a project of Eishes Chayil

Don't Be Selfish

On the eighth day you shall have a solemn assembly, you shall do no servile work.

A woman who was barren traveled to Rabbi Meir of Premishlan and asked him for a blessing that she should have children. Rabbi Meir blessed her as she requested.

About a year later, Rabbi Meir received an envelope from the woman's husband with the sum of three hundred dinars, and a letter saying the following; "Since my wife has had a child through the tzaddik's blessing, I am sending the enclosed present."

After Rabbi Meir read the letter, he called his sons to him and said to them, "I think that there is some mistake here. First of all, the man ascribes to me attributes I do not possess. Secondly, he claims that my prayer caused his wife to have a child. Do I have such powers that I can make barren women fruitful? Therefore, I intend to send the money back to the sender."

When the sons heard Rabbi Meir's words, they protested. They said, "In our house there is such poverty that even the bare essentials are lacking. Now that G-d has sent us money, should we send it away with our own hands?"

But Rabbi Meir was adamant, "I cannot use this money!"

In the end it was decided to bring the question in front of a beis din for a ruling. The judges weighed the claims of both sides, and then made the following decision. "Rabbi Meir can use the money without any hesitation. Even though he does not think of himself as worthy of the husband's praises, nevertheless since the woman's husband intended the money for him and truly believes that the rabbi's blessing worked, it seems clear that the money should remain the property of Rabbi Meir."

Rabbi Meir subdued his own will because of the ruling of the beis din, but he still wanted to ask the advice of his wife. He explained to her the question that arose over the money and the verdict of the beis din.

The rebbetzin answered, "Rabbi Meir, I am surprised at you. I know that you are always careful to eat only "glatt meat, where there is no question at all about the kashrus of the product. If so, what is the difference between a question about meat and a question about money? How do you dare to change your custom and take money that has a doubt attached it?"

Rabbi Meir followed her advice and returned the money to the sender.

Rabbi Meir was prepared to put his own needs aside in order to do only what was correct beyond any shadow of a doubt. That must be our goal in marriage too, to do what is correct and not think of our selfish needs.

"And the eighth day shall be a day of restraint for you." "You add on to the nation." When You give a Jew a son, he waits eight days and then circumcises him. If he is a first-born he redeems him when he is thirty days old. When the son grows, the father takes him to synagogues and places of study, and the child blesses You every day and says, "Bless G-d, Who is blessed" (Borchu es Hashem hamevoroch). "You add on to the nation" Here the reference is to the gentile nation. When You add on to them holidays, they eat and drink and become light- headed; they enter theaters and circuses and make You angry with their words and actions. But Israel is not like this. When You give them holidays, they eat and drink and are happy and enter synagogue and houses of study and pray a lot, and they bring many sacrifices. Therefore the verse says, "And the eighth day shall be a day of restraint for you."
Why does the verse explain what a Jew does with his son? Why do the gentiles utilize their holidays for sin while the Jews utilize them for doing mitzvos? How does the midrash explain the verse about the eighth day according to the previously cited distinction between the Jews and the gentiles?

When the verse says, "you add on to the nation," this means that the addition makes possible things that were previously impossible. For the Jewish people that addition is the birth of a male child. Now the father has the possibility to perform the mitzvah of circumcision. And when his firstborn son is thirty days old, he can redeem his son; and now he can teach his son Torah and how to pray, which was not possible before he had a son. In other words, the "addition opened for him a whole new world of mitzvos.

The gentile, on the other hand, lacks restraint. His mind is constantly occupied with how he can have more pleasure from this world. Therefore when he has a holiday and does no have to go to work, he utilized it for sin. He may get drunk, or run to places where he can do other sins, It is as though he has no other purpose in life but to have a good time.

During the year the Jew is occupied with work, practicalities and business. But when a holiday comes, he can do what his heart desires the most. The Jew has a holy soul that yearns to do good and come closer to G-d. When he has a holiday he utilizes it for holiness, and thus engages in such activities as praying and learning Torah. When the Temple was in existence, he brought sacrifices. He would love to do these things all year, but he is forced to earn a living. The free time he has during the holiday reveals how much good the Jew has in his mind all year.

Now we can understand the words of our Sages. "Therefore the verse says, 'And the eighth day shall be a day of restraint for you.'" Shmini Azeret is an extra holiday which does not fit into the usual pattern of the holidays. Pesach has seven days, and exactly six months later on the same day of the month there is Succos. Therefore it should be a similar holiday and also have seven days. Instead it has eight days. Why the extra day? The midrash answers that the whole idea of this holiday is to add on a special day to show how important the Jewish people are in G-d's eyes and that they are worthy of having holidays, since they utilize them in proper way, to do His will with even greater enthusiasm.

In the same way, when a person understands that he was given a wife as a blessing, he will utilize this gift from Heaven, just as the Jewish people know how to utilize their holidays and how to raise their sons. The blessing of a wife is to teach a man how to do chesed, since he will have numerous opportunities to practice what the Torah teaches. Thus, he can be unselfish, kind, long-suffering, generous, accept his wife with a smile, etc. That is how we should look at our wives. They provide the perfect way for us to learn restraint and chesed.

When a person treats his wife selfishly and thinks only of his own pleasure, he is similar to the gentile who utilizes the holiday only to gratify his own bodily pleasure. Instead of understanding that the holiday is a time for spiritual uplift, he thinks that now he can indulge himself. That is exactly the way a selfish husband treats his wife. Instead of seeing that she presents an opportunity for him to grow spiritually by overcoming all the trials that married life brings, he look only as far as his own pleasure.

Marriage is No Picnic!

A person must realize that you do not get married for pleasure, but rather to perform your task in life, which is to do chesed. Some people think that married life is a picnic, but it certainly is not. Marriage is prone to constant difficulties, since it involves two different people with different, often opposing ideas.

We say in our daily prayer, "Elu Devarim," that the reward of making peace between a husband and wife is so great that one who can bring this about eats the fruit in this world, and the principle is kept for him as a reward in the World to Come. To receive such a great reward, there must be difficulties in doing the mitzva, since we know that reward is paid accordingly to effort, as our Sages say, "According to the pain is the reward."

The difficulty is that a person tends to be selfish instead of doing chesed and giving. The more we try to change ourselves to think of others, the more we will succeed in marriage.

If a person does not know how to treat his wife, then he may, G-d forbid, lose her. A wife is not like a holiday or a son, which belong to you whether they like it or not. A wife has free choice, and she can decide to leave you if she is not treated properly. Therefore this addition that a person receives from G-d must be treated much more delicately than the other additions. It requires extra care and understanding.

We must treasure all the gifts we receive from G-d, and especially the most precious gift of a wife.

a project of Eishes Chayil