||LEARN FROM TORAH AND PEOPLE WITH MATURE EXPERIENCE
- Thursday, July 26, '01 - Parshas Devarim 5761
"What was is what will be...there is nothing new under the sun" [Kohelless 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. Since everything is in the Torah [Pirkei Avos, chap. five], let us look there and learn how to do things correctly and successfully.
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 important for shalom bayis. 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.
"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]." 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 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 thereafter.
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. Make sure you have true Torah sources to justify your position.
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.
The Torah's interpersonal standards are very high. For example, Rambam writes that if one annoyed another only once during the course of a year, he must do tshuva and ask forgiveness. Without tshuva and forgiveness, he will have no atonement on Yom Kippur. The Jew must never be nasty, angry or mean. (S)he must, in all interactions and at all times; be sweet, pleasant, considerate and gentle; and actively fulfill "Love the other Jew as yourself" and kavod habrios [treating people with dignity, honor and respect]. Rabbi Yisroel Salanter was a guest of a man whose house was on the top of a hill. Water was supplied from a well at the bottom of the hill. When they were washing before a meal, the host noticed that Reb Yisroel only washed the ends of his fingers. The host asked why. The Rav answered that since the house was on the top of a hill, the more water that was used, the more often the maid would have to carry heavy buckets of water up the hill, and the Torah does not want us to cause imposition on other people.
Rabbi Aryeh Levine was "the tzadik of Jerusalem" in the post-war generation. One time his wife's knee was in pain and required treatment. He took her to a doctor who asked what was wrong. Rabbi LEVINE answered, "My wife's knee hurts us." 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) the other's feelings, whether pained or happy.
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 and concern.
Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer, Rosh Yeshivah of Aitz Chayim in Jerusalem 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, "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 benefits from another.
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 step to being a frum Jew is keeping ALL of halacha. Let all Jewish couples refer their issues or difficulties to halacha. This is key to being Torah observant Jews.