||THE GEMORA'S FORMULA FOR PEACEFUL MARRIAGE, PART TWO: WITH RESPECT TO RESPECT
- Thursday, October 11, '01 - Parshas Bereishis 5762
The Talmudic "formula" places major emphasis on kavod (honor, respect). Indeed, when the Talmudic principle of the central and extreme importance of honor/respect in marriage comes down through the rabbinic literature to the halacha (authoritative, practical law) codes, several major codes (e.g. Rambam [Maimonodes] in Hilchos Ishus [Marriage Laws] and Arba Turim [Introduction to Evven Ha'Ezer, [Married Life]) state that enormous measures of kavod are a legal imperative - for the husband and the wife - in the treatment of one's spouse. I emphasize that the reference to the halachic (Jewish law) requirement for kavod typically comes with strong terminology (e.g. in Rambam's articulation of this primary obligation in marriage, he writes that kavod is to be "excessive").
Kavod comes from the same root as the word kavaid (heavy, weighty). Kavod, we see, is attributing weight, substance, existential heaviness, to the one whom I respect or honor. And, it is of such a nature that when I treat a spouse with enough kavod, this will contribute to peace.
The Torah does not command love of parents. The Torah commands kavod of parents. Parents may not necessarily behave in ways which engender love. They may be obnoxious, demanding, rejecting, tiresome, abusive, unreasonable or malcontent. It may be impossible to love some parents. Love is an emotion from within and, to be sure, which can potentially powerfully motivate good behavior to a beloved person. But, if a parent becomes burdensome, punitive or otherwise unbearable, the Torah does not want your parents' limitations to stop you from conducting yourself towards your parent in a respectful, considerate and benevolent manner. The Torah is setting up objective standards and demands, beyond your self or your feelings. If the parent's need or dignity requires something outside the limits of your emotions, then you have to attribute "weight" and continue to extend yourself by responding with kavod to the need and dignity of the parent, outside of and beyond yourself.
The Torah wants us, in general, to treat every Jew with kavod; and your spouse, in particular, with extreme, excessive, sensitive kavod.
When Rabbi Aharon Kotler, founder and first Rosh Yeshiva of the great Lakewood Yeshiva, was in the car with his driver, and would come to a toll, he would tell the driver to take the car to a human toll collector instead of to a toll machine in order to practice kavod habrios (human dignity). Going to the machine would disparage the kavod of a human being. The practice of giving kavod is too important and inescapable.
When Yosef was viceroy of Egypt, and his father Ya'akov came, the Torah tells us that Yosef readied his own chariot to greet his arriving father (Genesis 46:29). Consider that Yosef was like a king (Genesis 44:18). He could have had any number of servants ready his chariot. Since he was about to greet his father, he displayed kavod and did menial work himself. The midrash Tanchuma adds that when the officials saw Yosef going out to greet Ya'akov, the followed Yosef. When the people saw the government going out to greet Ya'akov, the entire population followed. A parade consisting of the populace of Egypt came out to greet Ya'akov, in one of the two greatest displays of kavod in history. This midrash says that when Moshe came out to greet Yisro (Moshe's father-in-law), who was arriving to meet the Jewish people by Mount Sinai. When Aaron saw Moshe go out, Aaron followed. When the elders saw Aaron, they followed. When the people saw the elders, the entire nation followed in a procession to greet Yisro. The midrash says that these were the two greatest displays of kavod in all of human history.
Also consider that the display of kavod for Yisro occurred during the days between the departure from Egypt and the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. The Jewish people were on the 49th level of spiritual impurity in Egypt. Egypt was steeped in every kind of decadence possible, from idolatry to incest. The Jews had been influenced. Had they reached the 50th level, they would no longer have been able to be redeemed. The days between leaving Egypt and receiving the Torah were for preparation and purification, enabling the Jewish people to become permanently free from the spiritual filth of Egypt and ready to be people of holiness, spiritual purity and service of G-d. It is significant that the exhibition of national kavod for Yisro occurred during these days of spiritual perfection. This tells us that, in order to be a Torah person, one must be capable of practicing the mida (personality trait) of kavod. The Torah tells us the story of Yisro as a preamble to the giving of the Torah, and even names the weekly portion in which the giving of the Torah is written after Yisro. This teaches us that a person of Torah first has to be a giver of kavod before being equipped and qualified to be a Torah person.
In a related vein, the midrash (Vayikra Raba) tells us "Derech eretz kadma leTorah (derech eretz comes before Torah);" which means that one must have respectful, polite, thoughtful and civil behavior first and foremost to truly be a Torah person.
The Talmud tells us that Rabbi Akiva's 24,000 students died in a 33 day period because they did not give kavod to each other. Their lot was death. The Torah is to be a "Toras Chayim (Torah of Life)." To be a kailee (instrument, vessel, container) for genuine Torah, one must be capable of the trait of kavod and behaving with derech eretz in practical life.
When Queen Esther came to King Achashverosh, he asked her what she requested and said that whatever she wanted, up to half his empire, would be given to her to satisfy her request (Esther 5:6 & 7:2). Consider that here we have a rough gentile king who offers his wife up to half of a 127-country empire just to make her happy. Consider that the Egyptian masses, who were steeped in idolatry and incest, gave kavod in droves to Ya'akov Avinu. The Jewish people showed that they practice kavod of the maximum magnitude by furnishing it to Yisro. Jewish spouses aren't asked to give half of Achashverosh's Empire or a procession by the entire Egyptian population. When Jewish spouses relate to each other, shall they be outdone by the ancient Persians or Egyptians? How much moreso should Bnei Torah want to do favors, kindnesses and displays of kavod for the person they are married to? Shall they not provide what their partner requests? If we can give optimum kavod to Yisro, can we not to the person one lives with day in and day out?