The second chapter of Pirkei Avos tells us that all good that can be found in the human condition is SOURCED ENTIRELY IN A GOOD HEART. It therefore is basic that to have a good marriage, both partners 1. must choose each other, first and foremost, on the basis of each having a good heart; and 2. must relate to the other's heart 3. from his/her heart. This is done primarily by each giving of themselves VOLUNTARILY WITH A SWEET, PLEASANT ATTITUDE for the good, well-being and happiness of the other; treating each other with respect, patience, responsibility, concern, importance, gratitude and warmth; DOING ALL OF THIS WITH UNENDING CONSISTENCY which allows the other to TRUST THAT SUCH IS THE BASIS FOR RELATING TO EACH OTHER. When the heart provides the PRIMARY BASIS for men and women communicating, understanding and relating; happy, loving and peaceful marriage will be the universal and practical standard for Jewish couples. This series on trouble patterns that I've discerned through my marriage counseling work experience, therefore, must address "a good heart."
Among the serious troubles in shalom bayis in our times is in the domain of VALUES. To start with, people go to all kinds of lengths to make a lavish wedding, with "all the trimmings." They go into hock, beg or borrow. They and/or their children want what other people have at their weddings. They are driven by social pressure to conform with or beat what everyone else is doing to make a wedding fancy. Once upon a time, in the "old country," there was only a small gathering of close relatives at the chasuna, one violinist, the "fleishigs" was a watery soup, the photographer was cousin Feivel who took one black and white picture of the chupa and there was no week of catered sheva brachos. Now, people get lost in wedding arrangements and even have fights over them. Then, when the couple is married, instead of leaving them alone, parents and relatives often mix in. Young couples are impressionable and still can be molded by parents. After marriage, influencing in any way is generally detrimental to that marriage. Yet, meddling relatives are among the most marriage-breaking forces around today (as are bad midos, immaturity, selfishness, bad communication and psychological problems). Any spouse who is spoiled or egocentric will make unreasonable and unrealistic demands upon the other. A growing number of marriages, to an alarming extent, are over within a month to a year. We can't even think about helping many of these couples because they are too immature, selfish and rigid to see or work on anything which is not their way. They are not raised to view a marriage partner as SO IMPORTANT THAT ONE MUST BEND ONE'S WILL, BEHAVIOR AND FRAGILE FEELINGS ON BEHALF OF HIM/HER, OR ON BEHALF OF UNITY WITH THAT PERSON; SO THAT DIFFERENCES AND PRESSURES CAN BE MATURELY AND EFFECTIVELY HANDLED. It's "what can you do for me?" "What can I take, demand and expect from you?" "How are you worth my being married to?" "Will you provide support (so he can learn or she can revel in comfort)?" Because 1. divorce no longer carries its old stigma, 2. there is much more sanction and place in society for unmarried women, and 3. marriage has lost much of its sanctity; divorce has become a commodity these days and marriage has become optional and disposable; like a tin of peas which gets thrown out after serving its purpose.
When a marriage prioritizes or is based at all on externals, looks, a fun personality, societal status or approval, talent, mental brilliance, materialism - things which are nice if there but WHICH HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH LASTING TOGETHER FOR A LIFETIME - they are essentially ASKING FOR MARRIAGE TO SOONER OR LATER FAIL, OR TO BE MISERABLE TO MEDIOCRE AT BEST. In marriage, two people are to become tied as if two seperated halves are brought together to be one, a totality, a team. Through conducting themselves with gentleness, sacrificing, devotion, giving, and acceptance of imperfections; in other words: matters of the heart; a couple is able to build a holy and loving connection that withstands the tests and troubles of "real life." The Steipler said that you should select someone for marriage with good midos - who will apply them in practical every day living (e.g. taking good care when the other is sick, taking out the garbage when necessary without being asked and never hitting nor getting angry). A "frum" person without good midos, derech eretz, peacefulness, kind deeds and a good heart to others; especially to the person (s)he marries; IS A PHONEY SELF-SERVING HYPOCRITE WHO IS LIVING A LIE AND A CONTRADICTION. THE VALUES TODAY ARE BACKWARDS AND THE RESULTS THAT THEY PRODUCE ARE ALSO BACKWARDS. ONLY IF WE CAN RETURN TO FULLY PRIORITIZING AND LIVING FROM A GOOD HEART CAN WE STOP SUBSTITUTING IMPRESSIVE WEDDINGS FOR IMPRESSIVE MARRIAGES.
Chazal [gemora Taanis 26b] say the giving of the Torah was an analogy to marriage. Just as a bride and groom go under a chupa, the Jewish people were under Mount Sinai as if G-d were the groom and we were the bride, making a non-ending commitment to each other. The Jewish people camped before the mountain [Exodus 19:2] and were ready with perfect unity to accept G-d's Torah. The midrash [Mechilta] says that they were AS ONE PERSON WITH ONE HEART. Unity, to the deepest of levels, the HEART, further symbolizes the essence of marriage.
King Solomon tells us quite straightforwardly, "There is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9)." Every essential thing of every description has been in the world and has continued as long as there has been time. That goes for the centrality of the heart and all that it includes and stands for.
Although the Torah never needs secular support or verification, it is nice to know that a scientific study, concluded in 1997, established that the brain is no longer to be considered the main or controlling organ of the body. The heart was found to produce one thousand times the measure of electrical energy and has the greatest control over the functioning of the body. The heart is the foundation of life, whether in Torah or biolgical terms.
Since the Torah knows how to speak for itself, let me share a small sampling of the several hundreds of life-defining statements from the Written Torah, Oral Torah and rabbinic tradition that teach us about the Jewish heart, which is central to life and to successful marriage.
Yosef comforted his brothers and he spoke to their HEART (Genesis 50:21).
[Exodus] And you will speak to all who have a wise HEART (28:3). All who have a generous HEART (35:5).
[Deuteronomy] And you will know today and place it into your HEART (4:39). And these words which I command you today are to be in your HEART (6:6). Then your HEART will grow haughty and you will forget the L-rd your G-d (8:14). And now, Israel, what does the L-rd your G-d ask of you except that you fear the L-rd your G-d, to go in all of His ways and to love Him and to serve the L-rd your G-d with all your HEART (10:12).
(Prophets) Man sees the the outer appearance and G-d sees the HEART (1 Samuel 16:7). And I will give you a new HEART and I will put a new spirit within you and I will remove your HEART of stone from your flesh and I will give to you a HEART of flesh (Yechezkel 36:26). They went in the counsels and scheming of their evil HEART, and they went backwards and not forwards" (Jeremiah 7:21-24).
(Psalms/Tehilim) Unify my HEART to fear Your name (86:11). Teach us to number our days and this will bring a HEART of wisdom (90:12).
(Proverbs/Mishlay) Never abandon lovingkindness and truth, tie them onto your neck and inscribe them onto the tablet of your HEART (3:3). Trust in G-d with all your HEART and do not rely on your own understanding (3:5). Of all things that you might guard, guard most your HEART for out of it comes all issues of life (4:23). The HEART knows its own bitterness (14:10). The happy HEART makes a face pleasant, and one's spirit is crushed with a depressed HEART (15:13). Life is a feast for all who have a happy HEART (15:15). A happy HEART is good medicine (17:22). A man's HEART is arrogant before a downfall and humility is before honor (18:12). Just as water reflects a face, so the HEART of a person replies to a HEART (27:19).
"You have comforted me and you have spoken to my HEART." (Ruth 2:13).
(Siddur) Put into our HEART the undertanding and intelligence to learn and to teach, to guard and do and fulfil all the words of the teaching of Your Torah with love, and enlighten our eyes with Your Torah and make our HEART attach to Your commandments and unify our HEART to love and fear Your name that we forever not be shamed (Ahava Raba). May He open our HEART to His Torah (Uva Litzion). And purify our HEART to serve You truthfully (Shabos and Yom Tov Shmoneh Esray).v
(Gemora) Whether rich or poor, each has the same merit as long as he gives what he can with his HEART directed to Heaven (Brachos 5b). "And you will love the L-rd your G-d with all your HEARTS" [Deuteronomy 6:5]. What is HEARTS [i.e. plural]? With the two inclinations of the HEART. Love Him with your good inclination as well as your evil inclination [i.e. channel even your evil energies for mitzvos] (Brachos 54a). Any pain except the pain of the HEART (Shabos 11a). One must never speak one thing with the mouth and intend another thing in the HEART (Bava Metzia 49a). G-d wants the HEART (Sanhedrin 106b). All parts of a person are controlled by the HEART (Yerushalmi T'rumos, chapter 8).
A good HEART contains all good things and a bad HEART contains all bad things (Pirkei Avos chapter 2). This is because the heart controls all of the other powers and it is the source from which all actions are derived, in spite of the fact that each action is done with its particular limb. The force which arouses each action is the HEART and therefore it is the element which determines good and bad in life (Bartenura on this mishna).
(Avos DeRebi Noson) Til the age of forty Rabbi Akiva never learned Torah. At a spring he saw a stone engraved by the falling water. He reasoned, "If soft water can carve a hard stone, how much moreso can Torah carve into my HEART of flesh and blood!" Immediately he went to learn and he developed into a sage (ch. 6). Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai asked the sages, "What is the proper way to live? Rabbi Elazar said, "A good HEART to Heaven and a good HEART to people" (ch. 14).
(Midrash) The evil are controlled by their HEART and the HEART of the righteous is in their control [Beraishis Raba]. Just as the hurting HEART feels hurt first, the happy HEART feels a person's happiness first; and in the future the Holy One Blessed Be He will comfort first the HEART [Shmos Raba]. [At Mount Sinai the Jewish people were united] as one person with one HEART [Mechilta]. "Do not hurt your fellow Jew and you shall fear your G-d [Leviticus 25:17]." Here the Torah warns about hurting with words, that one not annoy or pain another nor give advice which is not suitable or beneficial; and if you will ask who will know your bad intent, the Torah says here, "And you shall fear your G-d," Who knows every thought that is in the HEART [Toras Kohanim].
(Seforim) To make sad people happy, gladden the HEART by turning away the sadness from the HEART; and to make peace between quarreling friends or between husband and wife, turn away pain in their HEART (Rabainu Chananel [to Taanis 22a]). Fulfillment of Torah obligations is determined by the teachings of Torah revelation and knowing obligations of the HEART [Chovos HaLivovos]. Words which come out of the HEART enter into the HEART (Alshich). Joy comes from calm in the HEART with no bad feeling of wound (Orchos Tzadikim). The beginnings and foundations of true, desirable and beautiful saintliness are implanted in every honest person's HEART (Mesilas Yesharim). All 613 mitzvos depend upon the HEART...and one must humble one's HEART with great subjugation...and one must put into his HEART to guard, to do and to fulfill every good thing and to guard against every bad thing (Pela Yo'etz). To feel joy at every opportunity to do good for another person is to have a good HEART (Tiferes Yisroel).