Marital Harmony


rav moshe meir weissBy Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss

Chumash Bereishis has another name:  It is called Sefer HaYoshor, the Book of the Upright.  This is because it discusses the lives of our righteous patriarchs Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, and matriarchs, Sorah, Rivka, Rochel, and Leah.  The purpose of these discussions is not historical.  Rather they are to teach us how to live by example.  Since marriage is one of the most important challenges of life, it stands to reason that the Torah will give us lessons for this all-important endeavor.  I’d like to give you an example from each of our patriarchs’ lives in regard to marital harmony.


When Avraham was getting ready to settle down at one of his stops, the Torah says, “Vayeit oholo – And he pitched his tent.”  Curiously, the Torah spells the word ‘ololah’ with the letter hei at the end, making it a feminine term, and making the translation: ‘her tent.’  In other words, it has the pronunciation of ‘his tent’ but has the spelling of ‘her tent.’  Rashi explains that this is to teach us that Avraham Avinu pitched his wife’s tent before he pitched his own to teach us that one is required to honor his wife more than himself.  This then begs the question, Why didn’t the Torah simply say that he pitched her tent?  I believe that the Torah is teaching us one of the great tasks of marriage: That husband and wife should become like one.  In halachic terms, this is referred to as ishto k’gufo, one’s wife is like one’s own body.  It is for this reason that, even if daughters light their own menorah on Chanukah, the wife does not for she is one with her husband.  Thus, when Avraham pitched his wife’s tent, it was as if he was pitching his own – as they were one.


If this sounds tricky, let me give you a practical example.  When Reb Aryeh Levin’s Rebbetzin had a problem with her knee, he took her to the doctor.  When the doctor asked what’s wrong, he replied, “Our foot hurts us,” and not, “My wife’s foot hurts her.”  Now, this manifests itself in another area.  Just like your right hand is not jealous of the successes of your left hand, so too when a husband and wife achieve this sense of oneness, neither spouse is jealous of the other’s successes for they are one.  They are also deeply sensitive to each other’s needs and desires.


Now, let’s turn our attention to Yitzchak.  The Torah tells us that one day Avimelech was looking and saw through a window that Yitzchak was m’tzacheik es Rivka ishto.  Literally, this means he was causing his wife to laugh.  We cannot overestimate the importance of couples generating happiness for one another.  A house with laughter generates well-rounded children and has a much better chance for good health and well-being.


In the Sephardic kesubah, there is a clause that I wish we Ashkenazim could adopt.  It is just two words but these words make all the difference.  “Anah asaber – I will smile.”  The groom commits himself that, with all the vicissitudes of life, and all the pressures and distractions, he will still remember to smile at his wife.


Let’s consider when was the last time we initiated a smile to our wife or husband?  Generally we smile in reaction to something funny but the kesubah is telling us that we should make a concerted effort to make a smile and create an aura of happiness.  The importance of ‘simchas hachaim,’ joie d’vivre, love of life in a home is vital for a Torah lifestyle for we want Shechina in our homes and the Shechina does not devolve m’toch atzvus, in the midst of sadness.


Let’s now take a look at the life of Yaakov Avinu, Jacob, our Forefather.  We know that Yaakov had a legendary dream where he saw a vision of a ladder with angels going up and down upon it.  The word ladder in Hebrew is sulom, which has the numerical gematria of 136.  The Baal HaTurim teaches us that the word mamon, money, is also equal in gematria to 136.  This teaches us that in finances Hashem causes people to rise and become rich and other people to descend and become poor.


The Chida adds a vital caveat to this lesson.  He asks, Why did Yaakov have this dream at this particular juncture of his life?  He answers that since Yaakov was setting out to get married, Hashem showed him this financial lesson since the success with one’s wealth is determined by one’s wife.  This is based on a Gemora in Bava Mitzia: Ein bracha shruya b’soch beiso shel adam ela bishvil isto, she’ne’emar, ‘v’Avraham heitiv bavurah’ – Blessing is only found in a person’s home because of his wife, like it states, ‘And Hashem was good to Avraham because of her (Sarah, his wife.).’  Imagine that: with all of Avraham’s hospitality, with his passing the ten trials, he only received financial prosperity because of his wife.


The great Talmudist Rava was also a pulpit rabbi, the chief Rabbi of the wealthy port city of Mechuza.  He announced from the pulpit the following request to his congregants.  “B’matusa mi’neichu hokiru n’shaichu ki heichi d’tisasru – I beg of you: honor your wives in order that you should become wealthy.”  Now, as a pulpit Rabbi myself, I have found this recommendation of Rava to be very peculiar.  If I were giving a lecture on honoring one’s wife, I would say that it should be done in order to ensure the Shechina in the home, as it says, “Ish v’isha shalom beineihem, Shechina shruya beineihem – A husband and wife, if there is peace between them then the Shechina abides with them.”  Or, I would say that they should strive to honor one another so that their children will do the same when they get married.  For, in a world riddled with divorce, there is no better insurance than to model proper marital behavior to the children.  I would also say that the key to happiness is peace at home, for Rashi teaches us in Parshas Bechukosai, “Im ein shalom, ein klum – If there’s no peace, there is nothing.” Finally, I would say that the husband should live up to the obligation which he pledged in the Kesuva-the Jewish marriage contract. There it states, “Ana eflach v’okir- I will work and honor her etc.” I wouldn’t have thought to headline that one should honor his wife in order to get rich!?


But, the great Rava was a realist.  He knew that everyone wants to become wealthy.  Shechina, children, happiness, pledges; they all sound good; Dollars and cents; that makes baalei batim listen.  So Rava says, You want the greenbacks?  You want the 100K?  It’s all about honoring your wife.  That is the incentive that we should hold before us when things get tough and tense in the home.  In the merit of our strengthening the honor that we give to one another, may Hashem shower us with long life, good health, and all kinds of happiness.

Sheldon Zeitlin takes dictation of, and edits, Rabbi Weiss’s articles.

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