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.