One of my favorite teachings from the Talmud is a marriage-related lesson. Aside from its psychological insight into how men and women operate differently, I love this teaching because it sheds a world of light on how to behave toward people in general -not only husbands to wives or wives to husbands, but towards everyone we encounter.
Rav said, “A man must always be careful to never pain his wife. Because her tears come readily, her pain comes quickly.” (Talmud, Bava Metzia 59a)
Notice the wording.
It doesn’t say be considerate to your wife. Nor does it say be nice and sensitive to her, because your definition of consideration or sensitivity might be very different than hers. And your way of being nice might not be what she needs or craves.
Nor does the Talmud tell us, “She might be oversensitive, so just do your best, but in truth it’s really her problem.”
Instead, Rav teaches us, “She cries easily, so it’s your responsibility to be extra careful.” It is your obligation to make sure you don’t do things or say things that distress her.
You might feel, “Hey, this is something silly. She’s being petty; she’s overreacting. A little constructive criticism never hurt anyone. Eventually, I’m sure she’ll come around.”
But if she feels offended, the Talmud is saying, make sure you don’t do it. Her tears and her feelings are imperative.
What an amazing lesson on how to regard another individual, especially the most central other in your life.
So often we judge others by our own standards – I wouldn’t mind having unexpected guests drop by, so you shouldn’t either. Or, I enjoy sharing, so you must also. I appreciate a good joke even if the joke’s on me, so there’s no reason for you to take offense. We tend to think that as long as we treat the other in the same way that we like to be treated, we’re doing okay.
The Talmud, however, teaches us to take ourselves out of the equation and view the situation from the other’s perspective.
A friend who has experienced many challenges, including raising a child with special needs, commented that some people give too much significance to trivial issues. After overcoming real hurdles, she had a low tolerance level for someone who “sweated over life’s small issues.”
“But, Susan,” I disagreed, “For that individual, at this point in his life, it is a big issue. For him, this is something tragic.”
In fact, perhaps if we act with empathy towards others, assessing our words and behavior towards them, not by our own standards but by how they are affected, perhaps we can then beseech G‑d, our “Cosmic Spouse,” to act that way towards us as well.
“Dear G‑d,” we could then argue, “we know that from Your perspective many of our wants and needs are trivial and petty. We also understand, that from Your seat on High, our pain, anxieties, conflicts and tensions may serve some higher cosmic purpose. But from our limited perspective, from the here and now, the pain is real and the suffering, unnecessary. Please G‑d, in Your infinite power, spare our tears. Make things not just good in truth, but good to us.”
May we merit the fulfillment of the prophecy in this upcoming year, “And G‑d will wipe away tears from every face” (Isaiah 25:8).
Chana Weisberg is the author of four books including the best-selling Divine Whispers and the newly released Tending the Garden. She is a associate editor for www.chabad.org and lectures worldwide on a wide array of issues. To have her speak to your community or to be a part of her upcoming book tour, please contact her at email@example.com.