In the first part of this essay about the very
important topic of sholom bayis HaRav Scheinberg
noted that generally a couple starts out compatible and
together, but later breaks apart. The long and intimate
contact of married life brings out frictions that were
not visible previously. In discussing how the Torah
begins with chesed, Chazal cite Hashem's actions
towards Odom Horishon and Chavah after the sin, because
then chesed became hard and unnatural, as it
were. But that is when chesed begins. He also
noted and quoted that the Rambam details the way
husband and wife must treat each other, but the Rambam
writes the husband's obligations first, to teach us
that he must start. The reasons for this are discussed
Hashem created men and women to have complementary
roles in life. Therefore, husbands and wives have two
different natures. Shlomo Hamelech, in Mishlei
(1:8) writes, "Listen, my children, to the mussar
of your father and do not forsake the Torah of your
mother." Mussar involves discipline and this role
naturally suits the father. The father is usually the
more stern, demanding parent, whereas the mother has
the natural capacity to be more compassionate and kind.
The woman is the more soft-natured partner of the
marriage. Chazal, in the gemora Bava Metzia (59a)
give a strong warning to husbands to always be careful
not to cause distress to their wives. This, as the
gemora explains, is because they are sensitive
and readily come to tears. This sensitivity is a result
of their feminine disposition. It is a virtue and an
asset that women are more emotionally inclined to tears
than men. This is how HaKodosh Boruch Hu, with
His infinite Wisdom, wanted women to be.
The husband will not cry as easily as his wife and
therefore, Chazal give a special warning to the husband
to "always" be careful about his wife's feelings. For
this reason, the Rambam began with the husband's
obligations first. Consequently, when the husband takes
the initiative and is careful to respect his wife's
feelings, she will reciprocate. This is a natural
sequence of events for, as the Rambam wrote, after the
husband is sensitive to his wife, then the husband is
considered to be like a prince or a king in her eyes.
Ruling like a dictator in the home will not be
successful. The aggressive approach will not bring good
results -- either with wives or with children. It is
never constructive. Harshness will always defeat the
purpose. Rather, graciousness and goodness will go a
long way to accomplish our goals in life. According to
the Rambam, it is the duty of the husband to take the
first step -- then naturally the woman will respond in
a favorable way.
A few simple words of appreciation like "The house
looks so nice today," or "It is a wonderful meal," are
very powerful. The healing power of a considerate word
can give the wife a tremendous lift. We all appreciate
recognition and thrive on encouragement. A good word of
acknowledgement, especially when the husband first
comes home, is very effective. As difficult as the day
may have been, we must be careful to come into the home
with a cheerful attitude. The entrance that we make
upon coming home makes a big impression on the rest of
It is said that depression is very contagious.
Sometimes the greatest chesed is a simple word or
two of support. At times, it may not be so easy.
Sometimes, a person finds it difficult to say a good
word. It may not always come so naturally. Nonetheless,
we should train ourselves to say a good word.
The husband sets the mood of the house. His reactions
to what he encounters in the household are crucial to
the home's atmosphere of simchah. Although the
dinner may not be ready and consequently, the rest of
the night's schedule will suffer -- overreacting with
anger will be counterproductive and will lead to
trouble. Unfortunately, something happened and the food
was not prepared -- perhaps the wife was not feeling
well enough to have the meal ready on time.
When such things happen, that is the time for
thoughtful consideration for there are many physical
conditions that are unique to women and these
conditions affect the woman's well being. Because of
the physical differences between men and woman, men do
not readily understand this and so, it is difficult for
them to sympathize with their wife's uncomfortable
condition. Therefore, it takes an extra effort, which
requires a desire to empathize with one's wife -- in
spite of the fact that the meal is not ready or the
housework not done.
Sometimes, especially in large families, the wife is
not up to the housework because of her physical
condition. Today's life, even amidst all of our
luxuries, still contains many tensions and pressures.
Our grandparents did not enjoy the many conveniences of
today's world. There were no refrigerators or canned
foods. Meals had to be prepared from scratch. It was
hard work and there was poverty. My own mother had to
carry milk to the icebox in order to save a few
Nonetheless, they had a peaceful life. Luxuries do not
guarantee menuchas hanefesh -- tranquility of
mind. Neither does poverty decree a sad life. Our
attitude is the controlling factor and not the
gashmiyus. Work does not weaken and break a
person, but pressure and tension do. Together the
husband and wife can plan and look for ways to reduce
the pressure within the home. They will have more
menuchas hanefesh and at the same time, as a
team, they will be able to deal with their concerns.
We have been blessed with spiritual greatness and so we
must not lose our tempers and allow our emotions to
rule us. We have to live up to the tzelem Elokim
within us, which means to think beyond the normal
response and rise above the moment's disappointment. So
many times petty considerations taint our perceptions.
In turn, this can lead to frustrations that only worsen
The chesed of the Torah begins when there is a
problem. When everything is fine, doing chesed is
simple. Real chesed starts when something did go
wrong -- during times of stress and trouble -- for this
is the exact moment we are tested and expected to live
up to our potential. In the midst of our
disappointments and frustrations -- then we must all
strive, for the sake of sholom bayis, to remain
gracious and understanding -- to summon forth the
spiritual greatness within us. This is sholom bayis.
Then later, the matter can be discussed without
tension and frustration. Having the patience to wait is
greatness. This is chesed. It will solve many of
the problems that crop up in the home.
Criticism must be done carefully -- and at the proper
time. It always pays to be nice at the time and save
our comments for a talk later on. This makes sholom
bayis. We must remember that our spouses -- just
like ourselves, have a part of tzelem Elokim
within them. This should lift our thoughts above the
daily difficulties of married life. In addition, since
we possess an element of tzelem Elokim, we have
an infinite potential to use to overcome any situation
and remain patient and understanding of our spouses.
In general, our concerns should be discussed the same
day. If left until the next day, the problem will
fester with additional frustrations. Bottled-up
emotions will inevitably spill out. Outbursts are
counterproductive. Then, in chaotic aftermath, the
couple must renew their mutual trust and respect.
Friendly behavior builds respect and the opposite has
terrible results. It is always best if the issue can be
cleared up -- calmly and with consideration, before it
is time to retire. Look for the first chance to talk
over the problem, preferably, if possible, before the
The husband and wife should be comfortable discussing
their mutual and personal problems. In this way, they
both feel that they are a part of each other's lives.
This builds self- esteem and mutual respect for it is
an acknowledgment that the spouse's feelings and
opinions are valid and useful. When we express our
concerns we feel relieved and are encouraged. Husband
and wife are partners in marriage and best of friends
Many times a third party can be essential in helping to
make major decisions. Consultation can help keep
families together. Often we need to rely on other
people to help us cope properly with our problems. We
must have a positive outlet for our frustrations in
life. Feelings can become bottled-up if we do not share
difficulties with someone we can trust. It is important
to have a good friend, a confidant to speak out -- to
express -- what is bothering us. Then, we can happily
cope with life's difficulties and depression will not
creep into our lives. Disappointments will not sour
into ill feelings.
When we compare our relationships with our spouses to
our relationships with our children, we see that there
is a different standard of behavior. Parents are
naturally much more patient and understanding with
their offspring. They will make great sacrifices for
their children. Many parents come to me for advice
about how they can save their child. Parents do not
throw their children away. There is no option of
divorce -- a parent cannot separate from his or her
child. Therefore, parents look for advice to improve
This point brings us back to the Rambam that was quoted
earlier that said, "The man is to honor his wife more
than his own physical self and to love her as he does
his own body." With children, there is a natural
patience and compassion, that the husband has to
cultivate when dealing with his wife. Spouses must work
to forge a bond of love, respect and kindness, because
there is no previous natural bond between them.
The Rambam places the responsibility on the husband. A
father does not immediately explode in anger over his
child's mistake or mishap. He will not be harsh to the
child just because he misbehaved. He will remain calm
and ask the child why. Likewise, it should be the same
with his wife. Sholom bayis comes by following
the ways of mutual honor and respect as the Rambam
specified and the result will be that our marriages are
"pleasant and exemplary."
Rav Yeruchom Levovitz, the Mashgiach zt"l of the
Mirrer Yeshiva, commented on the brochoh "asheir
boro" which is recited under the chuppah
during wedding ceremonies. The brochoh
contains many beautiful expressions: sosson,
simchah, chosson, kalloh, giloh, rinoh, diztoh,
chedvoh, ahavoh, achvoh, sholom and rei'us.
Chosson and kalloh seem to be out of place.
Amongst these expressions of joy and affection -- each
a different blissful melody -- we find reference to the
groom and his bride. Why are they included in the
brochoh that refers to their bliss and happiness?
This is the couple that we come to make happy at the
time of their wedding. They are not songs. Moreover,
the melodies are sung for them.
The answer, as Rav Yeruchom explained, is that the
chosson and kalloh are also a beautiful
melody. Both of them sing a unique spiritual song that
is the combination of the two of them together. Each
alone cannot produce their melody, for it is not a
solo. It takes their two voices, their two spirits
merging, to create a new song. It is meant to fill
their home for their entire lives together.
We can learn from what Rav Yeruchom has taught us that
care must be taken to preserve the delicate spiritual
balance between husband and wife that creates this
melody. A melody must have harmony to be pleasing to
the ear. Chazal teach us that one's wife is equivalent
to the husband's own body -- "ishto kegufo." The
husband and wife are one complete unit. The Zohar
HaKodosh refers to the woman as "plag guf"
that is, half of the body of the man.
Until marriage there is separation, one physical half
here and the other physical half there. Then, as the
brochoh finishes, "the voice of the groom and the
voice of the bride" combine in joy and gladness. The
chuppah, its brochos and their melodies are
the start of a new life together. Living together, a
joyful fusion of man and wife is the great challenge.
The Rambam cautioned about sadness and anger. Control
over these emotions is crucial to a good and sound
marriage. Many incidents in married life can give rise
to frustration and disappointment, but the key to
success is how we react to what happens. When, for
example, the house is not kept up the way it should be,
and there are troublesome consequences . . . These are
problems. Nevertheless, it should be discussed in an
atmosphere that is free from pessimism and rage. The
husband sets the tone in the house -- his reaction, his
mood form the basis of the marriage relationship.
If the husband speaks nicely, with a calm disposition
and not instilling unnecessary fears and anxieties into
the home -- this will lead to sholom bayis. Then
the husband would be in the eyes of his wife, as the
Rambam wrote, "like a prince or a king." If we take the
Rambam's advice, we will have no problems today. The
Rambam is Torah. It is halachah, not just sage
Many times I ask the spouses why, when it comes to
doing chesed with other people, we run to help.
We seem to have so much sympathy and compassion for
strangers. Klal Yisroel is famous for its
excellence in helping those who are poor, sick and
helpless. Our great forefather Avrohom Ovinu excelled
in this midda and bestowed it upon his offspring.
We all try to emulate his great example, but
unfortunately at home we do not work as hard on it as
we do when we are in public. What seems to be such a
burden at home is a pleasure in public.
We must work faithfully to remove all barriers that
hinder us from doing chesed in our homes. As
difficult as it may be, the home is not a place for
misbehavior or cruelty. Fear is destructive to our
relationships, especially with children, for they look
to their parents for love and security.
Our children require sympathy and understanding,
patience and love. Fear will only cause emotional scars
and psychological complexes -- sometimes for life. Our
moods and reactions -- sadness, anger and
dissatisfaction -- cause unwanted negative influences
in our families. We can win over our spouses and
children -- gain their respect and cooperation -- just
by being gracious to them.
There is hope for any problem in sholom bayis,
unless there is an issue of mental health. Normal,
sound and sensible individuals can, with proper
guidance, solve their family difficulties -- provided
that the problems and their frustrations have not
become too unbearable. This is when depression can
occur. The relationship weakens and communication
breaks down. Long before the marriage gets out of
control, couples need to seek sound advice. This advice
must be based on the Torah's teachings and principles,
bearing in mind that the Torah has a solution for all
We need to keep our senses and see situations clearly.
Everyone has problems. Normal people cope and in the
end are successful. We can have simchas hachaim
in spite of our problems. If we persist and maintain
a good attitude, knowing that there are solutions, we
will not aggravate the difficulties. This is greatness.
However, small-mindedness makes us shortsighted. We do
not see clearly and we can lose hope.
True, many times it takes greatness, for there may be a
very severe problem in the house. But that is when the
chesed of the Torah begins. When our logic says
no, the Torah says yes. Yes, this person -- my wife, my
husband, my child -- they need our chesed, our
compassion -- our smile. We have the spiritual
potential within us to overcome the moment's tragedy.
We can rise above it and Hashem will help us. We were
created betzelem Elokim and it remains within us.
And so we can transcend difficult conditions.
This excellence, the splendor of the Divine Presence
within us, obligates us even in the face of the worst
problems to know and believe that any problem can be
solved in a good way. Through their sin, Odom and
Chavah brought death to the world, but they made a
comeback. They did teshuvoh.
We have the same greatness as they had -- tzelem
Elokim -- and so we should never give up. The denial
of this greatness within us results in an attitude that
is limited to logic and common sense. It leads to
hopelessness and depression and ends in failure.
Hashem expects us to do chesed, the true
chesed of the Torah. We must act with sympathy
and understanding within our homes and be besimchah.
Simchah creates a healthy home environment that
children, today more than ever, need so much. If they
are to grow up to be well-adjusted and sound
individuals, they require a happy home life.
Giving our spouses and our children a pleasant
household -- this is chesed! Our obligation to
them is so much greater than with strangers. If we run
to do chesed outside the home with strangers --
why not do it at home too!