Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

29 Adar 5762 - March 13, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Husbands, Wives and Children

by HaRav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg

Part I

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 divorce.

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 talk about.

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 personalities.

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 live together.

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 lifetime.

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 Eden.

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 punishment.

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 their sin.

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 people.

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 neshomos.

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 transgressed.

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 transgression.

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 of narrow-mindedness.

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.


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