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Beloved Comanions - Insights on Domestic Tranquility From the Weekly Parsha

by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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Zos Habracha

How To Ask For Something

And he said: G-d came from Sinai, He had already radiated for them from Se'ir, had dawned from Mount Paran and then come from Myriads of Holy ones, from His Right Hand they had fire become law.

It became King in Jerusalem. In as much as the heads of the people gathered together to it, the tribes of Israel became one union.(DEVARIM 33:2, DEVARIM 33:5)

A poor woman who sold fruit at the market approached Rabbi Chaim Halberstam of Sanz (author of Divrei Chaim). She burst into bitter tears and asked him to help her, saying that she was a widow with many children to feed. Rabbi Chaim was astonished at her request, since he knew that she had a regular source of income by selling in the market. Then the woman revealed what had happened.

"Rabbi, I do have an income, but something terrible has happened to me. I bought a wagon full of apples, and a rumor has gone around that my apples are rotten and sour, and now no one wants to buy from me," the woman lamented.

The Rabbi replied, "Who said that your apples are not good? Go bring your apples to the market and I will arrive shortly."

The woman did as the Rabbi told her, and the Rabbi kept his word.

He came to the market, and stood by the woman's apple cart, hollering out as loudly as any of the merchants: "Jews! Buy good and sweet apples. These apples are praiseworthy and the best there are!"

When the Jews of Sanz saw their beloved Rabbi standing beside the apple cart, extolling their quality, hundreds of people gathered around, and the apples were all sold at a good price, since no one would haggle over the price with the Rabbi standing right there. Thus the woman's livelihood was quickly restored, and when she profusely thanked the Rabbi for helping her, he smiled. Then he added, "You see, your apples were not bad at all!" (OLAM CHESED BANEH,vol. 11, p. 54)

Even though Rabbi Chaim fulfilled the poor woman's request very generously, often people are reluctant to do a favor. Thus when we ask a favor from our spouses, we must know how to ask.

"And he said, 'G-d came from Sinai.'" The verse is telling us that when Moshe started speaking, he did not begin by telling the needs of Israel, but rather he started with the praise of G-d.

This is similar to a parable of an advocate who was hired by someone to speak on his behalf before the king. The advocate did not start speaking about the person's needs, but rather he began by praising the king. He said, "Happy is the world in which he is the king, happy is the world in which he is the judge, upon us does the sun shine, upon us does the moon shine." Everyone thought highly of his speech. Afterwards he began to speak of the needs of the man who had hired him, and before he ended he returned to speak more praise of the king.

The same approach applies to Moshe Rabbenu. He did not start with the needs of Israel until he had spoken of the honor of G-d, as it is written, "And he said, 'G-d came from Sinai.'" Then he spoke of the needs of Israel, as it is written, "And there was a king in Yeshurun." And then afterwards he continued to praise Hashem, as it is written, "There is no one like G-d, Yeshurun."

And even in the silent Amidah prayer that the Sages composed, they did not start with the needs of Israel until they spoke of the praise of G-d, as it is written, "Hashem, the mighty, the great, and the awesome; He releases prisoners," and then, "You are holy and Your name is awesome." And then, we make our requests, such as, The Healer of the sick." And then, [at the end we return to praising Hashem], "We thank You."(YALKUT 951 par. VA-YOMAR)

Why is it necessary to praise before a person articulates his requests? Isn't this something like bribery, and is it possible to bribe G-d? Also, why is it necessary to return to praising G-d after we finish petitioning Him for our needs?

Praising G-d makes us realize how great He is. Once we internalize such a recognition we will pray and ask for our needs to be met with much more fervor. When we praise Him, we begin to understand that He is capable of providing our requests, and hence we pray with greater intensity. The praise is not in any way bribery, for it is impossible to bribe G-d. He is completely just and besides, He is the Master of everything so there is nothing we could possibly give as a bribe. But the praise is for our own benefit, so that we realize the greatness of the One to whom we are making our requests.

In the parable of our Sages, the king is praised. This was in order to remind the king of his powers, and that she should reflect upon the fact that it was possible for him to grant the advocate's request if he so desired. But in order to properly apply the lesson of the parable, we should be aware that the realization of the heavenly King's great power is meant not for the One who can give, but rather for the one who is asking, whether it is Moshe Rabbenu or any Jew praying to Him.

Concluding with praise after asking that our requests be granted, shows G-d our praise to Him will not be diminished even if our requests might not be granted. Rather, our praise to Him is unwavering and is not dependent on the results of our prayers. He will decide what is best for us, since our limited minds cannot possibly know this. We request what we think we need, but the final judgement is left to Him. It is this recognition which is the purpose of the praise with which we conclude our prayers.

Be Tactful and Praise Your Spouse Before Making a Request

Then we request something of our spouses, we should use the same method as when we ask Hashem for anything in mind. We do not deserve anything from our spouses any more than we deserve something from G-d. Therefore a request to a spouse should be preceded with a word of praise. In that way we are showing that we are not demanding anything, rather we are asking a favor. It is so much more pleasant to hear a request when it is enveloped in pleasant words rather than when it is arrogantly demanded as a right.

When a person asks for something from his spouse as a demand, it shows that he thinks greatly of himself. Such a demand is an expression of a feeling that one deserves immediate gratification. Arrogance is abhorrent to Hashem and also to people. Our Sages teach us: G-d says that He cannot live in the world together with someone who is arrogant. When a person acts arrogantly towards his spouse, it causes a rift in their relationship. Why should a spouse think of himself as such an important person, when we know that everyone has so much to improve, and that there is no place at all for such arrogance?

Of course, we should ask in a pleasant manner just for the sake of chesed alone. We are doing chesed with our spouses when we ask in the proper way. This way we are causing a pleasant feeling in the hearts our spouses, which is definitely considered a chesed. But for those of us who need an extra incentive, it really is much more expedient to ask for something from our spouses nicely. By doing so we stand a much better chance of getting what we want.

Instead of saying, "Serve me dinner," we could say, "I really like your cooking. What do you have to eat?" Or instead of, "I am waiting for you!" we could say, "I love to go out with you. Perhaps you could hurry a bit?" Instead of a wife saying, "You are so sloppy!" she could say, "I love the way you know how to arrange everything in such an orderly fashion. Perhaps you could do it now?"By adding a compliment before we ask for something from our spouses, we are doing an extra chesed. Not only are we asking in the correct manner, but we are also raising our spouses' self-esteem. Instead of just demanding from our spouses, in this manner we make even the taking also giving. By choosing the right words before we speak, we are constantly doing chesed to our spouses.

The addition of these words convey so much love for our spouses, that it is certainly worth the extra effort it takes to say something tactfully and pleasantly.


Be Grateful To Your Spouse

And the man said, The woman whom You have given me, she gave me of the tree, and I have eaten. (BERESHIS 3:12)

When the Chofetz Chaim was in Vienna, an important person came to the house where he was staying to ask a pressing question. The Chofetz Chaim was in the middle of a meal, so the owner of the house invited the visitor to join everyone at the table, assuring him that when the meal was finished he would gladly introduce him to the Chofetz Chaim so that he could ask his question.

Meanwhile the Chofetz Chaim was reciting the Psalm, "Mizmor ['David Hashem Ro'i," as he usually did at mealtimes. When he finished the last verse, "May goodness and chesed follow me all the days of my life," he turned to the guest, whom he did not know, and asked, "Isn't it wondrous that King David says that goodness and chesed shall chase me; for usually murderers and robbers are what chase a person, but when do goodness and chesed chase him?

"We can learn from this that it may seem to a person who is occupying himself with acts of kindness and charity that the 'goodness and chesed' indeed chase him. Since he is losing money or taking time from his work, his yetzer attempts to convince him to stop doing chesed. What should he do? King David tells him that in such a case he should pray to Hashem that goodness and chesed should continue to chase him for the rest of his life, since he is continuing to do acts of kindness and charity. He should know that if he does so G-d will allow him to fulfill that which is promised at the end of the verse, 'And I shall sit in the house of Hashem all the days of my life."'

When the guest heard these words, he got up to leave, thanked his host and said goodbye. The host was astonished. Why would he want to leave before he had even asked his question? The guest then explained, "The Chofetz Chaim has answered me without my asking. You see, several years ago I established a gemach in my town. Recently, my wife has been complaining that my chesed is causing me losses in business, and it is taking up too much of my time. She wants me to hand over the gemach to someone else, but I refuse to do so, and we decided to ask the Chofetz Chaim. But now the Chofetz Chaim has answered our question, saying that even if goodness and chesed already have been done by a person, this is not an excuse to stop. He should continue to be occupied with them. And so now I am hurrying home to tell this to my wife." (CHOFETZ CHAIM AL HATORAH, p. 260)

Doing chesed should be our constant goal, and there is never "enough" chesed done. Part of doing chesed is showing our appreciation when we receive chesed from our spouses. When we are grateful, we are returning chesed for the chesed we receive.

"And Adam said, 'The woman whom You have given me, she gave me of the tree, and I have eaten."' Rashi comments on this verse, "Here Adam was denying the goodness of G-d." Rashi elaborates in his commentary on the Talmud. "'Whom You have given me." This is the language of disgrace; he was blaming the unfortunate incident on the gift which G-d had given him, since He had created the woman to be a partner for him." (AVODAH ZARAH 5b)

How did our Sages know that Adam was intending to blame Eve? How could Adam have blamed Eve when he knew that without his own consent he would not have sinned? Why was Adam's statement in his own defense considered a denial of G-d's goodness?

It is very common not to accept responsibility for one's actions and to try to put the blame on others. We find this also in the case of King Shaul, when he was confronted by Shemuel for not having killed all the sheep of the Amalekites. He tried to justify his action by blaming the people. He said, "The people had pity on the excellent sheep." David, on the other hand, when confronted by the prophet Nasan, admitted a mistake and said, "I have sinned." Our Sages understood that Adam was placing the blame on his wife, from the superfluous words that he said, a whom You have given me." It was already clear that the woman was given to Adam by G-d. Why then did Adam add these words to his explanation, as if G-d did not know? Clearly, his intention was to show that he was not guilty. Rather, he implied, it was G-d's fault that he had eaten from the tree because G-d had given him the woman who had persuaded him to sin.

Focus on the Good Points and Overlook the Bad

In this incident Adam was denying his own responsibility. He knew very well he could have chosen not to listen to his wife, but he was looking for a scapegoat. He found one in his wife. She had been given to Adam for his benefit by G-d. This is ungratefulness. G-d's only intention in giving Adam a wife was to help him, as the verse says, "I will make for him a help." This is the worst form of ingratitude, when the recipient not only does not thank his benefactor, but also insults him by claiming that the present was given to him in order to harm him.

Adam could have avoided ungratefulness by reflecting upon the many things his wife gave him, and considering what a great help she was to him in every way. If these thoughts would have been in his mind constantly, then such a "slip of the tongue" would never have happened. He would have been so appreciative that it would not have entered his mind to utter any such words of reproach to G-d.

Another mistake Adam made was to focus on his wife's negative, rather than on her positive, traits. He should have viewed any negative trait on her part as a trial from Heaven to see how he would react. Instead he blamed her for her flaw. A person should accept his wife with her flaws instead of trying to argue with or to criticize her. If you suffer as a result of your wife's flaws, G-d intended you to go through this suffering, and you are forbidden to take it out on your wife. You should see her, rather, as a messenger from Heaven to administer whatever punishment or spiritual test you deserve. She could never cause you the slightest discomfort if this was not decreed in Heaven.

We can learn from Adam's mistake the importance of being grateful to our wives. When your wife makes you dinner, you must not forget to thank her. When she goes shopping or gets dressed up nicely for you, it is your obligation to notice this and to show your appreciation. Expressing constant gratitude yields a twofold advantage. First of all, the thankfulness we express gradually starts to penetrate our hearts, and we find ourselves not only saying the words, but beginning to actually experience that gratitude. Secondly, the appreciation we express to our wives causes them to love us more. A wife sees that her efforts are appreciated, and the love between the couple can only grow.

The more a person feels grateful to his spouse, the more the bond between them strengthens. Not being grateful is a very selfish trait. We find that many of the blessings we say each day are to train us to be grateful to G-d. This teaches us the tremendous importance of being grateful, since we make so many blessings every day. Even the mitzvah of honoring our father and mother stems from the obligation to be grateful.

If a person cannot feel grateful to the spouse who is seen every day, how can he feel grateful to G-d, whom he does not see? It follows that someone who does not appreciate his spouse is bound to be unappreciative of G-d.

We must positively utilize these lessons of gratefulness when dealing with our spouses. A common mistake is that we take things for granted. We say, "Of course my wife has to make dinner and wash the clothes." But the truth is that your wife could have bought you a frozen dinner, or could have sent your clothes out to the cleaners. Or we say, "My husband has to make money, and bring me a present for my birthday." But actually he could have become lazy and not gone to work, or not thought of you on your birthday.

We must realize that our spouses are constantly making thoughtful and painstaking efforts for our benefit, and it is wrong to be ungrateful to them. Our Torah teaches us constantly to be grateful, and we should remember to apply this important lesson to marriage.

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