us. In personal relationships, this shows
how we must direct our concern to only behaving the way the Torah requires. Never be
vicious, hostile, indifferent or impatient. If, for example, one partner is insecure or
stressed, the other should ask and explore about what is "really going on"
beneath the surface, so as to be supportive and caring.
It takes a very big person to get out of
him or her self and be there for the other in terms of who that other REALLY is and what
that other person REALLY needs. There is no option. This is a major part of the maturity
and responsibility required of married people. If this is asking too much, you should
never have gotten married.
PART EIGHTEEN - ASK QUESTIONS RATHER THAN KNOWING EVERYTHING
If anyone had reason to be furious about
his wife, it was Yaakov. He worked seven years to marry Rachel. At the wedding, her
father, Lavan, disguised his other daughter, Leah, and tricked Yaakov into marrying Leah.
"And in the morning he saw that she
was Leah. And he said to Lavan, 'What is this that you have done to me? Have I not worked
with you for Rachel? Why did you deceive me?'" (Genesis 29:25)
Notice something about Yaakov as a
communicator. His communication to Lavan was ALL QUESTIONS. Yaakov didn't scream. He
didn't pick up a gun. He didn't even divorce Leah (he married Rachel ALSO). Yaakov did not
fight, threaten or divorce - with a woman he didn't even know he was marrying. He was too
nice to hurt Leah's feelings by rejecting her! How much moreso must you use questioning as
a means of communicating to discuss something considerately with someone who you knew you
If you ask questions (instead of demanding
or stating), you are not as likely to be perceived as: * attacking, * imposing your view,
* accusing, * criticizing nor * judging. This psychological benefit applies with anyone,
not just a spouse.
Questioning allows room for benefit of
doubt and allows you to acquire information that will allow you to know the whole or real
If you: assume that you know, act like a
"know it all," are judgmental, or make an attacking or presumptuous statement;
doing so can escalate an argument, alienate, break trust and/or make you seem foolish. If
you ask questions with a calm and polite tone of voice, you obtain information that comes
in response to you from the person answering. This way, you have not accused or abused.
The statement comes from the other person's reality, not from your attempt to jam your
"reality" down the other's throat.
Lavan answered Yaakov that the custom in
Lavan's society is never to marry off a younger sister before an older sister. Since
Rachel was younger, Lavan felt it was impossible for him to marry off Rachel before Leah.
Whether Lavan was justified for being a swindler is not our point just now. Note, though,
that Yaakov obtained information he did not have before. Yaakov didn't have a fight.
Yaakov was never thrown in the klink for a crime of passion. He asked questions. You
Throughout the Torah, we see disagreements
handled with questions and not with fights - by righteous and even evil people. When the
G-d-fearing midwives Shifra and Pua disobeyed Paro's order to kill Jewish baby boys at
birth, Paro asked, "Why did you do this, to let the male children live?" [Exodus
1:18]. When some people were not allowed to bring the Pesach sacrifice, they asked Moshe,
"Why are we blocked from bringing a sacrifice?" [Numbers 9:7]. When the
daughters of Tzelofchod complained that they had no inheritance in the land since their
family had no sons, they asked Moshe, "Why should the name of our father be lost from
his family?" [Numbers 27:4]. Rambam requires that when someone wrongs you that you
ask, "Why have you done such and such to me?" [Hilchos Dayos 6:6]. There are
very many more examples where questions are used to voice an objection and obtain
information, rather than presume or verbally attack.
I tell couples with communicating problems
never to assume that what each intended to say is what the other understood. The meaning,
feeling and expectation can be different from what the other thinks that (s)he heard. When
it comes to effective communicating, ERR ON THE SIDE OF MORE CLARIFICATION. PRACTICE
CONVEYING MEANING ACCURATELY AS WELL AS RESPONDING TO THE OTHER ACCURATELY. VERIFY BEFORE
YOU VILIFY! KNOW BEFORE YOU GO! CHECK BEFORE YOUR WRECK!
When there is any misunderstanding - or
even a suspicion that there MAY be even a minor measure of misunderstanding - clarify,
clarify and clarify. Practice by checking.
* "What I understood you to mean is A.
Is that what you meant?" * "What I mean to say is B. Is that how you understood
it?" * "In seeing you do C, it seems to me you are trying to accomplish D. Is
this what you intend? * Why would you say/do that? I'm sure there is a favorable
explanation and I give you benefit of the doubt. What do I not know about the context that
would clarify or justify what you are doing? Could I have misunderstood your
meaning?" Adjust this concept to your individual circumstances.
Use questions, with a SOFT tone of voice,
because statements can sound harsh and be alienating or appear to be judgmental, critical
or attacking. WHILE THE OTHER SPEAKS, LISTEN, LISTEN AND LISTEN; AND DON'T INTERRUPT!
Convey respect and that the other may TRUST that you are seriously and fairly hearing and
considering every thing (s)he says.
More important, be concerned that you
achieve clear and successful communication IN TERMS OF WHAT YOUR PARTNER NEEDS AND
UNDERSTANDS - SO THAT WHAT BOTH PARTNERS MEAN AND HEAR IS THE SAME EVERY TIME. But your
aim is not a "victory," it is "relating" meaningfully and steadily.
The counseling experience for couples with
communication difficulties includes having both of them ask what the other thinks certain
things mean to the one asking. They each compare his/her feelings or understanding with
what the other thinks (s)he is feeling or conveying. They gradually learn what events or
their actions mean to the other. They gradually learn to understand the other's thinking
process. When each speaks, they can better convey what they intend, while the listener can
better understand what the speaker intends. They learn to resolve differences and allow
for the other's individuality.
A MARRIAGE RELATIONSHIP IS AS GOOD OR BAD
AS ITS COMMUNICATION! If you want BAD communication, be totally sure you know better than
the other what (s)he means. If you want TRULY GOOD communication, find out what the other
genuinely means AND DEAL WITH IT - "FOR REAL" AND MATURELY! Start by asking
question and NOT knowing everything!
PART NINETEEN - STEADILY BUILDING A GOOD RELATIONSHIP
Let me tell you something instructive about
a couple I know. They both are very friendly and pleasant people who both came from good
homes. They both have good hearts. He did something very wise, which will work
beautifully, but only when both partners are decent, nice and reasonably mature and moral
individuals. When he got engaged, he told his wife, "I'll make you a deal. Let's
never fight. You are always going to be right."
At the beginning of the marriage, he truly
treated her like a queen who could do no wrong. After a while she started feeling bad and
she complained to him, "I don't want to be always right! Will you please be right
half of the time!" She decided on her own that a relationship means making the other
happy, knowing how to give in, and choosing someone who feels that way about you too. For
about twenty seven years, now, this couple HAS NOT EVER FOUGHT. One always tells the other
to have his or her way; and everything is done with calm, generosity and a smile. Because
family members don't have to devote their time to fighting or dysfunction, the house is a
center for kindness and mitzvos. I know this couple for approximately twenty years. I can
testify myself to their consistent, successful, cooperative and lovely conduct.
I once spoke to a woman who had some very
difficult troubles early in her marriage. She said, "There is so much to work for.
When people don't work, and get divorced, I feel bad for them." She said that her
marriage is growing closer and closer every day. There is work to be sure, but, she said,
the fruit of those labors are so beautiful, valuable and happy. As a result of this
couple's efforts, they have six normal children growing up in a functional home.
The Torah's interpersonal standards are
very high. For example, Rambam writes that if one annoyed one other only once during the
course of a year, he must do tshuva and ask forgiveness [Hilchos Tshuva]. Without tshuva
and forgiveness, he will have no atonement on Yom Kippur. The Jew must never be nasty,
angry or mean. He or she must, in all interactions and at all times; be friendly, polite,
sweet, pleasant, considerate and gentle; and actively fulfill "Love the other Jew as
yourself" and kavod habrios [treating people with dignity, honor and respect].
The laws of "hashavas avaida
(returning lost property)" prohibit touching an article (to return it) if there is
indication it was placed intentionally (e.g. in a pile or covered). Such property is not
considered "lost". The owner will be imposed upon when chasing after his
property (Choshen Mishpot 260:9). This halacha clearly tells us that a Jew is NOT ALLOWED
TO CAUSE HALACHICALLY UNJUSTIFIED IMPOSITION upon another. Remember this in your marriage.
Attribute weight to your partner's feelings
and perception. You might not grasp what the issue means to your partner, due to
subjectivity, emotions and biases. See beyond yourself - your partner does! Make yourself
gentle to save yourself from the sin of anger (Taanis 4a) and never respond to insult or
provocation (Shabos 88b). Expect that there is more that you don't know to a story or in
the context. Don't jump to conclusions. Give benefit of doubt, let the other's honor be as
dear to you as your own, do not judge another until you are in his or her place and do not
judge alone because only G-d can make judgements alone (Pirkei Avos, chapters one, two and
four). Listen carefully to what your partner says. Be impacted by it and respond
substantively to it.
A then-single man attended some individual
lectures and an eight-week course I had conducted in a Manhattan shul on the Torah-based
man-woman relationship. He also spoke to me in my counseling role a while shortly after
his marriage. He told me that most of the fears and issues he had about marrying were in
his mind. His wife had been very easy to get along with. She had not been at all
demanding. I told him it is vital to treat her sweetly, attentively and generously such
that it never enters her head to be demanding, for this would damage her pleasant midos.
He said THE ABSENCE OF MAKING DEMANDS UPON EACH OTHER WAS MAKING THE MARRIAGE SUCCEED.
We spoke about his need to be nurturing. I
told him to constantly express love, respect and appreciation. When she cooks, say the
food is delicious. If she put a new trinket in the livingroom, say the livingroom is now
gorgeous. If she puts on a new outfit, say it suits her and she is beautiful. Take out the
garbage (or do other things that matter to her or are needed) WITHOUT BEING ASKED and
spend time each day talking with her about how the day went and the needs of the home and
children. I told him to use his own words, to adapt to each situation and to be sincere. I
told him to treat her as important and to make her feel secure, wanted and cherished. He
found that by using this "peace-formula," he hasn't needed to make demands of
her, either. They both respect each other and give graciously and VOLUNTARILY to please
each other continuously.
Relationship faults or problems - including
working on disputes or differences - should be divided into two categories:
1. neutral. We're all only human and we all
have quirks or faults. These shortcomings give us what to work on during the course of a
2. damaging. No one ever (except genuine
self-defense against violence or danger) has any right to hurt another person. Faults and
problems constitute no excuse nor exemption. A Jew is obligated to be good and to be
giving to other Jews (the closer the relation, the higher the priority). If shortcomings
or pressures ever preclude loving, respectful, mature treatment of people, at least don't
be harmful (whether through action or passive negligence or irresponsibility), no matter
how good you think your reason is. One of my sayings is, "DAMAGE WITH AN EXPLANATION
IS STILL DAMAGE" and damage of any kind is NOT IN THE LEAST ACCEPTABLE.
The gemora (Bava Metzia 85b) says that a
jar with one pebble in it makes big noise when shaken. A jar completely filled with
pebbles makes no noise, no matter how hard it is shaken. This is analogous to a person and
his measure of chochma [wisdom], particularly a person in a dispute. If he makes noise, it
is proof that he is essentially empty, like the jar with one pebble, when it is shaken. If
the person has wisdom, he speaks gently, softly and with real content. He is quiet, like
the jar that is full - no matter how much he is "shaken." He resolves conflicts
or differences without turbulence or harangue. Instead, he always proceeds with calm,
decency and substance.
To have a good relationship, a couple must
be supportive to one another; especially if one is stressed, pressured, hurt or sad. A key
measure of a couple's relationship quality is their response and sensitivity when the
other is in need - whether of being helped or of being left alone.
When either of you need advice, support or
clarification, speak to each other. Request the other's input, understanding, feedback,
insight, perception and contribution. Fuse the womanly intuition and husband's logic so
that the issue enjoys the benefit of your cumulative talents and minds. Have the attitude
that you are both together on the same "team."
Madrich LeChasonim writes that for a
husband to fulfill, "Love your neighbor as yourself," with a wife, he must feel
love for her under all circumstances literally as he feels for himself. He must feel all
her inner feelings as deeply as she feels them, he must share her pains and joys, and
carry this as a yoke. The couple is obligated to join their daily lives together. They
should openly and closely communicate (there are rare exceptions such as violation of
another person's confidentiality or privacy, reading mail addressed only to the other
spouse, revealing lashon hora or disclosing secrets about one's past regarding which one
did tshuva - and are not relevant anymore - that would unjustifiably make the other think
poorly of him or her now). Good communication builds the relationship, warmth and their
bond. They bring their unique, albeit different, contributions together.
A rov in Yerushalayim advises engaged
couples to have the following view. Something may be unimportant, a non-entity,
inexplicable to one of you...but it matters to the other. Your position should be,
"If it's important to you, it's important to me." The only reason needed to
consider it important is "YOU ARE IMPORTANT TO ME" and this is a demonstration
of true love.
PART TWENTY - YOU CAN MAKE EVERYTHING IN YOUR MARRIAGE NICE
Pirkei Avos 1:15 says to receive everyone
with a "saiver ponim yafos (cheerful countenance)." Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch
says this means that our conduct with and approach to each person should be so genuinely
friendly that they will be convinced we are kindly disposed towards them and ready to do
all the good that is reasonably possible to do for them.
The gemora (Tamid 32b) says, "Who is
wise? The one who foresees [in advance] the long-run outcome [of decisions and
behaviors]." The gemora (Sota 20a - 22b and Bava Basra 174b) discusses several
things, each of which is called a "cunning evil which destroys the world;" for
example, allowing either unfair advantage-taking or one's religiosity to cause loss or
detriment to another, or one giving bad advice or mixing in into someone else's dispute so
as to cause loss or detriment to another. By Chazal saying that clever, nasty actions, to
another's loss or detriment, can "destroy the world," we see it is possible for
behaviors to have far more wide-reaching spiritual and practical impact and ramifications
than we realize. We must be wise and think into our actions more deeply so as to have only
good, moral and constructive effects.
In the time of the flood, Hashem killed
mankind (except Noach's family) because people committed "CHOMOS," which is
explained to mean petty theft. If, for example, a man had a rice business, people would
each steal one grain of rice knowing that TECHNICALLY THERE COULD BE NO PROSECUTION.
Everyone would steal such little amounts that victims could not claim theft nor sue each
other; but they stole so much so that they put each other out of business. When all
mankind became so cleverly malicious, it was EVIL ENOUGH TO DESTROY THE WORLD. G-d is not
satisfied that you be "non-suable." Technicality is not enough, in Hashem's
eyes. He wants you to actively be good, proper and honorable in all you do. The gemora
(Shabos 31a) tells us that refraining from damaging people and their property brings
salvation from punishment and calamity. Avos 1:18 tells us that truth, justice and peace
maintain the world. Tehilim 89:3 tells us, "Chesed (active lovingkindness) will build
After the flood, Noach brought a sweet
smelling sacrifice. G-d was pleased, and He promised to never again destroy mankind. The
gemora (Eruvin 65b) points out that G-d did not need a human's sacrifice. G-D ALLOWED
HIMSELF TO BE CONVINCED TO BE FORGIVING AND COMPASSIONATE, TO OVERLOOK HUMAN SHORTCOMING.
We must be like G-d; being easily convinced to look away, forgive and compassionately
forgetting about another person's shortcomings and errors.
The gemora (Pesachim 113b) says that G-d
hates three things: anger, drunkenness and requiring that things be strictly your way. The
Maharal explains that the common element is that all three are characterized by having a
boundary that limits each within the physical world. G-d wants our lives spiritual, free
from restraint by physical factors. In fact, the gemora (Rosh Hashana 17a) says that
always NOT requiring things to be just your way and (Taanis 20b) that always NOT being
angry in your own home COULD LENGTHEN YOUR LIFE! That gemora (Taanis 20b) also says to
"be soft as a reed." This teaches us to be bendable and adaptive. As a practical
matter, I can tell you from my private counseling work experience, that a couple being
flexible - without grudge or resentment; in a warm and good-natured way; being
meaningfully and steadily kind, respectful and responsive to one another - is of utmost
importance for achieving great levels of success in their work to build a peaceful and
In the Talmud (Kesubos 16b-17a), the
academies of Hillel and Shamai differed on how to speak to a bride. The yeshiva of Shamai
said to say how she TRULY looks. After all, the Torah says (Exodus 23:7), "Distance
yourself from every false thing." If the bride is ugly, lame or deformed, say so. You
The yeshiva of Hillel said that no matter
how she looks, we must call a bride "gorgeous and extraordinary." The Talmud
decides the law according to Hillel. G-d's "truth" is that all Jews must always
be sweet, considerate and of a pleasant disposition with other people.
In marriage, an unkind, disparaging or
ill-chosen word can cause anguish, crush a person or break a heart. Speaking
"truth" in marriage must: * reinforce happiness, * convey that this major
commitment is right, * help get or keep the marriage on a good footing, * eliminate doubts
or insecurities that people may have about their partner or marriage, * help each face
their awesome responsibilities of marriage and family with more confidence and
encouragement, * reinforce a foundation for a fruitful, blossoming marriage, * get them
each feeling endeared to the other and good about each other's positive attributes, *
contribute to the solidifying of their bond, and * make them feel pleased and appreciative
that they have each other.
Jews must take every possible opportunity
to make each other happy [Ahavas Chesed]. Hurting other people's feelings is a Torah
prohibition [Leviticus 25:17]. When the tribes of Reuven and Gad asked Moshe for
permission to stay on the far side of the Jordan instead of entering Israel, Moshe replied
that their plan was unacceptable because it would "hurt the heart" of the other
Jews who were entering [Numbers 32:7]. G-d's "truth" is not "accurate
reporting;" not saying that you "honestly" feel so-and-so is ugly, stupid,
overweight or clumsy; not being mean. In marriage, truth is for husband and wife to have a
strong, secure, happy, enduring, successful and peaceful relationship. Please take
practical questions to your rabbi to define truth in your individual situations.
The Torah has categories of protective laws
(e.g. harchaka, syag) to keep people an extra step away from sins. For example, a nazir
(who may not consume grape products) cannot approach or enter a vineyard; you may not put
milk and meat on the same surface together (to make sure they do not touch or mix); a
couple does not hand articles directly to one another before mikva; one does not touch
"muktza" (things that may not be used or which can lead to a violation if
handled on shabos); we do not say innocent things in ways that could be misunderstood as
lying, deception, slander or bad news. Analyze your relationship and design your own
"protective laws" to stay away from nisyonos (trials) or subjectivity, and to
keep distant from weak spots or trouble. But, some people get stuck or perverse, go
overboard or lose perspective, and the idea of "extra laws" backfires. We know
the joke about the "frum" lady who blow-torched everyone's fingers at her door
so no one would bring chametz in on Pesach. That is not religion, it is insanity.
When Rov Shimon Schwab, late leader of
German Jewry, was elderly, he was homebound and in a wheelchair. He once asked a visiter
what was going on in the outside world. The visiter proudly announced that "the
NEWEST CHUMRA" was YOSHON. Rabbi Schwab asked, "What about the OLD BASICS, like
The prophet tells us "Torah will go
forth from Zion [Jerusalem, Isaiah 2:3]." Did the Torah not go out from Sinai? We see
that the teachings from the great rabbis at the Sanhedrin (Torah's Primary Court next to
the Holy Temple) are considered fully incorporated into our Torah. Each MUST STUDY wisdom
of Torah and our sages. To do anything well, one must learn from those who know how to do
it well - and must practice! To learn good Torah conduct, it is essential to find good
teachers and influences. Spend time with and get close to rabbis, rebbitzens, happily
married couples and good-hearted baalai midos tovos (people with good character and
personality traits). Ask questions (e.g. how they build trust or respect, how to handle
differences or "make up," how to communicate, how to give in, how to show care
for each other, how to keep high standards and a pleasant disposition consistently even at
times of trial or stress). Get advice and encouragement from them. WATCH, ABSORB AND APPLY
WHAT THEY DO!
Study your partner as you would a
profession. What pleases him/her? How can you stay away from things that are displeasing
or destructive? How can you better understand him/her - including his/her feelings, needs,
taste and sensitivities. Become an expert at getting along peacefully and not only doing
the right things, but doing them the nicest way and with the nicest attitude.
The midrash says, "END EVERYTHING YOU
DO ON A GOOD NOTE." When this and the other above principles are always applied to
all people in your life in general, you will make yourself a nicer and happier person; and
when steadily applied to your marriage in particular, you will make it nicer and happier.
PART TWENTY ONE - IF THINGS BETWEEN YOU BECOME ROUGH
When relationships run into problems, there
are acceptable ways to address them and there are unacceptable ways to address them. One
of the key messages in resolving disputes and differences is NEVER resort to anger. Never
lose your temper. Never feel entitled to have or release angry emotions with others. DEAL
WITH THEM IN PRIVATE BY YOURSELF, NEVER AT THE EXPENSE OF OTHERS. Go for a walk. Scream in
private at a doorknob or tissue box (imagine your partner's face on the surface of the
inanimate object). Tear a phone book. Take time off to eat some ice cream. Run in the
forest and yell at a tree. "Role play," when you are all alone, by screaming
your anger out into a pillow or "at the person" (pretending that he or she is
there) such that no one hears you. Write your anger into a juicy and detailed letter (that
you will never send or show to any other person). Get counseling. But NEVER give anger or
harm to another person. CONQUER ANGER, DON'T LET IT CONQUER YOU! One must always prevent
him or her self from displaying anger. The more one is quick to anger, the more he or she
must work to not be provoked and to be restrained and quiet, even when your spouse upsets
or disappoints you. When your case is justified, anger is only destructive and
self-sabotaging. Your position might be right, but ABUSE OR ANGER AUTOMATICALLY MAKE YOU
WRONG. Rambam writes [Hilchos Dayos 2:3] that one should not get angry even at a thing
that is appropriate to get angry at.
Keep your hands in your pockets when you
argue! Any form of physical violence (such as biting, scratching, temper tantrum,
slapping, screaming or throwing an object) - must be viewed as evil, unacceptable and an
enemy of Torah and marriage. Such events generally indicate that the marriage is * soon to
be over, or * very dysfunctional and destructive, causing more misery than words could
effectively convey. In either event, exposure to this, even nasty or tense
"vibes," causes enormous life-damaging psychological harm to the children.
Anger, violence and loss of control or of reason are simply not an option. King Solomon
said (Proverbs 17:9), "One who overlooks transgression chases love." Forgetting
about your spouse's mistakes and faults is another essential and inescapable key to a
loving, harmonious and lasting relationship.
When I do practical counseling, just about
every time a couple has serious problems, I ask them, "Do you have a rov?" and
they answer, "No." Pirkei Avos requires each Jew to have rov ["asay lecho
rov"]. I tell them that if they would have had ONE rov who they BOTH accept, 90-99%
of their problems would probably never have evolved. If you can't work out a resolution
yourselves, go to a talmid chochom. I tell couples that their attitude and policy must be,
"We don't have fights, we have SHAALOS (rabbinical questions)!"
I tell couples that there are two words in
Hebrew for a rabbinical reply to a question: tshuva and psak. I ask them what the
difference is. They never know. I tell them "tshuva" means a "reply"
to a question and "psak" means the "termination" of a question. If a
couple has a question, ASK A ROV. When he replies with a psak, that is THE END OF THE
QUESTION. There are no fights, no power-plays, no egos, no personality conflicts. The
question is answered and IT IS OVER. If a couple gets da'as Torah when they can't alone
resolve their differences, there need never be any breach of peace. Further, it is a
painful, evil and often sick contradiction for "religion" to be used as a
"weapon," to cause a fight, or to be used to hurt or control anyone else;
whether because of too much religious stringency or leniency. Instead of ever fighting or
sinning over a Torah practice, question or observance level; ASK A ROV. Everything is in
the Torah [Pirkei Avos chapter five]. True Torah is pleasant and promotes peace [Proverbs
Shammai was severe with people who came to
him with silly questions. He threw them out of his school. His strictness sought to drive
people from the world. Hillel received everyone with wisdom, love and calm. Hillel's
humility brought people under the wings of the divine presence (Shabos 31a). No one could
anger Hillel and, in his bountiful humility, he always kept himself away from anger. No
matter how preposterous or insulting one was to Hillel, he gently and sweetly replied in a
way that lovingly brought all closer to Torah.
All who are involved in fighting violate
the Torah commandment, "Do not be like Korach and his group" [who made a dispute
with Moshe Rabainu; Numbers, 17:5]. The one who fights with others is called
"evil." Fighting is not merely a sin itself but it brings to many other sins
(e.g. jealousy, grudgebearing, revenge, hitting, lashon hora/slander, bringing others into
the dispute or making enemies, hate, embarrassing, etc.). Sefer Erech Apayim writes that
one who is angry can wish harm on another, violating the fundamental mitzva to love your
fellow Jew as yourself. One should keep as far as possible from any dispute. Korach was a
descendant of Levi [Numbers 16:1]. Rashi points out that the Torah omits mention that
Korach was also a descendant of Levi's father, Yaakov. Yaakov knew by prophesy that Korach
would make a dispute with Moshe and prayed that Hashem not link Korach to him in the
Torah. This teaches us to separate ourselves from all fighting. If people disagree on a
point, this should not become a "power play" or be personalized by blocking
their having love, respect or peace. When the schools of Hillel and Shammai had disputes
in halacha, it was only over which practice fulfilled the will of G-d. Each community kept
its verdicts but they had friendship and they made marriages together.
The midrash on Korach (Bamidbar Raba 18)
says that the Hebrew word for "fight (machlokess)" tells us how G-d hates
fighting. By analyzing the word "machlokess," we see that built right into this
word is G-d's "attitude" about fighting between any Jews. The letters of the
word are mem, ches, lamed, kuf and sov. Mem (m) stands for makeh (beating), ches (ch)
stands for charon (fury), lamed (l) stands for likui (punishment), kuf (k) stands for
klala (curse) and sov (t or s, depending on grammatical conditions) stands for to'aiva
(abomination). When a Jew fights, G-d beats him, is furious with him, punishes him, curses
him and deems him a repugnant and disgusting abomination. The midrash is showing that any
breach of the peace just isn't worth the consequences. G-d wants Jews to be good to each
other and to get along peacefully with each other at all times. And this is the case all
the moreso for one's highest priority: with one's spouse and children...consistently. The
midrash there also teaches that the only pipeline through which blessing comes down from
Heaven to earth is peace.
Meir, the Premishlaner Rebbe, compared
machlokess to a tug of war. Each pulls as hard as he can to beat the other. If one lets
go, the other will fall. If one lets go of his side in a dispute, he will continue
standing while the other one falls. The attitude should be: a Jew abhors fighting and even
if you want to fight with me, I do not to fight, I refuse to fight.
The Talmud (Chulin 89a) teaches that the
world is kept in existence by G-d only in the merit of the people who hold themselves back
in a time of fighting, who keep the mouth closed in a time of anger. Whenever there is a
dispute, difference or impasse of any description, the first rule is to always remain soft
and calm, no matter how provoked, agitated or justified you feel. No one benefits from
anger, loss of control, threats, insults, attack or "I never should have married
you." In the merit of your keeping quiet, controlled and peaceful, you help keep the
world existing - your personal world and the world at large!
When one is destructively cruel,
domineering, selfish or impulsive, I ask him or her, "Would you rather be yourself,
or would you rather be effective?" That generally stops people in their tracks! My
main concern is that they are committed to "the process" of counseling and
personal growth, with mutual will and integrity. By learning to relate, communicate, be
adaptive, be "substantively responsive" and learn to make the other genuinely
and steadily matter, a couple can gradually fix their marriage difficulties, give their
children a real and solid home and upbringing, and make their lives together livable and
PART TWENTY TWO - LOOK AT ANGER AS AN ENEMY
When angry, you are overwhelmed, out of
control and self-absorbed. Anger is ONLY destructive and brings to sin and misfortune
(Nedarim 22b). Anger leaves the angry person only with loss. The gemora says, "There
is nothing left for the angry person except his anger" (Kidushin 40b-41a, i.e. he
loses his relationships, health and wisdom). Anger increases sin, imbecility, troubles and
The book of Ecclesiastes tell us,
"Don't be quick in your spirit to be angry for anger rests in the lap of fools
(7:9)," "The words of the wise are heard with gentleness (9:17)," and
"Remove anger from your heart and thereby put evil out of your flesh (11:10)."
Further, having shown anger to be a trait of fools, Scripture tells us, "A fool does
not understand (Psalms 92:7)." The book of Proverbs teaches us, "A soft reply
will turn away anger (15:1)," "a fool spreads out his stupidity (13:16),
"An angry man causes strife and the furious man has abundant sin (29:22),"
"The one of great anger carries corresponding punishment (19:19)," "A man's
intellect makes him slow to anger (19:11)."
Yaakov cursed the anger of his sons Shimon
and Levi saying, "Cursed be their anger". (Genesis 49:7). The Vilna Gaon, with
his brilliant knack for concisely putting things into perspective, said "If one
cannot stop his anger, it is better for him to live alone in a desert" (Evven
Shlaima). Rabbi Chaim MiVelozhin, in "Kesser Rosh," beautifully blends the
ethical and the practical in writing, "Harsh words are never heard."
The gemora in Brachos tells us, "If
you do not get angry, you will not sin" (29b) and "Torah scholars increase peace
in the world" (64a). One who gets angry or who fights is a sinner and an ignoramus.
Even if he intellectually knows loads of Torah, the learned person with bad midos is only
a "chamor nosay seforim [donkey carrying books;" Chovos HaLevovos]. His Torah
has no internalization, practical application nor humanity. The person who is rapid to
anger and slow to appeasement is evil, the person who is slow to anger and rapid to
appeasement is pious (Pirkei Avos, chapter five)." King Solomon prescribes the remedy
(Ecclesiastes 7:19), "Torah strengthens the wise more than ten rulers who control a
Throughout Jewish tradition, anger is shown
to be altogether destructive, sinful, reprehensible, sacrilege, evil, futile and
self-preoccupied. When angry, one's intellect, reason, character, principle, stability and
self-control all disappear. Chazal tell us "All who are angry are as serving
idolatry." He obeys his impulses, not G-d, so the angry person makes himself an
idolatry. It is therefore A CONTRADICTION TO BE FRUM AND TO BE ANGRY! Always retain high
standards of spirituality; with respect, calm, self-control, consideration, midos,
patience, humility and peace.
Each of you: consider it a responsibility
to your marriage to constantly ask yourself, "How can I be an anger-proof,
fight-proof spouse?" AND to keep coming up with creative, good-natured, implementable
and effective answers. Have the will to make the marriage good, respectful, peaceful and
pleasant; to do everything with a nice attitude; to retain self-control; and to make your
Shulchan Oruch L'Midos [also called: Orach
Maysharim] writes that anger never leads to any benefit. It causes harm, drops one from
his rank and it prevents repentance. Orchos Tzadikim writes that people hate an angry
person, see him as crazy and they reject his words and deeds. He basically only complains
and scares people, so no one can interact with him. One who prevents himself from having
anger develops humility and compassion. Anger brings to cruelty and arrogance. By keeping
silent one nullifies anger. If the angry one must speak, let him do so by speaking gently
with a low voice.
The Orchos Tzadikim writes that the angry
person does not pay attention to what he is doing so he does things that one would not
come to do without anger. Anger causes one's intellect to cease functioning; so anger
leads to fights, provocations and nasty words. At the time when anger comes, if the
person's anger prevails, he is an angry person; if his wisdom prevails, he is a wise
person. The one whose anger is seen as coming with thought will be seen in a complementary
light. The one whose anger is seen as coming without thought is seen by others as an
idiot. Were a person to ever tear his clothes, smash property or scatter money in his
anger, he is as one who worships idolatry (Shabos 105b). The craft of the yaitzer hora
(evil inclination) is to get a person to do the likes of this. Today it compels you to act
rashly, foolishly and destructively as a stepping stone to compelling you to serve idols
tomorrow. Besides this, the angry person is overpowered. Since the emotional drive
determines what he does, it assumes the role which a deity ought to. G-d determines what a
person must do or not do. G-d's is the will which aught to govern a person's behavior.
When one allows his anger to possess him, his emotions tell him what to do, his anger
governs him and his behavior. His emotions have assumed the role of his deity. His anger,
then, is the idol which he worships and obeys. The angry person cannot serve G-d.
The Orchos Tzadikim writes that the one who
is angry and excited is seen as crazy and appalling. His life cannot be happy. He misses
love in his life. The angry person is not flexible, forgiving, compassionate nor
receptive. He will complain and will frighten people, he is prone to being begrudging and
vengeful. Because of all of this, others won't interact with him. He will be hated. His
deeds and words will be rejected by people. His anger prevents his heart from all good
spiritual and material things, including personal growth. No one can correct him. If a
person is angry, do not speak to him in person. When you are not in view, it is harder for
him to be angry at you. The general rule is that he cannot receive any good mida
(attribute or character trait) until he gets rid of anger from his heart.
PART TWENTY THREE - CONSTRUCTIVELY APPROACHING ANGER
When you "HAVE TO" release
overwhelming anger at your spouse, apply my principle of, "Don't be stifled, be
creative!" so that the result is harmless. Adapt it according to the situation and
personalities involved. For example, if you feel like screaming, criticizing or nagging,
go ahead...but whisper or only move your lips (like during Shmoneh Esray) and DON'T use
your voice. There will be no potency to your tirade while your motions release pent up
energy. You'll know you look silly and will stop as quickly as you can. If you want to
call your spouse a nasty or vulgar word, substitute something neutral e.g., "You
french fried potato!" If you want to throw an object, act like you are picking it up
and, with nothing real in your hand, "throw it" at the wall "as hard as you
can." If you can, use humor to lighten the tension you created. For example, you
angrily say, "You better be ready by seven o'clock!" Catching yourself, you then
pull the clock's plug out of the wall. Point to the stopped clock or dangling cord and
say, "I'm serious, seven o'clock!" By using creative techniques that suit your
situations and personalities, your relationship will not break down and your communication
will not be wrecked. Your spouse will understand that you need "to blow off
steam" at that moment and he or she will appreciate your effort.
A married couple's life should follow a
routine, a set order. Whenever there are disruptions, the couple should keep to their
normal routine. This will minimize the destabilizing effect of the tense issue on the
couple's life and marriage. Even when there are fights, keeping the routine keeps life
more "anchored" and normal (till the storm blows over). Further, steadily
maintaining that which is perceived as "normal" establishes the mental frame of
reference for how things should be. A set order of life inclines and motivates the couple
more to working the problem out, so that life can be restored to fully (and not merely
Never threaten - no matter what. "I'm
going to move out." "I'm sleeping in the livingroom." "I'm not going
to the mikva." "Don't look for me when you come home." "I should
divorce you." "Cook that again and I'll start eating in restaurants."
"I don't want to hear any more, you can tell it to my lawyer." Threats only
destroy. Whatever the situation may ever be, a threat makes it worse. If your relationship
is at all fragile, a threat will erode whatever is left. Any sense of trust,
communication, hope, credibility or connection will erode. Psychologically, it's an act of
desperation, frustration or control. None of these are relating. All of these contradict
and block resolving.
A man once told me that he and a woman he
was dating fought because when he told the girl he was ready to leave a party, she still
had to say "hello," never mind "goodbye," to some of the girls, get
news from others and gab about "whatever" with others. He just needed a minute
to get his coat. She needed 45 minutes to leave and he was exasperated (she was extreme,
even inconsiderate, but the basic point is well taken). Imagine how communication might
have been different if the man at the party would have brought her into communication by
softly asking something to the effect of, "I expect we'll be leaving in the one
minute it takes to get a coat; do you expect you will you be ready to leave in one
A story is brought [Sefer Shalom Bayis]
that a man made repeated stupid business blunders and lost all of his assets. After each
blunder, his wife repeatedly said to him that what he did was very wise and that she
understood why he thought it was a worthwhile move. This happened eight times. When he
finally lost all, she not only said that she understood that his transaction was wise and
worthwhile, she also said that her husband is more important than his assets.
A deeply religious man was so poor that his
family barely survived. The holiday of Sukkos was coming and he became sad that he had no
lulav and esrog for Sukkos. Being in a cold climate, the tropical species needed for the
mitzva were almost never found, and if they were, they were out of the financial reach of
The day before Sukkos, this pious man heard
that a lulav and esrog set was available in the next town. He had only one possession of
value: his tefillin that he put on every day. When Sukkos comes, one does not wear
tefillin. He would not need them for nine days! He needed the lulav and esrog for the
mitzva the next day! He decided to pay for the lulav and esrog with his tefillin! He
trekked to the next town and bought the lulav-esrog set.
He came home beaming with joy. When he
walked in the door, his wife asked how he got the lulav and esrog. He said proudly that he
cashed in his tefillin to buy the lulav-esrog set. She fumed, "You mean that when we
have nothing in the house to eat and you got money, you didn't buy food for the
family?!" In her fury, she grabbed the fragile esrog, threw it down to the floor, and
it smashed, making it totally invalid, and he was not able to do the mitzva. He was
aghast. Remaining ever calm, he said with the heartfelt simplicity of a tzadik, "The
tefillin is lost. The esrog is lost. My eternal life will not be lost through the sin of
When a person is angry, that is not the
time to try to appease him (Pirkei Avos). Hold out till things subside and get calm and
rational, so you can deal with the person and the issue effectively, with mature dialogue.
How do you measure when the situation or
environment has settled enough so that you'll be able to deal with the issue? You say
something [start on a small scale or with something of a "low risk" nature] to
the other person. If he or she maturely responds, responsibly addressing what you've said
with a substantive "on-target" reply, in a way that shows that the person is
reasonable and is "with you;" then enough time has elapsed, emotions have
simmered down, and you can address the issue. You should be able to sense "where it's
at." You SOFTLY AND GRADUALLY build the dialogue to each subsequent step of
development. Repeat as needed until the issue is resolved and a normal condition is
PART TWENTY FOUR - LEARN FROM OTHER PEOPLE'S BLUNDERS AND DON'T INVENT YOUR OWN
Sefer Orchos Tzadikim says, "The wise
person can transform bad things into good things." Pirkei Avos says, "Who is
wise? The one who learns from all other people." King Solomon tells us, "There
is nothing new under the sun" [Ecclesiastes 1:9]. When I do practical counseling,
sometimes the things I see are recurrences of similar patterns, issues and types of
actions. Since every imaginable act of stupidity, neglect or evil has probably been
committed by some spouse somewhere throughout history, wouldn't it be helpful to attempt
to learn from what has been done and DOESN'T work, NOT do it and then figure out how to
transform your blunders or crises into successes?! If you have a difference, communicate
and resolve it. Make up and learn from it. Once you get the knack, if you really want to,
you can start figuring out - in your actual situations - how to strategically remedy and
rectify troubles (or, better, stop them before they start), and get your relationship onto
a livable and good path.
Derech Eretz Raba (chapter six) provides a
wonderful lesson on giving benefit of doubt in a marriage context. "A man should
never be strict about his meals. It once happened that Hillel the Elder invited a guest
for a meal. A pauper came and stood at his door and said [to Hillel's wife], 'Today I am
to marry a woman and I have no livelihood whatsoever.' [Hillel's] wife took the entire
meal [which she made for her husband and his guest] and gave it to [the pauper]. After
that, she kneaded another dough, cooked another meal and brought it and set it before
them. [Hillel gently] said to her, 'My sweetheart, why did you not bring [the meal] to us
immediately?' She described to him all that happened. He said to her, 'My sweetheart, I
never judged you to be guilty. I only judged favorably, because all of your deeds were
only done for the sake of Heaven.'"
Some people enter marriage having no idea
what it requires of them. Let's take the story of a young man who married. During the
first year, the wife's health was not good. She cried to a friend of mine, "He told
me that in the first year of our marriage I've been sick 58% of the time! He's been
keeping records of when I'm unhealthy! He's complaining about how much he has to take care
of me and that I'm not at his service!" The husband didn't understand that when he
stepped out of the chupa, he had responsibility to care for her. Had he been sick, she
would have cared for him. He seemingly wants both of them to just take care of him. He
thinks marriage is "keeping score."
A middle class fellow married a girl from a
good but financially poor home in which her mother always baked. Since his home was
well-off, his mother always bought baked goods. When married, she continued her mother's
habit of baking all baked goods at home. Thinking he was complimenting his new wife's
baking, he said, "This tastes like from a bakery!" To her, his comment was a
"put down." She was insulted that it didn't taste to him AS WELL AS
"HOME-MADE." He meant to praise her for baking as well as a professional does.
She didn't know about professional baking. They eventually ironed it out, and after years
of marriage, they now chuckle over the difference in understanding. But, when the marriage
was new and fragile, this failed communication, even though he was well intended, created
An Ashkenazic American man married a
Sefardic Israeli woman. They lived in Jerusalem. He loved steak. One of the things that he
gave up to live in Israel with his wife was steak, since beef is rare and expensive there.
One time his mother's friend was traveling
from America to Jerusalem. His mother asked her friend to take a frozen steak along and
deliver it to her son. When the friend arrived, it was not long before Shabos and the
Sefardic wife was home alone. Since the Israeli wife didn't understand what steak is, she
didn't know what steak means to an American. So, seeing it the "natural" thing
to do, the wife chopped the steak into the chulent. On shabos, he asked her what those
particles in the chulent were. When the husband found out that his wife "wasted"
the steak in the chulent, he became furious and she couldn't understand what he was so
King Solomon tells us, "Enjoy life
with the wife you love" [Koheless 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 Mishna 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 UN-religious.
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, you are sinning. 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. The Jew is an active
giver. King Solomon says, "CHASE charity and kindness" [Proverbs 21:21]. You
have to actively keep looking for ways to bestow good and happiness on others, keep
seeking to cause good deeds to happen, through your possessions [charity] and your self
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 - through the way you
conduct your marriage!
PART TWENTY FIVE - SETTING THE STAGE FOR PROPERLY TALKING A PROBLEM OUT
When Miriam spoke loshon hora [degrading
speech] against her brother Moshe, the Torah tells us that G-d became angry with her.
Nevertheless, when G-d spoke to rebuke her, He said, "Listen please to my words"
[Numbers 12:6]. The "Sifsay Chachomim" commentary on the Torah points out that
G-d used the word "please" and spoke gently. We learn that the effectiveness of
a rebuke is directly tied to the tone with which it is said (and this, of course, only
applies if the person's behavior was genuinely incorrect - not just your opinion!). If
rebuke is given in an angry and attacking manner, the other person "shuts you
out" or "closes up." The communication is diminished, if not over. If you
want to have impact, first make sure that the person's behavior is objectively wrong,
beyond any shadow of doubt and with full understanding of the context, and express
yourself in a questioning or exploring, soft and polite manner that conveys that you are
only motivated by the other person's best interests and the relationship's well-being.
In a marriage, if one wrongs the other, let
the other ask if the offender realizes that the action hurt him or her and whether there
is any extenuating circumstance or benefit of doubt. Only if there is no justification,
explain how this act or statement was hurtful. Keep self-control and a mentshlach tone
I counsel couples to never be afraid of, or
agitated by, differences. They are a fact of life, like breathing is. Differences are
going to be there. So what? In any MATURE relationship (marriage, friends, neighbors,
business, etc.), if the two parties work out differences in a fair, two-sided, mentshlach,
thoughtful and substantive manner, THIS MAKES THE RELATIONSHIP STRONGER. Over time,
repeated resolution of differences demonstrates character and builds TRUST, RESPECT,
ADMIRATION AND WARMTH between the parties. Therefore, don't be afraid of having
differences. They're going to be there. BE AFRAID OF IMMATURE OR NASTY HANDLING OF
The Torah (Leviticus 19:17) says, "Do
not hate any fellow Jew in your heart, you shall certainly speak out the wrongdoing of
your fellow Jew, but you shall not bear sin on account of him." When someone does
something that hurts or bothers you, it might cause you to feel hate towards that person.
You might have to confront that person (e.g. criticize, rebuke, point out a fault or talk
out a hurtful action). But this must never be done sinfully. This all must be constructive
and according to halacha.
It is much harder to be guilty of speaking
or behaving badly when one's manner is soft, polite, warm, sincere, humble and patient;
when one recognizes that the other has a side to the story; when one is considerate of
other people's feelings and is considerate of the impact of his/her speech and actions on
others. One exercise that really "opens eyes" when I do marriage counseling is
to have each "role play" stepping "into the skin" of the other spouse,
explaining the other's feelings or side to a story - FROM THE OTHER'S POINT OF VIEW. The
other reacts and says whether the role play was accurate or off target, objective or
self-serving, complete or flawed. By both doing this exercise in front of each other,
under my guidance and my being "referee," they see how they are
"blind" to the other's feelings, to the other side of the story, and to the
impact and consequences of their behavior, speech and tone on their spouse. This shows how
much spouses sometimes DO NOT KNOW EACH OTHER on a mature or meaningful level. Until they
do, and know how the other gender thinks, how to conduct themselves with midos and
halacha, what their "husband or wife responsibilities" are, how to relate and
communicate, how to resolve differences like a mentsh; they have no idea how to repair
troubles or deficiencies in their marriage - never mind how to have a happy, peaceful,
stable and successful marriage.
There are many halachos and they impose
many and serious limitations for how to talk out another's wrongdoing. The point is to
remove hate or grudge, to never take revenge, and to never wrong the other because you
indulge yourself with an abusive, nasty and uncontrolled bout of hostile screaming.
If you speak correctly, you get a big
mitzva. If you speak wrongly, it will be a serious sin. It's either/or. If you will not be
able to speak to the person according to ALL OF THE HALACHOS OF TALKING OUT HIS
WRONGDOING, YOU MAY NOT SAY ONE WORD! Right away, many of such discussions are prohibited
and illegitimate! Proceed super-carefully! You may not say even your first word until you
no longer take the action personally (or at least you won't let it interfere with speaking
for the other person's total good).
Rambam (Hilchos Dayos, chapter six)
codifies the halachos for talking out someone's wrongful action against you. YOU MUST BE
GENTLE, speaking in a SOFT VOICE, HAVING FORGIVEN the wrong done. Your ONLY permissible
intention is that the speaking be FOR THE GOOD OF THE LISTENER IN THIS WORLD AND THE
ETERNAL WORLD. Central to all of this is that there must be NO HATE IN YOUR HEART AND YOU
MUST HARBOR NO ILL-WILL. You must speak IN PRIVATE and so as to cause absolutely no shame
or hurt, unless you were instructed otherwise by a rov when the wrong was a major chilul
Hashem. If your motivation was entirely for the good of the listener, and he does not
accept your words, you may speak repeatedly (with all of the halachos, of course: gently,
entirely for the sake of the listener's eternal life, having sincerely forgiven, in
private, etc.) till he returns to the good path.
There are signs that differentiate between
a wise and idiotic person. Many pertain to this subject of communicating and
conflict-resolution. The wise person never interrupts, is not hasty to reply, asks what is
relevant to the subject and answers according to halacha, speaks of the first thing first
and the last thing last, admits what he does not know and acknowledges truth. One who does
the reverse of any of these is an idiot [Pirkei Avos chapter five].
In my practical counseling experience, one
of the frequent and more serious obstacles that I see one or both members of a couple set
up is making fulfillment of their responsibilities contingent on the other person.
"I'll only do A if you do B." "I didn't do C because you didn't do D."
This does NOT work. This keeps the relationship blocked and does not allow for building
necessary good-faith, friendship and good-will. This also creates excuses to
"punish," to control, to not fulfill one's duties and feel justified about
evading them. If one partner works and the other does not, the one who is working will
eventually become "fed up" or "emotionally depleted." The most likely
result will be the end of the relationship - or of its prospects for peace. Each must be
mature enough to accept his and her responsibilities in working on the relationship and
perform them mutually with no hesitation nor resentment. By doing what they each must,
unconditionally and with a good attitude, each makes sure to do his and her part to repair
the situation or relationship. I'll tell them each, "If it doesn't work out, don't
let it be your fault. If the other does something wrong, you remain blameless in the eyes
As I repeatedly tell troubled couples,
"If you want the same results, do the same things. If you want different results, you
have to do different things." The Torah wants a couple to be "rayim ahuvim
[loving friends]." To achieve this, each must voluntarily be supportive, extend him
or her self and seek to give generously and considerately for the good, happiness and
satisfaction of the other.
PART TWENTY SIX - YOU CAN REJECT THE ISSUE BUT NEVER THE PERSON
About four and a half years after my
maternal grandmother passed away, my grandfather remarried. His second wife was from the
same "shtaitl." I remember that several times they had feisty arguments with
each other. During an argument, they could be smiling, jolly, waving the other's statement
off with a hand. The underlying tone was all ways good-natured. It could even be cute and
funny to watch them argue, with their Yiddish accents. "Votta you mean? it vas like
dis in the alter haim." "Eh, you don't know vot yurr talking, it vas like dot in
the alter haim." "De chair looks better here." "Hok mir nisht kein
chonik, it looks nicer over dere." They never said anything that was malicious,
angry, mean or vulgar. Towards the end of her life, my grandfather's wife was not
functioning well [he out-lived her as well as my grandmother]. He cooked like a chef,
served her all meals like an attentive waiter, did all the cleaning - including for
Pesach, did all the shopping - an elderly man pushing a shopping cart and going to the
butcher, grocer, baker; for weekdays and shabos. He did everything that was needed. No one
asked him. He did all of these things automatically and voluntarily. One thing that always
struck me was that they could disagree about ISSUES, but the disagreement was NEVER
PERSONAL. When it came to being HUMAN, they were both very warm and soft to each other.
They steadily gave compliments and called each other sweet names like "bubalah"
or "zeeskeit" or "De chulunt is deelishis." If couples today could see
how my grandfather, z'l, "argued" with anyone, it would be a Kidush Hashem
[sanctification of G-d] and lesson in how to treat a wife or any human being [this aside
from his being an enormous baal chesed and baal tzadaka].
The Torah [Exodus 21:37] says that if a
person steals an ox or a sheep and irretrievably disposes of it [by slaughtering or
selling it], he must pay a fine of five oxen or four sheep. While discussing why the fine
is five for an ox and four for a sheep, the gemora [Bava Kama 79b] says, "Rabbi
Yochanon Ben Zakai says, 'See how great is human dignity. An ox that walks away on its own
feet is five. A sheep that is carried away on the shoulders is four.'" Rashi [on
Exodus 21:37] explains that G-d takes pity on people - even this thief. When the thief
steals the ox, and walks it away from its owner's property, he does not degrade himself.
When the thief carries the sheep away on his shoulders, he humiliates himself. The Torah
is sensitive even to a thief who is guilty of a proven crime, and lessens the fine for
stealing in a case where the convicted criminal suffered some humiliation within the act
of his crime.
If Hashem is strict to not humiliate a
proven criminal convicted by bais din, then He is all the moreso strict that people, not
proven guilty of crime and not convicted by bais din, not be humiliated. Since the Torah
requires never paining or humiliating any other Jew, and requires massive kavod [honor,
respect] from each spouse for the other, kal vichomer [how much moreso!] must a spouse
NEVER humiliate the other spouse and ALWAYS have compassion about his or her impact upon
the other and that person's feelings!
IN ANY CASE OF INTERPERSONAL DIFFERENCE
(whether in marriage, in school, at work, in shul or anywhere) SEPARATE THE PERSON FROM
THE ISSUE. YOU MIGHT REJECT THE ISSUE BUT NEVER REJECT THE PERSON! Let the husband softly
mention that he recognizes and understands all of the effort his wife puts into the
buying, preparing and serving the meal, and he knows that all was done exclusively to
please him. If he did not like the dish, DO NOT CRITICIZE THAT MEAL. Eat it graciously
without one bad word. Later, softly say that he would not care for that type of food IN
THE FUTURE or say on another day that he would really like such-and-such [a different
dish] to eat. He must make it clear that this is no negative statement about her expended
efforts and no rejection of her at all. Modify this, of course, to suit your relationship
Part of making the expression of
acknowledgement and gratitude credible is referring to as many concrete details as is
reasonably possible. In this example, he specifically refers warmly to her shopping,
cooking, seasoning or flavoring the recipe, etc. to show he recognizes and appreciates
every detail of her effort. If he speaks in a polite, considerate and gentle manner, and
effectively removes any trace of personal negative tone or statement; and if she is mature
and concerned about pleasing him, this should be an effective communication.
If one is on an important phone call and
the other wants to interrupt to ask a non-urgent question, the speaker can briefly
explain, softly and politely, that this call is important because it may lead to a job
offer or a big sale or medical recommendation for his health, and will require ten
minutes. Now is not the best time...REJECT THE MOMENT, NOT THE PERSON. And pleasantly
emphasize that you will be AVAILABLE FOR YOUR SPOUSE AS SOON AS THE CALL IS OVER. The
brief soft explanation (why now is not alright) and assurance of full soon-to-come
attention, SHOWS RESPECT AND EMPHASIZES NON-REJECTION.
Tractate Bava Metzia 58-59 discusses
hurting feelings, especially of a wife. A man must always be careful with the paining of
his wife. The gemora there says that certain people go to gehenom and never come out
including one who embarrasses another in front of people and one who refers to another by
a disparaging nickname, even if the victim does not protest. Rabbi Helbo said, "A man
must be always careful with his wife's honor because blessing is found in his home only
because of his wife, as the Torah says [Genesis 12], 'And [G-d] gave good to Avraham
because of her [Sara, his wife].'" Accordingly Rava said to the men of the town of
Mehuza, "Treat your wives as precious because this is prerequisite to becoming
Hurting either spouse simply is not
acceptable. The gemora (Kesubos 61a) says that "marriage is for life and not for
pain." The installments in this series on communicating-related subjects provide
skills for dealing with differences, Now I want to give some insight that will help
couples to approach differences with compassion and understanding. The context or
underlying cause for pain in different given situations can vary. The following is to get
you thinking on a deeper level, so you may resolve your individual issues more actively
Sometimes one or both spouses fight and
behave angrily, which escalates the fight or increases the measure of hurt to a spouse.
One does something to hurt the second. The second does something to retaliate or defend
him/herself. The first one is further provoked. It can keep escalating till the marriage
is unbearable. What I sometimes find when I do counseling in such cases is not that the
two people mean harm per se. They are reacting to how much they each are hurt. The midrash
[Bamidbar Raba] says that when someone does wrong from evil, G-d punishes. But, when
someone does wrong from pain, G-d does not run to punish. We learn, therefore, that we
must SEPARATE THE ACTION FROM THE PAIN WHICH PROMPTS IT. If we can train the couple 1. to
stop paining each other, 2. to stop anticipating pain at every turn and the need to
constantly defend, react and be on guard, 3. to learn to maturely direct their sensitivity
to pleasing and trusting each other rather than emotionally stabbing each other; we can at
times save the marriage and make it happier and more functional by SEPARATING THE PERSON
FROM THE PAIN THAT DRIVES HIM/HER. If you have power to impact on your spouse's feelings,
let it be positively! If you hurt each other, let it always only be a mistake, resolve it
right away maturely and substantively, forgive and forget, and go immediately back to
applying yourselves to making each other constantly happy.
Obviously, either a man or woman can be
hurt, even bitterly or unbearably, by a marriage. However, since Chazal and the gedolim
emphasize the feelings and sensitivity of the wife, I am compelled to match that emphasis
in writing about general marriage principles. Everything I am writing is intended to be
adapted to apply to each practical individual situation and to provide an informed basis
for taking case by case shaalos (questions) to a competent and experienced rov. Never
forget that "[The Torah's] ways are pleasant and all of its paths are peace"
[Proverbs 3:17]. For behavior to be "Torah behavior," it must be BY DEFINITION
pleasant and peaceful.
PART TWENTY SEVEN - WHEN YOU HAVE A DIFFERENCE OR QUARREL, WHEN IS THE RIGHT TIME TO RESOLVE IT?
Holding in emotions, such as worry or fear,
is a major root cause for many psychological disorders and problems. In a marriage,
holding in upset feelings can be very damaging to the relationship and can worsen damage
which has already been done. The Torah fully recognizes this. Feelings must be expressed
with your spouse, possibly with the mediation of a qualified yoray Shomayim counselor if
necessary. Wise King Solomon tells us [Proverbs 12:25], "daaga bilaiv ish yash'chena
vidovor tov yismachena." A plain translation would be, "Worry [or, rendered by
Rashi: fear] in a person's heart will tear him down and a good word will cheer him."
The Talmud (Yoma 75a) and Rashi on 1. the verse in Proverbs and 2. the Talmud in Yoma,
which studies this verse, expand the meaning for us.
The "sh" and "s" in
Hebrew are written with the same letter. The Talmud utilizes this point of Hebrew grammar
and turns the SH into S so that the verse could be switched from "yaSH'chena (will
tear him down)" to yaSichena [le'achairim] (let him speak out/discuss [with
others]." With this reading, the verse would mean to say, "Let the person with
worry or fear in his heart speak it out to others." Rashi [on the Talmud] adds that
this permits the person to obtain advice and [on the verse] that in talking it out to the
other person, the other's "good word" will give comfort and happiness in the
matter of concern.
This can be very healthy when appropriately
applied to a married couple. Don't keep a worry in. Discuss it with your spouse (unless
nothing will be accomplished but spreading the worry). If your spouse can help, with a
practical idea, emotional support, assistance, cheering up, etc.; this can help the
marriage grow closer. Show that you each matter in your respective needs and issues. By
the responsiveness, concern, attentiveness and exchange, the couple will build trust,
bondedness and their relationship.
The Torah makes clear that you may not
harbor any bad feelings towards any Jew (all the moreso to your spouse!). The Torah's
"prescription" is to speak to the person. However, you may not just bark or
steamroll with whatever upset that escapes from your mouth. You must talk, but not to
incite machlokess [fighting, arguing; Sefer Shalom Bayis]. You must speak with no ill-will
and in a soft voice; using questions inquiring about the person's actions ["Why did
you do such-and-such to me?] - not statements, accusations nor attacks; speaking
peacefully, gently, respectfully and privately; to produce a constructive and agreeable
resolution. Your ONLY motive must be to bring the other person to good in this world and
the eternal world [Rambam Hilchos Dayos 6:6-7].
It is an issur De'Oraisa [Torah
prohibition] to hurt anyone with words ["ono'as devorim;" e.g. embarrassing,
insulting, using a derogatory nick-name (even if the person does not protest the
condescending name or term), annoying, slandering, reminding a person of something painful
or degrading in his past, asking a storekeeper for his price when you do not intend to
buy, etc.]. The ability to speak ["ruach mimalilo"] is the characteristic that
differentiates humans from the rest of creation [Targum Onkelos]. In marriage, this
capacity must be constructively used for getting along peacefully and pleasing each other.
When the two of you have a difference, try
to resolve it respectfully, two-sidedly, promptly and completely. If you can't deal with
the problem immediately, try to never go to sleep for the night with a problem unresolved.
If ever same-day resolution eludes you, at least try to resolve it by the coming Thursday,
so that the hectic preparation for shabos is not made tense with hostility. If that's too
difficult, at least don't go into Shabos without resolution. Let me emphasize that shabos
MUST be calm and peaceful; with all fights, tension or differences fully resolved,
forgiven and forgotten; BEFORE lighting the candles.
Just before Shabos [or Yom Tov - holiday],
it is a particularly tense time, with all its preparations and hurry. Sefer Avodas
HaKodesh (by the famed mystic, Rabbi Chaim Yosef Dovid Azuloi - called "Chidah")
points out that this busy time before Shabos, or Yom Tov, is filled with a special yaitzer
hora [temptation] to fight. Be extra careful to keep peace and calm on erev shabos
[Friday] or erev yom tov [the day just before a holiday] because tense times such as these
can be extra prone to fighting. You must be extra conscientious NOT ONLY TO RESOLVE
EARLIER ARGUMENTS - YOU MUST ALSO GUARD AGAINST HAVING NEW ONES!
Make a point on every Friday and every erev
Yom Tov to make special extra effort to be respectful and peaceful with each other. If the
wife is permissible, it is a mitzva to be together on shabos (Shulchan Oruch, Orech Chayim
280:1 and Mishna Brura #1). On erev shabos, a couple must avoid quarrels and the husband
must show extra affection and love (Mishna Brura #3).
Remember that the candles and their light
STAND FOR PEACE IN THE HOME. Never enter into Shabos or any holiday with a marital problem
unresolved. Consider it a non-negotiable rule to ENTER EVERY SHABOS OR HOLIDAY WITH
FULL-FLEDGED PEACE, CALM AND WARMTH IN YOUR HOME.
"If a person cannot afford to buy
[both] a candle for shabos and wine for kidush, a shabos candle takes precedence; and,
similarly, if a person cannot afford to buy [both] a candle for shabos and a candle for
Chanuka, a shabos candle takes precedence; because of PEACE in the house, for there is no
PEACE without light [which the relatively larger shabos or yom tov candle provides; Orach
Chayim, Hilchos Shabos, 263:3]."
"A pauper who sustains himself from
charity must sell his clothing, or must borrow or must rent himself [as a hired worker] in
order to have wine for the four [Passover seder] cups" [Orach Chayim, Hilchos Pesach,
472:13]. "And the [yom tov/holiday] candle for the house is a higher priority than
the four cups [if he can't obtain money for both wine and candle] because of PEACE in the
house" [from light; Mishna Brura #41, on the above Passover halacha].
In your marriage, don't let even a small
problem fester, not even a little while. Festering problems mount up and the accumulation
can come out explosively at the ugliest times. The laws for handling fights, differences
and arguments are complex so do not answer any question yourself, especially when
emotional or subjective. Ask a reliable and experienced G-d fearing rabbi case-by-case
When the two of you have a difference,
never let that disturb you. Let your attitude be that you will CALMLY AND PEACEFULLY WORK
OUT EVERY ISSUE TO THE SATISFACTION OF BOTH. If you can't make a compromise, let there be
no "loser." The one who "wins" this time OWES the other some favor or
benefit, even if some sacrifice is required. Make it up to the other for accepting the
"loss." By giving a "win" in the VERY NEAR FUTURE to the
"loser," each of you will be "investing" in your relationship. When
you have "victories," you DON'T have a relationship. "RELATIONSHIP,"
BY DEFINITION, MEANS TWO EQUAL AND CONSTANT WINNERS!
To help make maintaining peace practical,
always apply two statements from the first chapter of Pirkei Avos: 1. Speak little and do
much. 2. Study is not the essential thing, but rather action is. Apply these two precious
teachings to the three golden phrases is Psalm 34:15 - 1. "sur mayra (abandon bad -
turn away from any evil thing)," 2. "asay tov (actively do good)" and 3.
"bakaish shalom virodfayhu (seek peace and chase actively after it)."
You never want to waste precious time and
energy on petty conflicts or silly personality battles. Whenever you have a difference,
you want it resolved completely and maturely as soon as possible, you want to be able to
forgive and forget, and move on to have a productive and fulfilling life dealing with
important and meaningful things.
PART TWENTY EIGHT - ALWAYS BEHAVING LIKE A MENTSH WITH YOUR SPOUSE
"VaYelech Moshe (and Moshe went;"
Deuteronomy 31:1). Just before Moshe was to die, he "went" to speak to the
Jewish people. Ramban [Nachmanides], in his commentary on the Torah, points out that the
word "went" is extraneous (since the Torah already said that the people parted
from him back to their tents; 29:9-11). "Went," therefore, provides an extra
lesson. Moshe had been leader of the Jewish people for forty years. He had been a
faithful, devoted "shepherd" who was close to his "flock." Moshe
"went" around to all of the thousands of families to say goodbye to each and
every person. When you are taking leave of someone, you don't just disappear. You say
"goodbye" like a mentsh. And that is what Moshe did. He went to say
"goodbye" to each and every Jew, like a mentsh, to give every one of them honor.
He "went" to do derech eretz. If the Torah requires one to do derech eretz when
one is just about to leave this world, kal vichomer (how much moreso) must we behave with
derech eretz to people who we are still in a relationship with, when we still have time,
when there is still more relationship to come! We are obligated in derech eretz all the
way through life - especially with those who closely interact with us!
"And G-d said, 'Let US make man.'
(Genesis 1:26)." We know that G-d, and ONLY G-d, made man. We know that G-d is One
[Deuteronomy 6:4]. The Midrash [Beraishis Raba] deals with the obvious question of who is
the "us" referred to by the Torah. When G-d instructed Moshe to write
"us," Moshe was concerned and said "Master of the Universe, later in your
Torah you will say 'G-d is One.' This word 'us' here will give substantiation for those
who will choose to believe that there is more than one G-d."
G-d replied, "I asked the angels if
they would agree before I created man, to show them DERECH ERETZ. The angels agreed to My
creation of man. It is more important that My Torah teach derech eretz, that people should
have consideration for the feelings of others. So, write 'us' as I instructed you. Let
those err who choose to make a mistaken interpretation. It is worthwhile because those who
learn correctly will learn derech eretz from My Torah."
G-d behaved with Derech Eretz. G-d gave
consideration to the angels. We see from this midrash how important it is to consider the
feelings of anyone effected by any action that you will do. Think into the effect on the
other(s) IN ADVANCE. Ask IN ADVANCE how they will feel about it, ask nicely and be
responsive IN ACTION to the impact your course of action will have on the other - whether
your spouse, child or anyone else.
The world existed for 26 generations (from
Adam to Sinai), before there was Torah, even though the purpose of the world was for there
to be Torah! Yet, THE WORLD COULD NOT EXIST ONE MOMENT WITHOUT DERECH ERETZ. It came
before Torah. It started with Hashem Himself, with the Creation of man.
Rambam [Hilchos Dayos 1:5] writes that it
is a Torah obligation to emulate the traits of G-d because the Torah says "And you
will go in G-d's ways [Viholachta bidrochov," Devarim 28:9]. Therefore, it is a Torah
commandment to behave with derech eretz at all times and under all circumstances.
Having sterling midos (character traits)
and behaving like a mentsh (fine human being) are fundamental to living the Torah. These
are obligatory towards all people: Jew and non-Jew, the distinguished and the ordinary,
male and female. THIS INCLUDES: THE PERSON ONE IS MARRIED TO. How one behaves in close
relationships shows who one truly is. Pirkei Avos [chapter three] says that if one doesn't
have derech eretz, one doesn't have Torah. Rabbi Dessler [Michtav Mi'Eliyahu, vol. 4]
quotes Rabainu Yonah (12th century) who wrote, based on this Mishna, that G-d's presence
cannot rest upon any person who does not have good midos (even a person with lots of Torah
learning). The external corollary to good character is "derech eretz:" polite,
thoughtful and civil behavior.
The midrash [Vayikra Raba] says,
"Derech eretz comes before Torah." At presentations I ask people in the
audience, "If 'derech eretz comes before Torah,' if a person behaves without derech
eretz, what is that person's Torah?" Hopefully, this gets people thinking. One does
not personify Torah until he demonstrates derech eretz IN EVERYTHING HE DOES. Without
prerequisite derech eretz, you don't have Torah. When your behavior is up to the standard
required by derech eretz, you are a vessel for receiving, and a "good-will
ambassador" for, the Torah.
I tell people that a meaning of
"derech eretz comes before Torah" is: if you make kidush Hashem [sanctification
of G-d] by treating people with derech eretz, this could bring them to Torah. YOUR DERECH
ERETZ can come BEFORE THEIR TORAH. Derech Eretz helps one get olam habo [eternal life,
Tanna Debay Eliyahu Raba 2]. You cannot do a mitzva if it requires hurting someone else
[Orech Chaim 1:1, Mishna Brura 2]. Speak to people about what interests them before you
speak about what interests you [Sifri BiHa'aloscha 102].
Pirkei Avos [chapter three] tells us that
"all who are pleasing to one's fellow man are pleasing to Hashem and all who are not
pleasing to one's fellow man are displeasing to Hashem." Pirkei Avos teaches us to
always give people a kindly and pleasant countenance [chapter one] and to always receive
people cheerfully [chapter three]. Get into the habit of treating everyone in a friendly
manner always. Be sociable and healthily involved in the life of your community. When a
poor person asks you for charity, respond with warmth and a smile. If you can't give, say
IN A NICE MANNER that you're not in a position to give. The Chafetz Chayim [Ahavas Chesed]
says that even if you can't give a penny, a warm, comforting or encouraging response to
the poor person can be a kindness, and, therefore, is a mitzva. Greet neighbors on the
street. Ask people, with sincere interest - not mechanically, how things are. You'll start
to see your attitudes - and relationships - improve.
Watch for opportunities to exemplify derech
eretz IN YOUR HOME WITH YOUR SPOUSE AND YOUR CHILDREN. Watch how the quality of your
marriage goes up.
Anticipate each other's feelings, needs and
wishes in advance - before they have to be mentioned. If your wife asks you to take out
the garbage or bring home a quart of milk, learn from this the first time that when the
garbage fills up or the milk runs low - take the garbage out or bring the milk in - on
your own. Similarly, if your husband likes a coffee with breakfast or likes his seforim
(holy books) put back on the shelf in their proper place after the children use them,
don't wait to be asked to make sure that breakfast includes coffee the way he likes it or
to put his sefer back on its shelf after your little Yonkel finishes his Chumash homework.
If your spouse likes something, bring
presents of that kind home. One young man found out his new bride likes ice cream. She
came home to find a milk shake from the store in the refrigerator. A woman made a passing
remark that a household article was wearing out. Shortly thereafter, her husband came home
with a brand new one as a surprise. An engaged young man told his bride-to-be that he
doesn't like the look of certain clothes. Out of respect for his feelings, during her
"bridal shopping," she acquired a wardrobe of clothes to suit his taste. A woman
makes a point to be attractively dressed and have supper ready when her husband gets home
from work - no matter how rambunctious their many children are after school.
Always be considerate, give compliments and
express appreciation. Tell your wife that her appearance looks nice and her cooking is
delicious. Tell your husband that his achievements make you proud of him. Remember basic
such as: "please," "thank you," "excuse me," "I'm
sorry," "you're welcome" and, in general, to have good manners. Hold the
door for your wife. It is NO violation of tzneeyus [modesty] to hold a door for any woman
and it IS derech eretz. If either feels, because of tzneeyus, she should be behind the
man, then he should hold the door turning himself so that she walks behind his back.
Some people make the mistake of thinking
"derech eretz" altogether is corny or old-fashioned; or just for saints who want
"extra credit." Some people make the mistake of thinking derech eretz is fine in
public, but not with one's spouse nor children; or derech eretz is fine for wife and
children but not for strangers. The thing which COMES BEFORE THE TORAH is not something to
make any mistakes about. Not with anybody. Ever.
PART TWENTY NINE - THE SEVEN ELEMENTS OF A COMPLETE RELATIONSHIP [Part A]
The Biblical book, Song Of Songs, is a love
poem by a groom who loves his bride. It was written by King Solomon, the wisest man who
ever lived. Chazal refer to Song Of Songs as "holy of holies." Its ultimate
holiness rests in its being a love song between the Jew and G-d, couched in terminology of
the love of newlyweds. In it, there are many lessons to be learned for the cultivation and
implementation of a meaningful, lasting and spiritual marriage relationship. We will, in
this article and the next two, explore several of these teachings in Song Of Songs, with
emphasis on, but not entirely restricted to, King Solomon's seven elements of the
man-woman relationship. It is no accident that the number of elements of a holy
relationship is seven. In the third article in this group, we will include study of the
Torah-significance of the number seven.
In Song Of Songs, the lover refers to his
beloved by seven terms. By studying these terms, we will see, in the aggregate, how the
Torah describes a complete love relationship. Each term refers to a component of a
complete marriage relationship. The seven terms are: 1. kalosi - my bride; 2. achosi - my
sister; 3. rayosi - my friend; 4. yonosi - my dove; 5. tomosi - my perfection; 6. yafosi -
my beauty; 7. dodi - my beloved.
In the laws of mikva, there must be enough
kosher water for a mikva to be valid. If you need extra water to maintain the mikva, we
use the principle "hashaka" [Yora Daya chapter 201, Hilchos Mikvaos], which
means "contact." By keeping the kosher water in contact with extra water
necessary, we can maintain the mikva. "Hashaka" means spiritually exchanging the
essence of one thing with the essence of the another thing through contact.
"Hashaka" is from the same root word as "neshika," which means
kissing. Kissing, in the secular world, is physical. In Hebrew, kissing means that two
people are transcending themselves through contact and spiritually bonding from the inner
essence of one person with inner essence of the other. King Solomon, the wisest of all
men, said [Song Of Songs 1:2], "Kiss me with the kisses of your mouth." Song Of
Songs, called the holiest book in the Bible, is the love story of a man who adores a
woman, with this being an allegory for the love between G-d [the husband] and the Jew [the
bride]. The Maharal characterized the physical as having "boundaries" while the
spiritual is not confined to boundaries. A kiss that is physical, leaves out the inner
identity of the people involved. They have no spiritual bond. They create no unity because
they cannot transcend the barriers of two separate physical "selves" who are
confined within boundaries. A relationship requires transcending from the depth of each
through "spiritual contact" for which physical contact is essentially an
instructional analogy. A marriage relationship, by definition, is from the inner depth of
one person to the inner depth of the other through spiritual contact [hashaka]; an
exchange of essence with essence, from one to another. A husband and wife accomplishing
this spiritual goal together is holiness.
"It was the day of his wedding, the
day of the happiness of his heart [Song Of Songs 3:11]." Rashi writes, "This
refers to the eighth [concluding] day of setting up the Mishkon [Holy Sanctuary]."
This was the same day when sacrificial service was inaugurated in the sanctuary. Hashem
commanded building the sanctuary to enable Jews to achieve holiness, atonement and
perfection. The sanctuary was later expanded by King Solomon into the Holy Temple. The
link between marriage and the sanctuary conforms with and supports the idea that marriage,
as conveyed through Song Of Songs, is holy and a fundamental element of serving G-d.
By King Solomon referring to one's beloved
by seven terms, much can be learned about a Torah marriage relationship. Through studying
them on a deep level, we can learn how to achieve holiness in marriage that G-d wants.
"My bride" clearly connotes the
romantic, physical and male-female "role" aspects that are basic to marriage.
"My sister" connotes a close,
deep familial bond that is free from the confusion that may arise out of the emotions of
the romantic level. The bond is that of your flesh and blood. It provides the
unconditional, non-physical and constant element of love-relationship that a romantic-only
relationship lacks, which the family relationship has.
By the way, I have heard it asked,
"Isn't there a parent-child element in a marriage?" Yes, in the narrow, specific
and exclusive sense of a healthy spouse treating another healthy spouse caringly and
protectively. The Tur [Hakdoma, Evven Ho'Ezer] cites protectiveness as one of the
obligations of a husband. A parent cares for and protects. I have found no source in the
Torah that indicates any parent-child component of marriage in terms of seeking emotional
needs. This tells me, based on both my psychological and Torah knowledge, that if someone
seeks or enters into a marriage to obtain a parent-child relationship, it is probably an
unhealthy and immature seeking of something that a parent didn't fulfill; generally being
a very unhealthy emotional starvation, wound, emptiness or insecurity. In marriage, this
is disastrous and a sign that the person is seriously emotionally troubled. No adult
should 1. need to care as a parent as if their spouse were their "child" nor 2.
need to be cared for as a child as if their spouse were their "parent." There is
no source that substantiates that parent-child psychological needs are at all a genuine,
healthy or legitimate component of a marriage relationship. A spouse is only to be a
parent in terms of what one is to give (being out of mature responsibility), and not in
terms of what one is to take, what one is desperate for nor from psychological compulsion
or obsession. There should be no characteristic which either is driven after or seeking
from the other that would come from a different generation. In halacha, there is no
prohibition against people marrying when their ages are a generation apart. There are
times the Torah considers it a mitzva (e.g. marrying an impoverished or orphaned young
girl). But, this must assume that no person is marrying because they have a psycholgical
need to occupy the role of the spouse's "parent" or "child." Their
marrying would be on the assumtion that they are "basherte," compatible,
suitable, mature and emotionally normal - as any couple should be.
A brother-sister relationship, relating as
PEERS from the same generation, is very important, healthy and legitimate. Rambam actually
requires it in his codifying of the laws of marriage [Hilchos Ishus, chapter 19]. This
brother-sister aspect is particularly important to help characterize the relationship when
the wife is a nida, when the physical relationship can be replaced with an unconditional
PART THIRTY - THE SEVEN ELEMENTS OF A COMPLETE RELATIONSHIP [Part B]
Song Of Songs is the Biblical book called
"holy of Holies. It is an allegorical story of a man who loves a woman, representing
the love between G-d [the groom] and Jewry [the bride]. In it King Solomon refers to the
beloved by seven terms. We are studying how these constitute seven "elements" of
a complete and holy man-woman relationship. We continue with "elements" three
"My friend" (my "rayo")
is interesting because there are other words in Hebrew (e.g. chaver, ohaiv) that can mean
what the English speaker calls "friend." Let's look at why this word
"rayosi," in particular, is used.
The root word "rayo" contains the
letters raish, ayin and yod. You have the word containing raish and ayin, which is the
word, "ra," the Hebrew word for "evil," to which you add yod, the
initial of the name of G-d [yod-kay-vov-kay] which indicates His attributes of mercy and
compassion, intimate and detailed Divine Providence, timelessness (or eternity) and
patient forbearance. The yod comes with the raish and ayin. The message is that the yod
attaches to ra (any evil that may ever befall the friendship) and counteracts the evil
with these G-dly attributes. Rayosi is a category of friendship capable of overcoming any
evil that ever befalls it.
The yod never lets the raish and ayin of
"ra" to come together alone, so there NEVER IS evil in the relationship between
them. These don't "merely" overcome evil. They NEVER HAVE EVIL. This would mean
to say that, by practicing G-dly attributes [e.g. mercy, patience, humility, kindness,
forgiving, refraining from anger or punishment when He can find redeeming virtue, paying
detailed attention to the other, etc.], these friends attain to such a high level of
relationship that they keep evil from ever happening. In other words, rayo is such a high
quality friendship, that G-dly traits always reign, and evil is nullified and unheard of
in their relationship.
The word rayo (friend) is composed of ra
(evil) PLUS the yod from G-d's name. It is significant that it is G-d's name whose
1. eternity, constancy, timelessness
2. the exalted characteristics and
attributes of G-d (mercy, patience, etc.)
3. individual, close, intimate and detailed
providence that supervises every detail and moment of your life.
The yod signifies the G-dly name with the
types of attributes cited above [e.g. compassion, generosity, forbearance, etc.]. In other
words, friends who put these G-dly qualities into their relationship never let ra (evil)
happen. They are such good friends that ra can never happen because they put the G-dly
qualities of the yod between the raish and the ayin, which can never come together or be
alone to make "ra." These friends maintain standards of behavior and devotion
1. eternally, unvaryingly and timelessly
2. G-dly traits [kindness, mercy, patience,
3. and dealing with the other as an
individual, with in-detail and intimately close attentiveness to the feelings, needs,
dignity, preferences, perceptions, priorities, goals, personality and situation of the
other. By keeping these items (as signified by the yod from G-d's name) as practical,
fundamental, ongoing and non-negotiable axioms of the relationship, the friends keep the
yod between the raish and the ayin, so that evil may never come to their relationship.
Evil is unknown to "rayosi-category friends." Their love is unconditional,
consistent and lifelong.
The numerical equivalent of the letters in
the word ahava (love) is 13. The numerical equivalent in the name of G-d (which means the
timelessness, compassionate attributes and in-detail intimate relating [yod-kay-vov-kay,
referred to just above]) is 26. When husband and wife love each other the G-dly way, that
is 13 + 13 = 26; they are being married as a unity, the way G-d IS One and the way G-d
WANTS loving oneness in marriage. Significantly, when a couple is married, the ceremony
text refers to them as "rayim ahuvim, (loving friends, i.e [conjugations of] the
words "rayo" together with "ahava)." When the two people come together
as dear friends in true love for each other, this marriage is characterized by G-dliness.
"My dove" - the dove is a member
of the animal kingdom that chooses one mate and remains loyal to it for a lifetime. Use of
the term "dove" in Song Of Songs teaches that a spouse is for staying with for a
life time - with this same person, with each loyal to the other. The midrash says that the
dove turns its head to look back at its nest longingly when it flies away from the nest.
This teaches us that the dove knows that its support, its strength and the center of its
life is the nest that it shares with its mate. Likewise, one's home and mate are the
support, strength and center of one's life. And, the dove is chaste, always faithful to
its one mate. Further, when a dove is brought to the alter for slaughter as one of the
sacrifices at the Holy Temple, when positioned for the sacrifice, it sticks its neck out
as if to offer itself. This teaches that a spouse is one who willingly sacrifices, gives
of self and extends self for one's spouse (NOT for the sake of slaughter! - but for the
sake of the relationship).
The Torah's recounting of the flood tells
us that when Noach wanted to see if the waters dried up, he sent a raven out of the arc,
and then a dove. The midrash tells us that G-d forbade everyone - man and animal alike -
from having marital relations in the arc while the world outside was being destroyed. The
raven was one of the few inhabitants of the arc which sinned and violated this command
from G-d. Further, the midrash tells us, when Noach wanted to find out if the waters
receded enough for disembarking from the arc back onto the land, he first chose to send
out the raven. The raven is an unkosher species, so there were only two - one male and one
female - on the arc and, therefore, in the world. The dove is a kosher species, so there
were seven males and seven females on the arc. The raven had sinned, so if anything
happened to it before it would fly back, Noach wanted this sinful species to be the one to
become extinct. The raven was upset at being chosen, and he suspected that Noach wanted
him to get killed so that Noach could steal his "wife." Not only is it
farfetched to suspect that a human being would covet, and want to marry, a bird, but the
Torah itself, at the beginning of this story, testified that Noach was a tzadik (a
righteous person - that's why he was saved from the flood!). The depth of the message in
this midrash is that when a person's mind is evil or promiscuous, his mind works that way
"universally, across the board." The midrash is teaching us something extremely
deep about human nature. The low person's mind will project it's perversion or wickedness,
its vile perceptions and traits, to others, even the most saintly person.
After the raven came back (indicating that
dry land had not yet appeared), Noach later sent a dove. The dove is chaste and is
committed faithfully to one mate for a lifetime, in direct contrast with the promiscuous
raven. This teaches us the repair for the raven's character fault. This is the proof that
the raven's thinking was entirely wrong and misplaced, and that Noach was a complete
tzadik. By sending the dove thereafter, Noach showed that he stood for faithfulness,
loyalty, purity and commitment. He was not interested in "Mrs. Raven." Noach was
interested in being "kosher." This is all represented by the dove.
PART THIRTY ONE - THE SEVEN ELEMENTS OF A COMPLETE RELATIONSHIP [Part C]
Song Of Songs is the Biblical book called
"holy of Holies. It is an allegorical story of a man who loves a woman, representing
the love between G-d [the groom] and Jewry [the bride]. In it King Solomon refers to the
beloved by seven terms. We are studying how these constitute seven "elements" of
a complete and holy man-woman relationship. We continue with "elements" five
through seven and a Torah study of the significance of the number seven.
"My perfection." We know no one
who is pure and faultless. Be we can accept our spouse and be satisfied AS IF the person
is pure and perfect; by accepting faults, "shticklach," hang-ups, shortcomings,
quirks and habits; and by appreciating wholeheartedly the qualities, attributes and
strengths that make your mate special, precious, beautiful and unique. This is as if to
say, "With all your faults, I love you no less than if you would be perfect."
We must differentiate two categories of
fault: 1. those that make us imperfect human beings and 2. those which are injurious.
There is never room for damage-causing fault. We are talking about the first category of
faults that make us all normal, imperfect humans.
By accepting imperfections and appreciating
the positives, one can perceive one's mate as one's "perfection." Even though
not really perfect, you can love, appreciate and value your mate as much as if your mate
was perfect. You regard your mate no less than someone perfect. You can be optimally
happy, satisfied and peaceful with your mate by viewing him or her as if the person is
"My beauty." One must be
attracted to one's mate. Your mate should be one or more of: beautiful, handsome,
adorable, pretty, pleasant, cute, appealing, attractive...in your eyes.
"My beloved [dodi]." There must
be endearment for there to be a bond. Your mate should be heartwarming to you. Through
endearment, the couple has the love and affection that brings the couple to true oneness
for a lifetime. The essence of building this is through both giving for the good and
happiness of the other.
A well-known verse in Psalms (104:15) says,
"Wine will make happy a person's heart." An obvious question on this verse is
that alcohol is a drug. It only can furnish a fleeting, external, artificial effect. Your
essential, intrinsic condition is unchanged by the wine. There is nothing real about the
happiness of wine. You only SEEM to feel happy TEMPORARILY. If a person needs an external
stimulant, be it drinking wine, being overly intense about a hobby, being a workaholic,
etc.; the person himself - on his own, inside - is deficient and unhappy. What, then, is
Song Of Songs does not only use the root
word "dode (beloved)" in saying "dodi (my beloved)." There is a verse
(1:2) which also says "dodeicha (your belovedness)," in saying, "Tovim
dodeicha miyayin (your belovedness is better than wine)." This can answer our
question on the phrase in Psalms 104:15 just above.
A person who is capable of having a
fulfilling and mature relationship is a person who, by definition, is fulfilled - and is
capable of fulfilling another person in a meaningful and steady way. To be ready for a
serious relationship and to be a participant in a meaningful relationship, a person has to
be sufficiently whole and fulfilled as a human being.
Each person must have the internal
resources to give. Each must have enough wholeness and happiness as a person to have a
basis to be happy inside, and to be able to share and give happiness to another. I
repeatedly see in my counseling experience, when I work with singles and troubled
"serious," engaged or married couples, that when one is unhappy and wants
another to make him or her happy, all they actually do is make the second person unhappy.
No other person can make them happy because they do not have the wholeness nor practical
"inner frame of reference" for happiness to recognize it, to really feel it nor
to impart it into a relationship. All they end up doing is spreading unhappiness. When
they are nice, it is to "buy" love or to "rescue" the other to make
their broken self-esteem feel validated. If they both have problems, they often feed into
one another's problems. They are often both using each other for their psychological
agendas and have unhealthy co-dependency. They have victims, not relationships - until
they get their emotions and midos repaired. The inner person - in the heart - must be
substantial, healthy, fulfilled and complete enough to be able to give and be responsible
- to each make the other happy and to share an unbounded lifelong spiritual love.
A strong, loving and lasting marriage
relationship that really works is an intrinsic, authentic and beautiful thing. Such a
relationship is better than the fleeting, seemingly happy state that wine brings on. A
real, complete and lasting marriage, between two who are each other's beloved, is true
goodness and happiness. Then, as King Solomon puts it [Song of Songs 6:3], each can say,
"I am for dodi [my beloved] and dodi [my beloved] is for me."
The number seven is very significant in the
Torah. It represents creative completion. The universe was created in seven days. Creation
was completed on the seventh day, the holy shabos. The nation Israel has seven forebears:
Avraham, Sara, Yitzchok, Rivka, Yaakov, Leah and Rachel. The last of Yaakov's children
(Binyomin) was born to Rachel, the last (seventh) of the forebears, completing the twelve
tribes of Israel.
In the marriage ceremony, the bride walks
around the groom seven times representing the seven conditions of a marriage bond
(described by the prophet Hoshea 2:21-22, speaking of the marriage between G-d and the
Jewish people), "I marry you ETERNALLY, and I marry you with RIGHTEOUSNESS, and with
JUSTICE, and with KINDNESS, and with COMPASSION. And I marry you with FAITHFULNESS and you
will KNOW G-D." These seven attributes stated by Hoshea are the foundation for a
There are seven blessings in the marriage
ceremony which tell us 1. that G-d created everything (including marriage) for His honor,
2. that G-d created the human form, 3. that He did so in His image and formed lifelong
mates in that process, 4. that marriage should be happy as should be the final redemption,
5. that the couple should be loving friends (again using the word "rayo"
[unconditional and eternal friend], as the type of friend described as "element"
number three) who should be as happy as Odom and Chava (Adam and Eve) were at their
wedding in the Garden Of Eden, 6. that G-d created happiness for husband and wife and 7.
that G-d created wine for the conducting of joyous and ceremonial purposes.
Sevens are repeatedly found in the Jewish
wedding. From the ceremony and thereafter, the couple fulfills the seven elements of a
complete relationship. The marriage manifests the creative completion signified by the
number seven, hopefully with a lifetime of joy, blessing and success.
PART THIRTY TWO - MIDOS [Part A]: "ME DOSE" VS. "MEEDOS"
Avraham, who was living in Kana'an,
instructed Eliezer (his servant) to find a wife for Yitzchok from Padan Aram, specifying
not to bring a girl from Kana'an. In both countries, the people were idolaters, so why did
Avraham insist that Eliezer travel with a caravan, for over 500 miles through a steamy hot
desert, rather than to seek a girl from nearby? The people in Kana'an were lacking in
midos [character traits] while the people in Padan Aram had midos but were lacking in
dayos [knowledge]. If someone has good midos, you can add good knowledge and work with
that person, whereas if someone lacks good midos, you cannot work with that person
[Drashos HaRan]. We see from the Torah that good midos are fundamental to marriage and to
producing a G-dly heritage in the home.
One of my sayings is, "If you have to
fight for basics, you have no relationship." Human beings, human relationships and
"real life" are very complex. People, situations, moods, backgrounds, timing and
other factors can vary. But, basics, like midos, have to be solidly in place in a
relationship or you have nothing to work with. If a good-hearted person needs education,
we can deal with that. If a person has undeveloped character, there is nothing inside the
person on which education can take hold (except education which suits the person's bad
Torah without good midos, and the
elimination of bad midos, is like a building with no foundation. Without its foundation of
midos, Torah observance will not stand [Rabbi Chayim Vital].
When couples have good marriages, they have
sterling midos. When married couples have troubles, one the most common causes of trouble
is deficient midos in one or both of the partners. A common "script" that I hear
when I do marriage counseling; from a spouse who inflicts pain, abuse, neglect or tyranny
on the other; is, "There is nothing wrong with me, I like myself." Perhaps we
can say, "You may like you the way you are, but does G-D like you the way you
are?" The following teaching from a Chasidic giant shows that the person who feels
anything along the line of "I am flawless, I am fine" is one to be most
concerned and worried about.
A person is only born to keep changing his
nature over his entire lifetime. If a person thinks he has completed working on himself,
he has not even started. The more he is spiritually perfected, the more he will see
himself as having further to work. He will humbly see his mitzvos and spiritual
accomplishments as gifts from G-d, not as being due to own his greatness. A person who is
spiritually undeveloped will see any mitzva or spiritual deed as a major credit to himself
about which he entitles himself to feel proud. The spiritually developed person considers
his mitzvos and spiritual deeds a merit granted by G-d [Reb Elimelech Mi'Lezensk].
The Torah [Deuteronomy 21:10] says,
"When you go out to war with your enemies...". The conjugation for the verb
"saitzay [go out]" is singular, yet Moshe is speaking to the entire Jewish
people. He should use the plural form of the verb "saitzu [go out]." The
meforshim explain that the Torah is saying that Hashem only sends us wars (or other forms
of oppression, suffering or misfortune) because we become weak in learning and living of
Torah. If we don't want wars OUTSIDE ourselves [e.g. enemies, hardships, anguish or
persecutions], EACH INDIVIDUAL MUST CONDUCT AND WIN THE WAR WITH HIS/HER ENEMIES INSIDE:
AGAINST THE YAITZER HORA [EVIL INCLINATION], SHORTCOMINGS, SIN AND BAD MIDOS.
The Kotzker Rebbe once ran into a childhood
friend who became unreligious - and fabulously wealthy. He had land, livestock, mansions.
The Kotzker asked him, "Where is your olam hazeh [material wealth]?" The rich
man laughed and said, "My wealth is enormous. I live like a king!" The Rebbe
looked him in the eyes and said, "You are in error. This is your olam habo [reward].
Where is your olam hazeh?" The old friend realized that he was failing to make
correct accounting of his life and deeds, trading away his acquisition of eternity for
acquisition of material enjoyment in this fleeting world. He was not "going out to
war against his enemies," fighting to grow within himself to reach as high a
spiritual level as possible. The Kotzker was saying that he would pay in an eternity that
would be like suffering in a losing "war."
The literal meaning of mida is
"measure." In other words, it refers to a measure of personality or character
that is appropriate under given conditions. It is not mercy to let a killer go unpunished
and be a menace to society. It is not kindness to allow a playful baby to put his hand on
a colorful fire glowing on your stove just because the fire is attractive to him, or to
give all the candy he wants so that he needs a stomach pump or dentist's drill.
Life is to be governed by midos at all
times. Each trait has its time, place and measure. Remember that there are THREE
EXCEPTIONS: on the good side, humility (no amount is too much); and on the bad side, anger
and arrogance (no amount is allowable, under most circumstances). The good midos are
basically always in force (application is "innocent until proven guilty"). The
bad ones are basically to be conquered and eradicated ("guilty until proven
Midos often come in pairs: a good one and a
bad corresponding one. Some examples: generosity/stinginess, compassion/cruelty,
happiness/sadness, peace/fighting, humility/haughtiness or arrogance, zeal/laziness,
truthfulness/falsity, respect/audacity or contempt, anger/gentleness or pity,
rigidity/flexibility, desire/self-discipline, etc. The reason for these examples is to
show that working on a "mida (character trait)" typically entails building,
developing and practicing the good one; while smashing, diminishing or eliminating the
negative corollary. Very often, a mida is the absence, control or "violation" of
Spiritual work is usually making a decision
at every moment between what I want and what G-d wants, often (when in interpersonal
contexts) in regard to another person. Generally, if you think about yourself ("me
dose - a dose of me") it is mutually exclusive with "midos (a dose of good
Part of working on your spirituality is to
carefully and constantly guard against the filth and influences of the outside world.
Sometimes, the evil inclination is very clever and subtle. One teenager hung out with some
non-Jewish friends who went to the movies every Saturday afternoon. Since he was observant
and would not carry money, his friends paid for him. After high school, he and his buddies
went their separate ways in life, but he still enjoyed those Saturday movies, so he
arranged to pre-pay Friday and kept going to movies on shabos. Then, he started carrying
movie money on shabos itself and subsequently become entirely non-observant, marrying
secularly and raising children without Torah. The evil inclination started with
"friends" and worked on him gradually until he lost everything. Even observant
people can fall victim to serious sins and to rationalizations with which they falsely
excuse themselves - talking in shul, walking in front of someone praying Shmoneh Esray,
financial dishonesty, blaring loud music at simchas that is medically damaging,
mistreating one's spouse or children, parking in front of private driveways because one is
too impatient and selfish to park less conveniently, disturbing neighbors, etc. We must be
vigilant to guard against the bad as much as we must be to develop the good!
Relative to succeeding in a marriage
relationship, developing an abundance of good midos and the elimination of bad midos
promote a success-perpetuating attitude and "track record."
PART THIRTY THREE - MIDOS [Part B]: CONQUERING, FIXING AND BUILDING MIDOS
One time Reb Elimelech Mi'Lezensk saw his
brother Reb Zushia crying and asked him why. Reb Zushia answered that he is not at his
potential. Reb Elimelech said, "Do you mean because you are not as great as Moshe
Rabainu?" His brother replied, "No, I'm crying because I am not as great as
Every Jew is unique and is required to
achieve his spiritual potential. Each has his own abilities, challanges, tests and
shortcomings. There is no excuse. Chazal tell us how people with difficulties such as
having little money, a large business to oversee, strong physical desires, etc. will be
judged severely because others with the same difficulties learned much Torah and achieved
spiritual greatness. One cannot say, "I did not know," because every Jew is
required to have a rov and to regularly learn. One of the must punishable sins in life is
not overcoming your obstacles and becoming what you had the potential to spiritually
The Vilna Gaon says that the essential job
of life is working every moment on fixing one's midos; so much so that when one is not
working on his midos, he is wasting his life. One's midos must be evident in each person's
practical ongoing personal conduct. Working on character is the first priority of life and
is, indeed, hard work; but the rewards far outweigh the price (especially for proper
conduct in human relationships, passing spiritual tests and for earning eternal life).
The Gaon said that working on midos or
temperament is like a riding a horse. If one has a good temperament, it is like riding on
a gentle horse. It is relatively easy. If one has a bad temperament, it is like riding on
a rough horse. Breaking bad midos is life's first job and priority. One has to ride on his
"temperament horse" for a lifetime. One is obligated to get to his "life
destination" regardless of whether on a gentle or rough horse. One is obligated to
exert whatever effort is required to live life with a good temperament and good midos,
even if it means less energy or time for other things. If one has powerful bad traits, use
them for good purposes. For example, if one is blood-thirsty, let him be a mohel
[circumciser] or shochet [meat slaughterer] and NOT be a murderer or bandit [Shabos 156a].
If one is always fighting his evil inclination, he is rewarded according to the pain
[Pirkei Avos, chapter five] and he can thus earn more eternal reward than a person whose
nature is gentle, sweet or kind but who exerts no effort.
Rambam discusses midos in Shmoneh Prakim
and Hilchos Dayos. He writes that a person who is sick does things the opposite way from
healthy people. For example, he will want to eat bitter or unhealthy things. The person
whose midos are sick is likewise. He will desire bad traits such as anger, cruelty,
arrogance, selfishness, lust or honor-seeking. Because his midos are sick, bad traits will
seem good to him. Rambam's famous "prescription" for working on a mida is
"the golden mean." To break a mida which is at one extreme, go to the opposite
extreme until you get the problem out at its root. For example, if you are cruel, become
extremely merciful. If you are selfish, become extremely and unconditionally generous and
kind; especially for people who have a disadvantage, dependency, pain or vulnerability.
Give repeatedly to them without any hesitation, judgement or contempt. If you are haughty,
wear torn clothes and sit in a low seat, go around asking for charity, behave towards
people with humility. Practice the opposite trait in the extreme for a very long time.
Then adhere to the balanced, middle trait for the rest of your days, Rambam writes. For
example, you drink nine cups of coffee a day and can't moderate the habit, even though
your doctor orders it, saying that so much caffeine is bad for your heart. Force yourself
to quit altogether for the sake of your health. When you succeed, go back, if you must, to
one and a half cups a day. This way, a "bad day" will be two and a half cups.
Nine will become inconceivable. If you are in any way mean, angry, selfish, rude,
uncontrolled or neglectful to your spouse, bend to the opposite extreme. For example,
speak quietly and meekly; do the other person's will; give in to get along; increase kind,
generous and thoughtful behavior; don't feel insulted by objectively innocent things;
don't jump to conclusions; stay silent when you want to scream. Keep to such habits until
you break the shortcoming(s). Then behave normally and pleasantly thereafter.
The Vilna Gaon says that if one cannot
rapidly go to the opposite extreme to change a bad mida [as Rambam prescribes], change by
making small and gradual, but steady, steps under the guidance of a talmid chochom. The
person shall proceed from one "midos level" to the next level, to the point at
which his nature is permanently changed to where he has the mida as required by the Torah.
The yaitzer hora [evil inclination] will tell us, "You can't change your nature, so
don't even try. People never really change." The yaitzer hatov [good inclination],
and our gedolim [Torah leaders], tell us not only "yes, you can - and MUST,"
they also tell us how! In all cases in which practical questions or issues arise, or to
plan how to work on your midos, growth or passing difficult tests; please consult your
competent, G-d fearing and experienced Orthodox rabbi on a "case by case" basis,
This all has bearing on choosing or
relating to a mate. The better the temperament that a relationship "candidate"
or partner has, the more energy you will have for relating and living. The more one has a
rough temperament, the more energy you'll have to spend on the basics of getting along
compatibly or with civility.
The Talmud [Kidushin 30b] says about the
evil inclination, "If this repugnant entity meets you, drag him to the house of study
[learn Torah, particularly in regard to the issue or temptation at hand]. If he is a rock,
he will melt. If he is iron, he will shatter." Torah is stronger than a yaitzer hora.
A word of caution. NEVER assume that Torah
AUTOMATICALLY makes one a better or elevated person. The Vilna Gaon writes that a person's
soul needs Torah just as the earth needs moisture. Chazal compare Torah to water. Water
can cause either nasty weeds or beautiful flowers to grow. Just as moisture causes that
which was planted in the earth to sprout just as it naturally is, for bad or good, 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, of sinful or mean thoughts, of bad traits and habits. Only if one actively
strives to elevate himself spiritually IN CONJUNCTION WITH HIS TORAH LEARNING, will his
Torah elevate him. One's deeds derive from what is in the heart. Torah intensifies
whatever is naturally in his heart. Correspondingly, this can make his sins worse or his
devotion to G-d higher. One must, therefore, work to increase his fear of sin and 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 intention and goal of increasing fear of sin and elevating and purifying our
hearts. 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 and purify ourself through
The primary purpose and most important duty
of life is fixing one's midos. If you are not working on your character at every moment,
you are wasting every such moment of your life. A longer essay on midos and developing
fundamental spiritual traits can be found on my website. Go to "Personal
Growth," then to the subsite on "Good Midos."
PART THIRTY FOUR - MIDOS [Part C]: SENSITIVITY TO YOUR IMPACT ON OTHERS
The more that you learn and practice in the
area of midos, the more you will accomplish, and the more you will eliminate bad midos and
ingrain good midos into your personality, relationships, behavior and responses. Some
people double park (blocking traffic and a parked car) or park in front of someone else's
driveway (a sin for "merely" one minute is still a sin), park in their own
driveway but onto the sidewalk where people need to walk, stand in the doorway of a store,
push in front of another person in a line (e.g. bakery, bank), blow car horns in
residential neighborhoods, walk into a building slamming the door in the next person's
face, drop something they don't need on a floor on which people can trip, cheat in
business, make noise in shul which disturbs others (even when dovening, for example saying
Shmoneh Esray or "Yehay Shmay Raba" too loudly), amplify music at simchas at
damagingly loud levels, cough or breathe on people when sick with a cold - things which
block, hurt or inconvenience others.
The things we do have impact on other
people - physically and spiritually. The closer people are to us, the more the impact.
Meir wanted to honor shabos by taking a
nice shower and cleaning himself well. The kids tied up the shower for a long time and his
wife grabbed the shower as soon as she was able to, after standing and sweating over a hot
stove all Friday afternoon. It was getting near to the coming of shabos. He started
getting angry, banging on the bathroom door and demanding that his wife hurry up. He
banged a second time. "It's almost the z'man [time]! C'mon, hurry up already and get
outta there!" Then, he banged the door with a loud boom. His wife came out of the
shower, irritated and nervous from his noise and pressure. Since he was in the shower so
close to the end of the time when showering would be allowed, he was also agitated. They
were both pretty tense and hostile by the onset of shabos, saying nasty things and
verbally jabbing at each other. At shul, Meir bragged to the rov that he "won"
in his effort to rush his wife to let him into the shower in time for shabos. The rov told
him, "Washing for shabos is a mitzva if you do it but it is not an obligation that
one has to do. If you do it, you get a mitzva. If you don't do it, it is no sin. Whereas,
if you make a fight with your wife, that is a sin, and the whole thing is not worth it. If
you can't shower, as another option, you can wash, with warm water, your hands and face
and, if possible, your feet. You can't make a fight with your wife in order to honor
shabos. To be so adamant, you don't want to honor shabos. You want to honor yourself. It's
better that you not shower and that you have shalom bayis. In such a case, avoiding the
fight and keeping peace is your mitzva." Meir must work on many midos, such as kavod
[respect], savlonus [patience], anava [humility], gevura [self-discipline], nichusa
[gentleness], akavius [consistency], shmiras haloshon [guarding his tongue], rachus
[softness, flexibility] and shalom [peace]. He must also learn Torah guided by a wise rov
to get his priorities straight!
In tractate Taanis (20b), Rabbi Ada Bar
Ahava was asked by his students to what he attributed an extraordinarily long life. He
answered, "I was never stern within my house."
Midos is often a matter of keeping
priorities and perspective. Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, father of the "Mussar
Movement," lived in the mid 1800's. He once was a guest of a family that lived in a
house which was located on the top of a hill. When it came time to eat, the family and its
eminent guest washed. Torah law requires washing the hands before eating bread. It is
typical to pour the water over the entire length of the fingers and the hands. Reb Yisroel
poured the water over only his fingers. The family asked him why he poured water only over
his fingers. He said that the maid carries water from the town well on her back in two
heavy buckets that are on a pole across her back. Every time water is running low, she has
to go to the well and carry the heavy load of water up the hill to the house. How could he
cause her to have to carry the water any more than the least possible amount? He used the
least amount of water necessary to satisfy the law, out of consideration for the maid.
A well-meaning talmid [disciple] passed
through some rooms in which people were sleeping, in order to get water for netilas
yodayim [ritual washing of the hands]. As soon as he found out, Reb Yisroel told him that
what he did was a transgression, saying to the talmid, "Netilas yodayim is a mitzva
from our sages but stealing sleep from other people is prohibited by the Torah."
Passover is a time when Torah law is very
strict and people are cautious to practice many stringencies; for example, as to how to
bake the matzos, clean the house from chometz, assure that all food is kosher for
Passover. The students of Rabbi Yisroel Salanter were about to go to the matzo bakery and
they asked him which stringency to be careful to observe during the baking of their
festival matzos. He told them that there is an elderly widow who works at the bakery. He
told them to be careful not to hurt her feelings.
Every moment, find ways to work on your
midos. Work on midos requires constant awareness and effort. Once you have understanding
of, and sensitization to, midos and their importance, you can and must make work on midos
an every-moment part of your life. For example, if there's a long line at the post office,
instead of getting frustrated and upset, or trying to push or sneak in front of someone on
line, work on the mida of savlonus [patience]. Bring a sefer [holy book] to use the time
constructively and wisely while waiting. If a man's garment has a tear, instead of buying
a new one, let him ask his wife to sew it so that when he wears it he can practice the
mida of appreciation, and while she sews it his wife practices the midos of chesed and
hatava [kindness and benefitting]. If his wife's garment tears, let him offer to take it
to the tailor for her or buy a replacement [depending on the severity of the tear and his
financial means]. This type of approach, in which each seeks to give to and please the
other, if done with a nice attitude by both, will also lead to more endearment for each
Rav Mendel MiRimanov said that children go
"off the derech [stray from Torah]" or develop bad midos [traits] because
parents cheat to get money and then feed the children ma'achalos asuros [forbidden food]
purchased with sinful money "unauthorized" by Heaven. Since eating ma'achalos
asuros causes timtum halaiv [spiritual poisoning of the heart], the children's good midos
[traits] are deadened [maybe this has something to do with there being so many "kids
at risk" or who have chutzpa, self-indulgence, impatience and relationship trouble
Sefer HaChinuch, in discussing the mitzvos,
says that "a person is molded by his actions." If you work on improving
behaviors and midos, even if changes are not discerned overnight, the effect gradually
accumulates, sinks in and changes you. If your work is sincere, you will notice over time
that you become more sensitive to other people and to the detailed requirements of Torah
laws, values and ethics. Remain persevering, rise to challenges, pass tests, live with
integrity. The results will come. The Talmud [Megila 6b] promises that one who works
honestly and perseveringly on a spiritual goal will succeed. Heaven's guarantee of help is
commensurate with effort, particularly when you are faced with - and pass - obstacles and
tests. For specific questions, consult your orthodox rabbi. A longer essay on midos and
developing fundamental spiritual traits can be found on my website. Go to "Personal
Growth," then to the subsite on "Good Midos."
PART THIRTY FIVE - MIDOS [Part D]: ACCOUNTABILITY FOR YOUR IMPACT ON OTHERS
The Torah [Exodus chapter 21] discusses
having an evved ivri [Jewish servant]. The law requires treating him as a member of your
household. For example, if you only have one pillow, you must give it to the servant and
do without one for yourself. The laws of evved ivri start the Torah's section on laws of
damages and civil interaction. Sefer HaChinuch explains this saying that for us to be a
people of justice and sanctity, we must act with compassion and sensitivity to our fellow.
If bais din made a person an evved, he either was convicted of a non-violent crime, could
not pay a debt or could not support himself. One could be tempted to treat him with
contempt or abuse. The Torah commands never treating him as a second class citizen. To be
people of Torah, we must treat all of our fellow Jews with kindness, respect and
consideration; especially those who are members of our own household!
Hitler had indoctrinated the Germans with
the idea that they were the "master race." During the war, the Klausenberger
Rebbe was a concentration camp prisoner. He encouraged a Jew who was crumbling under the
Nazi torture by telling him to never forget that he is from the "Chosen People."
A German guard overheard the Rebbe and, since Yiddish is similar to German, he understood
what the Rebbe said and became infuriated. "So, you think you are the 'chosen
people'?" The Nazi brutally beat the Rebbi with his rifle butt till he fell to the
ground. The Nazi then roared, "Do you still think you are the 'chosen people'?"
The Rebbi said, "Yes, more than ever, because I could never do to another human being
what you just did to me!"
The Torah commands us to be holy [Leviticus
19:2]. Becoming holy requires overcoming the sinful forces inside us, which stem from the
physical world, that pull at us [Rashi]. A major part of being a Torah Jew is to want to
be incapable of causing hurt or harm to another. This comes from working on midos.
Constantly working on midos is vital in all
interpersonal relationships, in general; and how much moreso in marriage, in particular!
Menoras HeMeor writes that the midos of the parents influence and mold the children. It is
vital to constantly and vigilantly demonstrate fine midos at all times - for the wellbeing
and wholesomeness of yourselves, your marriage and for your children. This applies for
doing good AND for refraining from bad; to treatment, speech, tone, and the feelings that
are conveyed and caused. Midos are instilled in those who see you and in the next
generation, so midos have far-reaching ramifications. You are a link in a chain of Jewish
generations, tradition and spiritual continuity. You should strive to mold the next
generation into being what the previous Torah generations were. When spouses give over
love; to spouse, to children, in his and her general mode of operating; this creates a
love-atmosphere; and this love goes over to your children and on for generations. The tone
that you set in your house is what your children learn and absorb - AND give over when
THEY are spouses and parents.
A fundamental principle regarding midos is
established in the Talmud: The mida with which one behaves is the mida with which Heaven
behaves to that person [Sota 8b]. The Talmud [Tractate Shabos 151b] furnishes a concrete
(and interpersonal!) example, "All who behave with compassion on other people, Heaven
behaves with compassion on him." The Zohar [Emor] expands this by telling us,
"If one arouses himself spiritually on Earth, Heaven arouses Itself correspondingly
above. If a person performs a meritorious act below, he awakens the corresponding force
above. If a person does kindness on earth, he evokes kindness to him from Heaven. That
kindness rests on that day and crowns that day with kindness [to advocate in Heaven for
the person when he will need kindness]. If a person practices mercy, he crowns that day
with mercy, which becomes his protector when he is in need [of mercy]. Everything is given
[by Heaven] to a person according to the principle, 'mida kinegged mida [measure for
measure].' Happy is the person who exhibits spiritual, meritorious behavior below, since
he depends at all times [in this world AND when being judged after death] on his act
awakening the corresponding act [towards him from] above." The midrash tells us that
on every occasion on which justice is not given by an earthly bais din, justice is
executed by Heaven's bais din [Beraishis Raba 26:14].
Sefer Chasidim (chapter 716) is
to-the-point in saying, "Listen to advice when still alive. Accept correction from
others." After one is in the grave, there is no more repenting, repairing nor
acquisition of merits to hinge your eternity upon. Pirkei Avos [chapter two] tells us,
"Return [to Torah] one day before your death," and [chapter four], "Return
[to Torah] AND good deeds are a shield against disastrous punishments." Since one
never can know which day he will die on, the point of saying "one day before your
death" is: work on spiritual correction and elevation EVERY DAY. By going to higher
levels of divine service, particularly through personal perfection and through good deeds
to other people EVERY DAY, one can grow closer to G-d and can bend G-dly judgement of him
or her to be more compassionate, favorable and lenient.
The saintly Chafetz Chayim [Rabbi Yisroel
Meir Kagan, 1838-1933; in a classic work, "Ahavas Chesed (The Love Of
Kindness)"], wrote, "If a person in his lifetime habitually failed to forego
anything of his own for another, failed to have pity on others, he reinforces the
attribute of stern and strict justice in Heaven towards him. So, after he leaves this
world and he is in need of such benefits [e.g. kindness, pity, etc.], Heaven pays him back
with his own characteristics. G-d deals with him the same way that he dealt with
Rambam says that if you annoyed one person
one time, did not do tshuva and did not obtain your victim's forgiveness, that is enough
to block your atonement on Yom Kippur. If one does something coarse, rude, vulgar, filthy,
inconsiderate, dishonest, etc. in a way that causes chilul Hashem [desecrating G-d], there
is no atonement without the person's death [Hilchos Tshuva].
One should chase after acts of charity and
kindness [Proverbs 21:21]. It is of central importance that each Jew constantly treat
every other Jew with mercy and generosity and with all good midos - being to the exclusion
of bad midos - while chasing and creating all possible opportunities to practice good
midos and deeds.
Also, consider that your midos and
behaviors effect others. You are always, on some level, a role model and influence for
others. You represent the Torah. You cause responses and perceptions in other people. You
have impact on how others will feel and behave. You inspire people to grow or to decline
as human beings, perhaps more than you realize.
An elderly lady once emotionally said to me
that she was a guest for shaboses in a home which "has so much love." What is
striking about this story is that the lady, who was in her late seventies at the time, had
not been raised observantly. Because of the enormous love in this particular family, she
was influenced by it and became frum at this advanced age. The wife in this family helped
the lady acquire a shaitl. The family arranged for her kitchen to be koshered. The father
always spoke interestingly about the weekly Torah portion at each meal. The young children
called her "bubbi [grandma]" and teenage daughters walked her home after each
meal. I myself saw this family's love transform this woman into a practicing Jew. I knew
this woman before and after she started covering her hair. Because of their midos and
apparent love-atmosphere, this family was a kidush Hashem [sanctification of G-d]. A
longer essay on midos and developing fundamental spiritual traits can be found on my
website. Go to "Personal Growth," then to the subsite on "Good Midos."
PART THIRTY SIX - MIDOS [Part E]: THE FOUNDATION OF ALL GOOD MIDOS IS HUMILITY
The gemora says that wherever you see G-d's
greatness, there also you see His humility [Megila 31a]. The greater a person is, the more
he is humble and cognizant of his true impact on, and responsibilities to, others. He
knows he is accountable to Heaven for everything he does. His conduct always displays good
midos. The Maharal says [based on this gemora] that the humble person has the trait of
"complete simplicity" in his relationships with all others. He conducts himself
with no airs and is receptive to everyone. It is arrogance when a person puts up barriers
with people who are of no use to him, "rub him the wrong way," require things of
him or otherwise do not suit him. The more he makes barriers, the more he is arrogant. The
more he is humble, the more he relates to every one and gives them all access to him, with
simplicity and consistency. He is great, as he emulates G-d.
The Talmud [Avoda Zora 20b] says that anava
[humility] is the greatest of all good traits. Orchos Tzadikim says that humility is the
foundation upon which all good traits depend. And, correspondingly, its opposite, gaiva
[arrogance, haughtiness] is the foundation for all bad traits.
The gemora [Sota 5a] says, quoting G-d,
"He and I cannot dwell in the same universe." This refers to anyone who has
gaiva. When Hashem "cannot live in the same world" as a person with certain
offenses, one meaning is that Hashem Himself instructs gehenim to receive those guilty of
such offenses [Arachin 15b].
Humility is removal of barrier between
yourself and another, whether G-d or other people. Humility lets your mind and heart
"make room and let the other in." Conversely; arrogance, impatience and anger
let no one into your mind and heart but yourself. Humility is canceling of ego and
self-centeredness (regardless of whether psychology says this is "good" or
"healthy"). Only with humility can you relate to, identify with and have empathy
for another. Only with humility in both partners can there be a fulfilling, functioning,
stable and "barrier free" relationship. Humility is the trait which entitled
Moshe to be the one who brought the Torah from Heaven to earth. G-d called Moshe the most
humble person who ever lived. Moshe could be the most perfect instrument for the faithful
delivery of the Torah which, by definition, has to be pure, without any adulteration or
pollution that arises out of ego. Torah and humility go together.
The Talmud [Sota 5a] talks at length about
the value and merit of humility and the evil of its antithesis: arrogance. For example, it
says there that the haughty will be cut down and they will not rise with resurrection of
the dead [techiyas hamaisim]. Even a sage must not be arrogant for it says [Proverbs
16:5], "All who are haughty are disgusting to Hashem." When the verse says,
"all," we learn that this fully applies to one with much Torah learning. The
world is kept in existence in the merit of the person who humbles himself [Chulin 89a].
Hashem is with the humble. We see this from the fact that He ignored all the big mountains
and He revealed His Torah on Sinai, the lowest of mountains. He did not lift Mount Sinai
to come up to Him, He lowered [kaviyachol, so to speak] Himself down to Sinai, to show
that He is with the humble, even though He is high.
The Vilna Gaon's students came to him with
a complaint. They said that the Gaon was always humble. Even the Talmud [Sota 5a] says
that a sage must have a "echad bishmoneh bishminis [an eighth of an eighth]" of
arrogance, in case there is ever need to defend the honor of Torah. They asked the Gaon
why he was 100% humble.
The Gaon answered his students. He said
that the very quote from the Talmud which they cited contains the answer. There is a
grammatical inconsistency in the statement. It says "bishmoneh [eighth]," which
is masculine language and then "bishminis [eighth]," which is feminine language.
It should have been expressed consistently as "shmoneh bishmoneh," all
masculine; or "shminis bishminis," all feminine. Why does the Talmud switch
within the one phrase?
The Gaon said that the word
"shminis" goes on the feminine word "parsha [Torah portion]." The word
"shmoneh" goes on the masculine word "posuk [Torah verse]." The phrase
is a reference to the eighth verse of the eighth portion of the Torah. This is when Yaakov
Avinu [Jacob] was returning from Lavan [in Baval] to his homeland [Israel]. His brother
Esav had threatened to kill Yaakov for taking the birthright. G-d told Yaakov
prophetically that he should return and that he will receive G-d's protection. Yaakov was
afraid that perhaps he did some sin and lost the merit for divine protection. So Yaakov
prayed to Hashem to be saved. The eighth verse of the eighth portion is [Genesis 32:11],
"katonti mikol hachasadim umikol ha'emess asher asisa es avdecha." Yaakov said
[in this verse], "I am too small for all of the kindnesses and truth which You have
done for Your servant."
The Vilna Gaon concluded, saying, that next
to the infinite greatness of Hashem, a mortal person is "too small." How could
any human being ever be the least arrogant? The eighth of an eighth referred to in the
Talmud means that when it comes to being arrogant or humble, look at the eighth verse of
the eighth Torah portion and see that no human being can ever be anything but humble and
small [Bi'Ohela Shel Torah].
One can measure a person's humility
according to his measure of patience, especially with other people [Sefer Alufainu
Misubalim]. Rabbi Praida had to teach a pupil each lesson 400 times. One time, the pupil
did not understand the lesson, so Rabbi Praida taught him the lesson another 400 times.
For being as patient as the other needed, Rabbi Praida was given longer life and
guaranteed eternal life [Eruvin 54b]. The truly humble person has love for every fellow
Jew, regardless of his community. When a truly humble person, such as Rabbis Moshe
Feinstein, Shlomo Zalman Auerbach or Chayim Shmuelovitz, spoke to another Jew, he made the
other person feel unconditionally loved. Chazal say that we poskin [decide law] according
to Bais Hillel over Bais Shammai because Hillel was more humble, which was especially seen
by his being sweet and gentle (even with irritating or offensive people or people who
argued with him in halacha [law]), by his not being stubborn or concerned with victory
over anyone else, by pursuit of peace and love of people and spreading Torah so much that
he merited the Divine Presence [Eduyos 1:4, Shabos 31a, Sota 48b and Pirkei Avos chapter
one]. The Chida says that there were many rabbis who were knowledgeable enough to write
the Shulchan Oruch [Code Of Law] but Rabbi Yosef Karo merited it because he was the most
humble, which is particularly seen by his never criticizing or attacking anyone who
disagreed with him in halacha or who had a weaker premise than he in halacha.
Humility does not mean being meek to the
point of accepting harm. Moshe was the most humble of all people who will ever live
[Numbers 12:3] but he was strong when he had to stand up against Korach's rebellion
against Moshe's authority. Humility does not mean being self-effacing, it means canceling
your ego for the will of G-d and doing all which G-d says is right or good. In shalom
bayis, this means canceling your feelings, wants and thoughts when necessary to do the
will of G-d with your spouse. For example, if you do anything that pains the other, you
probably are required to immediately and totally discontinue it. Rabbi Yosef Epstein, one
of the talmiday chachomim who escaped from Europe from the Mirrer Yeshiva through
Shainghai, poskined that if a husband's learning Torah deprives a wife of time that she
needs from him and this pains his wife, the husband should give up the amount of learning
it takes to remove his wife's pain. This constitutes growth in midos [character
development] and raising his level of holiness [Sefer Mitzvos HaBayis]. He is not guilty
of "bitul Torah [nullifying learning]," he is fulfilling many mitzvos e.g. to 1.
make his wife happy, 2. help her with her burdons and duties, 3. work on shlaimus
[self-perfection] at all times, 4. mivater [give in on behalf of others] and 5. pursue
peace [for any practical questions, or to evaluate which activity is right to do at any
particular time, ask your rov]. He is practicing humility when he cancels his thought that
he must only use his time for learning. The Torah establishes priorities for cases where
there are conflicting Torah demands upon a person and it is not for the individual to
decide - one must obtain da'as Torah. When he married, the husband took on responsibility
to give attention to his wife and to provide for her needs. He is subjugating himself to
Torah when he gives his wife time that she needs from him and thereby he is practicing the
trait of humility and is genuinely serving G-d. This principle applies all the moreso if
what he is giving up for her is not a mitzva that is as huge or fundamental as Torah
learning! A longer essay on midos and developing fundamental spiritual traits can be found
on my website. Go to "Personal Growth," then to the subsite on "Good
PART THIRTY SEVEN - MIDOS [Part F]: PRACTICAL APPLICATION TO LIFE
Each person's midos must be evident in his
or her ongoing personal conduct. Working on character is indeed work, but the rewards far
outweigh the price (especially in close human relationships).
The Torah says (Deuteronomy 4:39),
"And you will know today and you will return it to your heart...". Rabbi Yisrael
Salanter (mid 19th century) was one of the greatest Torah analysts of human nature. He
explains this verse saying that there is as great a distance between not knowing and
knowing something as there is between knowing something intellectually and internalizing
it into one's heart.
A story is told of a yeshiva man who was
learning Talmud. He was studying the law that prohibits one from leaving something in a
place where it can cause others to fall, thereby causing damage. He had pulled his
"shtender" (learning stand) onto his chest. He was sitting with his legs out in
the aisle. Just as he was learning the law that one may not cause another to trip and come
to damage, his feet, in the aisle, tripped someone walking by and caused the other to get
hurt...while learning not to trip and damage the next person! He was learning
intellectually. In "real life," what did it mean? What did it accomplish? Pirkei
Avos says, "Learning is not the most important thing, but action is (chapter
one)" and "He whose deeds are more than his wisdom, his wisdom will endure
(chapter three)." Learning must lead to practical application. Lasting practice of
what you learn is the mark of its assimilation into your system. When something you
"learned" is intellectual, it is not part of you. When it spontaneously and
consistently prompts "learned" response from your heart as practical and
positive action, it is learned. You are changed. You are only then truly wiser and more
In one of the shuls in which I pray, it is
customary on shabos and yom tov mornings for the young boys to come around, after reading
of the Torah portion, to pick up the Chumash books (that the congregants use, to follow
the Torah reading in). These little fellows put the books back on their shelves. This is
done to train them in midos. One shabos shortly before writing this, I wanted to retain my
Chumash in order to study a portion of the Torah in greater depth than I had time for
during the Torah reading. When one of the young boys came by, I decided to let him take
the book. I could learn the section of Torah later. I didn't want to interfere with the
development of HIS midos. I simply told him, "Thank you," for collecting my
Chumash. And by my appreciating his intent (of saving me the trouble of returning it to
the shelf myself), I was working on my midos also. I took a Chumash again after services
A rebbe in a certain yeshiva is a very
generous soul. When one of his students came to his bar mitzva, the rebbe bought (of his
own initiative and at his own expense) and physically brought the fish for the boy's bar
mitzva celebration. Five weeks later, another boy in that yeshiva, but not in this rebbe's
class, had his bar mitzva. This rebbe received a call from this other boy's parents. They
gave him their "order" for fish for their son's bar mitzva, feeling that if the
rebbe does it for the other boy, he will do it also for their boy. They didn't even ask.
They simply told the rebbe how much fish to bring. When the bar mitzva day arrived, the
rebbe showed up with the "order" of fish. Another member of the staff was
incensed at the chutzpa of these parents, the insolence against the rebbe. He asked the
rebbe why he bought and shlepped the fish? The rebbe answered, "They have to work on
their midos and I have to work on my midos."
I would understand your saying to me, at
this point, that all of this sounds difficult. There is a Talmudic statement that will
remedy remaining doubts and hesitations. You can fully proceed with confidence and a
The gemora says, "Greater are the
deeds of the righteous than Creation of Heaven and earth [Kesubos 5a]."
There is a tremendous question on this
statement. How can anything from any finite flesh and blood mortal, even someone great, be
greater than the Creation of the entire universe by an Infinite Creator? How can the works
of any human being even be compared with the Creation of the wonders of nature, the
marvels and miracles of the universe and of life?
A human being has something that does not
apply to G-d's handiwork. The human being has free will choice to decide between good and
evil, between the spiritual and the material, between the service of self and the service
Proverbs 24:16 says, "The righteous
falls seven times and stands up." The road to righteousness does not start with ease
or perfection. The righteous can fall, perhaps many times. But when he falls, he dusts off
his knee, picks himself up, says, "There's one more thing I know not to do," and
his mistakes grow smaller and smaller, and progressively more "few and far
between." The righteous may make some mistakes, but he recognizes them and gets right
up - and keeps improving himself. The wicked person is content to stay down in the mud.
Through diligent ongoing work on oneself,
one breaks his ego and, progressively, elevates and sanctifies himself and his deeds. The
road to being righteous entails tests, pains and conquests; overcoming obstacles and
distractions; and developing self-mastery; spiritual qualities, potentials and character.
To become righteous, one fights - and wins - an ongoing internal war.
G-d's handiwork has no such battle. We say
in "Baruch She'amar" that G-d "spoke and the world came into being
[Siddur]." G-d's Creation has no struggles to complete itself. To "become"
righteous is not applicable to the universe. When a human being works on
"becoming" righteous, this is greater than G-d's Creation of Heaven and earth.
To create the universe, G-d effortlessly spoke and Creation came into being. To create
"one's righteous self," is struggle. This is greatness. You can be great!
When two people each work on themselves to
be able to live successfully, peacefully and happily with another human being; each one
makes him or her self into what is essentially this tzadik whose actions are greater than
the huge and awesome creation of Heaven and earth. Appreciate the wonder of the
accomplishment of two people who each beat their yaitzer hora, overcome hurdles and create
within themselves the ability to live harmoniously together. You create a universe when
you come together and give to one another, please, communicate, care for each other,
respect, appreciate, have responsibility and humility, are trustworthy and have good midos
and peace, for a lifetime; in spite of the trials and tribulations, pressures and
frustrations, obstacles and selfish inclinations of life. When you build a successful and
lasting marriage relationship, you achieve true greatness.
May both of you be great from now on!
For specific questions, consult your
orthodox rabbi. A longer essay on midos and developing fundamental spiritual traits can be
found on my website. Go to "Personal Growth," then to the subsite on "Good
PART THIRTY EIGHT - FAMILY
PURITY: BALANCING PHYSICAL DISTANCE WITH RELATIONSHIP CLOSENESS
Several years ago, a certain young rabbi
arrived at his wedding day. His grandfather was in his late eighties and had been married
for sixty years. His grandfather pulled him aside before the ceremony and spoke as
When his wife had become a nida
[menstruant], when they were physically forbidden to each other by Torah law, he would buy
her flowers for shabos. He, also specifically then, bought her presents and gave her extra
compliments and appreciation for her cooking and for things which she did. When she came
home from the mikva, he took his wife out on a "date," to spend time with her,
so that she would feel that he had a complete, not just a physical, interest in her, and
that his love for her was unconditional, constant and unvarying.
He made a point, throughout their
relationship, no matter how busy or tense or difficult life ever was, to regularly spend
quality time with her.
He would talk to her about his life, Torah
learning, decisions, activities, about what was going on in his life. Through his sharing
what was going on, he created the sense in her that he is truly sharing his life with her
and that she should constantly feel involved in his life. Through these actions he kept
showing to her that she is an unmistakably important part of his life and that HER BEING
IMPORTANT WAS IMPORTANT TO HIM.
He always made sure never to unnecessarily
burden, trouble or worry her. He would only tell her his problems when she could, as a
practical matter, help him or encourage him. He would only tell her something negative
when there was a benefit to be derived from the telling. He was steadily showing that she
was valuable in his mind and heart.
When they had a difference, they approached
each other as if the other were sage counsel with a wise and weighty opinion to be
seriously considered. They consistently discussed differences with gentleness,
adaptability, open communication, respect and calm. They would always together work out a
resolution that was peaceful, amicable and mutually agreeable.
The point of all of this is that this
couple (i.e. the grandparents of the young rabbi) NEVER ONCE had a single fight in their
entire 60-year long marriage. The grandfather was beckoning to his grandson to conduct the
marriage that he was on the verge of entering into in the same "kavod-rich,"
unconditional and sharing way; with the nida [monthly separation] laws BOOSTING, never
diminishing, their love; so that the grandson would enjoy the same blessing of nonstop
peace and lifelong happiness as a result.
Torah marital laws require physical
separation from the time of onset of the wife's menstruation till she immerses in a kosher
mikva [ritual bath, built to very exacting halacha/Torah law specifications]. The name of
the area of laws which pertain to this facet of life are called "Taharas HaMishpacha
[Family Purity]." We must note that term refers to the spiritual purity of the entire
family, not only the couple. When meticulously kept, these laws improve the spiritual
quality, atmosphere and character of the entire home for all members of the family.
The gemora tells us that nida separation is
a tremendous kindness from Hashem. When the wife immerses in the mikva after separation,
they have a restoration of the endearment that the couple had when they got married [Nida
31b]. They are happy newliweds every month. Rabbi Shimon Shkop wrote [Sha'aray Yosher]
that every month when the wife immerses in the mikva, she is reliving the wedding day,
each time, on a progressively deeper and deeper level. Around the wedding time is when the
couple does the most to please each other. Every month, the couple can renew and
"recharge" their love on a deeper and deeper level, throughout a lifetime.
It is vital that the husband makes his wife
SECURELY feel that his love for her is beyond physical. The emotional need to feel this is
a part of a woman's nature.
Baalos tshuva [women who returned to Torah
observance] have repeatedly reported that there is no comparison between a relationship
with a man which is without Torah versus with Torah. When immersing in the mikva, they all
had a meaningful and fulfilling spiritual and mystical feeling that could never be there
without mikva and halacha. They could feel that their relationship was made holy, elevated
and transcended the physical.
The Jewish woman should never take the gift
of Taharas HaMishpacha for granted. It is largely her responsibility, but it is also
largely her gift to appreciate from Hashem. A woman needs her relationship to be beyond
physical and this is achieved through Family Purity laws. No woman except the observant
Jewish woman fully has, from her Torah-based relationship with a man, what she emotionally
needs (in her essence female nature) from it. In our permissive and media-saturated
generation, we are at serious risk for impure outside values and forces seeping into
Jewish minds, hearts and souls. We must be ever vigilant to free our minds from outside
influences, especially in such areas where the forces involved are powerful and tempting,
and where our high standards of holiness can become lowered, fragile or vulnerable, Heaven
When the wife is a nida [menstruant],
halacha requires harchaka [physical distance, e.g. using separate beds; putting something
down so the other can pick it up, rather than directly handing the article to the other
person, etc.]. These laws are very serious. However, it is crucial to not interpret the
strict requirement of physical distance required by nida as "relational
distance." There are ways to maintain an appropriate balance, and doing so is vital
for a healthy and stable marriage. For example, a certain husband's overall behavior
towards his wife made her feel hurt and insignificant. He only phoned her during the day
from work when they had some kind of business or planning to talk about. During
counseling, I told him that when his wife is a nida, he should phone her from work every
day to ask if there is anything he can pick up from the grocery on his way home or ask how
her day is going. While he is physically not present, he is making the statement that he
is thinking about her. He is away at work, speaking by phone, not in her presence and not
being openly romantic, so there is no physical arousing. Yet, the implicit interest and
concern sends a positive message and compensates for the physical apartness. This had a
powerful and constructive impact on their relationship, without compromising Family Purity
laws. When I asked her how this made her feel, her word was an enthusiastic and prolonged
"ni-i-i-i-i-ce," which she said with a wide and cheery smile.
During nida, a husband can bring home extra
presents for his wife or he can baby sit while she enjoys time out with her friend. These
are examples of "relationship statements" consistent with halacha. He shows her
that his love is constant, complete, unconditional and steady. A woman needs this, or she
can feel cheap, used and emotionally wounded. What can be worse is that a husband often
would not understand this and can be ridiculing, rejecting or harsh if she expresses upset
or hurt. For her part, the wife, for example, can cook his favorite foods and let him be
free to have pastimes that he likes. The goal is to keep two bodies distant during nida
while keeping two hearts and two neshamos constantly close, deeply and consistently,
throughout each month.
PART THIRTY NINE - FAMILY
PURITY: HEALTHY BALANCE OF SPIRITUALITY AND MARITAL LOVE
One of the common failings in today's
preparation of chosons and kallahs [grooms and brides] is that they are trained for
marriage with an emphasis on how to be APART (nida and harchakos [laws of physical
separation and avoiding contact for at least twelve days each month], modesty and other
aspects of Family Purity) without comparable attention to how to be TOGETHER (affection,
consideration, tenderness, care, respect, communication, etc.). The Steipler Gaon, z'l,
said that, in order to raise children so that they will grow up to be good spouses,
parents must train their children in anova, tzneeyus, hachno'a, temimus and yosher (the
traits of humility, modesty, self-conquest [especially to subjugate one's self to the will
of G-d and to getting along with another person], simplicity [being "down to
earth," non-scheming and uncomplicated] and straightness [being fair to and honest
Further, many of today's parents are
derelict in training children to grow up to be potential spouses, how to feel emotionally
secure and whole, how to healthily channel and develop individual personality and
potentials and how to be enough of a mentsh for another to be able to live with their
children. They often consider themselves to be too holy to talk about such things. It can
be very uncomfortable for a weak ego to face imperfection in oneself or his or her child.
It can, in one's mind, be a frighteningly negative reflection of what one is or what one
would like to think he or she should be.
Although subjects pertaining to relating
closely must be kept in their time and place and handled with the respect and modesty
required by the Torah for these delicate and private topics, how to have good midos and to
behave like a mentsh are lifelong studies which should start as soon as a little child can
start understanding them. Many children grow without training that would enable another to
live with them. When "shiduchim time" comes, families strive to avoid, or they
discount or cover up, their little darlings' imperfections and defects - even the
irresponsible, nasty, unfair, damaging and marriage-killing ones.
In my articles about relating
heart-to-heart, I already spoke about the importance of a couple building and conveying
emotional connection. Examples of writings about heart-to-heart relating can be found in
my website under "Shalom Bayis": "Heart, Personality & Externals,"
the section: "Torah And Psychology," under "Finding Your Zivug":
"Building A Serious And Lasting Relationship," as well as in the "Marriage
Magazine Archives" (articles of August 3, '00 and March 22, '01). Since "actions
speak louder than words," each must do acts of kindness for the other and show
consideration and respect at every possible opportunity.
If humans are left to their own resources,
it is probable that a love relationship will become very physical. The Torah requires that
each Jew be holy and live spiritually. To build in a safeguard against the
"over-physicalization" of the relationship, the Torah gives us the set of laws
refered to as Taharas Hamishpocha [Family Purity]. These introduce modesty, balance and
holiness to the man-woman relationship. On one level, these laws must be regarded as the
"pekudas haMelech [orders of the King"], whose ultimate reasons are best known
to G-d. However, in plain "down to earth" terms, they introduce a very wise
system for structuring the expression of the intimate relationship, making it more
complete, human, elevated and refined. Family Purity laws have the very critical religious
aspect of reward for keeping mitzvos and punishment for violating them. However, crucial
to the practical success of a couple's marriage is faithful adherence to the laws of
Family Purity. These laws fall into the category of "chok," a law whose
reasoning the Torah does not give. We accept these laws out of loyalty and obedience to
G-d. The "classic" example of a "chok" is the mitzva of the "para
aduma [red heifer]." If a person is impurified by contact with the dead, he must have
ashes from the red heifer sprinkled upon him by a Kohain at the Holy Temple. There is no
rational reason given by the Torah why the ashes of the red heifer remove spiritual
"Rabbi Akiva says, 'Fortunate are you,
Israel. Before Whom do you purify yourselves? Who is it that purifies you? Your Father in
Heaven! This is written [Ezekiel 36:25], "And I will sprinkle upon you pure waters
and purify you," and [it is also written; Jeremiah 17:13], "The mikva of Israel
is G-d." Just as the mikva purifies the spiritually impure, in the same way, the Holy
One Blessed be He purifies Israel.'" [Yoma 85a]
Mikva is a chok. When a person spiritually
impure immerses in its waters according to halacha, their spiritual impurity is cleansed
away. The major practical use of the mikva in our day is when a woman immerses to remove
the spiritual impurity of nida [menstruation]. The mikva achieves purification only if the
person completely immerses the entire body, including every hair, in the water. Even a
tiny amount of the person remaining outside of the mikva blocks the purification from
taking effect. Rabbi Akiva, cited in the gemora just above, tells us that purification
comes from G-d. But, note that this only takes effect when one immerses him or her self;
with completeness, devotion to G-d and negation of one's own thinking. If one immerses
himself in the will and holiness of G-d, he or she is purified. This is most applicable
when keeping a chok, a rule for which the Torah gives no reason understandable to the
limited human mind, and keeping the chok without hinging our performance of it on our
understanding. Only by complete immersion in the halachos of Family Purity, keeping them
only because they are the will of G-d, can Jewish couples achieve holiness and spiritual
purity, and merit G-d's help in having a successful marriage of blessing, love, respect,
happiness and peace.
The rules of Family Purity are strict and
must be kept as such. Neither is allowed to make any physical contact with the other while
the wife is a nida. If there is medical need for contact, it is preferable for a frum
neighbor of the same gender to be called in, so that one spouse does not need to
physically touch the other, while the needs of the ill spouse are satisfactorily supplied.
If the situation precludes this [e.g. there is no suitable neighbor, the need is of an
embarrassing or constant nature], a rov must be called with a shaala [Torah question] for
instruction on how to proceed and how to provide satisfactory care. Without a rov giving
direction and permission, or a serious medical emergency, there must be absolutely no
physical contact, particularly of an affectionate kind, from the onset of nida until the
wife returns from a kosher mikva immersion. If one spouse attempts to touch the other
impermissibly during nida, the other is required by halacha to run away until out of the
first one's reach. I tell people whose spouse wants to touch during nida to run like out
of a house that is on fire, or like from a deadly wild animal in the jungle. By keeping
these laws of "Family Purity" faithfully, G-d bestows spiritual purity on the
The S'fas Emmes points out that Hashem's
name "Eloka" [alef, lamed, heh] has the same letters as ohel [home]. If G-d does
not build a home, one toils in vain to build it [Psalm 127:1]. A home only endures if
Hashem builds it. If a home is operated G-d's way and in His service, with Family Purity
and holiness, G-d builds that home.
PART FORTY - FAMILY PURITY: HAVING A STRONG RELATIONSHIP IN THE CONTEXT OF TORAH
Each spouse must make the other secure
constantly that each loves the other and makes each other exclusive to one another. Each
should never even think about another member of the opposite gender [Sefer HaChinuch,
mitzva #582]. Neither should look at anyone else in a way that causes jealousy, suspicion
or hurt in their spouse. Each must present to the other inner Torah-based qualities and
good midos, and always behave sweetly and gently; with concern, reliability and
consideration. Each must respect and please the other, treating the other as royalty, the
woman through modesty and serving the man, the man through loving and appreciating his
wife. If both do these things together, with the practical functioning in life required of
each and with effective communication, the couple will have great happiness, trust and
When engaged, couples should be taught how
to give affection, call a spouse by loving names that are appropriate to their culture
(honey, sweetheart, bubala, zieskeit, matuk, shefala, etc.). It is vital for a couple to
build and convey an emotional heart-to-heart connection in their marriage relationship.
These verbal expressions must be consistent with this and must communicate sincere
"emotional contact" for these "tools of endearment" to work
effectively and with desired positive impact.
When he is with his wife, the man's
attitude must be that he is fulfilling the will of his Creator to have children and that
he is "paying a debt that he owes" to please his wife [Orach Chayim 231:1].
Selfishness is not an option. His intention for being with her is for service of G-d and
not for his own desires. The Torah [Exodus 21:10] requires supplying his wife's needs for
food, clothes and intimate satisfaction. The Torah makes clear how stringent his
obligations are to his wife is by saying he is required to supply these and "not
diminish" them. In other words, he must supply all she needs. Her needs from him
define how much he owes. Let us look at Rambam's codification of each spouse's
relationship obligations, and how these add up to a total, holy and successful
The husband should be jealous of her, but
must not be overly jealous. He may never force himself upon her against her will. He must
speak nicely to make her feel happy and comfortable. He must love her as much as he loves
himself and respect her more than he respects himself. He should spend money on her,
according to his means. His speaking with her must always be gentle and he must never
frighten her. He must never be depressed or excited in front of her. The wife must always
be modest and never silly. She must not refrain from being with her husband, to pain him
or to manipulate him. Instead, she must obey all of his words at all times. She must view
him as if he is a king, be careful to never make him jealous - including with relatives,
must never make herself ugly to him, must respect him exceedingly, please him and stay
distant from anything he will hate. This is the way of the holy people Israel in their
marriage relationship. By living in this way, their dwelling together will be beautiful
and praiseworthy [Rambam, Hilchos Ishus 15:17-20].
Jewish law requires that a woman be modest
in dress, demeanor and all actions. When she is modest, and private about her personal
life, she is meritorious in G-d's eyes. The more a wife is modest, the more a husband will
love, respect and admire her. Her internal character qualities make her bigger, more
beautiful and beloved in her husband's eyes. "All of a Jewish woman's honor is
internal (Psalms 45:14)." Immodesty and externals have no intrinsic worth.
"Charm is false and external beauty is empty, a woman who reveres G-d is praiseworthy
In the modesty-dress-code, the clothes of a
Jewish woman or girl must keep her covered to at least the knees and elbows (the clothes
must allow for complete coverage under all circumstances, e.g when passing an article to
another person; when bending, lifting or turning), the neck-line must be covered and
closed (e.g. no low neckline nor open buttons) so that nothing under the neck is ever
disclosed. Her demeanor has to be modest. If a woman wears clothes that are technically
modest but * the colors are loud or * her walk is evocative or * the clothes are
tight-fitting or * the clothes have slits or * her elbows, knees and neckline are not
covered by the garment when she passes a plate of potatoes or * she fixes her stockings on
the sidewalk or * she yells - she misses the point, defeats the purpose and still violates
modesty. Once a woman has been married, her own hair must be covered with an appropriate
kerchief, hat or wig.
If a wife occasionally gets her period at
an unexpected time, some husbands are brutes who blame or attack her, claiming she did it
on purpose or to spite him or that she is no good. This is foolish, evil and not the Torah
way. The Arba Turim halacha code [Evven Ha'Ezer] requires that a husband give his wife
ahava [love], kavod [respect, honor], rachamim [mercy] and shmira [guarding]. He should
always compassionately seek to be protective of her. HE MUST NEVER BE A CAUSE FOR HER TO
NEED PROTECTION - emotional or otherwise. He must tell her softly and reassuringly that
her becoming a nida is OK, he understands that it is from Shomayim [Heaven], that she is
not responsible and that it is not something she "did on purpose." G-d, Who
knows what is best, determined that they should have this test. Since Hashem never gives
anyone a test unless they can pass it, they will both make the best of it. They will not
disappoint Hashem Yisborach - or each other. If there is any reason to consider it
applicable, the husband should ask if this is a symptom of anything being wrong and
whether she should speak to a doctor or other appropriate health professional. He must
make it perfectly clear that he understands this is not her doing and that at all times he
cares first and foremost about her well-being. The husband concludes by saying that they
will manage it just fine and that peace is always a couple's first relationship-priority.
Other than tending to any medical issue that the wife might need to be addressed, the
couple should calmly move on with life as if this were a normal nida time.
If the woman has a stain, she must treat it
as a shaala [a question which must be taken to a qualified rov to determine whether it is
nida or not]. Until the rov poskins [decides], she must treat the stain stringently and
consider it to be nida. The cloth with the stain must be taken for halachic ruling as
quickly as possible. It should be the husband who takes the shaala to the rov. The husband
must assure the wife that it is altogether alright to have a stain and for her to present
the cloth to him to bring to the rov. Again, it is to be viewed as from Hashem - it has
nothing to do with either the man or the woman. The man must NEVER make his wife feel
afraid of revealing the stain to him and he must never make her feel afraid of asking him
to take the cloth as a shaala to the rov. He should do it willingly and with a pleasant,
positive and responsible attitude. She may fear being rejected, feel diminished or unloved
for having had the stain. The husband must be very careful with her feelings and make her
Since physicality is governed fully by
halacha, it cannot be used as a reward or punishment. Timing is more determined by Hashem
and a mature sense of marital responsibility than by selfish whim, physical motive or
neurotic need for control. A wise couple learns from the laws of Family Purity to NEVER
TAKE EACH OTHER FOR GRANTED. The marriage is more stable because a SPIRIT of love and
affection is secure and maintained throughout the month, even though the MEANS FOR
EXPRESSING vary at different times. Overall, their love for each other will be more solid
and secure. I frequently tell couples, "Don't be stifled, be creative!" This is
a particularly helpful policy for handling "relationship maintainance" during
PART FORTY ONE - FAMILY
PURITY: PUTTING HOLINESS INTO YOUR RELATIONSHIP
The Torah limits relations to being only
between man and wife. Marriage to close relatives; relations with members of the same
gender, animals, harlots, non-Jews, someone married to another, anyone to whom one is not
married and any nida [menstruant who has not gone to a kosher mikva according to
applicable laws, even one's wife] are among the many prohibitions; most of which appear in
Parshas [the Torah portion of] "Acharay Mos." This is the parsha [portion] read
in the afternoon on the holy day of Yom Kippur; emphasizing that being holy, and clean of
sin, requires special diligence in these man-woman areas.
The Torah tells us "VoChai bohem [live
by the Torah's laws," Leviticus 18:5]. The gemora says on this "and not die by
the Torah's laws" [Yoma 85b]. From here, for example, is where we know that if life
depends on it, we drive a patient in a car to a hospital on shabos or feed him on Yom
Kippur to save life, even though normally these acts are strictly forbidden. The Torah
wants its observance to be a method for living and understanding life; not to merely be
oppressive, restrictive, obnoxious or endangering, Heaven forbid.
Where does the Torah say this?
Interestingly, "VoChai bohem" is said in the just-referred to passage of
man-woman restrictions in Acharay Mos! There is much more to its meaning than to tell us
not to endanger people through mitzvos. From here we see that limiting relations to a
married couple, when the wife is not a nida, is a "ticket" to living life!
The Torah requires every Jew to be holy by
its commanding "Kedoshim tihiyu [you shall be holy people;" Leviticus 19:2].
Rashi there says that this is accomplished by separating "from forbidden man-woman
relations and from sin." An obvious question emerges, especially since one of Rashi's
best-known attributes include his precise and judicious choice of every word, packing
meaning into every word, as well as being concise. Forbidden man-woman relations are sins.
So, why does Rashi define fulfilling the mitzva to be holy as not doing a certain specific
kind of sin and then saying, in general, not to sin? It appears to be redundant. If he
would have said to separate from sins, I would understand that man-woman sins are
included, the same as all other categories of sin! Since Rashi is never redundant, the
burden is on us to understand his words.
The Maharal explains Rashi as meaning that
man-woman sins are the epitome of physicality and desire. They come from the core inside
the person. Therefore, sinning in these ways are the epitome of non-holiness. One must
master separation from this category of sin in order to be capable of achieving the
epitome of holiness. However, even if one masters separation from this most physical and
powerful category of sin, he cannot be holy if he violates sins anywhere else in the
Torah. One must separate from man-woman sins to become holy and also must separate from
all other sins to be a truly holy person. One who separates from man-woman sins but cheats
in business, talks during davening or annoys people can not be holy.
Ramban tells us that a person can fulfill
all of the technical laws of the Torah and, through excess or misuse, still be a
"low-life." One might eat glatt kosher but might keep eating mountains of food
and do so like a pig. One may be loyal to his wife, and separate from her during nida, but
can hang around her like a clucking chicken pulsating with desire and chasing her every
"non nida" moment. Even in things that are allowed, the Torah requires fineness,
restraint, self-discipline, spirituality, balance and moderation. Therefore, in order that
one not be "a low-life within the domain of the Torah," Hashem commands us to be
holy, so that there be no spiritual mistakes made within the bounds of what is
permissible. One must apply holiness to the entire Torah.
The subject of man-woman relations is tied
to the highest degrees of tahara and tuma [spiritual cleanliness and uncleanliness], with
the highest potential for each extreme. Impropriety is tied to spiritual uncleanness and
death. It is potentially a low point of human life. Proper utilization and timing of this
facet of life brings a person to holiness and to partnering with Hashem in the creation of
life. It is potentially a high point of human life.
When a woman has her period, she is termed
"nida [menstruant]." An egg, which had a potential for life, has died. Then, the
tuma [spiritual uncleanness] of death comes within her. Until the spiritual purification
process has been accomplished, culminating in immersion in a kosher mikva, this tuma
remains. The waters allowed for a mikva, called "mayim chayim [waters of life],"
restore the woman from tuma, associated with death, to tahara [spiritual purity],
associated with life. She may then, and only then, resume relations with her husband. She
generally is then ready with another living egg and potentially able to conceive a child.
The word nida is related to the word
"nadad," which means "removed" or "separated." The word nida
itself shows that in Hashem's original design for the world, the man-woman relationship
includes that they should be separated for a portion of the time.
The Shulchan Oruch says that bais din is
required to be vigilant and post guards to see to it that men and women do not gather in
ways that could lead to their sinning [Orach Chayim 529:4]. The Mishna Brura [note 22]
says that this applies at all times. Even though we don't see it in our generation, it is
halacha for there to be special police or guards appointed by bais din to go around and
see to it that Jewish men and women do not have inappropriate meetings or impermissible
seclusion. The reason given by the Shulchan Oruch is that the Jewish people NOT SIN AND
ALWAYS BEHAVE AS HOLY PEOPLE! As the commentaries on the Torah say, being holy comes from
separating from man-woman sins. Holy behavior is a mitzva de'Oraisa [Torah commandment]
and we have just seen that it is brought as practical halacha in the Shulchan Oruch.
Pirkei Avos [chapter six] tells us there is
no free person except he who is engaged in Torah. Human nature strongly drives people to
satisfy their whims, feelings and urges. When they can do this, they say they are free.
But since they have no choice to decide whether or not to act, to decide if a thing is
right or wrong, to adequately consider the consequences, to be in full control of
themselves, they are slaves - to themselves. Only through the self-discipline and moral
training that comes through advanced engagement in Torah is a person genuinely free. He is
in charge of what he chooses, does and is.
It is also very interesting that the
man-woman commandments referred to before, as coming in Parshas Acharay Mos, come at THE
VERY END of the parsha. The very next parsha in the Torah is Parshas Kedoshim, which
STARTS WITH THE COMMANDMENT TO BE HOLY! That means that if we read the Torah continuously,
without a stop at the change of parshos, we would go right from the portion of man-woman
prohibitions into the commandment to be holy! Sifsay Chachomim comments that when Rashi
defines holiness as separating from man-woman sins, this is to be understood as if Rashi
says the following. The Torah gave the man-woman prohibitions just before the commandment
to be holy. The Torah gives that continuity to define as intrinsic to holiness the
fulfillment of man-woman laws. Obeying man-woman laws and holiness go together! We must be
holy. Man-woman laws, and separation from the physicality and desire associated therewith,
are the primary defining criteria as to whether one can acquire and fulfill holiness (in
conjunction with, as Rashi says, separating from all other sins). We must exercise control
over our selves in the service of Hashem and of spiritual achievement. If we accomplish
this, if we fulfill G-d's commandments, we accomplish YOU SHALL LIVE BY THEM - BE TRULY
FREE - TRULY ACHIEVE LIFE BY THEM - AND MAKE OURSELVES HOLY.
PART FORTY TWO - FAMILY
PURITY: ITS ROLE IN DEFINING YOUR RELATIONSHIP
In the previous installment, we
characterized halachic love between man and woman as holy. Song Of Songs is a book of
TaNaCh [Bible] which describes the love between a Jew and G-d in an analogy of the love
between man and woman. Chazal call Song Of Songs "Holy of holies," supporting
the premise that pure and Torah-sanctioned love is holiness. Song Of Songs calls the woman
"Achosi [my sister]" and "Rayosi [my unconditional friend]." From here
we see that a husband and wife have a relationship of brother and sister. A spouse is a
family member, the love is unconditional and transcends the physical. The marriage
relationship also truly is person to person, that of closest friends.
If love is conditional, it is love for the
condition, and for oneself, not for the other person. Such a love cannot endure, while
unconditional love is the only kind that will endure [Pirkei Avos, chapter five]. If one
says, "I love chicken," and if he really loved a chicken, he would feed the
chicken three square meals a day, take it to the veterinarian for check-ups, play with it
to keep it happy, tuck it under the cover each night at bedtime, take good care of it. If
he eats the chicken, he does not love the chicken, he loves himself! He is USING THE
CHICKEN TO LOVE HIMSELF!
With one's spouse, if one loves any given
condition (money, looks, social status, a man-woman relationship, etc.), the relationship
is being used to gratify what makes oneself happy, USING THE OTHER TO LOVE HIM OR HER
SELF. When we take away the condition, when things do not go the way the person wants,
that is the end of love. It ceases, disappears. It was really love for self all along.
While the other supplied a condition which enabled him or her to love him or her self, the
other was worth keeping around. This is USING the person, not loving. This is often why a
couple thinks they have "love" and it can then die a nasty death.
The only real love is that which overrides
any condition. It is independent of conditions. It is this ability to love unconditionally
upon which real love depends. Then, the love is truly directed towards the other person.
It is oriented to giving, not to taking; to pleasing the other, caring for the other's
needs, accepting responsibility, steadily being there for the other, being trustworthy;
all without variance. Mature living means we can't always have our way, or what we want,
or always be gratified. For a marriage to endure, there must be trust, and the way for
there to be trust is for all things pertinent to the marriage (required by the man or
woman) to not change [Maharal]. Conditions vary in life. TRUE LOVE DOES NOT VARY - EVEN
WITH VARYING CONDITIONS.
If love is to be real and to endure, it
must be consistent, constant and based on giving; even when life presents upsets, demands,
deprivation, disappointment and challenges. True love brings you out of yourself, to
relate to the reality of the other person. You do not relate based on conditions or
benefits that come to you from that person, nor from drives or impulses that are gratified
by that person. If we take away the condition, a conditional love dies. At best, it
becomes dissatisfying and rocky.
True love comes if THE OTHER PERSON is the
basis of love, if the relationship is unconditional. True love comes from being constant
in delivering what you owe to other person, what is necessary for you to give and to be
responsible for, willingly pleasing the other without requiring remuneration. When two
people do this mutually, constantly and in good faith; their relationship satisfies both
of them to the extent possible and is sustainable.
When a couple practices Family Purity, with
its separation laws, the relationship steps out of a conditional framework, steps out of a
man-woman relationship that needs to depend upon man-woman physical association. There is
balance between husband-wife relationship and, for a part of each month, the
brother-sister relationship; with both being best friends all month, every month. During
nida [menstruation], they are sharing a brother-sister relationship, they have a family
mind-set towards one another. The relationship becomes unconditional.
Family Purity is a model for unconditional
relating. That optimizes overall happiness and the love bond between them. It contributes
significantly to making the marriage permanent. One doesn't divorce a family member. No
document makes someone no longer your brother, sister or other blood relative. No
adversity severs the closest of friends. A marriage faithful to the LAWS AND SPIRIT of
Family Purity has the necessary unconditional element that can make love permanent. This
blending of marital affection and familial love brings moderation to the physical aspect;
enables the relationship to be complete, sustainable, stable and enduring. ITS MEANS OF
EXPRESSION WILL VARY, ITS ESSENCE AS A LOVE RELATIONSHIP WILL NOT VARY. This makes the
relationship more fulfilling, more psychologically and physically healthy. This is
ennobling for the couple, helps make them spiritual and holy (as the Torah commands) and
fulfills the Biblical requirement, "In everything you do know Hashem" [Proverbs
The Torah is G-d's blueprint for life.
Torah existed before creation. "Hashem looked in the Torah and then created the
universe" [Beraishis Raba 1:2]. Every facet of creation was designed to match what
the Torah says about it. For example, the Torah says to not steal. Therefore, the world
was created with ownership of property and the possibility of stealing, that man choose to
NOT steal what is not his. The Torah says to blow a shofar [ram's horn, used on the Jewish
New Year]. Therefore the ram, with horns, had to be part of creation. Similarly, the
nature of man and woman, and of their relationship in this physical world, was created to
fit the Torah's teachings about it. Without Torah, the man-woman relationship is an
obsession that can drive people crazy. With Torah, it is a central, understandable,
fulfilling and purposeful part of life; that has its time, place, balance and measure.
Hebrew letters have numerical values. The
word "bayis (house)" is the numerical equivalent of 412. The word "laiv
(heart)" is the equivalent of 32. These add up to 444, which is the equivalent of two
intriguing words: mikdash (Holy Temple; 444) and tamid (continually, always; 444). This
means that a couple who relate from the heart at all times transform and elevate their
house to a holy sanctuary.
The Talmud says (Nida 31b), "Rabbi
Meir said, 'Why did the Torah say that a woman must separate from her husband when a woman
menstruates? Because if he grows accustomed to her by always having access to her, he will
come to loathe her. Therefore, the Torah commanded that she must be inaccessible from the
time of menstruation to the time she immerses in the mikva, so that she will continue to
be as endeared to her husband as she was when she entered the marriage canopy.'"
We see from this that the Torah wants the
couple to constantly be endeared to each other, and to strive to build endearment always,
like the day when they were married, so that their whole life will be as happy as their
wedding day was. This counteracts growing used to one's spouse or taking one's spouse for
granted (which can destroy a marriage). Every month, the observant couple build and renew
PART FORTY THREE - UNITY,
TORAH AND AWARENESS OF G-D ARE KEYS FOR HAPPY AND SUCCESSFUL MARRIAGE [Part A]
Every couple wants a happy marriage. The
gemora says, "The happiness of a man's heart is his wife (Shabos 152a)" and
"Her husband makes a woman happy (Rosh HaShana 6b)." At a bris (circumcision) we
say that the boy should grow up to achieve "Torah, marriage and good deeds."
Note the order! First, he must incorporate Torah into himself; then, only when he has
genuinely embodied Torah, he can be fit for marriage; and, last, marriage is the most
significant context for a life devoted to good deeds! "A woman's wisdom builds her
house" (Proverbs 14:1). She uses her wisdom to protect her husband from downfall and
to make him be successful. One of her jobs in marriage is to stand her man up and bring
out his potentials [Kesubos 61a]. But, not all couples get along well and, sometimes,
troubles escalate. Each partner must catch and stop his hurtful or neglectful or
unworkable behaviors and patterns. All that they do and say to, and regarding, each other
must be always accomplished as nicely, cooperatively and considerately as possible.
Gemora Baitza tells how Raba, one of the
Talmudic sages, was the rebbe of Rova and Abayay (who grew up to also be Talmudic sages)
when they were little children. Raba asked Rova, "Where is Hashem?" Rova pointed
upwards. Raba then asked little Abayay, "Where is Hashem?" Abayay ran out the
front door, thrust his finger upwards towards the sky and pointed it in every direction.
Raba said, with his ruach hakodesh (holy insight), "I see you two are going to grow
up to be great Rabonim." Notice that Raba, one of "Chazal," did not say
that Rova and Abayay were going to be great rabbis because they had terrific yichus
[lineage] or were masmidim [constant learners] in Lakewood who knew loads of masechtas
[Talmudic tractates]. He knew they would be great rabbis because they had DUE RECOGNITION
OF HASHEM. King David says, "I place Hashem before me always" (Tehilim 16:8).
The Brisker Rov said to his son Reb Berel that ALWAYS concentrating on this verse, keeping
G-d with you and considering Him your master, is a segula [aid] for Divine protection.
King Solomon says, "In everything that you do, know G-d" (Proverbs 3:6). The
first step to being a happy and successful person is ALWAYS recognizing that Hashem is
EVERYWHERE and that nice, proper behavior is defined - and evaluated - entirely BY HIM.
In Parshas Naso, the Torah writes about the
sacrifices brought by the 12 Neseeyim [tribal leaders] for the original inauguration of
the Mishkon [sanctuary]. Each leader brought an identical set of sacrifices on each of
these 12 days (one leader per day).
"It was the day of his wedding, the
day of the happiness of his heart [Song Of Songs 3:11]." Rashi writes, "'The
happiness of his heart' refers to the eighth day of setting up the Mishkon." This was
the same day when sacrificial service was inaugurated in the sanctuary, and was the first
of the twelve days of the sacrifices by each of the 12 tribal leaders. This inauguration
of the service of the Mishkon (by the 12 tribal leaders), according to midrash and kabala,
represents happily beginning a marriage!
Hashem commanded building the sanctuary to
enable Jews to achieve holiness, atonement and perfection. The sanctuary was later
expanded by King Solomon into the Holy Temple. This was the first day of sacrificial
service in what was the forerunner of the divine service of the Bais HaMikdosh [Holy
Temple]. It was a day of celebration. The Torah says, "And it was [Vayihee] on the
day when Moshe completed setting up the sanctuary" (Numbers 7:1). Rashi says here
that on this day when the 12 tribal leaders inaugurated the sacrifices of the sanctuary,
"Israel was like a bride entering the chupa [wedding canopy]." Again, the
sacrifices of the 12 leaders are correlated to getting married. The sanctuary represents
the bond between G-d and the Jewish people. The marriage of G-d [in the role of the groom]
and Israel [in the role of the bride] is an analogy to the marriage of man and wife.
Note that the verse starts with the word
"Vayihee [And it was]," which always introduces something with an element of
pain and misfortune (tractate Megilah 10b). How does the Torah refer to one of the
happiest and most profound milestones in Torah history, inaugurating Temple service, as a
day of trouble?
The Midrash Tanchuma brings the following
story (on "Vayihee" in Numbers 7:1). There was a king who had a very
argumentative, shrewish and troublesome wife. He said to his queen, "Sit down and
start sewing a huge royal cloak." He thought to himself, "I know that as long as
she is busy sewing, she will be occupied because this is a very large and intricate
assignment, so she will not be able to make trouble." She sewed and sewed and sewed.
One fine day, she came to the king and said, "I finished the job. Here is the royal
The king said, "Oy vay [oh woe]!"
The queen was surprised at his response.
"You told me to sew a royal cloak. I sat right down and made the royal cloak just as
you said. Why do you say 'oy vay'?"
The king said, "All the time that you
were working on the cloak, I knew you were busy and occupied, I knew you weren't going to
incite any fights, provoke or anger me or make any trouble for me. Now that you're free
from the work and finished, OY VAY, you can start causing me trouble again."
The midrash learns this story from the
first word in the story of inauguration of the sanctuary, "Vayihee [and it
was]," which is grammatically close to "vay [woe]." While the Jews were
busy making the sanctuary, a long and intricate job, they were too busy to anger the King,
G-d, with sins. Before the work on the sanctuary, they had time to sin with the golden
calf, time for distractions from spirituality and from the law of G-d. Now that the
sanctuary was done, the Jews could find time for trouble and sin, and to provoke the
In drash and kabala, these inaugurative
sacrifices of the tribal leaders represent getting happily married. The midrash cited
above can correspond to the marriage aspect also. You may think that when you're going out
or engaged that you have to keep busy. You work hard and carefully on impressing, on not
antagonizing, on winning the person. Once married, he says, "No more Mr. Nice Guy.
I'll forget about her feelings and needs; now I have to get on with the real important
business of life." She says, "Now I have him hooked, he isn't going anywhere
anymore. I can look like I want, do what I want and spend his money like I want."
No, the midrash says. If you think the work
comes before marriage, and then you are free to do what you want when married, OY VAY!
That marriage will be a disaster. THE WEDDING IS REALLY WHEN THE WORK JUST STARTS! Once
the work on building the sanctuary, mishkon (from the word kodesh, holy) was completed,
there was time and opportunity for trouble. If used for avoda (service of G-d), the
sanctuary is holiness. If a couple gets married ill-equipped, unready or unwilling, to do
all the work of building and maintaining their marriage, there is so much room for trouble
and damage. Each must be prepared to enter into a serious (and then marriage) relationship
fully ready to please, give unselfishly, accept responsibility, get along peacefully,
resolve differences maturely, respect, be trustworthy and be devoted to the good of the
other on a steady basis. If equipped for avoda [work on the marriage], then the marriage,
inaugurated with kidushin [also from the word kodesh], is G-dly service and holiness. If
they are prepared to work to make their marriage holy, subordinated to the service of G-d,
keeping Him in the forefront of their minds ALWAYS, ready to work unselfishly and to
sacrifice for the sake of their marriage, that couple's marriage will be one of continuous
peace, success and happiness.
PART FORTY FOUR - UNITY, TORAH
AND AWARENESS OF G-D ARE KEYS FOR HAPPY AND SUCCESSFUL MARRIAGE [Part B]
The Torah portion, Bamidbar, tells of how
each of the twelve tribes received its own banner, to give each tribe its own unique
identity. This story (Bamidbar) takes place on the first day of the SECOND MONTH of the
second year after the departure from Egypt. The next Torah portion, Naso, tells how each
of the 12 Neseeyim [tribal leaders] brought generous sacrifices to inaugurate the service
of the sanctuary, the forerunner of the Holy Temple. This story takes place on the first
day of the FIRST MONTH of the second year after the departure from Egypt.
Notice that the first reading takes place
second and the second reading takes place first. We have a principle that the Torah is not
required to be chronological. Its writings often are positioned so that adjacency, context
or sequence of the writings give us instructive lessons. By the same token, when there is
no reason to veer from chronology, the Torah maintains it. For example, the story of
Creation IS INDEED RIGHT AT THE BEGINNING of the Torah! So what is the lesson when the
above two stories in the Torah are placed in reverse chronological order, with story one
in month number two, and with story two in month number one?
In the story of the banners in Parshas
Bamidbar, each tribe had its own identity, its unique and separate individuality. This
took place on the first day of the second month of the second year in the desert. In the
story of the sacrifices of the 12 tribal leaders in the subsequent parsha, Naso, each
tribal leader gives generously for the service of G-d, has unity and gives honor for a
cause greater than self. This took place on the first day of the first month of the second
year in the desert. This story of the 12 tribal leader's bringing sacrifices represents,
in Kabala and Midrash, marriage. When a person looks at the Torah superficially, he sees
the story of separate identities first, and sees, as last, the story of what makes a
marriage. Yet, chronologically, the story of the sacrifices actually comes first (a month
earlier than the story of the separate banners).
Each of the 12 leaders brought the exact
same sacrifices (flour, incense, animals, etc.) and the Torah repeats the identical list
(of about 70 words) 12 times, with each leader's name (for a total of about 800 words).
The Torah is concerned about brevity, and we have here the most extensive case of
"non-brevity" in the entire Torah! The Torah could have once said that all 12
leaders brought the list of gifts, and saved about 700 words! Ramban explains the
repetition. The 12 leaders had utmost honor for Heaven. Their intention was pure. None was
looking to out-do the other. THEY WERE ALL UNIFIED AND AT PEACE. Each was only concerned
with giving respectfully and wholeheartedly for a cause greater than self. THIS IS WHAT
MAKES A MARRIAGE!
Flesh and blood eyes see individuality
first and subjugation to a relationship last. The Torah is telling us to see the
relationship first and one's individuality as subordinated to the relationship. Because
the 12 leaders' giving was so complete and perfect, and was so beloved in G-d's eyes, the
Torah included, in full, every detail of each leader's identical set of gifts. The Torah
is instructing us NOT TO FALL INTO THE TRAP OF SEEING SEPARATE IDENTITY AND INDIVIDUALITY
FIRST. The "G-dly perspective" is to see that THE PEACE, UNITY, SACRIFICE,
GIVING, RESPECT, UNSELFISHNESS, RESPONSIBILITY AND FREEDOM FROM EGO - WHICH ARE ALL
CENTRAL TO MARRIAGE - COME FIRST. Do not say, "I've got to be me! I have to fulfill
myself! You must do more for me! I have to do my own thing!" IN G-D'S EYES, the
couple comes before the self! Your unique "self" is never an exemption from
giving; it is the definition of HOW YOU CONTRIBUTE YOUR UNIQUE PERSONALITY, IDENTITY,
INDIVIDUALITY, TALENTS, STRENGTHS AND ABILITIES TO THE "TEAM;" it is HOW YOU
GIVE AND SUBORDINATE YOUR UNIQUE "SELF" TO THE MARRIAGE!
The holiday of Shevuos usually falls out
between Parshas Bamidbar (with the story of the individual tribal banners and separate
identities) and Parshas Naso (with the story of the unified sacrifices of the 12 tribal
leaders who were perfectly devoted to the honor of Hashem). Shevuos commemorates the
giving of the Torah. Whenever the Torah tells us that the Jewish people stopped at any
place in the desert, the Torah says that "they" [in the plural] encamped. When
the Jewish people stopped at Mount Sinai, the Torah says "vayichan shom Yisroel [that
there Israel encamped," stated in the singular; Exodus 19:2]. The midrash tells us
that the singular language there tells us that the entire Jewish people were "as one
person with one heart." To be a "kailee [instrument, vessel]" to receive
the Torah, there had to be unity. The Jewish people at Mount Sinai, at this one time in
all of our history, had such perfect unity. Being peaceful and unified is a prerequisite
to being a kailee [receptacle] for Torah.
In our context of the message of the story
of the tribal banners (in Parshas Bamidbar) representing individuality, as contrasted with
the sacrifices of the 12 tribal leaders (in Parshas Naso) representing the unity and honor
that go into successful Torah-based marriage, the fact that Shevuos always comes out
between these two readings amplifies our message. We said that flesh and blood eyes see
individuality as coming first and getting together with another person or group as second.
To be people of Torah we must, in the general sense, never let a different person or group
be seen by us as "other," "separate" or "worse." For us to
be the people of the Torah, we must all have unity and use our individuality (as a person
or a group [e.g. Chasidish, Yeshivish, Sefardic, Modern]) as our means of expressing of
service and honor for Hashem. This is reinforced by Shevuos coming between the readings of
Bamidbar and Naso [with rare exceptions required by our calendar, with Shevuos
occasionally coming right after Naso]. We read about how the Jews came to Mount Sinai,
with the unity of one person with one heart. We commemorate how, in this manner, we
received G-d's Torah. We all were one and our purpose was one. For us to be Torah Jews;
ongoing unity, honor for G-d, dedication to the "team" of Jewry and being G-d's
holy nation devoted to His service; must come before individuality, having unity with
people and groups.
"It was the day of his wedding and the
day of the happiness of his heart [Song Of Songs 3:11]." The Talmud [Taanis 26b] says
that "the day of his wedding" refers to the giving of the Torah. Rashi (on this
verse) says "and the day of the happiness of his heart" refers to the completion
of the sanctuary [built in the desert, whose inauguration was done by the sacrifices
brought by the twelve tribal leaders and which was the forerunner of the Holy Temple].
Shevuos is the "anniversary" of
the giving of the Torah. On Shevuos, the Torah reading is that of the giving of the Torah
at Sinai. Even on those occasional years when Shevuos comes after the week in which Naso
[the Torah portion with the sacrificices of the 12 tribal leaders], Shevuos is ALWAYS
adjacent to Shevuos. It is usually during the week before Naso but, when Shevuos is not,
it is during the week after Naso. Therefore, Shevuos, with the reading and commorating of
the giving of the Torah, is always next to Naso. The two symbols in the Torah for marriage
(1. the giving of the Torah at Sinai and 2. the sacrifices of the tribal leaders which
inaugurated service of the sanctuary) are ALWAYS adjacent to each other - reinforcing our
idea that marriage comes from giving each one's heart to the other as if they are one,
with honor and unity, with devotion to a cause that is greater than each one's individual
personality, ego or fulfillment. By fulfilling their repsonsibilities as smoothly and
selflessly as the 12 tribal leaders, the couple will find success and fulfillment by
giving what each owes to the "team," subordinating individuality and making the
marriage unit the priority that comes first.
For Jews to have Torah marriages; ongoing
unity, honor for G-d, honor for spouse and dedication to the marriage "team,"
devotion to G-d's service; must come before ego or individuality. One might be tempted to
see his or her individuality as first but, in G-d's sequence and priority order, this is
last! Unity, honor, voluntary service and subordination to a unit greater than self come
first. "On the way" to establishing this reality always is the
"reminder" that unity and peace are prerequisite to receiving the Torah, obeying
G-d and achieving holiness. Marriage [kidushin] is holiness. The "couple" and
submission to the will of G-d must come before the "self." Like the 12 tribal
leaders, the couple must behave with unity, peace, unselfishness, honor and constant
devotion to G-d. These are basic elements of a successful and happy marriage, and
prerequisites for it to be a marriage as defined by G-d.
PART FORTY FIVE - UNITY, TORAH
AND AWARENESS OF G-D ARE KEYS FOR HAPPY AND SUCCESSFUL MARRIAGE [Part C]
Korach attempted a rebellion to usurp
Moshe's leadership. In various ways, he attempted to ridicule and discredit Moshe. For
example, he claimed that Moshe took the Jews "out of a land flowing with milk and
honey" [Egypt; Numbers 16:13] instead of bringing them into one, as G-d promised.
This is an absurd, baseless and warped claim against Moshe. Rav Eliyahu Dessler writes
that Korach was not stupid but he had vested interests that blinded him to truthful or
One must go to da'as Torah for practical
direction in what to do, in all aspects of life, especially when emotions are involved or
when one has a vested interest in the outcome. There is a major difference between knowing
how to read Hebrew in a book and knowing how to learn Torah, poskin [decide law] or be
part of the Torah mesorah [heritage]. A man once said talking is permitted during the
silent Shmoneh Esray prayer because halacha does not specifically forbid it. A rov replied
that since the halacha prohibits saying the prayer itself with your voice, kal vichomer
[all the moreso] we know you cannot use your voice for personal talk during Shmoneh Esray.
The Shulchan Oruch did not need to tell us what we know with Talmudic logic. Besides,
personal talk is forbidden in shul, due to shul's holiness, at any time. A man once said
that it is OK to harass and rush his wife and kids to get the shower available for shabos.
A rov said that he was in the wrong for causing upset and argument. His quest to honor
shabos was not worth it and peace should have been his mitzva. A Bais Yaakov girl's school
teacher said that a kitchen cannot be kosher unless it has two sinks [for milk and meat].
A pupil raised her hand and asked, "Does that mean I cannot eat in my grandfather's
home? He only has one sink." The teacher asked, "Who is your grandfather?"
The little girl replied, "Rov Moshe Feinstein." That was the end of that
lecture. A student asked his rosh yeshiva to explain the gemora [Yoma 23a] which says that
a Torah scholar must be as vengeful and grudge-bearing as a poisonous snake to be a true
Torah scholar. The Rosh yeshiva replied that this does not apply for personal issues. It
only applies when purely for the sake of Heaven with no ego nor personal interest or
emotion involved. An attendee at a lecture said that the gemora says that one with a
yaitzer hora [sinful inclination] should wear black sackcloth and go to a foreign town
where he isn't recognized. The attendee said that this permits the person to sin. The
Rishonim on that gemora clearly state that one should travel, wear humbling clothes and
have a low profile to break the evil inclination and make himself too weary to sin, not to
go to a strange place as a license to sin. None of these people were learning according to
Torah mesorah [tradition].
People without adequate shimush [Torah
training], proper hashkofa [views], good midos [character traits] or saichel hayashar
[straight thinking] might think they know Torah. One must be very careful to check
everything he or she does with qualified and objective da'as Torah, to only do
"hayoshar vihatov bi'aynay Hashem [that which is correct and good in the eyes of G-d;
Deuteronomy 6:18]." Halacha requires that everything one does be for the sake of
Heaven and be a means of knowing G-d [Orach Chaim 231:1].
The Torah tells us that when a
death-penalty sin was committed in public, no one did anything. Pinchas remembered the
halacha, stood up from the crowd, took a spear and killed the sinners [Numbers 25:7-8].
G-d considered this meritorious. You'll notice that the Torah says that Pinchas only took
the spear after the sin was committed, when a wrong was done and had to be made right. One
of this generation's great Roshai Yeshiva said that some people "go around carrying a
spear looking for fights." They "pick up their spear" first, so it is ready
as soon as they find someone who they can find an excuse to use it on. This sin is common,
e.g. in religious, business, social and marital fighting. In our context of marital issues
or dispute resolution, we must make clear that we may never be "on the lookout"
waiting for a fight, to criticize, disparage, find fault or attack. The "normal
state," the condition that you "hunt" after, should ALWAYS be peace.
When the Tanna [Rabbi of the Mishna]
Yochanon Ben Zakai was on his deathbed, his talmidim [students] asked him for a parting
word of wisdom. He said they should fear G-d as much as man. They asked him, "Rebbe,
is that all?" He replied, "If only it would be that much!...If a human is angry
at me or imprisons me, it is not forever; if G-d is angry at me or imprisons me, it IS
forever [Brachos 28b]." I see some people run hysterically to their car when it is
about to be ticketed or towed. They dread what man can do to them. Try to tell that same
person to move his car from blocking a driveway (the minute before the police come into
sight), or that his tefillin is in the wrong location on his head, or to stop talking in
shul, to stop being financially dishonest, to stop amplifying music at damagingly loud
volume levels at a simcha or to stop mistreating a spouse, that person will laugh at you
or walk away leaving you standing there talking to yourself.
King David said [Psalm 16:8], "I keep
G-d before me always." "ALWAYS" includes when it is inconvenient, a
challenge, a test, a nuisance, has a cost or you don't understand why. Mesilas Yesharim
writes that every moment in life is a test given by G-d for us to pass so we can earn
eternal bliss and to bring us to the next moment with its test, moment after moment,
throughout life. Remember: G-d is always there. He writes everything we do in a book
[Pirkei Avos chapter two]. Right after leaving this world, we shall have to answer for how
we spent every moment of earthly life. One of the ways to keep from sin is to constantly
reflect on having to give that accounting before G-d [Pirkei Avos chapter three].
"Woe to us for the day of [Heaven's] judgement" [Beraishis Raba 93:10].
The halachos of tshuva (repentance,
returning from wrong) teach of the unlimited potential to grow, to complete and to repair
one's soul, personality, behavior and character. In the marriage context, with work, over
time, a couple can improve the way in which they treat each other, and the quality of
There are four steps to correct, restore
and to achieve tshuva if ever one Jew wrongs any other Jew. If one does an interpersonal
sin or mistake, one must:
1. Admit. Acknowledge the wrongdoing.
Openly and truthfully admit it. State that you realize you did what you should not have,
or failed to do what you should have; and that this caused whatever harm, suffering or
loss to the other person.
2. Remorse. Have and express sincere
feelings of regret for what you did and caused. The highest level of this is when this
brings the perpetrator to the feeling of shame. The Maharal writes that shame demonstrates
emotional separation from the wrong which was done and is therefore, instead,
commensurately, attachment to what is right.
3. Commitment. Commit to replace the
misbehavior in the future with what is good and correct. Abandon the wrong behavior and,
instead, adhere to the corresponding good; accepting upon oneself to never doing the wrong
again in the future.
4. Appease. Restore the damage as a
practical matter, doing what it takes - e.g. paying for damaged property, returning stolen
property, aplogizing for hurting feelings or other harm, publicly retracting a public
insult or slander, etc.; engendering trust, comfort and security in the victim; and taking
full responsibility to enable the other person to feel safe and that the wrong has been
fully remedied. Make good in whatever way is necessary in order to right the wrong as
necessary so as to appease the victim.
These four steps achieve tshuva shlaima
(complete return from the wrong) which is accomplished when the wronged one has been paid
back and/or appeased, when the problem has been corrected and smoothed over, so that the
victim can afford to justifiably and securely "forgive and forget." Keeping G-d,
da'as Torah and tshuva always on your consciousness are vital for a marriage to be alive,
harmonious and maintainable.
PART FORTY SIX - THE MARRIAGE RELATIONSHIP IN ONE WORD: TRUST
In the Maharal's sefer, Nesivos Olam, he
essentially answers the question, "What, in one word, is the essence of the man-woman
relationship?" The word is "emuna" - the ability to have faith and trust in
each other. He bases what he writes on a gemora [Taanis 8a], an analysis of the verse in
Psalms which the gemora is predicated on and a midrash, refered to by Tosfos, whose theme
is related to and an expansion of the meaning of the gemora. The essence of the Maharal's
discussion is that people of emuna are trustworthy so that another may have wholehearted
faith in them because THEY DO NOT CHANGE. The inhabitants of earth have emuna in Hashem
and this is a model for how the man and woman each have emuna in each other. Hashem
provides for the needs of those on earth, and its inhabitants can have trust that He
provides what they need BECAUSE HE DOES NOT CHANGE in this. The Maharal's deep and
brilliant analysis of these sources shows that each party to a marriage owes
trustworthiness to the other for the marriage to be able to endure. If one party in a
relationship changes from what is expected or required, this violates and destroys the
relationship because the relationship ceases to be trustworthy. A relationship essentially
consists of each trustworthy party consistently providing things which the other trusting
party is to receive.
Through this model, the Maharal writes that
a non-changing relationship of mutual and faithful roles and character is established
which joins the two parties together. There is no greater example of a never-changing
emuna/trust relationship that of Heaven and the Jew WHICH IS THE SAME AS THE EMUNA/TRUST
RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN MAN AND WOMAN, in the nature of which the man is a provider, and the
woman is receiver, like the Heavens provide and the earth receives. If the relationship is
violated, this is elimination of the emuna which is its foundation. When both a husband
and a wife are faithful, there is no greater relationship. When each is faithful, without
end and without change, to all the obligations of the relationship, each may have emuna in
the other at all times [end of Maharal excerpt].
Rabbi Yosef Dovid Epstein was one of the
Mirrer Yeshiva scholars who fled and escaped Hitler through Shanghai. His major two-part
sefer on Jewish marriage, Mitzvos Habayis, points out that for every act that can possibly
occur in life, there is a halacha [law] which tells us what to do. A person whose
spirituality is healthy will act according to applicable halachos. If he or she does not,
that person needs healing, the same way that a body which is ill needs healing. As much as
one is spiritually wanting, that is how much the person needs healing. This must only come
with learning Torah in general and, in particular, self-perfection studies. Some of the
mitzvos help one to spiritually heal, while others will not. Therefore one cannot progress
or grow without a systematic and steady involvement in self-perfection Torah studies - and
application to practical life. In marriage, this has important ramifications for whether a
couple will conduct themselves so as to fulfill all of the halachos, duties and partnering
that will be required for their marriage to function and to endure.
To make this more concrete: both owe strict
fidelity, fulfillment of various responsibilities and provision of various needs to one
another. How do we tie this to practical relating? For example, in a traditional Jewish
family, a husband is responsible for earning a livelihood, learning Torah regularly,
teaching the sons Torah, etc. A wife is obligated to keep the house, raise the children,
cook, sew, clean, etc. Regardless of whether you have any variations in your individual
case (e.g. two-income family, whatever), there are other roles that go into your
relationship, besides technical activities and prescribed arrangements e.g. affection,
respect and devotion.
There are fundamentals of making a marriage
work, of making a marriage peaceful, and of giving it the capacity to endure. Among the
things in which the partners have the obligation (to be unchangingly faithful) are
practical exchange of: love, honor, humility, responsibility, active and targeted giving,
active maintenance and pursuit of peace, relating heart to heart, providing happiness to
each other at every possible moment, keeping the "goodness flow" mutual at all
times, and such that your partner can have unswerving faith in you and your nonstop
provision of these to your partner. The test is passed when both partners steadily: can
know and can be secure, trusting and reliant; that each: has the other's love, respect,
loyal devotion, support, alliance; and has fulfillment of all of the roles, emotions,
needs and obligations, that the relationship requires from the other.
Faith and trust in marriage must be
complete, or else there will be doubt, worry, suspicion, insecurity, tension,
divisiveness, misery and degeneration of the marriage. I tell audiences to whom I speak,
and people who come to me for counseling, that trust is like "kosher"...if a
food is 99% kosher, it is 100% traif! ANYTHING less than 100% won't work. Same, too, in
the marriage bond. You might think of it this way: shreds of doubt tear a marriage to
shreds! A partner is not fulfilling his/her responsibilities to the marriage until he/she
gives the other the ability to have 100% faith, security, confidence, reliance and trust
in him/her...without change or end.
Another crucial aspect of trust is setting
up the shidduch on an honest foundation before marriage, even at the initial stages of
information-gathering. Many shidduchim and marriages have been destroyed because of
deceit, lying, misrepresentation, omission, half-truths or cover-ups about age, mental or
physical health, weight, temper, level of religious observance, etc. One man kept secret
the fact that he had mental breakdowns and when he once forgot to bring his medicine to a
chasuna, he had a screaming fit in the middle of the crowd. One man hid the fact that he
had a wooden leg and, on the wedding night, upon seeing it, the wife wouldn't allow him
near her. Neither condition was disclosed by the shadchanim nor at the "bashow"
meeting. Both women had no idea, were aghast at the deceit and divorced immediately. One
man's wife acted like a sweetheart while dating but turned out to be selfish, malicious,
materialistic and spoiled. That marriage was dead in six months.
The Shulchan Oruch (Evven Ha'Ezzer 28:1)
tells us that if a man is mekadesh (sanctifies a woman at the beginning of the marriage
ceremony) with stolen, compelled or ill-gotten money, there is no kidushin. Therefore, if
a father, for example, obtains the kidushin ring with money derived from financial
cheating or by annoying someone into selling a ring that he does not really want to sell,
the ceremony could be invalid. Invalid kidushin means the child is living unmarried with a
man or woman as if married. The father owes it to his child and grandchildren to be big
enough to ask a competent and G-d fearing rabbi a shaalah about whether, under the
circumstances, there truly was a marriage! The entire foundation of the marriage must be
How do you know when you are on the right
track? What is the test? When your partner is amazed, secure and trusting with how good
you are to him or her; when each can have whole-hearted and perfect reliance on the other
for all which they owe to one another. A couple in which both please each other
constantly, from the heart, and with a good attitude, and in which both accept full
responsibility for each one's half of the marriage relationship, stop thinking in terms of
how to fix fights. There gradually ceases to be fights to fix. View the Jewish marriage as
having three partners: husband, wife and G-d. For a marriage to have blessing and success,
each one must be true and devoted to the other two.
Fundamental to trust is truth. Sometimes,
especially in marriage, truth is not what it appears to flesh and blood eyes or minds.
Sometime "true truth" is different from "apparent" truth; for example
to tell your partner he or she looks wonderful rather than hurting his or her feelings -
being "true" to another person's feelings overrides being "true" to
precise reporting of your critical feelings. But this does not mean for a minute that we
should learn to falsify or become dishonest. Basically, truth requires always being
scrupulous, principled and honest, and having unbending integrity. However, sometimes, in
marriage, seeming truth can be destructive. Truth is: the will of Hashem in each
situation. It is in relation to this that your trustworthiness is measured.
PART FORTY SEVEN - WORKING
EMOTIONS AND ISSUES OUT COMFORTABLY WITH A COUNSELOR
When a couple cannot alone overcome the
difficulties in their relationship or behavior, professional help may be needed. For the
Jew, this must mean seeking counseling from a Torah Jew who is humble and Yorai Shomayim
[has fear of violating the will of G-d]. Matters that come up in relationship difficulties
in general, and marriage in particular, are governed by halacha and mesorah [Torah law and
You must communicate comfortably and have
confidence about the integrity, skill and insight of your counselor. Counseling or
psychotherapy can open up pain, anger, fear, sadness, tension or other intense feelings.
You might feel vulnerable, dependent or in need of emotional support. Releasing and
handling these emotions constructively is typically a part of the process. The
professional has to be able to guide you through, in an honorable, capable and responsible
manner. The counselor must show warmth, understanding and empathy, fulfilling the verse,
"Just as water reflects a face, so the heart of a person replies to a heart"
It is not realistic to come to a counselor
and say, "Make my life work, get me [or keep for me] a relationship, supply my needs,
achieve my goals." Counseling only works for the person with the will,
responsibility, character strength and dedication to work on him or her self (and/or on a
relationship). I repeatedly tell people who come to me for counseling that the process
works only for those who have the will to be in the process and the commitment to work at
and stay in the process. An analogy I use is: the counselor is like one who gives
directions and the person or couple in counseling are like people who have to actually
drive a car to get to their destination. If they don't "travel," they get
nowhere. The counselor does not live your life for you. He guides you on how to deal with
your own life, if you choose to face up to what it takes - and work at it with honesty and
Rabbi Broka Hoza'a was often in the market
at Bai Lepat where Eliyahu HaNovie spoke to him. Each day, he asked Eliyahu, "Is
there anyone here who has olam haba (the eternal world)?" to which Eliyahu's reply
repeatedly was, "No." One day, Eliyahu said, "Those two." Rabbi Broka
ran over and excitedly asked them, "What [special thing] do you do?" They
answered, "We're comedians. We cheer up depressed people..." [Talmud Taanis
22a]. Rashi explains these men were, "Comedians. Happy people who make [other] people
happy." Rashi is teaching that what you have in your heart is what you give to the
heart of another person to whom you relate. To have a happy relationship, you first have
to be happy in your heart, have happiness within yourself to give to someone else and to
pour out on another's behalf, and be capable of actively making another's heart happy -
with the drive to ongoingly and effectively do so. An unhappy person cannot be made happy
by a relationship.
My counseling experience consistently is
that when an unhappy person seeks a relationship to fill in an inner emptiness, the
relationship never makes the person happy. The unhappy person always makes the second
person unhappy. The counselor's role, therefore, is to help the client recognize what
makes him or her unhappy and bring the person to a more fulfilled and functional level.
This is key to the counselor bringing the client to his or her goals. Rashi also is
showing us that a counselor must be able to bring the client out of his sad or distressed
state. If he can help the client do so, if the client does all of his or her work, it is a
great mitzva (as it is to make any Jew happy). The Torah says [Genesis 5:22], "And
Hanoch walked with G-d." Midrash Talpios says that this means that when he worked [as
a shoemaker], Hanoch united himself with G-d, with every move and stitch. Rabbi Yisroel
Salanter said that he put his complete heart and being into his work to give his customers
maximum benefit and enjoyment. How one works is a part of serving G-d. A counselor who
gives his best to his clients "walks with G-d."
Go to the counselor in person. Do NOT get
counseling by phone. Much of the important information that a good counselor is trained to
acquire comes from visual images and non-verbals, e.g. facial expressions, gestures,
fidgeting, whether a disputing couple makes eye contact, etc. Since phone counseling does
not provide that important "data" to the counselor, it violates the halacha of
giving full value for the price, the same way you would be cheated if you bought 10 ounces
of a product and were charged for 15, or if you ordered a product and only received an
empty box. The "counseling process" requires collecting data about the person or
couple; including about behavior, emotions, attitude, personal history, reactions, habits,
conditioning, defenses, etc. As the counseling process proceeds, new "data"
keeps coming, perhaps for months. The ability to give full help is harmed by the
limitations imposed by the phone. No ethical counselor should counsel by phone, especially
before he or she knows the person or couple so well that the counselor is familiar with
what non-verbals, images and motions would be there. If an "already familiar"
client lives very far away [so that regular counseling visits are difficult] or becomes
ill [e.g. breaks a leg], Heaven forbid, and wants to keep continuity while unable to
physically come [e.g. until healed], occasional or temporary phone sessions can be
considered on a case-by-case basis. If a client wants phone counseling, the counselor must
disclose the disadvantages of counseling by means of phone (so that the client is aware of
potential harm to, or diminishing of, "the process") and obtain the client's
ADVANCE INFORMED CONSENT. To decide if or how phone counseling is permitted in any given
case, a rov familiar with the intricacies of counseling and with business halachos should
be contacted with a shaala [rabbinic question].
PART FORTY EIGHT - DIFFERENTIATING
TORAH-LOYAL COUNSELORS FROM ALL OTHERS
Since no less a figure than Rav Moshe
Feinstein poskined [determined law] on choosing a counselor, let us look at what he wrote.
Notice that his tshuva [responsa] is from Yorah Daya (#57), from which we shall see that
the halacha category under which he poskined is avoda zara [the Torah prohibition of
foreign or idolatrous ideology], which is central to understanding his psak [legal
decision]. He warns to be careful to not use a practitioner who rejects or ignores Torah.
[Rabbi Feinstein's title for the subject:]
Regarding whether one can heal himself from illnesses of the mind from psychiatric doctors
who substitute for or deny Torah law.
In the matter of those whose personalities
or thoughts cause them to need to go to psychologists or psychyatrists, whether it is
permissible to go to these, being that they substitute for or deny Torah law. In my view
one should not go to doctors such as these to be healed because their remedies are not
from medicines that heal. Rather, it is from much talking by them, if the patient makes
known by what thoughts he is burdened, and they advise him how to conduct himself.
Definately we must be suspicious that they sometimes advise against the laws of the Torah,
and even against fundamentals of Judaism and against morality and modest conduct.
In my view, why are we accustomed to going
to doctors who substitute for and deny Torah law from other illnesses? It is because they
heal with various medicines. There is no connection with their heresy, and the prohibition
to heal oneself from apostates is only when their remedies are in conjunction with service
of idolotry, as is brought in Tosfos Avoda Zora 27 and Shulchan Aruch Yorah Daya 155.
However, the psychologists and psychiatrists, whose remedies come with words, we must
definitely be suspicious of, that they will speak words of apostacy and vulgarity.
If they are expert doctors who can be
trusted to guarantee to not speak any words that are against knowledge of faith in G-d and
mitzvos of the Torah, and to guarantee this to parents when children are the patients, it
might be possible to depend on them. When they are experts in their field, possibly they
won't lie. Therefore, one should search for a psychological doctor who keeps Torah. If
there is not one available, make a condition with him and have him guarantee not to speak
with the patient in matters addressed by faith in G-d and Torah.
Secular logic, reasoning and thinking are
not the same as the Torah's. I remember that when I was a young fellow in yeshiva, I
noticed that gemora thinking was what I saw as "organic." I had seen pictures in
my high school biology text of intestines, blood vessels, the brain and spine, the inside
of an eye, etc. You could, for example, follow a blood cell around the blood vessels or a
nerve impulse around the entire body. When you learn a gemora from one mishna to the next
mishna, the thought process through the sugya (subject matter), the shokla vitarya
(questions and answers), the logic disputes and resolutions between different chachomim,
were all structured in a manner that were the mental equivalent of organic. This was, to
me, one of the greatest proofs that the Torah is from G-d. Whereas psychology, which I was
already studying, taught that there is mathematical and verbal thinking, abstract and
concrete reasoning; in the gemora, mental functioning is not artificially divided. It all
goes together and, from mishna to mishna, there is typically an intellectual cycle that
the material goes through, the same organic way that body systems add up to blocks of
natural function. The Torah is made to accord precisely with the way the mind was created.
The Torah and the mind both operate the same way and both come from the same source - G-d
Alm-ghty Himself. A secular psychologist, or even a frum one who is not a talmid chocham,
would never know this. His thinking would be missing elements that cannot fully add up to
an understanding of the mind. Too much of secular thinking is theoretical, while Torah is
grounded in the reality with which G-d created the human being. I also noticed when young
that, although I never heard it articulated as such, one of the main goals of learning
Talmud is not just to acquire knowledge or intellectual development or personal growth; it
is to teach you how to think like the Torah "thinks," like Chazal think, like
the mesorah "thinks." Learning Torah is geared to making a person part of the
chain of tradition that has been our lifeblood since G-d's revelation at Mount Sinai. No
secular study or wisdom can achieve this. Torah unites one with G-d's timeless
"thought process" [kaviyachol]. The human mind and Torah are made to operate
with the same mental processes and only a person steeped in Torah wisdom, knowledge and
logic can achieve this for himself or guide any other Jew to optimally and naturally unite
himself with the way G-d created the human mind and human nature. Psychology's teachings,
some of which are very artifical, cannot connect with the human mind or personality
During the years I lived in Yerushalayim, I
knew a rov who was also a psychologist. He told me that ninety percent of psychology is
sheker [falsehood] but we need it for the ten percent that helps. When viewed with this
perspective, we must put limited faith in and have limited dependency on secular
psychology, differentiate the parts that are kosher and useful from those which are false
and traif. Since such a huge measure of psychology cannot stand up to Torah criteria,
especially nowadays - with so many anti-Torah positions, psychgology must be selectively
sought from only Torah loyal practitioners who are either learned or attached closely to
someone who is. Tidbits of psychology whose kashrus you can't confirm must be deemed
guilty till proven innocent. It is wise to find out who a counselor's rov is and what his
or her positions as to Torah observance and loyalty are. If they do not adhere to a high
standard of Torah knowledge and observance, your Jewish mind and soul are not safe in
Further, Rav Shimon Schwab said that a
thing can be technically permissible when viewed alone, but can be, in the final analysis,
a Torah prohibition because of the mitzva of kedoshim tihiyu [the commandment to be holy].
Even where a technical loophole might permit something otherwise, its failure to accord
with holiness will make it no option for the Torah Jew. This is another concern with
secular studies of the mind, human nature and the personality, and with choosing a
counselor. There must be holiness in what Jews do, think and feel and how they impact
A Jew must always be a holaich [one who is
spiritually progressing] and not an omaid [one who is spiritually stagnant]. All the
moreso, one must not spiritually backslide. Will your counselor bring you to spiritual
progress, stagnation or decline? As Rav Moshe said, it is imperative to seek a counselor
who is a trustworthy Jew or, at the very least, promises to respect and safeguard your
spirituality. Even if you seriously need help, and it is a mitzva to get the help you
need, there is no mitzva ever that comes through an avaira [sin]. If one commits a sin,
one is just a sinner. One cannot steal a lulav to shake with an esrog nor steal money to
give to charity. There is no exemption to commit wrong even for a noble purpose. To us, a
Robin Hood, who steals from the rich to give to the poor, is just a Hood...lum! It is
forbidden to do a mitzva through a sin [Suka 30a].
Avraham told Eliezer to find a wife for
Yitzchok and bring her back to Yitzchok in the land of Israel. Avraham said that Eliezer
is exempt from his duty if the girl would not come to Israel. From this, Rabbi Shimshon
Rafael Hirsch points out, in his classic commentary on the Torah, that if G-d wants a
mitzva done, He will supply the means for doing it. If kosher means are not present, or if
only traif means are available, G-d exempts you from the mitzva. A mitzva must be
all-mitzva, to be the will of G-d!
PART FORTY NINE - TORAH
CRITERIA FOR PICKING A COUNSELOR
The Torah says, "And Yehuda came near
[to Yosef; Genesis 44:18]." To explain this phrase, the midrash [Beraishis Raba 93:4]
brings the verse, "Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water, but a man of
understanding will draw it up [Proverbs 20:5]."
In the story of Yosef and his brothers,
Yosef, who was second to Paro in Egypt, was about to take Binyomin as a slave. Yehuda
approached Yosef to plead on his brother Binyomin's behalf. The midrash says that Yehuda
spoke to Yosef by penetrating all of the levels to Yosef's heart, using the following
analogy. A deep well had superb waters deep down but no one could reach deep down enough
to get to the good waters. Then a wise person came and tied many ropes and threads till he
could draw up the water and drink. Then, all people drew water in the same way and were
able to drink. In the same way, Yehuda did not stop answering Yosef word for word until he
penetrated to his heart. Thereby, "Yehuda came near to him." The Torah is not
telling us about physical distance. Yehuda came close to Yosef's heart.
This midrash opens up the basic principle
of psychotherapy and counseling by showing how a person is a series of layers between the
surface of his personality and the heart, the very essence and depth of the person. Human
beings are deep (although different people have different measures of depth, and different
people are more or less in touch with, or separated from, their depth). People ostensibly
operate on a surface level, but it is mandatory to understand people on a deeper level, as
close as possible to the core, before one can either judge a person or interact
effectively with that person.
The Torah is fully aware that people are
deep and that it takes penetration to the depth to relate to or impact a person. The
question arises on how to separate between the psychgological path to a person's depth and
the Torah path to a person's depth. This series will be exploring this question - in
The Torah Jew's counselor must be in
regular consultation with a rov to obtain da'as Torah on halachic or
"life-impacting" shaalos, which invariably come up. He or she must clearly make
Torah evident in his or her approach, character, attitude and conduct. He or she must
clearly have straight hashkofos [views] and have Torah-based criteria and justifications
for all recommendations or advice.
There can be no doubt that a Jew's
counselor clearly knows and is uncompromisingly committed to halacha and Torah values. The
counselor MUST know about what the Torah says on relevant topics and methods (e.g. anger,
family purity, resolving quarrels, the fundamentality of peace, how to relate,
personality, morality, fairness, good midos/character traits, understanding gender
differences, spousal responsibilities, parental/chinuch [educational] responsibilities,
laws of lashon hora [impermissible speech] and correcting harmful faults).
The tribes of Reuven and Gad had much
cattle. The other side of the Jordan River was good grazing land. They asked Moshe for
permission to stay there instead of entering Israel, so they could "build pens for
our animals and cities for our children" [Numbers 32:16]. Note that they placed their
business interests first, before their children. When Moshe answered them [Numbers 32:24],
he said "Build cities for your children and pens for your animals." Note that
Moshe switched the order, putting Jewish children first. The Torah is teaching us that
children come before one's work, materialism, business or personal preferences. Their
physical, spiritual and emotional well-being is of central importance. When there are one
or more children, everything humanly possible must be done to repair and preserve a
difficult marriage or family. This is an example of priorities to which a Jew's counselor
I recommend that, to the extent possible,
you choose a counselor who knows, or at least has some familiarity with, Choshen Mishpot;
the portion of halacha that has to do with judges, testimony, proof, money, people's
halachic rights and protections, how people craft speech to suit their self-interest and
thinking, damages and other matters of bais din. My reason is NOT because he will know
about gitten [divorce, which is handled by a bais din]. A competent Jewish counselor works
to keep couples from ever going to bais din! Rather, one who knows Choshen Mishpot knows
how to handle the couple's claims against each other like an impartial, qualified and
experienced dayan [judge] would. His methods follow the Torah. He is skilled at making
each clarify, prove and justify their claims, accusations or protests. He is more apt to
overcome the spouses' subjectivity, emotions or ignorance; and to uncover faulty or
incomplete arguments and complaints. He is more likely to bring fair, lasting and
If you can't find a counselor who knows
Choshen Mishpot, at least use one who is enough of a Yoray Shomayim to steadily consult
with, and bring shaalos to, a reputable rov who is an expert in halachos relevant to
counseling, marriage or other subject areas relevant to the case.
If there is no religious Jewish counselor
in your city, it is YOUR responsibility to have a rov to bring shaalos to. You must make
sure that the person will respect and abide by Torah teachings, values and rules. Secular
social sciences, such as Psychology and Social Work have many unreligious and anti-Torah
principles and methods, many of which are questionable at best, and "traif" at
worst. Even some religious Jewish practitioners separate their "professional
self" from their "Jewish self." For example, one "religious"
practitioner was supportive of a Jew's homosexuality because Psychology "is
non-judgmental," is "validating" and is non-interfering about any person's
lifestyle. Another said that lashon hora [prohibited harmful speech] is a matter of
"many interpretations," essentially "permitting" disregard for (or
ignorance or evasion of) the laws. Tosfos [Chulin 42b] says that we are not allowed to
learn about humans by studying animals, which is something psychology does. Psychology
says that intimate relations with a consenting child, never mind adult (e.g. out of
wedlock), is not psychologically objectionable (after all, they claim, it is with
consent). In a location where such acts might be illegal, prevailing law is what considers
these acts to be objectionable. However, from the perspective of Psychology itself, these
acts are not considered unhealthy or abnormal, independent of the perspective of local
This must alarm the Torah Jew. Psychology
does not recognize the neshama [soul], chelek Eloka mi'ma'al [a part of the Divine in the
human being] nor tzelem Elokim [that man is created in the image of G-d]. Since G-d, soul,
spirituality and eternal life cannot be seen in a laboratory or under a microscope,
Psychology does not give absolute recognition to their existence. Therefore, Psychology's
perspective on, and handling of, matters addressed by the Torah is in opposition to the
Torah; in which G-d, soul, spirituality and eternal life are central. In the Torah there
are good and evil, right and wrong, moral absolutes, mitzvos [fulfilling commandments and
doing good deeds], reward and punishment and halacha [practical law]. Psychology and Torah
differ significantly on many, many things; for example handling quarrels and anger (which
are grave sins), morality, lashon hora (slanderous speech), having a G-dly soul,
accountability to Heaven for how one spends every moment, and on their understanding of
the origin and purpose of human life. The goal of counseling must be TORAH-COMPATIBLE
resolution of quarrels, personality shortcomings, behavior difficulties and all other
PART FIFTY - TORAH
RESPONSIBILITIES FOR THE JEWISH COUNSELOR AND CLIENT
When G-d asked Kain where his brother (who
Kain had just murdered) is, he answered G-d, "Am I my brother's keeper?"
[Genesis 4:9]. G-d spent the rest of the Torah telling us how the answer is:
"Yes." For example, there are laws that require correction (tochacha) of
another's behavior under certain conditions. A Torah counselor must know these laws and
when to correct a client in religiously governed matters. Being a counselor is no
exemption from being Torah observant.
When Avraham came to the land of the
Plishtim [Philistines], he said that his wife Sara was his sister. The Torah says that she
was very attractive. King Avimelech took her for a wife and G-d came to him in a dream and
said not to touch Sara or else Avimelech would die. Avimelech ran to Avraham and asked why
he said that Sara was his sister when she was actually his wife. Avraham replied that he
feared he would be killed so that any man who would want her could take her because
"There is no fear of G-d in this place [Genesis 20:11]." Malbim, in his famous
commentary on the Torah, points out that Avimelech's country was relatively civilized.
Nevertheless, it does not matter how sophisticated, philosophical or progressive a country
or society is. When human beings want things, they can legislate, manipulate, or pervert
any laws they wish. They can even pass a law that somehow allows a man, who wants someone
else's wife, to kill the husband, take her and get away with it. Man-made laws cannot be
trusted. Only G-d's law can be. Only when there is fear of G-d at the root of law and
action is there a basis for trust and a standard upon which to consistently rely.
Only when there is fear of Hashem, and
action that is only according to His law, can behavior be considered to be right and good.
In our context, lacking fear of Hashem causes the failure to behave according to one's G-d
given role in life, to its responsibilities and to what life and Torah objectively require
at each moment. King Solomon concludes his Biblical book of Ecclesiastes by saying that
fear of G-d and keeping His mitzvos are the sum and substance of every human being's life.
A Torah counselor will place his first
loyalty to G-d and His laws and His all-encompassing wisdom, not the amoral construct and
teachings of finite flesh and blood mortals.
When conflicts come up between Torah laws
or values and the secular process or values of counseling or psychotherapy, the counselor
must know relevant halachos or have a rov for guidance in handling each conflict. There
are very specific laws about when to and how to correct a person who is not observing
halacha. Sometimes, if a client wants to NOT observe certain mitzvos (e.g. transgressing
against another person, violating well known de'Oraisos, etc.), the therapist could be
obligated by the Torah to give the client tochacha (correction) and not be passive or
accepting of the client's wish to transgress halacha or to determine his own observance
level. To say that it is not the therapist's place to correct the person can be a serious
violation, unless the counselor is under the guidance of a rov and is "building
up" at a strategic pace to where the client might be made more ready to accept more
Torah correction over time.
Further, the Torah is designed by the
"Designer" of human nature, G-d. All Torah observance is tied to optimum
emotional health. When one has a rigidly resistant reaction to a Torah rule, it is a
measure of unhealthiness in the person. The Torah-loyal counselor has no need to feel
guilty or torn about requiring observance of halacha for his clients. It is a means of
judging the client's psychological health and it gives the client the gift of the
healthiest frame of reference there is for living wholesome life. AN OBSERVANT JEWISH
CLIENT SHOULD BE FRIGHTENED OF A THERAPIST WHO IS NOT LOYALLY COMMITTED TO TORAH AND YIRAS
SHOMAYIM [FEAR OF HEAVEN]. The client's eternity could be compromised or diminished, chass
vichalila, by a "non judgmental" therapist. The Vilna Gaon says that one who
gives in to his wants or feelings can lose everything [Evven Shlaima]. The Torah is
judgmental and psychology is not. When Torah has a judgement about an issue, Torah is
absolute, Torah must be "the boss."
G-d's Torah is for application throughout
life. For example, a businessman must mix halachos into his work (paying debts, proper
treatment of workers, honest weights and measures, keeping his word, being a kidush HaShem
[sanctification of G-d], honesty, etc.). His emotional adjustment is not a determining
factor in his work practices, Torah's obligations are. Similarly, a therapist MUST mix his
Torah values in his work, or (s)he is not a Torah Jew. The Chasam Sofer poskined that a
medical treatment (for a case with no danger of death) that entails a sin must be avoided.
Even when something might be technically permitted, the person might be contaminated in
his soul or personality by doing it [Shaalos And Tshuvos, Orach Chayim 83]. The Mishna
says not to be viewed as evil in the eyes of G-d for even one moment [Eduyos 5:6].
Being a well-adjusted rasha [evil person,
sinner] is not an option. Emotional adjustment is only valid when consistent with Torah.
As a practical matter, cases can be complex and the counselor can be confronted with
sophisticated halachic judgements which have to be made under the guidance of a rov. For
example, if a troubled couple is less religious than the counselor, the priority might
have to be stopping the hurtful sins that the spouses perpetrate against one another,
rather than striving to bring the couple to a higher level of mitzva observance (although
higher levels of observance, e.g. improved davening, midos development and regular Torah
study CAN ACTUALLY HELP IMPROVE SHALOM BAYIS! - BESIDES, PROPER TREATMENT OF SPOUSES IS
VERY RELIGIOUS BEHAVIOR!). A single woman wanted to come to a male counselor wearing
clothes that were not at a halachic level of tzneeyus (modesty). The counselor's rov said
that he would accomplish more in the long run to work to help her, get to the point of
developing credibility and trust, and then to mention observing halachos of tzneeyus. Each
case must be handled individually. However, the Torah must be the basis for determining
the course in every case.
Sometimes, there might be no "wiggle
room" when Torah violations are involved; and leniency, indifference or refraining
from action might not be an option. For example, three, recognizing halachic obligations,
and in consultation with qualified rabonim, intervened successfully to thwart Torah
prohibitions. One stopped an intermarriage. The second stopped a fellow, who wanted to
"be fruitful and multiply," from getting a pilegesh [concubine] to have "at
least two children with," with no marriage nor kesuba. There was a woman, somewhat
desperate for a man, considering the proposition. A third insisted upon the break-up of a
marriage in which the wife committed adultery, after a gadol hador [generation leader in
halacha, consulted in the case] found no room for leniency and required the break-up.
These three "judgmental" individuals are HEROES of the Torah and the Jewish
People, who prevented serious breaches of halacha.
The Jewish client(s) must be certain that
his, her or their counselor is loyal to (or at least respectful of) the Torah, competent
and honorable; so that each client's soul, mind and personality are all safe with the
counselor. If there are any Torah questions that the counselor cannot be relied upon to
handle, the client is responsible to take the question or concern as a shaala to a
qualified rov. For everything we do, for every moment we live, we will be accountable to
G-d. That includes those in either the client or provider role in counseling.
PART FIFTY ONE - INTERPERSONAL PRACTICALITIES OF BEING A TORAH JEW [Part A]: NEVER HURTING OTHERS
These days, we hear and read about all
kinds of examples of Torah Jews hurting others Jews in ways that clearly violate the
Torah. For example, a marriage partner anguishing the other, parking in front of another's
driveway with no concern for his proprietary rights or for trapping him, disturbing
talking in shul, being financially dishonest, bothering neighbors, imposing on and using
people, pushing rudely ahead on a line (e.g. in a store), breaking one's word, amplifying
music at social or organizational functions so loudly that it can cause permanent medical
damage to people's ears, making noise blowing car horns because of no reason other than
impatience, etc. How can we explain this blatant and widespread contradiction between
being an alleged Torah Jew and selfishly forsaking "inconvenient" aspects of
Torah or ignoring our impact on other people?!
A gentile came to Hillel saying,
"Teach me the Torah in the time I can stand on one foot." Hillel replied,
"What is hateful to you do not do to anyone else. This is the entire Torah. The rest
is commentary. Go and learn" [Shabos 31a]. Rabbi Akiva says [Nedarim Yerushalmi 9]
that the most fundamental principle of the Torah is: "Love your fellow as
yourself" [Leviticus 19:18]. We could say that this is a seeming contradiction to the
"brief reply" to the gentile's question which "sums the whole Torah
up." The commentaries ask why did Hillel transform the "brief summary of the
whole Torah" from "love others" to "don't hurt others?" Because,
they answer, Hillel understood that not everybody is on the level of being kind, giving,
generous, gracious or self-sacrificing for others. Everybody hates mistreatment. Let the
universal minimum be that people not mistreat or hurt one another. This everyone can
understand, even this uneducated heathen. If you can't do a positive, AT LEAST DON'T DO A
NEGATIVE! Working on self-improvement is important every day but is especially important
during "the Three Weeks" when we must consider and rectify the faults,
particularly interpersonal shortcomings which are responsible for the destruction and
exile; and during Ellul and the "Ten Days Of Awe" [from Rosh HaShana until Yom
Kippur]; when we must seriously work to improve ourselves, to concentrate on repentance of
all kinds and strive to merit a year of life, health and blessing.
The Torah says [Deuteronomy 4:39],
"And you will know today and you will return it to your heart...". Rabbi Yisroel
Salanter was one of the greatest Torah analysts of human nature. He asks why the Torah
says that there are two levels: 1. knowing and 2. internalizing into the heart? He
explains this verse saying that there is just as great a distance 1. between not knowing
and knowing something as there is 2. between knowing something intellectually and
internalizing it into one's heart. Until it is assimilated into oneself, knowing something
only intellectually is the same as not knowing! This is a fundamental principle of
applying Torah to "real life."
The Chafetz Chayim was once asked how he
became a tzadik who could change the Jewish world. He answered that he worked to change
himself instead working to change the world - and when he changed himself, that was when
he changed the world. Spiritual accomplishment only comes from accepting responsibility to
face and improve oneself.
We are all treated to shmuzen [lectures]
and shiurim [classes] about the greatness of learning Torah. The gemora (Pesachim 50b)
even says that if you cannot learn for the sake of Heaven you should learn and you will
come to do so for the sake of Heaven. Yet we see with our own eyes every day people who
trample on Torah, and can give you 15,000 sharp, but perverse, self-serving "Torah
reasons" why they are right and why you should "go jump in the lake."
Rabbinic tradition recognizes that people
might learn in order to serve their own purposes, having nothing to do with real purposes
of Torah, mitzvos, toiling to spiritually grow, eradicating personal faults, doing tshuva
(repentance) and service of G-d. The midrash says, "Derech eretz (polite, civil,
thoughtful behavior) must precede Torah." Tosfos says that there are people who learn
for selfish motives such as to become arrogant, to annoy others or to win halacha debates.
Rambam says that some learn to be respected or to be called Rabbi. Rabbi Yisroel Salanter
says that some learn to be better able to harm or rob others. The Maharsha says that one
with selfish motives limits the ultimate purpose of his deeds to this world, while the
person with sincere G-dly motives transforms his deeds into spirituality and thereby
extends the ultimate purpose of his deeds to Heaven and brings them to eternity. The Rama
[this is actual halacha in the Shulchan Oruch, Yorah Dayah 242:30], says that the laws of
honoring one's primary rov apply specifically to the rov who taught one "practical
halacha, in-depth understanding, and trained him to maintain truth and correct practical
living." THE ROV TO WHOM YOU OWE SPECIAL HALACHIC RESPECT IS THE ROV WHO TEACHES AND
CAUSES YOU TO LIVE AS A MENTSH!
Midrash Agada says that a true Torah person
has four precious attributes: Torah learning, mitzva performance, kind deeds and good
midos. Without all four, he is not a true Torah person.
The Vilna Gaon says that Torah DOES NOT
AUTOMATICALLY MAKE A PERSON BETTER. If one learns without intending to be spiritually
perfected, Torah will INTENSIFY WHAT IS NATURALLY IN THE PERSON - including the bad! Torah
will only make better the person who learns it for the SPECIFIC PURPOSE OF PURIFYING HIS
HEART, INCREASING HIS FEAR OF HEAVEN AND ACHIEVING GENUINE SPIRITUAL ELEVATION. Torah is
powerful but it does not substitute for THE INDIVIDUAL'S FREE WILL! The essential purpose
for which G-d created human life is for conquering and perfection of midos (personality
and character traits) AT ALL TIMES. AT EVERY MOMENT WHEN ONE IS NOT WORKING ON MIDOS, ONE
IS WASTING HIS LIFE (Evven Shlaima)!
King Solomon says (Proverbs 4:11), "In
the way of wisdom I instructed you, I directed you on the straight paths [ma'aglai
yosher]." "Ma'agal" can either mean a "path" or a
"circle." There is Hebrew grammar problem, then, in the verse using a term that
can be read "straight circle" - an inherent contradiction (a line is straight, a
circle is round)! I heard in the name of one of the former Telsher roshay yeshiva that
King Solomon is adding a deep message. A person has a storehouse of all of the midos
(character traits) of the human personality. Midos are analogous to a "straight
circle" (meaning to say: perfectly round), IF THE PERSON HAS THE CORRECT MEASURE AND
BALANCE OF ALL THE MIDOS. If there is too much or too little of any mida (trait), that
puts bumps on his "midos circle." Where there is too much, the circle bulges
out, too little it bulges in. G-d instructed us in Torah wisdom that it should lead us to
the straight path which is only attainable through a "straight circle" - the
proper content, measure and allocation of midos. Only through midos can each person live
with truth, goodness and righteousness; go according to the instruction and will of G-d,
and live with others as G-d wants us to.
Just about everything in life must have
balance to be healthy and spiritual - including work on and distribution of midos. There
are rare exceptions e.g. there is no "too much" for humility, there is generally
no "too little" for anger and arrogance, one should aggressively work for peace
or saving of life and against chilul HaShem [profaning G-d] or degrading of Torah or its
sages or against evil speech [e.g. slander, instigation of fighting, vulgarity]. But, in
general, things in life must be present, or be conducted, with moderation.
Remember at all times that you will be
judged by G-d for every one of your deeds and, through this, you will not come to sin
[Pirkei Avos, chap. three]. The world is torn down by people hurting and harming each
other. In contrast, the world 1. has "salvations" when we guard against harming
one another (Shabos 31a) and 2. "will be built by lovingkindness" (Psalm 89:3).
When people come in to see me for marriage
counseling, they are typically ignorant of how many halachic and ethical imperatives there
are about marriage conduct THAT THEY DO NOT KNOW that are FROM THE TORAH. If couples would
have the humility, patience, compassion, respect, unselfishness and decency to factor in
their responsibilities in personal growth and in treatment of their spouse, marriages
would be a lot more happy and peaceful. If educators would sensitize their students to the
feelings of others, TO RESPONSIBILITY FOR AND RECOGNITION OF THE IMPACT ONE'S BEHAVIOR HAS
ON OTHERS, they would grow up to be more competent and successful spouses, parents,
neighbors and all around Torah observers. When we learn, it would be for the sake of
Heaven. The proof would be that everyone would internalize their learning and do what G-d
wants us to do in all areas of life (midos, halacha, interpersonal relating, straight and
objective "Torah-dik" thinking, etc.). If people would stop hurting others, stop
trying to have power over others, stop doing whatever they like and would get their
priorities fixed; if they would VALUE PEACE AND START CALLING A ROV FOR DA'AS TORAH IN
ORDER TO HANDLE CHALLENGING OR TRYING ISSUES, G-d would see to it that we all would have
much better lives in all ways. As it says in Pirkei Avos, "Do His will in order that
He do your will. Put aside your will for His will and He will put aside the will of others
for you" (Chapter Two). His will is that your Torah be complete, starting in your
heart and ending with good deeds at all times. The lowest level is never harming anyone,
either by active deeds or passive neglect. However, the Jew's real goal is lovingkindness,
help and giving to others with as much zeal, warmth, care and sincerity as possible, with
as pleasant an attitude as possible. The Jew must work to get beyond the minimum level of
"at least not hurting" to actively doing good, in practical life, as much of the
time as possible. The closer people are to you, the higher the priority they are - that
you exclusively do consistent and constant good for them.
PART FIFTY TWO - INTERPERSONAL
PRACTICALITIES OF BEING A TORAH JEW [Part B]: THE REALITY OF G-D'S JUSTICE
Yosef's brothers sold him into slavery and
he later became Prince of Egypt. After Yaakov (their father) died, Yosef's brothers feared
vengeance. He told them not to worry and that he understood his getting to Egypt had been
G-d's plan. Rabainu Bachya [to Genesis 50:21] asks: if Yosef forgave his brothers, why
were the "asara harugay malchus [ten martyred sages]" killed by the Romans to
atone for the brothers' sale of Yosef? How could there have been such a tragedy? Rabainu
Bachya answered that since Yosef only comforted them, but did not express directly that he
forgave them, Heaven considered the forgiveness to be insufficient. When one wrongs
another, the victim must explicitly express complete forgiveness in order for Heaven to
consider the forgiveness effective. If people hurt, disappoint, shortchange, neglect,
annoy or impose upon other people; especially if they do so hundreds of times each year,
year after year, if they never receive explicit complete forgiveness from EVERY person
they ever wronged or neglected, they subject themselves to punishments from Heaven of
frightening and tragic magnitude. In contrast, the Shulchan Oruch [Orach Chayim 231:1]
says that if one intends everything he does for the sake of Heaven and if everything he
does is the will of Heaven, he is doing service of G-d at every moment of his life and he
fulfills the verse, "In all of your ways know G-d" [Proverbs 3:6].
The gemora [Makos 10b] tells how G-d
assures justice. If a person kills by accident, intending no bad to the victim [e.g. he is
chopping wood, the ax unexpectedly flies off the handle and the sharp edge kills a
passerby], the Torah requires the unintending killer to flee to a special city of refuge
to live. If a person kills with intent, the murderer's punishment is death. Bais din
requires two suitable witnesses to carry out a verdict. The gemora tells how one man
accidentally killed and another intentionally murdered. There were no witnesses to either
killing. G-d brought the two to a restaurant at the same time. The place was busy and the
service was slow. The accidental killer was too thirsty to keep waiting for a waiter so he
climbed a ladder to reach up to where beverages were stored. The ladder slipped and he
fell on the murderer, who passed under just at that moment, killing him. He was seen
accidentally killing by a crowd of people. The murderer was "executed," and the
accidental killer was forced to move to a city of refuge. G-d sees to the accomplishment
of all justice.
The Torah says, "When a man makes a
vow to G-d, or swears to prohibit something from himself, lo yachail his word, he shall do
all which comes out of his mouth" [Numbers 30:3]. The plain meaning of "lo
yachail" is, "he shall not profane" [i.e. break] his word. I suggest an
interpretation that uses the same letters but with different pronunciation, "lo
yichal [it shall not take effect]." The explanation is that if a person swears that
he will take on extra stringencies or observances, he had better make sure that it will
not be at the expense of Torah basics. If he swears he will be "extra frum," and
thereby loses or evades basics of the 613 commandments or halacha [practical law], it
would be better that he not swear, or that his swearing should be considered worthless -
as if it did not take effect. One must never sacrifice basic Yiddishkeit - G-d's Torah -
for one's own "extras." If one does so, he profanes his word with G-d's name and
it is better that "lo yachail" becomes "lo yichal" - if his frumkeit
leads to violating G-d's will, let it not be in effect. The only part of the person
considered spiritually alive is his "deebur [speech;" Chinuch, mitzva 350]. The
rest of the person is considered dead. If speech is ruined by profanation, the person is
left with nothing of spiritual life; he is spiritually dead.
The midrash tells us that on every occasion
on which justice is not given by an earthly bais din (e.g. by destroying or falsifying
evidence, bribing witnesses, refusing to go to bais din or otherwise evading Torah
judgement), justice is executed by Heaven's bais din [Beraishis Raba 26:14]. Rambam
includes in his 13 fundamental principles of Torah that G-d gives wonderful reward to
those who guard His commandments and punishes those who violate His commandments. The
trait with which one behaves is the trait with which Heaven behaves to that person [Sota
8b]. I know of a true contemporary story which is a wonderful example of these principles
of Heaven's justice for an interpersonal sin (names are changed).
Reuven and his wife thought they would
inspire their three young children in Yiddishkeit by playing music tapes all day. However,
the stereo played so loudly that the walls of Shimon, his neighbor, would shake and would
give the members of Shimon's household headaches and they couldn't think straight. When
Shimon tried to complain, Reuven and his wife ignored him, they couldn't have cared less.
Finally, when he could no longer take it, Shimon sent Reuven a hazmona [summons] to bais
din [Torah court]. Reuven responded by phoning the Av Bais Din [chief judge] and screaming
like an animal at him, accusing him of warping Torah and shrewdly slandering the witnesses
in a way that could subject them to suspicion for technical invalidation (even though this
had nothing to do with their genuine ability to testify nor the truth Reuven's
perpetration of constant sin). After failure to come to the bais din, Shimon asked the Av
Bais Din if he should take Reuven to court. The Av Bais Din said, "What you told me
seems to be borne out by the way Reuven behaved, including defending what he did, rather
than denying it. He was not at all a mentsh. In a case where your complaint is determined
in bais din to be true, we would poskin [decide] that he must either stop paining you with
noise or he must move. The halacha is that we would have to give him 12 months to find a
new home. Since he did not come to bais din for mishpot [judgement] like a mentsh, he will
get yesurim [suffering] in this world and gehenom [burning] in the next world."
Reuven continued to cause Shimon's family
constant misery - and acting as if he was holier than everybody. His wife gave birth to a
fourth child very soon thereafter and to a fifth a little over a year after the bais din
matter. Because Reuven was too squeezed with five children, he needed a larger home. He
found a buyer for his home at about the same time as he found and bought "the perfect
home" for his growing family. Reuven thought he made the perfect deal, with the sale
of his old home and purchase of his new home occurring simultaneously. On the first of
July that year, Reuven was to move out in the morning and the new owner moved in right
after, on the same day. When Reuven got to the new house, the previous owner had not moved
out! Reuven said, "We closed on the house, this is my house today, get right out, I
need to move in." The former owner said that he was not buying a house, he was
building a new one. The new house is not finished so he could not move into it. Reuven
would have to wait until the new house was finished. It was "just too bad."
Reuven had to scramble for a solution while the loaded moving truck was on the street in
front of his new, but inaccessible, house. A friend of a friend got Reuven word of a
small, dingy, roach and mouse-infested apartment that had just been vacated. Reuven was
forced to take it on an emergency basis. The former owner of the house would not go to
bais din with Reuven (but agreed to pay Reuven a fair-market-value monthly rent for
staying in the house, and he did not move out for about thirteen months). During this
time, Reuven was forced to live in a worse place than the one he moved out of.
Let us study this. Reuven thought he would
be "extra frum" by inspiring his little children to dance to Jewish cassettes.
He had perverted Jewish values, priorities and rules. He was stubbornly and selfishly
causing misery to a neighbor (who he viewed as inferior in frumkeit), was rudely and
cruelly ignoring the neighbor's suffering (that he was causing!), had chutzpa and contempt
for a dayan, was angry and arrogant and did not follow the halachic procedure for dispute
resolution. He was "holier than thou," ridiculed Torah law and was a
"frumak [religious hypocrite]" at someone else's expense. He sinned because of
his children and G-d forced him to move because of having children. Reuven caused yesurim
with a home, he received yesurim with a home. He did not come to bais din, and the former
owner (who had no right to remain in Reuven's house) did not come to bais din. Reuven was
required by halacha to move in year, and he was forced by G-d to move out about a year
later. He could not move in to his own home for about another year after that, as a
punishment to him for the year that he caused suffering and should have been looking to
move but did not (Reuven only decided to move when it suited himself). Reuven arranged for
the buyer of his first home to take possession of it exactly when he was leaving. While
thinking himself too, too clever for timing the transaction "perfectly," G-d was
preventing Reuven, through his own deed, from being able to move back there! The Av Bais
Din knew in advance from the Torah that Heaven would take care of the case which was not
judged in the human bais din, that G-d would punish Reuven and would do so in a manner
that "fit the crime." Since "the bais din below" on earth did not
execute justice, the "bais din above" in Heaven executed justice. Reuven thought
he was better than anyone else, "invented frum extras" and exempted himself from
G-d's law. It cost him an unexpected frantic crisis on moving day and miserable year in a
sub-standard residence. He caused and received suffering. This story is a lesson in emunah
[faith] and we see in it hashgacha pratiyis [G-d's precise and detailed supervision of
each individual], mishpot [the reality of G-d's justice] and mida-kineged-mida [G-d acting
"measure for measure" with each person].
PART FIFTY THREE - INTERPERSONAL
PRACTICALITIES OF BEING A TORAH JEW [Part C] TRULY BEING A GOOD PERSON
Some people think nothing of wronging
others because they believe the other is a fine Jew who will completely forgive them or
will accept inappropriate behavior. This, in essence, says that the other's frumkeit is
license to absolve oneself of his or her own frumkeit! Each one must be a responsible,
considerate and fine person; to never act at someone else's expense nor rationalize that
the other will forgive any misdeed against them (to excuse themselves for improper or
negligent conduct against another). If one sins against another, bain odom lechavairo
tshuva [interpersonal repentance] requires apology with acknowledgement of the deed,
remorse, commitment to never repeat the act ever again and mefayess [appeasing the victim]
in order to achieve effective tshuva.
The Shulchan Oruch says [Choshen Mishpot
421:12] that if person A tells person B, "Injure me, destroy an organ, cut off my
limb, and I absolve you from all accountability," the halacha is that PERSON B IS
FULLY ACCOUNTABLE for any damaging. B has absolutely NO PERMISSION to harm A, even if A
begged B to do it! This is because no person with a normal mind would want to be harmed.
The halacha is saying that to want something damaging done to oneself means the person is
OUT OF HIS/HER MIND. No one with a normal mind wants any harm! A fine person wants nothing
destructive against anybody.
All who violate any matters pertaining to
harming, endangering, injuring, or refraining from protecting or rescuing a Jew; and says,
"I have my own problems and misfortunes, what do I care about others in regard to
this?" or tries to excuse himself by saying "I am not strict regarding this, for
things done against myself," bais din is obliged to give this selfish, indifferent
person lashes. The one who is cautious in all of these things will receive wonderful
blessings from Heaven [Choshen Mishpot 427:10]."
Each Jew is required to have a pleasant
disposition towards others [Kesuvos 17a], to be gentle [Taanis 4a], to treat the next
person with as much honor as he would want for himself [Pirkei Avos, chap. two] and to
makdim shalom [be the first to offer a sincere greeting] to each person he sees, even a
non-Jew [Brachos 17a]. All Jews are brothers stemming from our mutual "alter zaida
[ancestor]" Yaakov Avinu [our father Jacob]. We are required to be friendly,
cheerful, kind and courteous to all.
In all of our behavior and deeds, we must
anticipate our impact on others before acting. Ask yourself: will my action hurt another,
take from or inconvenience him or her, will it please, help or benefit the person, are my
actions a kidush or chilul Hashem [sanctification or profanation of G-d]? Ask yourself:
how do I like it when others act against me? Extend this thinking to: how would others
feel when I act against them? If an unkind or inconsiderate action done against you hurts,
remember that unkind or inconsiderate actions done by you against others hurt them.
Remember that all Jews are connected. We say in the Birkas HaChodesh, on the shabos before
the New Moon, "Chavairim kol Yisroel [all Jews are friends]." How must you act
to someone who is both family and friend, whether you feel this way towards the person or
not [since G-d "feels" that all Jews are family and friends, it does not matter
if you feel otherwise!]?
Pirkei Avos (chapter three) tells us that
"All who are pleasing to one's fellow man are pleasing to Hashem and all who are not
pleasing to one's fellow man are displeasing to Hashem."
There is a rule that everything in the
written or oral Torah must have the briefest possible wording. Whenever a wording is
longer than the shortest way possible, the extra is intentionally there for an additional
Hebrew could convey "pleasing" in
a single word (e.g. noam, me'urav, etc.). Yet, in this mishna, Chazal chose a two-word
expression to convey the concept, "nocha haimenu." "Nocha" is from the
same root word as "menucha" [rest]. A more technical translation than
"pleasing" might be, "All whose spirit is restful from him." This
tells us something very profound.
A person may consider himself nice and
pleasant to people. However, some people might be nice in some ways and not nice in
others, nice to some people and not nice to other people, nice at some times and not nice
at other times. They say, "Because of the part of me that's nice, I expect G-d is
happy with me."
In Kashrus [dietary laws], there is a
segment of halacha called "ta'aruvos [mixtures]." If, for example, I mix a quart
of kosher chicken soup with a quart of traif pig soup, the mixture is all traif
[un-kosher]. Making mixtures of some pleasant behavior and some un-pleasant behavior is
traif, not up to G-d's standards of "kosher" behavior, not G-d's definition of a
truly pleasant person.
Chazal are telling us that G-d is
specifically NOT PLEASED by people who are only PART NICE, who are a MIXTURE of pleasant
and non-pleasant, who are nice to others in some ways but bother and hurt them in other
ways, who are nice under some circumstances but not under other circumstances, who are
nice to some people but not nice to other people.
Only when a person is nice such that ALL
people who interact with him are AT REST from him [nocha haimenu]; they have peace of mind
and emotional security about him; each person's "spirit" is calm, satisfied and
comfortable with him; his pleasantness is pure, steady, complete and trustworthy...only
that person is the one who G-d is pleased with!
In Birkas HaMazone [blessings after meals],
G-d is referred to as the One Who "IS good and DOES good." Is this not
redundant? Would it not be automatic that one who is good does good, and that one who does
good is good? We know that Torah sources are not redundant, so we must study why the text
has double terminology.
King David tells us [Psalm 34:15] there are
two basic steps to being good, "Turn away from evil and do good." One must first
clean the slate by abandoning doing bad and then must occupy himself with exclusively and
actively doing good.
One may be good but the person may be shy,
busy or otherwise closed off from regular beneficial interaction with the rest of the
world. He would never think of doing bad to another but he never actually does good for
others. His quality of being good is abstract and theoretical but he never brings his
abilities to actualization by being good to others to the extent of his potential. He may
be good and not do good.
A person may do good, but with an ulterior
motive. He may want something from you or may want to get your guard down so he can harm
you. He may do good and not be good.
G-d, Who serves as the model for what our
traits and behaviors aught to be, IS good and DOES good. That defines who truly is good:
the one who IS GOOD AT ESSENCE AND WHO DOES GOOD IN PRACTICAL ACTION. A good person
practices good midos, benefits others cheerfully, interacts sweetly with people and treats
others with G-d's good traits and behaviors.
Rabbi Chayim Veetal, the famed mystic,
asked: if midos are so fundamental, why is there no mitzva to have good midos among the
613 mitzvos? He answers: because midos are so fundamental that you can't have the 613
mitzvos without them! They are such a basic prerequisite to Torah that the Torah expects
them to be there before the Torah can be learned or observed! The same way that a house
cannot stand without a foundation, Torah surely isn't there if a solid foundation of good
midos isn't there.
If one does not have good midos, kind deeds
or derech eretz; or does not fulfill the entire Shulchan Oruch (including interpersonal
obligations) - he is not a Torah person. He is too clever for his own good - a danger to
others and to his own soul. Ramban [Nachmanides] says that one can know or technically
observe all the laws and claim to be a Torah person; but unless he makes himself holy, he
can still be a "low life within the domain of the Torah."
WHAT COUNTS FIRST AND FOREMOST ARE A GOOD
HEART AND GOOD MIDOS. These tell us what the person will use his intellect and talents
for, whether he is close to G-d or to his own ego. Rabbi Elimelech of Lizinsk writes that
the ONLY REASON A PERSON IS BORN IS TO CHANGE HIS NATURE FOR THE BETTER.
Late in his life, Rov Shimon Schwab, leader
of German-Jewry, was in a wheelchair and homebound. He once asked a visiter what was going
on in the "Jewish world." The visiter proudly announced that "the NEWEST
CHUMRA" was "YOSHON." Rabbi Schwab asked, "What about OLD BASICS, like
Pirkei Avos teaches us to always give
people a kindly and pleasant countenance (chapter one) and to always receive people
cheerfully (chapter three). Get into the habit of treating everyone in a sweet and
friendly manner always. Be sociable and healthily involved in the life of your community.
The Chafetz Chayim (Ahavas Chesed) says that even if you can't give a beggar a penny, a
warm, friendly, comforting or encouraging response to the poor person can be a kindness,
and, therefore, is a mitzva. Greet neighbors on the street. Ask people, with sincere
concern and interest, how things are. Approach them with compassion, helpfulness,
humility, patience, responsibility, pleasantness and generosity. Generally, in Jewish law,
the closer someone is to you, the higher the priority to give of yourself and to be
steadily good to them. Always be gentle, loving, kind and respectful; especially with
those of your own home. You'll start to see improvements in your attitudes - and
relationships - with your fellow man and with G-d! You will merit more of G-d's help,
compassion and blessings!
PART FIFTY FOUR - A
"TORAH AND MITZVOS" TONE FOR THE HOME AND FAMILY
The first chapter of Pirkei Avos says that
your house should be for the congregating of Torah instruction, and a center of
lovingkindness, especially to the poor. Madrich LeChasonim [Guide To Grooms] writes that
love of Torah and of Jews should fill the air of your home. The Zohar says that the Jew,
the Torah and G-d are all one. By setting up your home for the dissemination of Torah and
lovingkindness to Jews, as expressions of your devotion to G-d, you promote a sweet and
loving atmosphere for your marriage and family.
It is important to choose good friends,
good neighbors (when choosing where to live), and good guests. They influence you as
individuals, as a couple and as a family. The people who you associate with should love
Torah, have good character [midos], fear sin and do mitzvos. Rambam writes that since
people are influenced by all whom they associate with, it is vital to be with tzadikim and
chachomim [the righteous and learned]. It is better to be in isolation in a desert than to
be with people whose influence will destroy any of your spirituality [Hilchos Dayos]. The
Chinuch writes that a person is molded by his actions. It is crucial to do and to
reinforce good behaviors and deeds at all times throughout life. It can be helpful to keep
asking yourself, "How am I being a 'Kidush Hashem' (sanctification of G-d) with my
It is important to live socially with
people and to choose good role models. Madrich LeChasonim provides measures of success in
this, which are:
* do such people come to visit your home
once or more times most weeks?
* are your children growing up this way
loving and learning Torah, good
midos-character traits, fear of sin, active and enthusiastic pursuit of halacha and
mitzvos, and choosing good friends)?
* is your house a center for Torah life:
learning, lovingkindness, mitzva gatherings and activities, inviting guests to experience
Torah life (e.g. baalay tshuva, the poor, unaffiliated Jews, orphans, widows, singles),
shiyurim (Torah classes) etc.?
* is there a clear Torah and lovingkindness
It is vital to always be cheerful, pleasant
and goodhearted. As Proverbs 27:19 beautifully puts it, "Just as water reflects a
face, so the heart of a person replies to a heart." People reflect, and respond to
you with, the behavior which you show to them. If you are always smiling, sweet, agreeable
and pleasant; your spouse, children and the people in your "life environment"
will learn to be friendly and warm, over time, from you. The Vilna Gaon wrote in a letter
to a son, "Nothing stands before will." This also applies to shalom bayis,
personal perfection and passing the tests of life. Building a sweet relationship and
family atmosphere is a matter of both of your hearts really wanting to build a sweet
relationship. When a couple is committed to a close, harmonious relationship, Heaven helps
this sincere couple. The Talmud (Megila 6b) says that if a person says that he worked on a
spiritual goal and that he did not achieve, then you must not believe his claim to have
really worked. If he says that he strove for, and actually achieved, a spiritual goal,
this can be believed. A good marriage is hard spiritual work. With sincere work, it will
It is important to reinforce a Torah
atmosphere by speaking Torah at the table, in the car or other occasions when the family
is together; so that Torah defines the tone and experience. Some people speak about the
parsha [Torah portion], laws of lashon hora [forbidden slander] or other areas of halacha,
what the children learned that day in school or what the parents heard from a lecture or
tape from a talmid chochom. The Vilna Gaon wrote that, at the table, the man should make a
point to speak about matters of lovingkindness and Torah ethics. Such policies generate a
Torah atmosphere that pervades the entire home. When a spouse brings home a chidush [novel
Torah thought], it increases admiration from the other spouse, so this can help shalom
Until a generation or two ago, families
were closer than in recent times. Often, two or three generations lived in the same house.
Everyone would see and absorb what solid and harmonious family, marriage and human
relations were. You would simply watch how spouses, parents and children treated each
other. No one had to study what a family or marriage was. People generally were much
further away from doing something unkind, inconsiderate, disrespectful, violent or
irresponsible. See how much we have fallen since the days of our bubbes and zaidas. Let's
get back there! You can - and must - do it!
One of ways to measure how successful a
couple is and how spiritually accomplished its two members are is how they use their
lives, homes, personalities and resources for the service of G-d, for the dissemination of
Torah and mitzvos. I must stress that if a marriage is new or is not working well, THE
FIRST PRIORITY IS TO WORK ON THE MARRIAGE, NOT ON HELPING THE WORLD. It does not help the
world if you ignore or destroy what is left of a shaky marriage or family. A solid couple
is composed of two solid individuals. If they are both spiritually, psychologically,
behaviorally and functionally solid - as individual human beings - and each fulfills their
responsibilities to each other, to their home and to their children - then, and only then,
should they branch out and extend their efforts to a broader range of activities in life,
service to G-d and the Jewish community. When they can do so, they give greater meaning
and purpose to their lives, home and marriage. They see what is truly important, do not
quibble or fight over petty things, use their home and marriage as a potent tool for
serving G-d, have a sense of bond and alliance that makes their marriage stronger than the
aggravations and challenges of life and they put their energies into making concrete
spiritual contributions. A major measure of how healthy and successful a marriage is: how
much service to G-d, Torah and the Jewish people it gives - while the couple and family
are functioning effectively, fully, peacefully and happily.
"How goodly are your homes, Jacob;
your dwellings, Israel [Numbers 24:5]." In explaining this verse, Rashi says that the
Torah lauds the modesty of the Jewish home, each of whose doors faced away from their
neighbors. The Baalai Mussar say further that this means that each had no interest,
curiosity or envy about anyone else's home. When one is looking at his neighbor, he is not
looking up at Heaven. Those in a proper, "goodly" Jewish home are concerned with
fulfilling the will of Heaven. No one was concerned about the other's individual private
life, belongings, finances or activities. They did not pursue status or material things
out of jealousy for what others had. They were not rivals or "yentas." Each Jew
was happy and satisfied with his own home and life. Each had what to do with his time to
live productively and spiritually. The other person's business was none of his. His only
concern was if the other had a need from him, he was prepared and available to help in any
way he could.
Scripture urges, "Chase after chesed
and tzadaka [active lovingkindness and generous charity, Proverbs 21:21]." It is not
enough for the Jew to be kind or charitable when the opportunity comes to him or her. The
Jew may not withhold any property or power that one has. It is the Jew's job to pursue, if
not create, opportunities to do meaningful, significant and profuse kindness and charity
with every possible resource - money, talent, intellect, abilities, etc. [Maharal, Nesivos
Olam]. Let's see how Jewish couples can bring this to fruition.
Encourage each other to do acts and
projects of kindness and community service. If there are kindness-related subjects to talk
about, this is good for the relationship. If there aren't community projects or kindness
groups, consider starting one or, if your circumstances do not permit, encouraging your
spouse to form one. This can take on many forms, depending on the community, the needs,
the resources and personalities available. The Jewish people are not merely a nation. We
are all descendants of Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov. We are all cousins. Doing mitzvos for
fellow Jews means doing good for extended family! One is hard put to find anything more
constructive or fulfilling. Projects could including bikur cholim [caring and praying for
the sick], hachnosas orchim [having guests], shiduchim [helping singles to find suitable
mates], gemach [interest-free loans of money or property e.g. wedding materials such as
bridal dress or artificial flowers, supplies for the infirm such as wheel chairs or
crutches, etc.], va'ad [gathering of same-gender people for regular Torah study on a given
subject or project such as lashon hora laws, work on midos, shalom bayis, interpersonal
relating, practical halacha], chevra kadisha [handling and burying the dead], job
networking [helping people find dignified employment], shomrim [anti-crime patrol],
hatzala [emergency first aid and ambulance work], kiruv [outreach and teaching Torah to
the unobservant], child care [for working mothers and on shabos], delivering kosher food
for shabos and yom tov or giving financial help to the impoverished, etc.
When a family lives together with humility,
honor, love, kindness, charity, peace and Torah; G-d's presence dwells with them and He
calls their home a mikdash mi'at, a miniature Holy Temple.
PART FIFTY FIVE - KEYS TO
MAKING YOUR MARRIAGE PERMANENT
The Maharal of Prague writes that the most
essential thing in the man-woman relationship is trust. He defines what permits trust to
be created. That which one trusts is something which NEVER CHANGES. Since G-d is faithful
to provide sustenance to those on earth (when worthy), and He NEVER CHANGES in this, we
are enabled and required to trust G-d. The same situation exists between the male and
female. Each has various moral and practical obligations and duties, and has to provide
various things to the other. The man might owe livelihood, Torah learning for himself and
teaching to his sons; the woman may have to tend to the home and children and to teach the
daughters. Whatever it may be, each must provide what each owes to the other and their
marriage WITHOUT CHANGE. THE ABSENCE OF CHANGE IS WHAT PRODUCES TRUST, and trust produces
stability and permanence in marriage. Be trustworthy in all you say and do.
Michtav Me'Eliyahu writes that a couple
will only have happiness and satisfaction if their orientation is to give to each other
for the sake of the other's good, happiness and satisfaction. If their orientation is to
take or to demand, then happiness and satisfaction will die. In order to enable the other
one to give, each must receive. Receiving for the sake of enabling the other to give is
not "taking," it is GIVING THE OTHER THE OPPORTUNITY TO GIVE. It is only ongoing
and mutual giving for the recipient's good and happiness that builds lasting and real
Several statements by Chazal emphasize that
no marriage can have peace without enormous and steady respect and honor by each for the
The Vilna Goan said that the essential
purpose of life is to work on conquering midos at every moment, and every moment that one
is not working on midos, that moment of life is being wasted (Evven Shlaima). The ability
to behave like a mentsh is fundamental to living the Torah. The way one behaves is an
external manifestation of one's midos.
The midrash (Vayikra Raba) says that derech
eretz (civil, polite and thoughtful behavior) comes before Torah. The world existed for 26
generations without the giving of the Torah but could not exist for one generation without
derech eretz. Another midrash says that a person who studies TaNaCH (even if he can't
learn something more difficult), keeps away from sin and treats people with derech eretz
qualifies for eternal reward (Tanna Debay Eliyahu Raba 2). Derech eretz is a prerequisite
to defining a person to be a genuine Torah observer. One does not personify Torah until he
demonstrates derech eretz in everything he does. Without prerequisite derech eretz, you
don't have Torah. In fact, Pela Yoetz writes that when a person has derech eretz, he
cancels his will for other people, people find him to be sweet, he makes a point to
steadily learn about derech eretz, honors people in ways that do them good and he never
hurts people; and any Torah scholar who does not have derech eretz is a chilul Hashem
(profanation of G-d). Four things require constant work: Torah learning, good deeds,
prayer and derech eretz (Brachos 32b). Everything we do, every relationship we have, every
moment and situation in life, is an "exercise" in midos and derech eretz.
Hashem told Moshe to leave Yisro and go to
Egypt to save the Jewish people from slavery. Moshe was living in Yisro's home. He first
went to Yisro to ask permission to leave to go to Egypt [Exodus 4:18]. DERECH ERETZ FOR A
PRIEST TO IDOLATRY CAME BEFORE A COMMAND DIRECTLY FROM HASHEM TO SAVE THE ENTIRE JEWISH
PEOPLE FROM TORTURE! Kal vichomer [how much moreso] is your spouse due derech eretz from
you in plain every day life!
Rabbi Shimon Schwab, late leader of the
German-Jewish community told me that the biggest segula (help) for succeeding at anything
is doing it truly for the sake of Heaven. When you have a problem in your marriage,
resolve it immediately and substantively. When you have a question, or when something you
do is not working, call a competent rov to ask what the Torah wants you to do.
Rambam writes (Hilchos Dayos 6:3), "It
is a commandment, incumbent upon every Jew, to love every single Jew as he loves
himself...each must speak in praise of others, and have concern about the property or
money of others, just as he has concern about his own property or money and wants honor
for himself. One who takes honor by humiliation of another Jew has no portion in the world
to come." The Jew must never shame or hurt another's feelings (especially in front of
others or in a way that harms e.g. damages reputation or unjustifiably ruins a shidduch or
marriage) and should only make other people feel honored and happy. When Hillel, President
of Jewry, heard that a rich man lost his money, Hillel gave the poor man a horse to ride
on and a servant to run in front of him, to make him feel rich again and restore his
happiness. One day, the servant did not show up and Hillel himself ran in front of the
poor man (Kesubos 67b).
All MEN AND WOMEN MUST learn Torah
regularly. Women have plenty of things that pertain to them such as laws of kashrus,
modesty, nida, lashon hora, midos, chesed, shabos and holidays. Men must learn every day
and women should go to shiurim two or more times a week. EACH MUST REGULARLY LEARN
PRACTICAL MATTERS THAT PERTAIN TO RELATING, TO GROWING AS A PERSON, RAISING CHILDREN AND
TO SHALOM BAYIS. I notice a high correlation between the degree of peace in marriage (or
the ability to restore it when differences arise) and the sincerity of the couple's
davening [prayer] - the man three times a day with a minyan and the woman twice each day
(Shacharis and Mincha). If you study the grammatical root, the Hebrew verb for prayer,
"lehispalel," actually means "self-judgement." People who truly know
how to pray are constantly introspecting and evaluating themselves, exploring whether they
merit the things that they pray for. The more authentic the couple's
"relationship" is with G-d, the better their potential is for a good
relationship with each other. The spirituality and civility of any marriage is impacted by
the commitment to relevant learning and to proper davening BY BOTH.
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 truly are two valid sides to each story. The other side deserves at
least as much weight and consideration as yours.
PART FIFTY SIX - THE GREATEST
THING IS ALWAYS HAVING PEACE
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 [silent standing prayer]. This tells us that one should never leave any
thing without it being in a state of true 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 sincerely strive for
peace, prays for peace 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 (by saying the prayer in vain day after day) - 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. It must characterize everything and any differences must
be handled and concluded with peace. IN MARRIAGE, THE FIRST PRIORITY AND RESPONSIBILITY IS
MAINTAINING PEACE WITH EACH OTHER. It is the most important thing in all relationships AT
Peace (shalom) is the highest value and
goal of all; there is nothing more important than ongoing, optimal harmony, peace, calm,
unity, tranquility. Peace is the most important trait for human relations. Shalom is the
only pipeline through which blessing comes down to earth from Heaven (Bamidbar Raba). G-d
hates and punishes fighting, anger, hate or separation. If you have to back-off, keep
quiet or give in; peace is more important. You have to spend money, impose upon yourself,
strive actively and relentlessly - to bring and maintain peace. If you ever have a
question of "principle," ask a competent and experienced orthodox rabbi for
Torah instruction and for establishment of TRUE priorities. [The Torah's] "ways are
sweet and all of its paths are peace" (Proverbs 3:17). Everything must be directed
towards, and be consistent with, shalom, so that Hashem will direct blessing to where
peace is found, and to where unity is achieved for the long-run.
Psalms 34:15 says, "Love peace and
pursue it." Based on this verse, the midrash (Vayikra Raba) cites that peace (shalom)
is different from other mitzvos. Other mitzvos apply when they come to you. If I find a
lost article, it is a mitzva to return it to its owner. For the mitzva to apply, I have to
find the property. If I don't happen to find lost property, there's no mitzva. I can't
hurry and keep shabos on Tuesday. I have to wait till it comes to me Friday evening.
Peace is different. Every Jew is obligated
to actively seek, promote, build and maintain peace. You don't wait for it to come. You
make it happen. You exhibit character and courage. You get obstacles or inhibitions out of
the way. You forgive. You travel to another place to bring about peace. You exert yourself
actively and creatively...in your own relationships and in those of any other Jews. You
appease a person in a quarrel (whether his quarrel is with you or another).
Whenever Moshe's brother Aaron heard that
there was any argument between Jews, he ran to make peace between them (Sanhedrin 6b).
When Aaron died, the Torah (Numbers 20:29) says that the entire Jewish nation mourned for
30 days. Why such nationwide tribute and grief? Because when two people would quarrel,
Aaron would quickly run to one and say, "Your friend feels so badly to be in a
quarrel with you. He is ashamed for wronging you. He told me he loves you so much but
doesn't know the words with which to make up." He would stay with the person until
all enmity was gone from the person's heart. Aaron would then quickly run to the second
friend and say the same. Both would say, "How can I remain in a fight with such a
beloved friend?" Both would go to the other and meet and, without saying a word, each
would hug the other and be best of friends (Avos DeRebi Noson, chapter 12). Aaron did this
to make peace all of his life. Israel loved him.
"Great is peace, for because of it
even the Holy One Blessed Be He changed His words. Earlier Sara said, "[We cannot
have a child since] my husband is old." Later G-d reported to Avraham [in a manner
which would preserve peace between husband and wife] that Sara said of herself "[We
cannot have a child since] I am old (Yevamos 65b)." [Although we generally may not
lie or flatter, we can sometimes lie (Perek HaShalom) or say flattery (Orchos Tzadikim)
when it is FOR PEACE, ESPECIALLY BETWEEN HUSBAND AND WIFE (ask a rov for individual case
by case instruction - do not poskin/decide on your own when a lie might be allowed). When
asked to what his long life (107 years) was attributed to, one of the things which Rav
Elazar Menachem Man Shach cited was that he never lied without halachic permissibility
(the other thing he said was that he always read bentching/grace after meals, instead of
saying it by heart)].
"When you make an altar of stones for
Me, you will not build it of hewn stones, for if you lift up your sword on it, you have
profaned it (Exodus 20:22)." Rashi writes, "'You have profaned it.' You learn
that if you lift iron to it, you have profaned it; for the altar was created to lengthen
the days of man and iron was created to shorten the days of man. It is not justice that
one lift that which shortens [life] on that which lengthens [life, Mechilta]. Further, the
altar brings PEACE between Israel and their Father Who is in Heaven. Therefore, there will
not come upon [the altar] that which destroys and injures. And this yields a logical
derivitive. If stones; which do not see, and do not hear and do not speak; bring PEACE, as
the Torah says [Deuteronomy 27:5], 'You will not lift iron on [the altar];' then the
person who brings PEACE between man and wife, between a family and another family, between
any Jew and another; how much moreso will no harm come upon him!"
The Torah (Leviticus 26:6) tells of the
bounty of the land of Israel (rain, crops, fruit, wealth) and G-d says, "And I will
give the land peace." Rashi writes, "Perhaps you will say, 'I have what to eat
and drink, but without peace there is nothing.' So the verse teaches, 'And I will give the
land peace,' from which we know that peace is EQUAL TO ALL other blessings combined
"Learned people increase peace in the
world (Brachos 64a)." By definition, if someone decreases peace (arguing, being
adversarial, insulting, instigating, neglectful, nasty, etc.), no matter how much
"book learning" he has, he does not know Torah. "Great is peace and hated
is fighting (Sifri Naso 42)."
"Great is peace, that even if a person
did numerous mitzvos and he hasn't made peace, he has nothing (Bais HaMidrash
"Humanity was created from one person
alone because of peace among people, that no person could say to another person, 'My
ancestor is greater than your ancestor!'
The fifth chapter of Pirkei Avos tells us,
"Every argument which is for the sake of Heaven, will, in the end, endure. Every
argument which is not for the sake of Heaven, will not, in the end, endure. Which
controversy was for the sake of Heaven? The debates of Hillel and Shammai. Which
controversy was not for the sake of Heaven? The rebellion of Korach and his group."
The commentaries explain that a key
differentiating point between arguments which are or aren't for the sake of Heaven is
whether it is only a quest for G-d's truth in the question at hand. Hillel and Shammai
analyzed Torah law and came to differing conclusions. But they always were gentle and at
peace with each other, so much so that the students from both schools married each other's
families. Their only controversy was establishing G-d's truth so that they could determine
His law and perform His will. There was no other "agenda," no personality
battles, no quest for victory over the other. To this day, every day, the words of Hillel
and Shammai are studied in the Talmud.
Rabbi Shnayur Kotler z'l of Lakewood had an
extremely busy schedule. He once had to run into a chasuna, having time only to say
"mazal tov." He told his driver that he would be back immediately. After ten
minutes, the driver started getting nervous. When the Rosh Yeshiva returned, he understood
the driver would be concerned over the delay. "I had a machlokess [dispute] in
halacha [Torah law] with another rov who was at this chasuna. I spent ten minutes speaking
with him in a friendly manner, so that he and the public would know there is no personal
"Great is peace between husband and
wife (Chulin 141a)."
In Parshas Noach, we see that G-d destroyed
the world with a flood for the crime of "chomos," which Chazal define as
"petty theft." For example, if a person owned a rice store, everyone in town
would steal one piece of rice. The store owner would not sue thieves for stealing one
piece of rice but since everyone in town was stealing in "cute" ways that were
technically not a basis for suit, everyone got away with it while they drove each other
bankrupt. For this, mankind had to be destroyed...except righteous Noach and his family.
At the end of the Parsha, mankind declares war on G-d, builds a tower in Bavel and seeks
to kill G-d. Idolatry is one of the three sins for which man must give his life rather
than violate. Since the whole world was committing the worst level of idolatry: to
"kill" G-d, you would think that Hashem would have wanted to destroy the world
for building the tower to Heaven and universal rebellion against Him, but all G-d did was
"invent" languages, so that they could not communicate and consummate their
plot. Why was the severe punishment doled out by G-d for petty stealing while the major
sin of universal idolatry, at its worst level, was merely responded to by the
"invention" of different languages? Because by stealing, people were hurting one
another while, with their rebellion against G-d, people had universal shalom. So great is
peace that G-d will not let Soton punish people for as serious a sin as idolatry when they
have peace, because "peace is the greatest thing [gadol hashalom]. Great is peace,
that if the Jewish people have peace among them, G-d would not allow judgement to go
against [or harm] them (Beraishis Raba 38:6)."
There is no merit for saying mourner's
Kaddish without shalom. The purpose of Kaddish is a public Kidush HaShem as a merit for
the deceased. If there is argument, this is chilul HaShem [profanation of G-d], which
defeats the purpose. If more than one are saying Kaddish, they must do so with unity.
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein z'l said that if someone argues in a minyan over who should say
Kaddish, the merit is taken away from the soul related to the person who argued and goes
to the soul related to the person who kept shalom.
"G-d's name is Peace (Shabos
"These are the things of which one
eats the fruits in this world and the principal [main bulk of reward] remains for him in
the eternal world...bringing peace between any Jew(s) and any other Jew(s) (Shabos
"And He was King in Yeshurun when the
heads of the people gathered (Deuteronomy 33:5)." When the people are together in one
group and when peace is among them, G-d is their King; but when there is strife among
them, they deny His kingship (Sifrai).
"Deceit is in the heart of those who
think evil, those who counsel peace have joy (Proverbs 12:20)."
"If a person cannot afford to buy
[both] a candle for shabos and wine for kiddush, a shabos candle takes precedence; and,
similarly, if a person cannot afford to buy [both] a candle for shabos and a candle for
Chanuka, a shabos candle takes precedence; because of PEACE in the house, for there is no
PEACE without light [which the relatively larger shabos or yom tov candle provides; Orach
Chayim, Hilchos Shabos, 263:3]."
"A pauper who sustains himself from
charity must sell his clothing, or must borrow or must rent himself [as a hired worker] in
order to have wine for the four [Passover seder] cups" [Orach Chayim, Hilchos Pesach,
472:13]. "And the [yom tov/holiday] candle for the house is a higher priority than
the four cups [if he can't obtain money for both wine and candle] because of PEACE in the
house" (Mishna Brura #41, commenting on the above Passover halacha].
The last Mishna in Shas, the concluding
message for the Torah shehba'al peh [Oral Law], speaks about peace! It says that
"Peace is the only pipeline through which blessing comes down from Heaven to earth
(Uktzin 3:12)." The Torah is teaching us that everything must culminate in peace,
everything must be concluded on a note of peace.
Don't wait for peace to come on its own.
Love it and chase it. At all times, "gadol hashalom," the greatest thing in all
human relations is peace.