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Thursday
Oct182012

THE TORAH’S BLUEPRINT FOR MARRIED LIFE

What should be left behind on the way to one’s wedding? * Adjusting expectations. * Who needs to enter the “taivos” of Torah and t’filla? * Marriage versus dictatorship. * How to handle disagreements. * Lessons from the parsha.

There are a number of points in the parshiyos we are currently reading that pertain to the Jewish home. Since these parshiyos contain stories, and “the deeds of our ancestors are a portent for the children,” we need to examine these stories and learn from the interactions between the Avos and Imahos.

LETTING GO

In Parshas B’Reishis, after the story of the creation of the Woman, the Torah says, “Therefore, man ought to leave his father and his mother and cleave to his wife.” The Torah is telling us that when a man marries, he needs to know that his wife and new home take first priority. This awareness is cultivated by his disconnecting from his parents’ home. There are those who, even after they marry, are still tied to their parents, and everything they do in their new home is dictated by parental instructions. A husband needs to remember that his wife did not get married to her in-laws. If she feels that everything must receive the in-laws’ approval and blessing, this is a recipe for an unhealthy situation. Parents must be respected, but a man’s first loyalty is to his wife, and there is a limit as to how much parents can get involved in the couple’s lives.

The “disconnect” from one’s parents’ home also needs to include leaving behind all the negative things he saw at home. Everyone moves into their new home with models of behavior that they saw in their parents. There are certain things that we understand on our own have no place in a new home, but there can be a situation in which a father spoke disparagingly to the mother and the child automatically adopted this. After marrying, differences of opinion arise between the new husband and wife and what does he do? Precisely what he saw his parents do. If his father shouted and that is how things ended, he thinks that it will work that way in his house too. It’s just that he forgot that his wife grew up in another home where, when the father shouted, the mother gave it right back to him. He suddenly realizes that things aren’t working quite as he thought they would.

The husband must be committed to not bringing the negative things he saw in his parents’ home into his own home. You yourself know how unpleasant it is to live that way, so what sense does it make to copy it? “Leaving” means there are thing that are better off being left behind.

LEAVING BEHIND THE GOOD AS WELL

We spoke about negative things that ought to be left behind, but there are positive things that also ought to be left behind. Why should this be? If there are positive things that can be taken from the home one grew up in to the new home, why leave them behind?

It’s because the new home that one is establishing is different than the home he was raised in. You are different than your father and your wife is different than your mother. The two of you are building a new reality that is not a copy of where you came from.

I knew a woman who married a yeshiva bachur and all was well. Several months later, I heard that she was disappointed in him. People are usually full of expectations and when things don’t go as they thought they would, disappointment sets in. Expectations in marriage come from what each spouse saw at home, from what each one read (and even, sadly, from movies). People enter married life with all these influences and have so many hopes, and when these hopes aren’t realized, deep disappointment follows.

The woman was disappointed by how her husband ran the Shabbos table. She was used to her father sharing a number of interesting thoughts on the parsha with the people at the table. Her husband wasn’t used to this for he had not seen this at home.

The woman had expected something that she had not thought to discuss during her dating. She had always seen her father saying Divrei Torah, and to her it was obvious that everyone says Divrei Torah at the Shabbos table.

“I was dating a yeshiva bachur and I had no doubt that he would say something on the parsha.”

This is the reason that she did not think to bring up the topic on their dates. But when she sat at her Shabbos table, once, twice, three times, and her husband was silent or he spoke about the price of eggs or something in the news, she was disappointed.

In a case like this, if the husband hears that his wife wants a D’var Torah from him at the Shabbos table, he needs to do it even if entails changing from what he was used to from his parents’ home.

There are things that we can easily implement in our new home and both parties will be satisfied. It just requires attention and the desire to change.

LIBERATING ONESELF FROM INCORRECT EXPECTATIONS

There are also things that aren’t easy to change, yet married life will usually be different than it was in one’s previous home. I know a woman who grew up in a home where her father was the breadwinner and he was in charge of the home’s finances. He was an authoritarian type who worked in management and made a nice living. Her mother was a balabusta. She took care of the children, the food, the order and cleanliness of the home, and made sure the house ran properly. She greatly respected her husband as a talmid chacham and as the one who took care of their finances.

The daughter married a talmid chacham who was a bit up in the clouds. He was a good fellow who did chesed and arranged shiurim and the like. He worked, but he devoted the rest of his time to mitzvos and good deeds. He brought his salary home to his wife and told her to take care of things. He ran off to his other involvements. She expected her husband to take care of financial matters as her father did, but after a while she realized her husband just wasn’t the type and she had no choice but to take matters into her own hands. Although she knew this wasn’t her husband’s expertise, she continued to complain about it.

“I looked for a husband who would take care of financial matters and look at what I got,” she told me bitterly.

I said to her, “The time will come when you will accept the reality. Why do you continue to fight it and get disappointed every time? Your husband is not quite like your father, but he is a good man – you yourself see that. He can do many good and important things, but he is not the type to manage money. Hashem gave you a different situation than the one you originally imagined would materialize. Adjust yourself to it and move on.”

The problem persists when we continue to hold on to what we see in our childhood and are unwilling to give that up. We are disappointed time and again because of our expectations. We need to know ahead of time that things will not necessarily go the way we thought they would.

This is also learned from “Therefore, man ought to leave his father and his mother and cleave to his wife.” Aside from the loyalty one needs to have towards his wife, and aside from leaving behind the negative things, there are things that are positive that may not accompany you into your new home. There are things that can be improved and changed, but if they can’t, you need to know how to move on, because if you go around in a constant state of disappointment, it will affect your joy in life and the way you talk to others. It will also be apparent on your face and in your eyes. Your spouse will sense all this.

So, if a person is disappointed, he needs to ask himself how much of it is justified and how long he plans on continuing to be disappointed.

In those situations when it is hard to let go of preconceived expectations, it is worth discussing it with someone else who can help you see whether your expectations are realistic or not. If they are realistic, then see how you can improve matters. If they aren’t realistic, find a way to stop being disappointed. Consult with someone objective. Sometimes, only an outsider can get you out of the mire you got yourself into.

ENTER THE ARK, YOU, YOUR CHILDREN, AND YOUR WIFE

In Parshas Noach we find Hashem saying to Noach to enter the teiva (ark) and to bring his children and wife in with him. The Rebbe quotes the Baal Shem Tov who says that the expression “Go into the teiva” means a person needs to enter the teivos (words) of Torah and t’filla. The Flood represents the flood of life, i.e. the worries of parnasa, health etc., which every person experiences, and also the worries in spiritual matters like communal work.

The way to be saved from this Flood is to “enter the teiva,” to enter the words of Torah and t’filla. Learn and daven, listen to what you are saying in the davening, and pay attention to the meaning of the words. All this will give you the right perspective on life to know what is important and what is secondary, so that you don’t get swept up in the current of life and lose direction. When a person surrounds himself with Torah, then he doesn’t get confused, although life is rife with confusion.

The Rebbe says that it is not enough that you enter the words of Torah and t’filla, but you need to ensure that your wife and children enter the teiva too. There is the Chassid who prides himself on learning and davening properly, but when his wife wants to go in the evening to a shiur, he dismisses that and says, “What do you need a shiur for? There’s a house that needs your attention. It’s a shame to take the time and go.” He supports his position with the fact that the house is upside-down. He doesn’t think it’s important for his wife to learn. The Rebbe says the husband should ensure that his wife learns too, because she also has a Flood to deal with, those confusing things which can throw her off-track. You need to think about her and not just about yourself.

Yes, it is important for the father, the head of the family, to be immersed in the right things. It is very important for him to have set times to learn Torah and to daven with a minyan. He has to learn Torah at home (which affects the atmosphere in the home), but all that is not enough. The wife also needs time to go out and learn.

There are women who love to go out and learn. They “air out” this way and it’s important that their “airing out” take place with a shiur or lecture of some kind. When a woman learns and hears things, she returns home with more to offer and is a wife and mother with more substance.

There is a letter from the Rebbe in which he writes that it’s a good thing for a husband and wife to regularly learn together. I always tell young couples to learn together, something that tends to become more difficult as the family grows.

“Enter the teiva, you and your children and your wife.” Participating in shiurim and things of Jewish-Chassidic content is not just for the husband and wife, but for the children too. Think of ways to get your children more into the teiva of Torah and t’filla beyond the hours they are in school. You can encourage them with prizes and you can make sure that there are books and tapes at home with Chassidic stories. There are many ways to bring more Jewish content into the home.

A woman told me that she has four children. The oldest is four years old and she barely has time to drink something during the day, never mind learn the way she did before she got married. I suggested that she utilize the many aides that exist today. For example, when waking the children in the morning, you can wake them up with Modeh Ani and play Chassidic niggunim. In the half hour before they leave the house, they get to hear niggunim in the background and this has an effect on them. Even if there isn’t time to sit with a child and read them a story, there are recordings of stories that you can play.

For many years I would wake up my children with recordings of Chabad niggunim. Today, they tell me that they know the niggunim on those two tapes by heart and in order. They heard them over and over again until it became part of them. It requires consistency, but it creates the atmosphere you want in your home.

All this is included in “Enter the teiva.” Enter the teiva and ensure that your entire family enters it too. Think of creative ways to do it, even if you are very busy. You just need to want to do it.

CONFLICT RESOLUTION

In Parshas VaYeira the Torah tells about the argument between Avrohom Avinu and Sarah Imeinu. After Yitzchok was born, Sarah saw that Yishmoel was a bad influence on Yitzchok and she told Avrohom that Yishmoel had to leave.

Avrohom wanted some “Chassidishe nachas” from Yishmoel, as he had told Hashem, “Halevai (if only) Yishmoel will live before You!” Not only that, but Avrohom had also invested in his chinuch. When the angels came to his tent, he gave the cow to Yishmoel to prepare in order to train him in mitzvos, as Rashi says. Avrohom invested in Yishmoel and thought about his future and now Sarah was telling him, “This boy needs to get out of here. He is dangerous for Yitzchok!”

How was this dilemma resolved? Hashem intervened and told Avrohom, “Whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her.” Sarah was a greater prophetess than Avrohom and may have been gifted with a more developed practical sense (like the Rebbe explains in a sicha about the difference between the Avos and the Imahos, that the Imahos were more practical while the Avos were more spiritual, holy and lofty. Their wives made sure that their husbands’ influence reached the right place).

It is legitimate for husbands and wives to have differences of opinion, as Chazal say, “Just as people’s faces are not alike, so too their views are not alike.” Nobody marries his exact double, and he has no right to expect that whatever he says will be accepted unquestioningly by his wife. She has her own opinions and feelings about things. She is different than he is. We need to recognize the fact that differences of opinion are valid and typical of married life. It’s not like the children’s game of “The King Commanded” (similar to “Simple Simon Says”), in which one child gives orders and the others carry them out, and whoever doesn’t obey is out of the game.

Some men think that when they marry they will give orders and the house will be run just the way they want it to run. Whoever thinks so and acts accordingly is not in a marriage, but in a dictatorship.

Some men may set themselves up as dictators, and are disappointed when their spouse doesn’t do precisely as they want or think (this emerges in their deprecating manner of speech). The disappointment comes from the feeling that one’s spouse ought not to have her own opinion. A husband may say that his wife needs to follow his lead; and if he is a talmid chacham, he will quote some Maamarei Chazal to support his view.

However, remember, differences of opinion are legitimate. The question is only how to deal with them. I remember that a few months after I got married, one of my friends asked me if my wife and I had quarreled yet. When I said that we hadn’t, he said, “Ah, that’s no good.”

I asked him why he wished quarrels on me, and he explained, “If you haven’t quarreled, that’s a sign you haven’t yet been married. I’m not talking about an actual fight, but if you haven’t yet dealt with a lack of agreement, with some argument, then you haven’t yet attained true married life, because disagreement is an inseparable part of married life.”

THIRD PARTY RESOLUTION

So how should one handle disagreements?

One way of dealing with it can be learned from the argument between Avrohom and Sarah in which a third party intervened. We say everyday in Shacharis: “When two verses contradict one another, let the third verse resolve the matter between them.” When disagreements arise that cannot be resolved, or the resolution generates lots of negative feelings, go to a mashpia or counselor and do as he says. Yes, it’s better when a couple can resolve all differences on their own without involving a third party, but sometimes that doesn’t work and a compromise cannot be reached through their own devices. In this case, consult with a neutral third party.

This is one of the things we learn from this parsha where there was a sharp difference of opinion. Expelling a child from the home is no simple matter. Hashem intervened and Avrohom accepted what He said.

Some will say that the instruction to listen to Sarah was a one-time statement that applied to those specific circumstances and does not apply to all disagreements that arise in one’s home. Others say, “If my wife was like Sarah, I would listen to her!”

True, “Listen to her” does not always apply when disagreements arise, but it’s worth knowing that it’s important to listen to one’s wife even when it’s hard to accept, because a woman has extra bina and generally sees things from a unique perspective that men don’t see. It’s not a terrible thing that there is someone else with another opinion.

These are some points which we should learn from these parshiyos and apply in our own homes.

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