The Rebbe’s Advice for Shalom Bayis

Rabbi Aryeh Citron discusses the Torah perspective on Shalom Bayis, in connection with the weekly parsha where we read what can result when there is no peace in the house.

By Rabbi Aryeh Citron

In the Torah portion of Naso we find the laws of the Sotah, a suspected adulteress who must drink special waters to clear her of suspicion (Numbers 5:11 – 31). If she is in fact guilty, the woman dies a painful and embarrassing death as described in the verses.

A Miraculous Mitzvah

The Ramban points out that this is the only mitzvah in the Torah that is “dependent” on a miracle. He explains that G-d performed this miracle to ensure that the Jewish people remain morally pure. Were adultery to become commonplace, G-d forbid, there would be many mamzerim born, which would prevent the Shechina (Divine presence) from resting upon the Jewish people. At the end of the Second Temple era, immorality unfortunately became rampant, causing the Shechina to depart from the Jewish people and the miraculous Sotah waters to stop “working.”

Erasing G-d’s name

The Torah instructs that the Sotah water be prepared by erasing several verses of the Torah (that are especially written for the occasion) into this water. Although it is usually forbidden to erase G-d’s name (see Deut 12:4 with Rashi), in this case G-d permitted it and even commanded that it be done. According to the Talmud (Shabbat 116a, Chullin 141a)  and Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 9:9), He did so to enable the woman to be cleared of suspicion and to then be reestablished within her family. (Until she drinks these waters she is forbidden to her husband as a suspected adulteress.) In the words of Rabbi Yishma’el (Vayikra Rabbah), “Peace is great, for G-d said that the Holy Name which was written in holiness should be erased in the water (of the Sotah) in order to bring peace between a husband and wife.”

Food for Peace

The Talmud recounts (Nedarim 66b) that a certain man was upset that his wife had cooked food that (he believed) tasted bad. He swore that he would not benefit from her unless Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Shimon would eat her food. Rabbi Yehuda did so. He explained that although it was beneath his dignity, he did it saying that if G-d could permit His great Name to be erased (degraded) to preserve a marriage, he could allow himself to be degraded. (See there for Rabbi Shimon’s perspective.)

The Deeper Meaning

Rabbi Yitzchok Shmelkes (1828-1906 of Galicia) [in Bais Yitzchok, Parshat Nasso, Mamar 144-145] explains that peace upholds the entire world (see Avot 1:18) because by bringing peace to the world one is giving vitality to the world which is a sign of G-d’s presence here. As such, although one is erasing G-d’s name to make the Sotah waters, in the long run this erasure allows for G-d to be more “present” in the world then He would be if the couple would have to separate.

The Essential Name

The Maharal of Prague explains (based on Makkot 11a) that “peace” is an essential quality of G-d. As such, it is a more essential aspect of G-d than His names which (only) describe His actions. Thus, when erasing the names of G-d to maintain peace, one is erasing a more external aspect of G-d in order to enhance G-d’s essential presence in this world.

The rest of this article will focus on the importance of maintaining peace in one’s home as well as some methods on how to accomplish this.

Be (Mostly) Easygoing at Home

The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 9:2) advises that a person should always be easygoing (וַתְּרָן) in his house. If the wine spills, he should say “G-d has plenty to give to those that listen to Him” (a paraphrase of Mishlei 8:21). If the oil spills, he should say, “G-d will fill their storage houses” (see ibid). The Midrash concludes, however, by saying that immodest behaviour in the home should not be tolerated.

Torah Study – a Segulah for Shalom Bayit

A certain person once sought the advice of Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin. He said that he was a successful businessman and that he was not lacking anything, but his wife had no respect for him and would always talk down to him. Rabbi Chaim asked him if he had a fixed time for Torah study to which the man replied that due to his business concerns he did not have time for that. Rabbi Chaim explained that since all he did with his life was earn money, his wife had no respect for him. He advised that the man should dedicate at least one hour a day to studying Torah and that this would lead to his earning (deserving) his wife’s respect. In connection with this, he quoted the verse (Mishlei 16:7), “When the L-rd desires a person’s ways, He will cause even his enemies to make peace with him.” The Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 54:1) says that “the enemy” can be referring (temporarily) to one’s wife. And that the way to ensure that one’s wife will make peace with him is by living a lifestyle that G-d desires. 

One who does so will earn the respect of his spouse which will certainly increase the peace in their home (Sefer Shalom Bayit by Rabbi Aharon Zakai, chapter 7).

(On the other hand, the Talmud (Yevamot 63a) recounts that Rav’s wife did not treat him respectfully despite the fact that Rav studied Torah day and night. This was because Rav accepted the embarrassment he suffered from his wife with love as an expiation for his “sins.” As such, G-d allowed [arranged] for this suffering.)

Being Nice Even in Difficult Times

The Talmud (ibid) recounts that Rabbi Chiya’s wife would constantly aggravate him. Nevertheless, whenever Rabbi Chiyah came across a delicacy, he would wrap some of it in his shawl and bring it home for his wife. When his nephew (Rav) asked him why he was so nice to his wife who treated him so poorly, he explained that he appreciates what she does for him – that she protects him from sin and brings up their children in the Torah path.

Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (Tomer Devorah, chapter 1) learns from this story that one must always consider the good that others do for them and show appreciation for it, even if those same people are sometimes inconsiderate and unkind.

The Ben Ish Chai (in Ben Yehoyadah) points out that Rabbi Chiya would wrap the delicacies in his shawl (sudar) which was the unique  shawl worn by Torah scholars. He did this in order to allude to his wife that she had a share in all of his Torah learning through the assistance that she gave him, despite the fact that she would also aggravate him.

How to Cut Off a Tongue

The following story is told about Rabbi Shmuel HaNagid, the Jewish leader and advisor to Badis, King of the Berbers in Spain (Shalom Bayit, chapter 10). There was a certain gentile who was jealous of Rabbi Shmuel HaNaggid and would always curse him when he saw him. Once Rabbi Shmuel HaNagid was walking with the king. When the man saw him passing his shop, he came out and began cursing Rabbi Shmuel HaNagid. Seeing how his advisor was being publicly shamed, the King instructed Shmuel HaNagid to have the man’s tongue cut off. 

Rabbi Shmuel HaNagid looked into the matter and found out that this man was very poor. So he began sending him a weekly stipend to better his financial lot. Some time later the king was walking with Rabbi Shmuel again. When they passed this man’s shop he came out and began heaping blessings on Rabbi Shmuel. The king said to Rabbi Shmuel, “Didn’t I tell you to have his tongue cut out?” Rabbi Shmuel replied, “That’s exactly what I did. I cut out the tongue that uttered curses and replaced it with a tongue that utters blessings.”

This lesson can be applied to one’s marriage and relationships. The best way to turn a negative relationship into a positive one is by going out of one’s way to help and do favors for the other person. 

It’s All About the Sacrifice

The Talmud says (Sanhedrin 22a) that if a couple gets divorced from their first marriage, the mizbe’ach (altar) cries for them. The commentaries wonder why it is the altar specifically which cries for them.

They explain that the altar was used to offer sacrifices. A couple must take a lesson from the altar that the key to a successful marriage is to sacrifice one’s will for the sake of the other. If this lesson is not learned and the couple is getting divorced, the altar “cries,” i.e., is “upset” that the couple did not learn this all-important lesson (Shalom Bayit, chapter 10). 

From the Desk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe 

Here is some Shalom Bayit (peace in the home) advice from various letters by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, may his name be a blessing.

  • It’s Often about Money

Arguments in the home often happen as a result of difficulties in the family’s finances. As the stress from these issues can negatively impact one’s closest relationships. As such, when one is going through a difficult financial period, one should take the time to consider how much blessing he still has in his life. And how G-d cares for them in so many ways. And that the situation that they are going through is very temporary. And that G-d will certainly assist them in getting through it. Bearing all this in mind should ease the stress and tension in the home and will, inevitably, increase the peace in the home (Igrot Kodesh vol. 14, pg. 42).

Don’t Get Caught Up

When couples have disputes in the first few years of their marriage, it is important not to blow them out of proportion. Rather one should not pay too much attention to them and focus on the future.  Usually these differences are temporary, and they work themselves out as the marriage progresses. 

Husbands should always remember that their wives are more prone to be emotional, as the Talmud says, women cry more easily than men. As such, men should be extra careful to be mild-mannered and pleasant to their wives (Ibid, page 62)

Minimize Outside Interference

When a couple is going through a difficult time in their relationship it is best for the families of both the husband and wife to step back and let the parties work things out rather than getting involved and taking sides which often exacerbates the situation. Even if one family already got involved, it is better for the other family to remain on the sidelines. Hopefully this will be an example to the other family to disentangle themselves and allow the couple to work on it themselves (ibid, pg. 465).

  • Take the First Step

When couples aren’t getting along, very often it is because one spouse or the other feels like they are not getting the respect that they deserve. As a result of this, they often do not want to take the first step in asking for forgiveness and resolving the dispute as they feel that the dispute is not their fault and that taking the first step is an admission of guilt. 

In fact, this is usually not the case, and the other party did not mean to show any disrespect. As such, the sooner one can reach out in a pleasant and kind manner to resolve the dispute, the sooner they will realize that the entire dispute was actually based on a misunderstanding (Igrot Kodesh vol. 15, pg. 222).

  • Toil Mightily

According to our holy Torah, one must toil mightily and put in a great effort towards repairing a marriage. Getting divorced is an option only  if and when all other avenues have been exhausted thoroughly (ibid page 358). 

  • Can be Caused by Improper Closeness

One of the (spiritual) causes of a lack of Shalom Bayit is if the couple were close in a manner that was not proper according to the Torah, i.e., they did not observe the laws of family purity properly. Since teshuvah (repentance) can correct the past, one should correct this problem and the Shalom Bayit will return (Igrot Kodesh vol. 20, pg. 108).

  • The Key to Shalom Bayit

The key to Shalom Bayit (which benefits one’s children and grandchildren) is to look at other people (and most importantly, one’s spouse) with a good eye, i.e., to always judge them favorably. As the Previous Rebbe said, G-d created us with two eyes; with the right eye, one should look at others positively, and with the left, critically examine and correct one’s own deeds (Igrot Kodesh vol. 20, pg. 66).

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