||"A HUSBAND OF VALOR!" THE TALMUDIC
SAGES ON HOW TO TREAT YOUR WIFE
- Thursday, November 23, '00 - Parshas Chayei Sara 5761
Midrash Beraishis Raba teaches how a
husband should take care of a wife. The Torah writes (Genesis 12:8) that Avraham
prioritized his wife before himself. Avraham traveled and pitched "oheloH (his
tent)." In Hebrew, the suffix "H" makes a noun possessive in the feminine
gender (i.e "her" object). The masculine possessive comes with the vowel
"O" as a suffix (i.e. "his" object). The Torah in Genesis 12:8 uses
the strange combination of vowel "O" and the consonant "H" with the
noun "ohel (tent)." The translation of the text as spoken is "his
tent," and the translation of the text as written is "her tent." So what is
the meaning of the Torah's placing of this unusual "O" and "H"
together? The midrash explains that Avraham first pitched the tent of Sara, his wife,
before he pitched his own. We see this because the "H" is a consonant which is
more dominant in Hebrew grammar than a vowel ("O"). The Torah is teaching us
that whenever a husband needs to do something for himself and his wife, he must take care
of his wife's needs first. This will apply to all forms of help, respect, kindness and
consideration for his wife.
Derech Eretz Raba (chapter six) provides a wonderful lesson on giving benefit of doubt
in a marriage context. "A man should never be strict about his meals. It once
happened that Hillel the Elder invited a guest for a meal. A pauper came and stood at his
door and said [to Hillel's wife], 'Today I am to marry a woman and I have no livelihood
whatsoever.' [Hillel's] wife took the entire meal [which she made for her husband and his
guest] and gave it to [the pauper]. After that, she kneaded another dough, cooked another
meal and brought it and set it before them. [Hillel gently] said to her, 'My sweetheart,
why did you not bring [the meal] to us immediately?' She described to him all that
happened. He said to her, 'My sweetheart, I never judged you to be guilty. I only judged
favorably, because all of your deeds were only done for the sake of Heaven.'"
Derech Eretz Raba (chapter eleven) teaches that "He who hates his wife is one who
Kidushin (34b) says, "It is a man's obligation to make his wife happy."
Tractate Chulin (58b) has an aggadata (allegorical story). "For seven years a
female mosquito quarrelled with [her husband] a male mosquito. She said to him, 'I once
saw a human being from Mechuza [a town whose people enjoyed swimming] bathing in water.
When he came out, he wrapped himself in a sheet. You came and settled down upon him and
sucked out blood and you didn't let me know!'"
We see from this aggadata that a husband must share the pleasures of life with his
wife. He must not keep or sneak them for himself and not hide from his wife what he does
with his time. The Chazon Ish, possibly learning it from here, said that a husband must
let his wife know when he's leaving, where he's going, what he is going to be doing and
when he is going to be back. If he goes away on a journey, he must, every day, phone or
write her a letter; and bring her gifts from the places that he visited. If he deprives
her in any such ways, she will feel bad and "drive him crazy" about it "for
seven years," meaning to say, for a long time.
Tractate Chulin (84b) says that a man should eat and drink less than in accordance with
what he can afford, dress himself in accordance with what he can afford, and he should
honor his wife and children more than in accordance with what he can afford. The wife and
children are dependent on the husband, and the husband is dependent on the One Who Spoke
And The World Was Created.
Tractate Shabos (62b) says that a man must never give a wife cause to curse him, for a
justifiable curse (e.g. not spending on her in accordance with his means) can bring
poverty. Tractate Shabos (118b) Rabbi Yosi called his wife his "home," never
"wife." Rashi explains that Rabbi Yosi spoke with wisdom even in his plain
speech. By referring to his wife as his "home," he is adding a message that she
is the essence, the central figure of their house. Madrich LeChasonim [Guide To Grooms]
explains Rabbi Yosi beautifully by writing: the home is the essence of life, the wife is
the essence of the home, therefore the wife is the essence of life, to the husband. It
seems appropriate to add that she transforms a "building" into a
"home" and into a refuge from the world, where he may have fulfillment and
Tractate Kesubos (61a) says that a husband must share the benefits of his life (e.g.
wealth or honor in the community) with his wife...a wife is given to a man for life and
not for pain (he should care for her so as to keep her from pain)...she is responsible for
the performance of a wife's duties.
Tractate Kesubos (62b-63a) recounts how Rabbi Akiva's wife sacrificed to enable him to
learn Torah and how he honored and appreciated her. Rabbi Akiva, one of the greatest sages
of the Talmud, grew up knowing no Torah. He was an uneducated shepherd. His employer's
daughter recognized that he was modest and of superlative character. She said that if he
would learn Torah she would marry him and he agreed. He married her and went away to
yeshiva. Her wealthy father, infuriated that his daughter would marry the shepherd,
disowned her. She lived in abject poverty and by herself for twelve years. When he
returned, he had advanced to the point at which he had twelve thousand disciples. When he
was arriving home, he heard an old man say to his wife, "How long will you live as a
widow?" She replied, "I would have him learn another twelve years." Rabbi
Akiva said, "This is her will," and he immediately about-faced and returned to
yeshiva for another twelve years. When he returned home, he had twenty-four thousand
disciples. When she heard that Rabbi Akiva was finally returning, she ran to meet him. Her
clothes were those of a poor beggar and she fell on her face to kiss his feet. His
students, thinking that this strange woman was publicly dishonoring their rabbi with
immodest behavior, were about to push her aside. He told them to leave her alone and said
to them, "All of my Torah and all of your Torah is hers!"
Tractate Sanhedrin (76b) says that a husband should adorn his wife with attractive
jewels and ornaments, to make her more respectable (this is a practical, concrete way of
attributing honor to his wife). Besides giving honor, these make a woman very happy (even
though men may have trouble understanding why!).
Tractate Taanis (23b) tells us that Aba Chilkia was a tzadik. When there was a drought,
the townspeople came to his home to ask him to pray to Hashem for rain. He and his wife
went to the roof and went to the opposite corners to pray. The clouds formed over his wife
(answering her prayer). The people asked why the rain came in the merit of her prayer
(since he was a tzadik). He answered that when he gives kindness, he does it by giving
money to the poor. When his wife gives kindness, she personally cooks and serves food
herself; which is more direct, immediate and meaningful.