Very frequently, I am asked to help with problems of
sholom bayis. In today's homes, tensions are very
common between husbands and wives. This situation is
widespread throughout modern society and affects even
our religious families. If unchecked, a sequence of
events might begin that can unfortunately result in
I am not always able to know or determine the true
initial cause. However, when I question the couple,
usually the mutual answer that they give is:
incompatibility and lack of communication. I ask them
what happened to break up their relationship.
The couple's relationship was not always this way. At
the beginning, they were compatible and had plenty to
All the time that they spent dating must have been
filled with conversation. During the course of their
courtship, they must have compared their views about
life and their expectations about marriage. There must
have been broad agreement about a variety of important
life issues for them to both agree to marry each other.
Without doubt, the couple felt that they were
compatible and there was communication between them.
Certainly, the decision to marry was carefully
considered before the man made up his mind that this
was the woman he wished to ask to marry him. Likewise,
the woman did not make a hasty decision to say "yes" to
the proposal. Weeks, perhaps months, were spent
evaluating all the possibilities of a Torah life
together. They looked at the situation from all angles
until they finally decided that in fact, this person
was whom they wanted to be their mate -- the person who
would be their partner for life.
After such efforts and careful consideration, what
happened to change everything?
They were suitable for each other at the beginning.
There was a courtship and a wedding. Often, there are
many years together as husband and wife . . . and then,
after all of this, the couple appears before me with
complaints of incompatibility and lack of
communication. Why are things so different now than
before and why did their marriage take them further
apart rather than closer together?
The answer usually, which I believe to be a true one,
is that dating a girl for a few hours and then taking
her home again is no problem. Everyone succeeds in
spending a pleasant evening talking about topics that
they enjoy. After the date, they go back home again to
lead their own lives. However, the daily living
together as husband and wife can result in a clash of
Everyone has his or her own behavior and way of
thinking, and this can lead, at least temporarily, to
disharmony. For, when faced with the many challenges of
life, spouses will not, at first, always agree with
each other. Until their marriage they were two separate
individuals. Getting the two different personalities to
merge and to live together in harmony is the essence of
marriage. Married life presents many growth experiences
-- which are really opportunities for the new couple to
adjust to each other -- to compromise and to learn to
Marriage is not spending an hour or two together. When
dating, both the man and the woman seek to find favor
in the eyes of the other person. They will exert
themselves to the limit -- to make as nice a showing as
possible. They will act graciously to present
themselves in the best possible light. There is a
strong motivation to keep up a good show. Everyone
hopes to be seen as a perfect choice. However, people
cannot keep up a show all the time -- yes, it is
possible for an hour or two, but marriage is for a
The crux of the matter lies in the amount of interest
and motivation we have to be cautious and caring enough
to remain in control -- to maintain our best behavior --
when trouble starts. Marriage challenges us to strive
and therefore rise above the natural unthinking
response. Disagreements and difficulties will always
arise, but the test and its success is how we react.
The same rule applies to our children. Some children
behave better than others, some worse. Nonetheless, the
father and mother must take them in stride. Patiently,
parents must raise and educate their offspring in a
nice, kindhearted way.
Parents try to correct the situation with their
children as much as possible. Whatever they can do will
be done, for parents do not give up on a child. As
difficult as a child may be, parents still have hope
for their child.
Unfortunately, husband and wife do not always feel that
way about their marriage. Sometimes they give up. They
feel it does not pay to go on together.
However, the opposite is true, for divorce is not a
solution. In fact, it creates more problems. There are
new issues of child custody, visitation and alimony. In
many cases, the attitude that spouses are expendable is
not daas Torah.
Chazal teach us in the gemora Sota (14a) that the
Torah begins with chesed and it ends with
chesed. The Torah starts with an act of kindness:
after the sin of Odom Horishon HaKodosh Boruch Hu
prepared special garments for Odom and Chavah.
Furthermore, the act of kindness was one hundred
percent, for the posuk in Bereishis 3:21
states that Hashem even dressed them.
However, the chachmei hamussar ask the following
question: Was this act the true beginning of chesed?
The very creation of Odom Horishon in Gan Eden was
an unmatched act of perfect kindness. The Sheva
Brochos that we recite under the chuppah
during the marriage ceremony are filled with praise
to Hashem for the formation of man and his being placed
in Gan Eden. Our greatest wish is to merit a return to
that existence -- life in a place of boundless joy and
pleasure. There is no greater delight than being in Gan
HaKodosh Boruch Hu created Odom Horishon with the
privilege of his guf and neshomoh alive and
united in Gan Eden. Our highest spiritual aspiration is
for our neshomos to reside there. Obviously, the
creation of Odom Horishon was an act of kindness. Why
does the gemora overlook this as the first
instance of Hashem's kindness to man and instead choose
to cite the making of clothes and dressing Odom
Horishon as Hashem's first act of kindness?
The answer that is given is that to do chesed
with Odom Horishon is very easy -- effortless.
Anyone would feel honored -- and it would be our
greatest pleasure, for example, to be able to do
chesed for the Chofetz Chaim zt"l. We would
all run to be of some service to such a great and
blessed individual and, we would feel no hardship or
difficulty in doing it.
So much more so for Odom Horishon -- who was many more
times perfect and holy. However, there is nothing
exceptional in the act itself, because knowing
logically the greatness of the recipient automatically
spurs us on to perform acts of kindness with him. Our
intelligence supplies us with enough drive to do
chesed with a noteworthy dignitary.
However, what would our common sense tell us about Odom
Horishon after his sin? Through his sin, he brought
death and destruction to the world. We convince
ourselves that such an individual is not deserving of
our chesed. Normally, the mind cannot entertain
the thought of showing kindness to one who deserves
After the sin, logic and common sense put an end to our
natural desire to bestow kindness upon Odom Horishon.
Our natural inclination to be kind and giving became
stifled. What was the easiest, most desirable thing to
do was now difficult, even impossible to imagine.
Obviously, Hashem infinitely exceeds our mortal
limitations of mind and wisdom. However, we see that
Odom Horishon acted towards Chavah, after the sin, in a
special way, and that we can certainly relate to.
Odom Horishon named Chavah -- Eim Kol Chai; the
mother of all life -- only after the sin. Logic would
say just the opposite -- to name her the mother of all
death! Eating from the Eitz Hada'as brought death
to the world. How does the name Eim Kol Chai befit
Chavah after her sin, and why did he name her then?
In spite of what happened, Odom recognized Chavah's
greatness and her potential, her potential for life.
Before the sin, no name was appropriate. A name must
reflect the essence of its bearer. Before the sin,
words could not truly depict the essence of what Chavah
was. Odom was not numbed by the sin and its
consequences. He did not lose himself. It is chesed
to forgive and forget. Life could and would go on --
Chavah would help him bring life to the world.
Therefore, precisely after the sin, is when the Torah
reveals to us what true chesed is. Not chesed
based on common sense-intellect, but chesed
based on Torah. This is why, when Chazal say that
the Torah begins with chesed, they cite the
kindness that Hashem did with Odom and Chavah after
Likewise in our own lives, the time for chesed,
real chesed is when our spouses need our
forgiveness and our hearts. Hearts that are willing to
look beyond the mistakes and frustrations of daily life
and see the spouse's true virtues and greatness. Hearts
that are big enough to forgive.
Chesed -- the chesed that the Torah expects
of us -- must be done even when logic tells us that it
is undeserved, and of course this makes the act all the
more difficult to do. We are expected to do chesed
in spite of imperfections, disappointments and
frustrations. Chesed can not be dependent on
perfection and joy, for who is always perfect and who
is a constant source of joy! In spite of the fact that
our intelligence says no, the Torah says yes.
Rabbi Akiva teaches us in the Talmud Yerushalmi
Nedorim (9:4) that a cardinal rule of the Torah is
that "one should love his friend as he loves himself,"
in other words, that which a person would not want to
be done to himself, he should not do to others.
However, Ben Azzai argues and teaches that there is a
more inclusive principle, for when HaKodosh Boruch
Hu created us, we were created betzelem Elokim
-- in the likeness of G-d. These two opinions reflect
two approaches to chesed.
Rabbi Akiva's principle is based upon logic. Our sense
of reason tells us that what we would not want to
happen to ourselves is logically improper to do to
someone else. Therefore, we refrain from doing those
things that are aggravating and unpleasant to other
Compassion is something even animals possess. A cat to
her kittens or a cow to her calf -- the mother has a
natural emotional feeling towards her offspring. This
direct, simple approach to chesed -- to have
sympathy and feel for someone else; not to cause
suffering and, beyond this, to alleviate all types of
distress -- is based on logic, what our minds tell us
to be true and proper.
However, chesed cannot be limited by what logic
determines to be right and proper, for the Torah
demands much more from us. Therefore, Ben Azzai
disagrees with Rabbi Akiva and rests the cornerstone
for chesed upon tzelem Elokim -- the inborn
greatness that we all possess since we are all formed
in the image of our Creator. HaKodosh Boruch Hu
blessed us with a reservoir of kedusha, an
unlimited spiritual excellence that exists within all
of us. It is impossible to assess the splendor of our
We are not wild creatures who walk on two feet. There
is something beautiful and holy within us. Just as the
tzelem Elokim within us has no limits to its
excellence -- for it stems from Hashem -- likewise we
also have no bounds to our greatness. This remains with
us forever, whatever the circumstances; whether a
person is a tzaddik or, Heaven forbid, the person
Odom Horishon brought death to this world, however he
still possessed his precious essence -- tzelem
Elokim. He recovered from his mistake, he did
teshuvoh, and so did Chavah. They continued
together to build the world. We all exist because of
them and we owe them our lives. The potentials of what
tzelem Elokim can accomplish are infinite -- and
so, everyone is deserving of chesed. The
obligation for chesed exists even after sin and
The chesed of the Torah begins only after Odom's
sin to teach us that Hashem did not forsake Odom even
when he disobeyed. His tzelem Elokim was not
destroyed and so Odom was still able to see Chavah's
greatness -- even after her mistake. Accordingly, Odom
called her the mother of all life because this was her
true essence and potential. She did bring death, but
keeping in mind the significance of the tzelem
Elokim within her allowed Odom to deal kindly with
her. The Torah tells us all of this to let us know that
we too, must have compassion, regardless of our
emotions or our logical justifications to act harshly.
This is especially important in our relationships with
our spouses and our children.
Many of our family problems would be solved if we gave
thought to the basic goodness of those people who are
closest to us. Sholom bayis problems are a result
The Rambam zt"l writes in Hilchos Ishus
(15:19,20) about the obligations that husband and
wife have with each other in their relationship. Based
on Chazal, the Rambam writes "that the man is to honor
his wife more than his own physical self and to love
her as he does his own body. If he has the finances, he
should bestow goodness upon her according to his
wealth. He should not be overbearing, which would cause
her excessive fears. He should talk calmly with her and
not be depressed or angry." These are basic,
straightforward rules for a sound happy home.
The Rambam continues with what Chazal prescribe for the
woman -- that she should "honor her husband beyond the
norm, and she should respect him and do everything
according to his instructions. He should be in her eyes
like a prince or a king, be agreeable to his wishes,
and avoid all that he dislikes." These are laws --
halochos that govern our married lives.
The Rambam concludes, "This is the manner by which the
pure and holy men and women of Klal Yisroel act
with their spouses. In these ways, their marriages are
pleasant and exemplary." If we are sensitive to the way
the Rambam wrote these halochos, we will notice
that the Rambam first specified the obligations of the
husband and then the wife's responsibilities.
The issue always arises as to who shall please whom
first. Shall the wife please the husband first and then
he reciprocate, or shall he begin and then the wife
will follow suit?
Based on this Rambam, we see that the obligation starts
first with the husband. True, in the previous
halochoh (18) the Rambam began by explaining the
laws concerning the wife's obligations of modesty
within her home, but now when the Rambam focuses on the
couple's mutual obligations of honor and respect, the
Rambam begins with the man's responsibilities to his
wife. We learn from this that the husband must take the
initiative for shalom bayis, and there is a basic
reason why this should be so, which we will discuss.
END OF PART ONE