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7 Nissan 5762 - March 20, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Husbands, Wives and Children

by HaRav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg

Part II

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 below.

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 the family.

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 pennies.

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 situation.

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 next morning.

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 in life.

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 the situation.

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 advice.

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 situations.

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!

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