Our Sages tell us that HaKodesh Baruch Hu, the Holy One Blessed Be He, weeps when a Jewish home is torn apart by of divorce. Unfortunately, He must be crying quite a lot these days, judging from the vast number of divorcees you discover on the pages of Facebook. Just as every Jewish wedding adds another stone to the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash, every divorce keeps it in ruins. Since the Fast of Tammuz is almost upon us, marking the beginning of the Three Weeks leading to Tisha B’Av, when we mourn over the destruction of Yerushalayim and the Holy Temple, I thought it appropriate to say a few things about marriage.
Thanks to the good graces of God, a lot of hard work, and lowering my head whenever my wife is upset with me, I have been married nearly thirty years now to the same wonderful, emotional, sensitive, and sometimes stubborn, irrational, and tempestuous woman that I married. In the course of those three decades, we have seen our share of couple’s therapists, and my wife has studied the subject enough to have become a practicing marriage counselor and coach herself. For my small part, I have helped dozens of couples deal with their marital problems through my website, www.jewishsexuality.com. And now, thank God, my wife and I are beginning to counsel the oldest of our seven children who was recently wed.
Yes, marriage is not easy. Yes, it is a challenge as demanding as climbing Mount Everest. Yes, you may have to sacrifice some of your toes in the effort to reach the incomparable peace and stillness you discover at the peak of the climb. But, it’s the best blessing there is, especially when you are fortunate enough to be raising a family in the Land of Israel.
One thing I have learned to avoid, as best as I can, is anger. The holy Kabbalist, the Arizal, teaches that anger is the worst of all the bad character traits. He explains that while every bad character trait and transgression blemish a part of one’s spiritual blueprint, and even physical anatomy, the blemish can be repaired by sincere tshuva and atonement. In contrast, when a person becomes angry, his Divine Soul flees from him, and he receives a lesser animal soul in its place. Ever notice how people look like beasts when they get angry? Their human character seems to leave their faces, and they look like wild animals. The reason is because their Divine Soul has fled, and the work of restoring it to its place, the Arizal writes, can take years and years of penitence.
In a marriage, if either the wife or husband gets angry, and the other responds with anger in return, then the heavyweight prizefight begins. Our Sages teach us that the Hebrew words for man and woman, איש andאשה have the letters alef, shin, yud, and hai. But when there is anger between them, the yud and hai flee, letters which stand for the Name of God, symbolizing the loss of the Presence of God in the home. Now, only the letters alef and shin remain, אש meaning fire. And how many fire engines are needed to put out the flames!
What’s the solution? Very simple. When my wife gets angry, I lower my head and agree that she’s right. Even though I know that she may not be justified about her immediate complaint, I tell myself that I surely did something else that has brought upon her outburst. A woman has radar and senses when she has been slighted or betrayed. At the moment, she may think she is angry because I forgot to buy tomatoes at the supermarket, and how can she make a loving salad for her family without tomatoes? And, yes, what a rotten husband I am, but I know that the tomatoes she is angry about are not the tomatoes you buy in the supermarket, but about the attractive women I glanced at while I was shopping there.
So when my wife throws a punch, I lower my head and duck, knowing that she is right, that I assuredly did something wrong, and that her anger is God’s way of informing me that I have to do tshuva and mend my erring behavior or thoughts. This way, after throwing a few punches and not finding a hittable target, she gets tired and quits. But if I were to hit back with the very first blow, God forbid, it would turn out to be another “Thriller in Manila” with Mohammed Ali and Joe Frazier exchanging murderous blows until the final, 15th-round bell.
The key word in a successful marriage is humility. A husband and wife must be ready to admit that they’ve made a mistake, that they’ve acted selfishly, that they haven’t been considerate enough of the other’s feelings and needs. They have to be ready to listen to each other – really listen. If not, the alternative is to destroy one’s family and end up married to Facebook. While an old, popular bestseller and movie proclaimed that “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” in real life, the very opposite is true.
Equally sad at this time of year, when our Holy Temple needs rebuilding, and when every new marriage could add another foundation stone in its construction, is that there are myriads of Jews who remain single for years and years on end. On Facebook, many of them report that they are “in a relationship.” Yalla! How long can you be in a relationship? I asked my wife to marry me after our fourth date. What’s everyone so afraid of?
One of the reasons, making things so difficult in our day and age, is that there are so many candidates to choose from, why should a person marry X when there are thousands of attractive Y’s on Facebook that he still hasn’t met? The options are overwhelming. So how does a person decide?
Well, if your potential spouse has yirat shamayim (the reverence of God), chances are that when problems arise in the marriage, he or she will have the faith and sense of holy commitment to work things out. And if you sense that you get along with the person whom you are dating, enjoy each other’s company, and look forward to your next meeting, that’s a trustworthy sign that you have a good base. And if, on top of these two basic foundations, the person expresses a sincere desire to raise up your children in the blessed pathways of Torah, then what are you waiting for? You’re not madly in love? Why should you be after four or five dates? Love, like good wine, develops with time. Lust can arise at first glance, but love takes time. True love occurs after the wedding – not before it. So don’t expect or demand that you feel fireworks before you get married. It’s nice if it happens, but most of the time, it’s not real. Love comes with waking up to diaper the children in the middle of the night, and with putting your ego aside to set your spouse’s wishes above yours own egotistical demands, and with keeping silent in humility when your spouse is feeling jittery and lets you have it over the head with a frying pan for something you think you didn’t do.
There are two more secrets about marriage which can save you a lot of needless pain and trouble. According to the Kabbalah, many divorces stem from the negative spiritual forces which are created in the home through improper sexual relations between husband and wife. These impure, negative forces cause the Shechinah (Divine Presence) to flee from the home, and form a barrier between the couple. This negative energy is very often the spiritual root of much of the anger, irritability, and unhappiness in the marriage, as well as problems with children.
One other thing which can turn the home into hell is when the husband watches immodest things on the Internet. This also creates negative spiritual forces (known as kelipot) which wreak havoc in the house. The husband’s positive loving energy and love, which should have naturally gone to the wife, goes instead to nourishing these negative spiritual forces when the husband lusts after other women. When the wife picks this up on her unique feminine radar, sensing that she is being denied the attention and pure, holy love she deserves, she goes wild. She may blame her husband for a thousand different things, not knowing the real source of her unrest and anger, and he strikes back, feeling unjustly accused, but the reason for the explosion is that he didn’t take care to guard his eyes from lusting after other women, and this can destroy the home as much as any physical fire. Thus, by engaging in proper, spiritually healthy, marital relations, a new joy and love will be discovered and the Shechinah will surely fill the home.
May Hashem have mercy on His People, and return His Divine Presence to Zion with the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash, may it be soon!Tzvi Fishman
About the Author: Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon. His recent movie "Stories of Rebbe Nachman" will be available soon as a DVD.The author's opinion does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Jewish Press.
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