Sunday, February 1, 2009

Rabbi Shalom Arush: Respecting Your Wife, Part 1

Translated and adapted by Rabbi Lazer Brody.

Stop frowning, dear brother. If your marriage isn't exactly what you want it to be, or your home isn't exactly the environment you'd like it to be, don't be discouraged. There’s no need to despair and there’s plenty to do about it.
For an opener, let's ask ourselves a question: Why in the world does Hashem require a man to take a wife in wedlock? Biologically, we don't need the institution of marriage to perpetuate the human race. So what do we need a wife for?
Couldn't Hashem have allowed us to keep the mitzvah of "be fruitful and multiply" without getting married? We all know how much Hashem cherishes the Torah and how lofty it is when one dedicates his life to learning Torah. Apparently, a wife consumes a boatload of our time – we have to give her attention, to spend time with her, to listen to her – sometimes for hours. That’s not all – go take her shopping, then help around the house – there are all kinds of domestic demands on our time. If we didn't have the heavy yoke of a wife on our necks, we'd apparently have so much more time and we could live on a much smaller budget. We could spend all our time learning Torah! So why does Hashem weigh us down with a wife?
The reason is that a man cannot get to know Hashem unless he gets married and supports a wife. Spiritually, he can only attain perfection of the soul once he gets married.
The Midrash teaches us that Hashem is willing to have His own name erased for the purpose of Shalom Bayit. Why is Shalom Bayit – peace in the home – so important to Hashem? To have his name erased even, a Torah prohibition?
Peace is the way of the Torah. Shalom – peace in Hebrew – is considered to be one of the names of Hashem; that's why it's forbidden to say the word "shalom" to your buddy when you greet him in the mikva or in the showers at the gym. Shalom – peace – is the optimal state of the soul; a peaceful soul is the proper receptacle for the light of Torah, which is also peace. Once again, if you're not married, you can't know peace is. Some people say, “Well I know how to make peace with my tennis partner!” That's neither peace nor a test on your ability to live in peace – the tennis partner doesn't ask you to take out the garbage or drive the kids to school, he doesn't ask you for more money or to take him shopping. Peace with your tennis partner is like a soldier demanding a medal of valor for excellence in basic training. Anyone with a brain understands that you don't get medals unless you've been tried in combat.
When you're married – you're under the gun. When you make true peace with your wife, you deserve a medal. The medal that Hashem gives you is a home environment that is literally a heaven on earth.
So, by making peace at home, a man prepares himself to really learn Torah and acquire good character traits. To make peace at home, he has to clean himself of egotism, arrogance, impatience and anger. Once he cleanses himself of negative traits, the husband prepares himself as a much better instrument to implement and internalize the laws and lessons of Torah. Therefore, unless a person has successfully made peace with his wife, he's fooling himself if he thinks he's really learning Torah and performing Hashem's will like he should.
The secret to peace at home is emuna. The first principle of emuna is that everything comes from Hashem – so, when a wife yells at us, disrespects us, or mistreats us, it's not her doing. She's only an agent in Hashem's hands. With emuna, we realize that there's no reason in the world to get angry at our wives. On the contrary, we appreciate the fact that she serves the purpose of of Hashem's loudspeaker at home – all she's doing is transferring messages from Him. Here's how:
Hashem communicates with us by way of our environment – He gives us lessons that we can understand. For example, when we walk outside in below zero weather in the middle of winter, we're liable to do damage to our health, Heaven forbid. Hashem gives our bodies a sensation of cold so that we'll go back inside and put on a winter coat and gloves. The sensation of cold in our bodies is a logical message that we can all understand, telling us that we must dress warmer.
A wife's anger – as unpredictable and illogical as it may seem – is also a logical message from Hashem. Both the Zohar and the Midrash teach us that a wife's soul is actually the second half of the husband's soul. As such, a wife mirrors a husband. When a husband fails to fulfill his obligations toward his wife, she mirrors his behavior almost instantaneously. When he fails to respect her like a Jewish husband should, she won't respect him. When he is impatient with her, she'll be angry and impatient with her. When he doesn't love her, she won't love him. That's on a lower level of spiritual cause-and-effect communication.
On an upper level, when a wife shows disrespect toward the husband, it's a sure sign that the husband doesn't properly respect Hashem. Hashem runs the world according to the ATFAT principle – a turn for a turn.
To be continued. see part 2, part 3