CONTENTS AT A
PART ONE - LOVE AS A TORAH
PART TWO - THE THREE
LEVELS OF GENUINE LOVE
PART THREE - APPLICATION
OF THE THREE LEVELS OF LOVE
PART FOUR - A PRACTICAL
PART ONE - LOVE AS A TORAH
This series explores some fundamental
issues in choosing and developing a serious relationship. These articles will be useful
for singles, serious or engaged couples - as well as for married people - who want insight
into making their communication more effective and their relationship closer, more
successful, meaningful and satisfying. In addition to exploring the conceptual framework
of this thesis, we will look at how to apply the principles in practical life.
When a couple start discerning that they
have a meaningful relationship or become engaged, they want to productively get to the
next stage and to the maximum potential and quality of relationship possible. In a
generation with many "long-term singles," shalom bayis catastrophes and
divorces, people might be so concerned as to be frightened about how to make their
relationship successful and how to stand up to the challenges imposed by the personal
shortcomings in either partner and the pressures of life.
The Torah tells us that the pig is unkosher
because it does not chew its cud, even though it has the kosher characteristic of split
hooves. Rabbi Elimelech of Lezensk says from this that Jews should be careful about those
Torah requirements that others trample on with their feet. The Jew must be vigorous to
guard all mitzvos. The pig does not have all signs of kashruss. The one sign it has, the
split hoof, is on the foot, with which it walks. The Jew should split from the other(s)
who trample on mitzvos, from the other(s) who do not keep ALL mitzvos. Learn from the pig
that to be "kosher" means to separate, like one hoof, from the other that
"tramples (picks some mitzvos and rejects others)," and be like the
"kosher" species that has all kosher signs: that keeps all of the mitzvos.
Many people today trample on those numerous
mitzvos that apply between people in general, and spouses in particular: to love, to
honor, to never hurt feelings nor bear a grudge, to be peaceful and responsible and
trustworthy, to sincerely apologize and do tshuva [repentance] for all mistakes at the
other's expense, etc., etc. Many people these days "trample" on mitzvos that
apply to marriage. What Rabbi Elimelech says applies here. To have a "kosher"
relationship, each must do ALL of the mitzvos that pertain to relating as husband and
wife. If many other people do not do so, if many "trample" on the obligations of
a Jewish spouse, you nevertheless, must, do all that is required to have a
"kosher" marriage relationship.
The Torah is the world's "instruction
book." If you buy a computer or car, you don't know how to use it without consulting
its manufacturer's instruction book. Until you know the word processor's programs, you
won't type your first letter. You don't know how to live in G-d's world until you learn
the "Manufacturer's Instruction Book: the Torah." Failure in relationships can
be counteracted by learning the "programming" that G-d put into His
"product," the world.
The Torah tells us in Parshas Bechukosai
that G-d will severely punish violations of the Torah. "If with this [punishing], you
will not obey Me and you treat Me keree [lightly]"...[the punishments get worse;
Leviticus 26:27]. Rabbi Yisroel Salanter translated "keree" as related to the
root "kerirus [coldness, freeze]." When warm enough to be liquid, water is used
to purify, such as in a mikva or when ritually washing hands. When frozen, it becomes ice
which can contract tuma [spiritual impurity]. This is how coldness affects service of G-d.
When cold, water's power to purify is not only destroyed, frozen water can itself become
impure. Like ice, when cold and indifferent to obeying some or all of the Torah, the
person's service of Hashem is contaminated. The more one treats Hashem's Torah lightly,
the more he experiences punishment. The more one serves G-d with warmth, joy, devotion and
drive, the more he makes himself a receptacle for abundant blessing.
Marriage requires water [mikva]. Therefore,
Rabbi Yisroel's teaching has intriguing connection to the marriage relationship. The
conduct of the laws of how to treat a spouse must be pure, not treated with keree -
coldness, lightness nor indifference. The more one treats their spouse lightly, the more
their marriage will be experienced as punishment. A spouse must be treated with warmth and
each must be diligent, devoted, have a pleasant attitude and be driven to behave properly
with the other. This is a component of their service of G-d and will make their marriage a
receptacle for abundant blessing.
In the laws of mikva, there must be enough
kosher water. If you need extra water to maintain the mikva, we use the principle
"hashaka" [Yora Daya chapter 201, Hilchos Mikvaos], which means
"contact." By keeping the kosher water in contact with extra water necessary, we
can maintain the mikva. "Hashaka" means spiritually exchanging the essence of
one thing with the essence of another thing through contact. "Hashaka" is from
the same root word as "neshika," which means kissing. Kissing, in the secular
world, is physical. In Hebrew, kissing means that two people are transcending themselves
through contact and spiritually bonding from the inner essence of one person with inner
essence of the other. King Solomon, the wisest of all men, said [Song Of Songs 1:2],
"Kiss me with the kisses of your mouth." Song Of Songs, called the holiest book
in the Bible, is the love story of a man who adores a woman, with this being an allegory
for the love between G-d [the husband] and the Jew [the bride]. The Maharal characterized
the physical as having "boundaries" while the spiritual is not confined to
boundaries. A kiss that is physical, leaves out the inner identity of the people involved.
They have no spiritual bond. They create no unity because they cannot transcend the
barriers of two separate physical "selves" who are confined within boundaries. A
relationship requires transcending from the depth of each through "spiritual
contact" for which physical contact is only an instructional analogy. A marriage
relationship, by definition, is from the inner depth of one person to the inner depth of
the other through spiritual contact [hashaka]; an exchange of essence with essence, from
one to another. Accomplishing this is holiness.
The Torah tells us "Vi'ohavta
lirayacha kimocha [Leviticus 19:18; Love your fellow Jew as yourself]." We say
"love your...". The literal translation has the preposition "to," so
it would read "love to your...". Grammatically, this is very awkward. What is
the Torah adding? As an example, on a thruway, a sign "To Pittsburgh" tells me
that the indicated road goes "to" Pittsburgh. Love for a fellow Jew must be
directed "to" that person; to accomplish good for that person, to please that
person, to determine your actions according to the feelings, needs or situation of that
person. Love is not based on what you feel or what it represents to you. Love has to be
directed "to" the recipient. The gemora [Yerushalmi Nedarim 9] tells us that
loving the other as yourself is the most essential principle in the Torah. The word
"raya," the one who the Torah tells us to love as ourselves, is significant.
Raya is a type of friend who you relate to unconditionally. Raya consists of the word
"ra [evil]" and the yod from Hashem's name [yod kay vov kay] which is the name
which refers to His mercy, patience, eternity and individual Providence. By putting the
yod from Hashem's name together with "ra," that relationship can never come to
evil. Pirkei Avos [chapter five] tells us that only unconditional love will endure.
"Raya" is the kind of friend to whom you relate unconditionally. Love must match
G-d's love; which comes with mercy, patience, constancy and paying attention to every
detail of the other person. The mitzva literally is to love "to" our
"raya," directing love generously to what the other needs and feels, to what
pleases the other, to having good impact on the other.
The gemora [Kidushin 41a] tells us you must
see a person before marrying that person to know that you will be able, once married, to
unconditionally love "to" that person as yourself. You must know before you
marry that you will be attracted to and be able to fulfill the key Torah obligation to
care for the person you marry for the rest of your life.
PART TWO - THE THREE LEVELS
OF GENUINE LOVE
When the Torah tells us [Leviticus 19:18]
to love people, it actually says, "Love 'TO' your fellow Jew as yourself." The
word "to" directs us to focus objectively and unselfishly on the other. To
"qualify" as Torah love, it must address the needs, feelings and situation of
the other person. This includes the person one marries.
The Torah tells us also to love G-d with
all our heart [Deuteronomy 6:5]. Here it says to love "es" G-d. "Es"
is a word which does not translate - it serves a grammatical purpose rather than "has
a meaning;" - it points us from a verb to the direct object of that verb. There is no
uncertainty about where to direct the action of the verb when we see "es" in
Hebrew. Being composed of the first and last letters of the alef bais [alef and sov],
"es" also indicates totality or all-inclusiveness. When the recipient is a
human, one must deliver total love "to." We have to direct practical
manifestations of love (kindness, help, encouragement, support, etc.) "to"
humans. G-d does not have physical or emotional needs to which love would be addressed.
Our love must be directed for Him with completeness and overall devotion, from beginning
G-d only wants love of the highest kind.
When He tells us to love Him, He tells us how to love most perfectly. Such love has to be
all-inclusive and based in the heart. This gives us insight how to give any recipient true
love. If human, we add the directing of practical bestowal of good and fulfillment of
needs "to" the person, with totality, and stemming from the heart.
The commandment to love G-d tells us to
love with all our 1. laiv [heart], 2. nefesh [personality] and 3. mi'ode [possessions,
externals]. For love to be complete, we have to "borrow from" what the Torah
teaches about how to love G-d, to study how to love any recipient of love, whether the
recipient of your love is another person or whether the recipient of your love is G-d.
These three points from which love can
originate teach us the priority order, sequencing order and value system for determining
what is authentic love.
Loving with the "heart" teaches
us to reflect into the deepest level, the innermost part of a person. The first place from
which genuine love stems is the heart. The heart represents the center of a person. The
heart refers to one's thinking processes [having straight hashkofos/views], character
qualities [good midos], good use of free-will decision making, integrity, high values and
standards. The core which defines who a person is - is in the heart. You cannot discuss
true love without first discussing how it stems from the heart and how that heart is
capable of loving. In relating to another person, the heart must be the first in priority,
sequence and importance. Until the heart is at the foundation, there is nothing of love to
speak of. From here come such fundamentals as faithfulness, compassion, kindness,
patience, humility, responsibility, respect, warmth, sweetness, consideration and
consistency. The heart directly determines what your "track record" in love is
going to be. This applies to yourself, how to relate and what to look for and value in
Loving with the nefesh allows expression of
the inner qualities through an individual personality. Here are a person's talent, energy,
humor and animation. These do not tell you if a person is honest, refined or nice. The
nefesh can be confused with the laiv because it is in the person, but it is not at the
core and does not define whether a person is good or bad. Nefesh allows expression from
the innermost heart to the world outside. Whereas the heart is the "inner-inner"
person, the nefesh is the "outside of the inner person." Having personality
might mean a person is enjoyable to relate to for a date, but this can not determine
whether you can count on that person to give a mature, serious, sustainable and committed
relationship. Nefesh contains means for expressing the qualities in the heart, but they
are not essentials by which to evaluate a person as a relating partner. Note the
astronomic divorce rate of movie, rock and TV stars. They might have nefesh but they have
very inadequate cultivation of laiv. People make serious mistakes in this because it is a
more subtle question when we differentiate qualities of the laiv from nefesh because both
look like they are in the person. But nefesh is not at the core. It does not define the
quality and character of the person. When Hashem commands us to love Him, he tells us to
love "first class," and to do that the laiv must be first and nefesh later. The
gemora [Sanhedrin 106b] tells us that the main thing that G-d wants is the heart and the
Mishna [Pirkei Avos, chapter two] tells us that a good heart contains all good qualities.
First is the laiv which defines the humanity and nature of a person. Then, the nefesh is
an individual personality which is for externalizing those qualities so they don't stay
uselessly locked up in the heart where they might stay alone and be abstracted from the
rest of the world. Nefesh is the means of getting the heart's qualities to interchange
with, and to benefit, the world outside the person. Nefesh is the means for making the
heart's influence practical, but a good heart is the essence.
Last are the mi'ode [externals]: the
person's looks, wealth, status in society. These are the furthest from the core person,
the most unessential in judging a person's appropriateness for a marriage relationship.
They are part of the consideration but, as the Steipler Gaon said, these are nice if they
are there but they are not obstacles to choosing someone if they are not.
In matchmaking people often cite
intelligence as an attribute. Although I believe that the intelligence level of two people
must be in a reasonably similar "ballpark" for the two to be compatible,
intelligence itself is not an indicator of a good shiduch. When I do practical counseling,
it is often very intelligent people who are the most destructive. Without commensurate
high midos, sensitivity and behavioral standards; high intelligence can be a seriously
destructive "weapon" in a close relationship. Without sterling character, derech
eretz [polite, considerate and civil conduct] and a good heart, intelligence is a major
negative in a close relationship! As Rabbi Yisroel Salanter said: just as a burglar with
more tools is more dangerous than a burglar lacking tools, a person with much knowledge
and bad midos is more dangerous than a person with little knowledge and bad midos. Being
intelligent is no indication that the person isn't neurotic, manipulative, stingy,
selfish, a "user," immature, sadistic or offensive. The more a person is
intelligent, the more his or her midos must be sterling and the more the person MUST have
a golden heart, for the person's intelligence to be a positive attribute in a shiduch.
Sensitivity is also a crucial attribute in
shiduchim. Sensitivity level must also be in the same "ballpark" for a partner
to fulfill the other. Without a good heart, one's sensitivity tends to be directed towards
self. In relationships, such a person will criticize, attack, complain, be a taker, be
rigid, always be dissatisfied. Such a person makes a miserable relating partner. Practical
implementation of one's sensitivity, and practical supply of its benefits in daily life to
a partner, also depends upon a good heart.
The heart, as we are speaking about it in
the relationship and human development context (not in its cardiovascular sense!) is
composed of spiritual content. The foundation of a relationship must be heart-to-heart so
it will, therefore, be based in the spiritual. The nefesh/personality is between spiritual
and physical. The mi'ode is physical. When there are psychological, chemical or
yaitzer-hora problems with the personality, it is brought more towards the physical end of
the spectrum. What should be spiritually-based in one's life, particularly his or her
ability to relate, is commensurately drawn towards the physical by such problems. The
Maharal differentiates physical from spiritual things by defining physical things as
"within boundaries" whereas spiritual things are limitless. A serious and
permanent relationship is spiritually based. One cannot merge hearts with another if there
are physical forces which limit one to within him or herself. "Boundaries" block
connection between one's heart and anyone else. Too much nefesh, or a spiritually sick
nefesh, and all the moreso too much mi'ode, overrides the spiritual qualities of laiv -
and this diminishes and damages any relationship the person has. If someone is cute,
lively, funny, rich and prestigious - these do not indicate whether the person will be a
"low life" or a saint in a relationship; these are no guarantee that the person
will come home to you at night.
In order to have complete love
("es," from "alef to sov"), there must be the midos, qualities and
sincerity of two good hearts giving "to" each other as "rayim,"
eternal and caring friends. This is the main thing in choosing, developing and maintaining
a marriage relationship.
"If you are generous to G-d, what do
you give Him?" [Job 35:7]. When G-d loves us, He is only a giver. He is complete. He
needs nothing from us. Real and spiritual love, therefore, derives from giving what
pleases and satisfies the recipient; the other receives passively and appreciatively what
the other gives, but does not take or demand [Michtav Me'Eliyahu]. A taker is physical, a
giver is spiritual. Each should want to voluntarily give what benefits the other.
Readiness to marry, and leaving childhood, are only when 1. one is ready to give more than
he or she needs to be given to and 2. is ready to accept responsibility for another more
than he or she needs another to accept responsibility for him or her [Sefer Alay Shor].
An incomplete person cannot have a complete
relationship nor be part of a complete couple. No one is truly complete before marriage
but they must be complete enough to function and communicate. They must be able to
interact maturely, effectively, without damage to the other and with genuine devotion to
each other. If someone is harmful, unreliable or immature, or can say "you don't
deserve niceness" or "I'm not in the mood to be a mentsh," this is not
complete enough to be married. Each must be at least "functionally complete."
Two incomplete halves cannot add up to a complete whole. If one or both are unready, it is
a matter of time till the relationship breaks down. To be a "complete half,"
each must approach each other based on giving and responsibility.
PART THREE - APPLICATION OF
THE THREE LEVELS OF LOVE
G-d commands us to love Him with all our 1.
laiv [heart], 2. nefesh [personality] and 3. mi'ode [externals, property]. These teach the
priority and sequence order necessary for any love, whether for G-d or another person. The
actual wording of the commandment is to love "es" Hashem [Deuteronomy 6:5]. Just
as "es" has the first and end letters of the alef bais (representing
completeness), love has to be complete. We are also commanded [Leviticus 19:18] to love
our "raya" [one who is loved unconditionally and with the generous attributes
with which G-d loves]" as much as one loves him or her self. The mitzva literally is
to love "to" our "raya," directing love generously "to" what
the other needs and feels, "to" what pleases and benefits the other.
"Wine makes a person's heart
happy" [Tehillim 104:15]. If a person needs an external stimulant, be it drinking
wine, being overly intense about a hobby, being a workaholic, etc.; the person himself -
on his own, inside - is deficient. Wine symbolizes stimulation that passes. If one
requires external stimulation, the actual inner person is existentially empty and
emotionally unhappy. Serious relating requires access to one's own "inner
person" and making it accessible to the other's "inner person." Only one's
"inner person" can fulfill the other's "inner person." King Solomon
tells us, "Dodecha tova miyoyin [Your friendship is better than wine;" Song Of
Songs 1:2]. A person who is capable of having a fulfilling and mature relationship is a
person who, by definition, is fulfilled - and is capable of fulfilling another person in a
meaningful and steady way. To be ready for a serious relationship and to be a participant
in a meaningful relationship, a person has to be sufficiently whole and fulfilled as a
Each person must have the internal
resources to give. Each must have enough wholeness and happiness as a person to have a
basis to be happy inside, and to be able to share and give happiness to another. I
repeatedly see in my counseling experience, when I work with singles and troubled
"serious," engaged or married couples, that when one is unhappy and wants
another to make him or her happy, all they do is make the second person unhappy. No other
person can make them happy because they do not have the wholeness nor practical
"inner frame of reference" for happiness to recognize it nor to impart it into a
relationship. All they end up doing is spreading unhappiness. When they are nice, it is to
"buy" love or to "rescue" the other to make their broken self-esteem
feel validated. If they both have problems, they often feed into one another's problems.
They are often both using each other for their psychological agendas and have unhealthy
co-dependency. They have victims, not relationships - until they get their emotions and
midos repaired. The inner person - in the heart - must be substantial, healthy, fulfilled
and complete enough to be able to give and be responsible - to each make the other happy
and to share an unbounded lifelong spiritual love. Then, as King Solomon puts it [Song of
Songs 6:3], each can say, "I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me."
How do we make this all practical and apply
this to "real life" in a meaningful way? Let's start by looking at the three
levels of love that we have been discussing.
1. Laiv. Talk to the person. Listen to the
person. Find out who this person really is. Do not project from your assumptions,
impressions, expectations or experience. The person is a distinct individual who has
developed and whose reality is characterized by his or her own identity, background and
history. To relate, direct communication to and from the heart, and appreciate and value
matters at the level of the heart. Recognize these matters as being of highest priority.
These most define a person and identify who a person truly is [yourself as well as the
other]. Who REALLY are you and the other person? How do you match up when judging by laiv
criteria? Focus on midos [character], human qualities, life goals, values and priorities.
Use these concepts to establish meaningful
communication. What does the person find important? Ask the person about his or her
interests, what the person has done and wants to do, what the person enjoys and feels
fulfillment from, what matters to the person, what the person has feelings about and what
does the person want from life?
Listen attentively. Ask yourself questions
that allow you to "process" the information and reply meaningfully and "on
target." What views do these values evidence? How can you validate and contribute to
them? What qualities does the person have, how can you convey connection to and approval
of them? How can you communicate about these with mature and authentic emotion to create
human exchange and genuine relating? How do the other's input, and your responses, measure
up on the "scale" of laiv? What is revealed about each of you as human beings
and Torah Jews? How does the interchange demonstrate what is really of lasting value and
consequence, that there is "relational substance," that there are qualities of
value and capacity for "human connection?" If either of you do not appreciate or
prioritize these things, what does this reveal is missing in terms of emotional and
spiritual health, maturity and human development? If you are lacking, what must you be
responsible for to develop key values, good midos, straight priorities or readiness for
marriage? When you see these qualities in another person, how can you validate and
contribute to them, and help the other achieve good goals and potentials? How can you see
these qualities as valuable for interrelating with this person, being appreciative and
supportive of these attributes, loving and respecting this person? Can you interact on the
basis of these good laiv qualities as central, optimally important, as the things which
count the most? Can you make the other feel that it sincerely comes from your heart when
you talk about these priorities, that you are sharing authentically from the center of
yourself? How can you be most humane and bring out the most in the other's being humane?
When matters of the heart are productively exchanged between two hearts, you are on the
track to serious and enduring relating.
2. Nefesh. Matters of personality [talent,
sense of humor, how lively the person is, etc.] should be MEANS for manifesting the laiv
in the world, in daily life. These should never be priorities for selecting a partner or
foundation of a relating style. These do not determine if a baby's diaper gets changed,
these do not assure if the other will take good care when one gets sick, these do not get
the garbage taken out, these do not determine that the other will not hit or get
hot-tempered when frustrated or disappointed. Often I see, in my counseling work, that
when a person has a lot of personality it is often because there is something unstable or
neurotic about the person. Many entertainment celebrities have lots of personality on
stage or screen, but very unsuccessful and unhappy personal lives. Just about everything
in life must have balance to be healthy and spiritual. There are rare exceptions e.g.
there is no "too much" for humility, there is generally no "too
little" for anger and arrogance, one should aggressively work for peace or saving of
life and against chilul HaShem [profaning G-d] or degrading of Torah or its sages or evil
speech [e.g. slander, instigation of fighting, vulgarity]. But, in general, things in life
must be present, or be conducted with, moderation. Evaluating matters of nefesh can be
subtle because they might look like they are inside the person. But, laiv is the
"inner-inner" and the defining core of the human being while nefesh is the
"outside of the inner," the person's means of expressing the laiv with a unique
personality so the heart can interact with the world. Never confuse the essence (heart -
which characterizes the person at his or her depth) with the means (nefesh; personality
and spirit) by which the essence is animated and brought into contact with the world
outside the person's skin.
3. Mi'ode. These (e.g. looks, possessions,
one's position or degree of esteem in society) are external to the actual person. These,
in shiduchim terms are "extras" that are nice if there, not a basis for
selecting a person. The gemora says that the humble are deemed great by G-d [Eruvin 13b];
that those viewed as low on earth are viewed as high in Heaven [Bava Basra 10b, Rashi
defines these as poor and humble people]; the Prophets tell us that G-d wants us to act
justly, love doing kindness and to go modestly with G-d [Micha 6:8]; to keep all of G-d's
laws, do tshuva [repentance] wherever necessary and let G-d thereby grant life [Ezekiel
18:19 and 21] ; to do kindness, justice and righteousness, for these delight G-d [Jeremiah
9:23]; and to concentrate on Torah - speaking, learning and observing it day and night
Externals are the least important in a
shiduch. These are a means for manifesting one's service to people and G-d but never are a
basis for a relationship nor judging a person. A rich or influential person can contribute
to Torah, kindness and charity. His resources will characterize what his role in the
Jewish nation might be. They are not a basis for an enduring, compatible relationship nor
criteria for suitability as a mate. When a gorgeous person starts wrinkling or turning
grey, or a wealthy person loses money in a failed investment or business, you are
confronted with what you are left with in the laiv. If the love was conditional, when the
condition is removed the love is ended [Pirkei Avos, chapter five]. When love is
unconditional, as it is when it is laiv-to-laiv, that love will endure. True relating
requires identifying the "inner person" in each, with that meaning that there is
a solid foundation in, and interchange between, two good hearts.
Some of the crucial things on this
"heart to heart" level, relating to and from the "true inner person,"
that can "make or break" a marriage include; mature flexibility, respect,
earning trust, devotion to the other's feelings and needs, sacrifice, patience, humility,
self-control and unselfishness. When you see any behaviors that you disapprove of or don't
understand, you explore if there is any context or stress and you presume there is benefit
of doubt. How can you help instead of criticize? Be an investigator, a research scholar
and defending lawyer for the other person's situation and inner life. Find out what the
other person "is all about." Become a "Ph.D." in giving and
responsibility on behalf of the other's good and happiness.
PART FOUR - A PRACTICAL
Matters of the heart (good midos, high
values, straight hashkofas/views, integrity, good use of free-will, etc.) are the main
concern in a marriage. Conduct of the relationship must be heart-to-heart, for it to be
enduring and fulfilling.
Communication must be two-way and
responsive. When the other says something, it registers, it impacts on you so that you
modify what you say in order to address what the other says, really means, thinks and
feels. A mature relator responds consistently pro-actively, considerately and favorably to
what the other does, values, thinks, feels, wants, needs and stands for in life. Ask the
person, "Why is this important to you, how long have you been interested in this, in
what ways do you want to pursue and develop this?" The Midrash [Sifri BiHa'aloscha
102] says to speak to another about what interests him before speaking about what
interests you. Open up friendly dialogue by showing true interest in what matters to the
other person. Validate and appreciate the other person, find out about the other person,
relate to the other's reality, history and aspirations. When the other says something,
especially when it matters to him or her, show that it matters to you and make it into a
positive attribute that you can approve of and support. Find ways to care about the other,
care about what matters to the other, because these make the other feel like he or she
matters to you! When a couple is engaged or married, a rov in Yerushalayim says that their
policy must be, "If it matters to you, it matters to me - because YOU matter to
me." Be careful with the other's feelings and vulnerabilities - treat these as
responsibilities to be supportive and generous about.
I know of two criteria for determining
"how good," "how nice," a marriage partner should be to the other. I
saw in a sefer on shalom bayis, many years ago in my researching of the subject, this very
question: what is the Torah's measure for how kind a partner should be to the other? The
answer: be so good to the other that you are "amazing." If what you do is
expectable, or fulfillment of bottom line requirements, that is not the Torah's idea of
being a good spouse. There are many supports for this. For example, the Vilna Gaon tells
us that doing good things for people that the Torah requires is NOT chesed [kindness]
because these are din [law requirement]. Only when you go "lifnim meeshuras hadin
[beyond the measure of law]" of your own volition is it coming from you and is,
therefore, true kindness. Aside from this, we are required by the Torah to emulate G-d:
His traits and deeds [Viholachta bidrachov, Acharay Hashem Elokaychem tailaichu]. He does
wondrously [maflee la'asos] and creates in His world amazing things: food growing, natural
processes, beautiful mountains and flowers and other wonders of nature. Rabbi Avigdor
Miller z'l said to appreciate that a fruit grows and Hashem turns it ripe to inform us
that it is ready to eat. In countless ways, G-d provides kindnesses to mankind. Our
obligation to emulate G-d requires a person in marriage to voluntarily go beyond the
requirements of law, extend him or her self and give with their hearts till the other is
constantly amazed with how kind and good the other is. 2) When Yitzchok married Rivka,
three years after the death of his mother Sora, he was finally comforted by the love he
had with Rivka [Genesis 24:67]. We see from the Torah that a spouse should have so much
capacity and will to please and be good to the other that he or she can comfort the other
for the pains, sadnesses, disappointments and pressures of life. Your ability to love and
give should have enough quality and quantity to comfort and support your partner and see
him or her through the rough time and bring him or her back to a happy state of mind as
soon as humanly possible.
Apply these things as a practical matter to
"real life." Speak to the person, learn about the person, show interest in the
person, dialogue on how the person got to where he is and what matters in life to him or
her and show how you can be supportive, interested and kind. Both should bring out in the
other what makes each feel like they matter and help each other come to personal potential
At all times, each must have a "giving
orientation," treat the other with enormous kavod [honor, respect] and be
trustworthy, especially with the other's vulnerable areas. This all must come from the
heart, with each basing how they relate on the qualities, values and priorities of a good
Besides these ideas being applicable to the
couples, they should be considered and adopted in the conducting of matchmaking. The
starting point of many shiduchim is a set-up by someone in a matchmaking role. Judging
suitability should not be glib or superficial - nor without diligent evaluation of each
single's qualities, shortcomings and ability to function. A shadchan must be scrupulously
honest [e.g. about the single's age, health, background, etc.].
There are halachos which require active
revelation of serious flaws or the need to explore suspicions about them. Many marriages
have not survived because they were based upon keeping secrets, deception, half-truths or
When the foundation is warped or cracked,
the building will not stand. Evaluation of a person, of his or her readiness for marriage,
and of the suitability of a match between two people, must be based and prioritized on the
criteria of laiv [heart].
A friend of mine is a very sweet guy and a
"ben Torah." He has been happily married for about 20 years, but had been
previously divorced to a first wife after a brief failed marriage. After his divorce, he
went to a shadchan who recommended a shiduch - who happened to be his first wife. The
shadchan, not knowing he was the one who was married to her, explained that the girl was
wonderful and had been divorced due to the man being a brute and "pure bad," but
she was a perfect angel. The man knew it was all lying and stupidity. He was the guy! The
shadchan had no idea about the woman's first husband or the truth about their marriage and
was clearly misrepresenting the not-altogether-perfect first wife.
A man registered a son with a shadchan. He
also had a daughter who matured to a point of readiness shortly after, and he subsequently
registered her with the shadchan also. A bit later, the shadchan looked at sloppy notes
and noticed the backgrounds of the two were similar and called the father to recommend a
shiduch for his daughter - her own brother.
Both of these shadchanim were irresponsible
and disgrace themselves and their so-called "profession."
The yaitzer hora [evil inclination] comes
into each person at birth, while the yaitzer hatov [good inclination] only comes into the
person at bar mitzva. Rabbi Yisroel Salanter was asked why this is justice. The evil
inclination has a "head start." Doesn't this make it impossible for a person to
have an even struggle between choosing good and evil? Doesn't this make it just about
impossible to have a fair chance at earning olam habo [eternal life]?
Rabbi Yisroel replied that evil is
ultimately illusion and Torah is the only reality. The job of the yaitzer hora is to make
sin look real and to tempt people into choosing it. If a person had his yaitzer hatov from
birth, he would always know that evil is stupidity and false so there would be no
milchomas hayaitzer [war between good and evil within the person]. We would see sin for
the emptiness that it ultimately is. The yaitzer hora needs the "head start" to
make it possible for evil to seem real, so a person can fight between two forces that
appear to be real: one only seeming real (evil) and one actually being real (good).
Extending Reb Yisroel's idea to our
context, readiness for marriage is having the capacity to distinguish between what is
good, true and real vs. what is evil, false and illusory. When coming into marriage, one
must have gotten far enough ahead in the quest (to have one's good inclination capable of
beating the evil inclination) to maintain a relationship in which the person treats a
spouse in an exclusively (or, at least, primarily) good manner. Willingly and consistently
recognizing and choosing to do good is a way to measure whether one has sufficient
readiness and maturity for marriage. Key to this is the spiritual union of two good
In this series, I have shared from my learning and work
experience counseling singles, "serious," engaged and married couples and
working with the issues brought up with live audiences. May this material direct those
looking for a serious relationship, or involved with or married to someone already, on how
to build a successful relationship that will endure and please each for a lifetime.