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by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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Toldos - II


Honor Your Spouse

When Esav heard the words of his father, he cried with a great and exceedingly bitter cry, and said to his father, "Bless me, me also, O my father." (bereshis 27:34)

A group of students of the Talmud Torah Etz Chaim came with their teachers to the house of their Rosh yeshivah, Rabbi Isser Zsalman Meltzer, in order that he should test them. The Rabbi asked a student to explain a Tosfos, but the student explained it incorrectly.

The Rabbi tried to save the student from embarrassment and suggested to him the correct manner of explaining the Tosfos. But the student adamantly stuck to his wrong explanation. Again and again, the Rabbi tried to coach the student to give the correct explanation, but the student would not budge from his erroneous explanation. This went on for about ten minutes, during which time the Rabbi was unable to convince the student, and the teachers were losing patience with this stubborn student.

Suddenly the Rabbi apologized to those present, saying that he must leave the room for a few minutes. He went out to the corridor and began pacing back and forth saying to himself, "Honoring other people means even children!" only after repeating this to himself several times did he return to the room with fresh energy as if he had just started. With a warm smile, he again explained the Tosfos to the student until he finally caught on and was saved from embarrassment.

(Hizaharu BI-Chvod Chavreichem, p. 364)

Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer's extreme patience was due to the honor he gave to every single Jew, even children. Giving honor is especially necessary with regard to our spouses as we are obligated to honor them by Torah law, and we must have limitless patience for them.

To what can we compare Esav the wicked, Elifaz and Amalek his son, Yerovam, Nevuchadnetzar and Haman Ha-agagi? We can compare them to a person who found a garment on the road, picked it up, and brought it into the city. He announced, "who lost this garment?" all the people in the city gathered and went to meet him. They said, "have you seen this person? What a tzaddik he is. What a Chassid he is." Immediately, they decided to appoint him to be a year, two years, three years, four and five. Until finally he was able to destroy the entire city. That is the way the wicked work.

Is it not true that in reward for the three tears that Esav shed when he lost the blessing to Ya'akov, he received the mountain of Se'ir where rain never stops falling? Is it not true that Yerovam was rewarded for obeying the king when he was assigned to do work, by being given ten tribes?(1) the reward of merodach, who honored our father in heaven was that he had a son Nevuchadnetzar, etc.(2)

(Yalkut 116)

What are our sages trying to teach us with their parable about the person who found the garment? What is wrong with wicked people doing mitzvos, and why should they not be rewarded for the bad things they do? What is the connection between Esav shedding tears and the reward he received? Why was Yerovam rewarded for listening to the king, a kingdom of ten tribes? What does having Nevuchadnetzar as a son have to do with merodach's honoring G-d?

The point of the above mentioned parable about a person who performed the good deed of returning a garment, is to explain to us that it is not enough for a person to do a good deed. He must also be sure that he is committed to doing mitzvos constantly and listening to G-d's will. If he performs only a few mitzvos, but at the same time he does things that harm people or are against the Torah, then the few good things he does only become tools for his wickedness. Since he is performing good deeds, people will trust him, and they will remain unaware of the terrible damage he can do.

The potential destruction that such a person can cause is great, since he is considered a tzaddik, and therefore people will not protect or guard themselves from him.

Esav shed three tears when he lost his fathers blessing, and as a result acquired the mountain of Se'ir, which has rain the whole year round. Here the reward is commensurate with Esav's act. He shed tears, which are essentially made of water, and he was repaid with water in the form of rain. The tears were an expression of sorrow Esav felt when he realized that he would not receive a blessing from his holy father. Even the smallest expression of regret for sins committed or longing to reach a higher spiritual level makes a great impression in heaven. As we see in this case, three small tears brought an immense reward. For the duration of the world's existence, rain never ceases to be bestowed upon Esav. This can give us some appreciation of how tremendously important it is to the almighty that we strive towards holiness.

Learn to Regret Mistakes in Marriage

We can learn from this example that it is crucial to regret the mistakes we make in our relationships with our spouses. We should shed a few tears in sorrow because we did not know how to behave properly. Feeling sorry for our mistakes is the first step towards repairing the relationship. Admitting them openly and asking for forgiveness are the next steps.

We previously asked why Yerovam was rewarded with rulership over ten tribes for listening to the king. We might reflect upon the fact that the main requirement for a successful monarchy is obedience to the king. That is why our sages say that when someone does not obey a king and rebels against him, he is punished by death.(3) It is imperative for a king that his will be carried out, since that is the whole basis for the effectiveness of his kingship. Hence, when Yerovam obeyed the king, he was fittingly rewarded by becoming king himself over ten tribes.

The same principle is true with regard to the husband's position in the household. He is the manager, as the verse says, "and he [the husband] will rule over you."(4) Even if the wife is more clever than the husband and sees that he makes mistakes in managing their mutual interests, she must be careful not to flaunt her superiority. If she wishes to comment she should do so tactfully, so that her husband will not feel that he is being dominated by his wife or that she is smarter than he is.

Concerning Nevuchadnetzar, our sages say that he walked several steps to honor G-d.(5) From this we learn, that Merodach's honoring G-d brought him the fitting reward: a son, Nevuchadnetzar, who did the same. Merodach saw the importance of honoring G-d. Giving honor applies not only to G-d; we also are required to honor our spouses. The Rambam writes: "our Sages commanded that a man should honor his wife more than he honors himself, and should love her as if she were his own body. If he has money, he should perform good for her according to his money. He should not cause her to fear him, should speak with her gently, and should not be sad or angry with her. Also they [the Sages] commanded the wife that she should honor her husband a great deal, and she should fear him and obey him always. She should consider him as a prince or a king who can do whatever he wishes, and she keeps at a distance anything he dislikes. "This is the way that holy and pure daughters and sons of Israel behave in their marriages. In these ways, their relationships will be beautiful and praiseworthy."(6)

When we contemplate upon these words of the Rambam, we notice an interesting phenomenon. On the one hand, it is forbidden for the man to cause his wife to fear him, but on the other hand, the wife, of her own accord, should fear her husband. The idea here is, that the respect a woman gives her husband is so great that it borders on fear. But the husband should not demand that respect. He should so love and honor his wife that she naturally does the same for him, and since the husband has a more dominant nature, she will obey him and do his will.

In addition, we see that the Rambam writes that our Sages commanded a man to honor his wife more than he honors himself, and to love her as if she were his own body. If there is only one pillow in the house he will give it to his wife, since he esteems her so much that he can not sleep on a pillow when he knows that his wife is without one.

When there is such love and respect between the couple, they are worthy of the Rambam's words, "This is the way that holy and pure daughters and sons of Israel behave in their marriages. In these ways, their relationships will be beautiful and praiseworthy."

1. Malachim I 11:28
2. Sanhedrin 96a
3. Shabbos 56a
4. Bereshis 3:16
5. Sanhedrin 96a
6. Rambam Hilchos Ishus ch. 15 hal. 19,20

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