Shalom Bayit (shalom bayis)
In sicha after sicha, the Lubavitcher Rebbe told us to open up our eyes and to live with Moshiach. There is one area where living a Moshiachdike life is possible—and that’s in your relationship with your spouse. If you’ve been married longer than 24 hours, you may wonder how it’s possible—given a couple’s subtle and often not-so-subtle differences.
For example, a friend of my husband was enjoying his first year of marriage and his Kallah’s Shabbat meals. One Friday night, she decided to try something new and different; her husband's response was "Our Friday night menu has been perfect, why did you change it?” Women are all about change. Men are about stability and find change challenging.
Conversely, a husband was helping his wife clean the kitchen after Shabbat. He was mopping the floor while his wife was storing the dishes. Casually, she posed a question to him and he stopped mopping to reply. His wife stared at him. “Why can’t you mop and talk at the same time?” Women are good multi taskers. Men are not.
The fact is, there are dozens of talk shows, hundreds of books, and thousands of therapists around who specialize in helping couples strengthen their relationships; and none of them are in any danger of becoming irrelevant soon. But through studying Torah and in particular Chassidut we can truly live in a Moshiachdik away and learn to go beyond our differences and find what unites us and how we can compliment each other. Because shalom bayit is all about complimenting one another and our roles as husband and wife.
Let’s start by looking at various pesukim that describe women and men. One of the most famous phrases in Tanach comes from Shlomo Hamelech, who wrote (Proverbs 31), Aishes chayil ateres ba’ala, “A woman of valor is the crown of her husband.” The possuk in Yirmiyahu (31:21), Nekeiva tisovev gaver, “The woman encompasses the man,” expresses a similar idea. Just as a crown is higher than the head, the woman is said to encompass the man. According to Chassidus and Kaballah, the idea of a crown, or encompassing, is ratzon or “will.” A person’s “will” is connected to the essence of the person and represents a level “above” intellect. For example, a person can have an urge to do something or respond in a way that is beyond logic. It’s not irrational (although it may sound that way), rather it is supra-rational. A “kosher” woman fulfills the will of her husband. According to Chassidus this also means that she makes the will of her husband: she directs him in the right direction in life, with love and respect.
There’s another characteristic of ratzon. Ratzon (will) does not descend by way of cause and effect through the Seder Histalshelus, the spiritual order of development of the worlds. Ratzon acts in all the worlds at the same time. In a person, for example, ratzon can affect many different organs simultaneously. If you want to pick up a book, you don’t have to wait for the idea to travel from your desire to your will down to your intellect through your emotions and into deed. The moment you want to pick up the book, your body springs into action.
In addition, ratzon is inclusive, embracing, able to change and evolve without being locked in to the cause-and-effect process that exists below in the worlds of Atzilus, Beriah, Yetzira, and Asiyah. Interestingly, the traits of ratzon and the behavior/character traits of most (not all) women are very similar.
Ratzon comes from a level beyond intellect. So does the concept of women’s intuition. It is a feeling that may not be connected to anything apparent. It is not logical. One probably cannot trace a line of reasoning to a specific conclusion. The feeling or intuition just exists, and it’s usually very accurate. For example, a husband and wife were once late for an appointment. She suggested that before the appointment, they run an errand. Although he was nervous about being late for the meeting, he knew better than to argue. They ran the errand. Sure enough, the appointment that they “couldn’t miss” didn’t start on time anyway, and had they gotten there when he wanted to, they would have missed the opportunity to do the errand. This intuition comes from the fact that women stem from the level of bina, understanding. A womoan is granted more understanding than a man.
According to Rabbi A.J. Twerski, the renowned psychiatrist, this talent for intuition has an interesting implication. Halachah states that ordinarily, a woman cannot serve as a judge in a legal case. In Rabbi Twerski’s opinion, the reason is because they intuit who is innocent or guilty before any evidence is presented!
As mentioned, ratzon is above the Seder Histalshelus, the order of development of the worlds. The best example is the ability to multi-task. Women can easily multi-task. Most men, typically, only perform one task at a time and easily get sidetracked or distracted by something else. Men are connected to the seder hishtalshalus: the chain like descent of the spiritual sefirot from level to level. Women are above that level of seder hishtalshalus.
In Bereishis (1:18), G-d states, “I will make an ezer knegdo (a helper) for him” [i.e.for Adam]. The Hebrew expression ezer knegdo literally means, “a helpmate who opposes him.” In other words, the Torah is telling us that men and women have complementary yet opposite qualities. Specifically, masculine qualities and behaviors seem to fall within wholly predictable levels as much as feminine qualities seem to be beyond them. Women will oppose their husbands when they sense their husbands are not going in the right direction or not looking at things correctly. It is almost an automatic subconscious reaction. And this is what it means to be an ezer kenegdo. Many times women do not want to or intend to oppose their husbands. But it is a response based on their spiritual intution. It is their role to get their husband back on track. If, for example, a man is not speaking nicely or behaving nicely, his wife will oppose him in some way. he may not appreciate it then but it is what will cause him to fix his character traits or to behave nicer etc.
Men do not discover their reality; rather, they evaluate options (one at a time, of course) and determine it. This perhaps explains why men can wear the same type and color of clothes every day, eat the same food, use the same siddur, say the same tefillos, sit in the same seat in the synagogue, etc. Repetition gives a man a sense of order, and order, to a man, means security. There are many other examples, as well—and all of them demonstrate that men are wired to follow a type of Seder Histalshelus, i.e., energy that fits a corresponding vessel while women are wired with complementary yet opposite qualities. What’s more, these differences can be elicited in ways that both men and women can find frustrating. Women are more open to change and in fact need constant changes (new clothing, new jewelry etc. The Torah itself acknowledges this in the custom to buy women and girls new clothing for yom tovim).
If a woman wants her husband to do something, she should give him plenty of notice before hand. The reason is, because of the way they are built, men have a limited amount of energy to expend. Therefore, they have to allocate it. When a man is asked to do something on the spur of the moment, it often throws him off guard because he hasn’t allocated the energy. For example, a man’s wife used to say as he stepped out the door, “You’re going to the dry cleaners? Good. While you’re out, please stop at the store and pick up some bread and milk.” Her request would bother him because he hadn’t “allocated” the energy (or time slot for that) beforehand.
Here is another example of gender differences: When most men converse, they typically speak in terms of facts; e.g., the score of the game, the temperature, the type of car, as well as, hopefully, more profound topics like what is the halachah and which Rabbi said which statement. Men in general do not like to talk about details. They are not detail oriented. They like to say things in a short and quick manner. Women by comparison like to talk about everything and since a woman personifies the sefirah of Bina (understanding) she is very detail oriented. She wants to know everything and to talk about everything e.g., feelings, opinions, ideas, etc. For example, if a man goes to a wedding he may come home and when his wife asks him how it was, he will say "nice". She wants to know details: what did the kallah wear, what was the ceremony like, the food, the music etc Many men do not understand the wife's need for details nor do they have patience for all that.
In terms of religious life, this may explain why many women relate to spirituality in terms of experience. To some, involvement in a ceremony is a means to capture the feeling of spirituality. Men, by comparison, typically relate to spirituality through objects, rules, and structure. Most men need concrete objects such as a synagogue, a siddur, a Chumash, talis, tefillin, etc. to connect to their spirituality. This does not imply that they/we are incapable of learning understanding, or relating to abstract concepts. It just means that most men find it easier to relate to things they can see, hear, touch, smell and taste than things that are beyond their five senses.
The differences between men and women, between living within the seder histalshalus and living above and behind it, can be seen in almost every aspect of their behavior.
For example, a spouse might mention to her husband that she likes roses. So, like a good husband, he will buy roses for Shabbat. When she sees them, she is very excited and happy. The next week, he again buys roses. And again, she is happy. By week seven, he buys roses and she doesn’t seem to be as excited. The reason is that a woman’s taste can evolve and change; and after a while, even the most beautiful bouquet becomes “boring” if you see it every week. . So what should a guy do? Don’t be afraid to try different things—lillies or candy or a necklace for Shabbat. Women like surprises; often, just the fact that you were sensitive enough to try something different will make her happy.
Here’s another example. Most women will often discuss/express, rather than try to solve. Girls and women just want to express themselves and their frustrations and be heard.
By comparison, when a guy is confronted with an issue, he will likely try to find a solution. If he can’t, he won’t talk it out. Instead, we’ll put it on the back burner and mull it over until more information becomes available or the problem goes away. If it doesn’t go away, he may end up forcing a solution, for better or worse. A man feels, when a woman complains to him or talks to him, that she is expecting a solution….a woman does not expect a solution. She just expects a listening sympathetic ear and some emotional support.
But a man feels pressured to come up with a solution. He feels that is his responsibility. And if he cannot find a solution he prefers not to discuss the situation. Or he gets annoyed, angry or impatient.
A woman, by contrast, needs to talk. she needs to analyze things and talk just to get rid of her emotional frustrations etc. But very few men realize that and understand that need so they consider their wives to be inconsiderate, dragging them down, putting pressure on them and basically too demanding.
the good thing about a man being solution oriented is that he will be a responsible person, looking for ways to augment parnassa if he is not making a decent living. he will come up with solutions to manage life's expenses. So the solution aspect can be very useful. Every quality that your spouse has can be used in a good way.
The point is, both men and women have to keep in mind each other’s reality, when dealing with each other. It is very important to learn to understand each other and each others differences in approaching situations. Rather than becoming frustrated with each other's characters or qualities, we need to learn to appreciate our differences and use them in a positive way to compliment each other and run a balanced happy home.
There are dozens of examples that could be given, but the point is, to recognize that differences exist; and that these differences are deeply rooted in the very nature of most men and women and the nature of their creation. If that is the case, how is it possible to have a Moshiachdike relationship? The first step is to understand that men and women view reality through two different filters—and that means knowing the characteristics that apply to you. The next step is to understand the characteristics that apply to your spouse. The third step is to know that, since both of you have look at the world differently, disagreements are naturally going to come up, either through the course of daily activities or when faced with vital issues such as money, where to live, or even situatoins pertaining to the children. The key is to be aware of and to respect the basic differences that exist. Then they can learn, with respect, to discuss their differences of opinion and come to a unified conclusion.
Basically men always feel a woman needs them to present a solution. A woman simply feels a need to speak, express her emotions, feelings, frustration etc.
It takes time, sometimes years, to get to understand each other and what each one really wants or expects at any particular time.
In the long run, if there is a difference of opinion and they cannot come to a satisfactory agreement, the woman generally has to give in because someone has to make the final decision and that someone is the husband in most cases. But if it is a matter of religion and the wife feels her husband is not correct, she can go to a rabbi and get him involved as well. But it is important to realize that just the way Hashem made the mind rule the heart, so too in marriage Hashem arranged things that the husband, who represents the intellect, is meant to rule over his wife (who represents the heart). he has to take into account the feelings of the heart, the feelings, opinions and ideas of his wife. But in the end he needs to make the final decision. It is very important that they come to an agreement on things and a unified position, especially where children are concerned. Children need to see a unified front from both parents.
The key to any successful marriage is RESPECT. If that basic ingredient is lacking, there cannot be proper true shalom bayit. Respect leads to consideration, love and caring.
A woman should feel bitul in front of her husband….but in order to feel true bitul, she has to feel her husband cares for her from deep inside and truly loves her. And all of that is only possible when there is respect on both sides! In today's society women are often lacking in bitul. Past generations had more respect. it came naturally. Nowadays many people no longer know what is true respect.
In past generations the head of the family had tremendous respect from his wife and children. There was true kavod, true bitul. Nowadays society has interfered with that and people do not even understand what true respect is. Sephardim perhaps have more of that old fashioned respect. People in other countries may have it. But in america it is lacking. Instead there is more chutzpa. And this is a challenge to marriage and to raising children.
The secret to a good marriage is when the wife understands how important it is to be bitul to her husband and not to oppose him in a loud voice or to fight and argue. This will only add to strife. A woman has to know when to be quiet. When her husband is angry or nervous it is often best to say nothing and to discuss things later, when he calms down. Otherwise it is similar to adding fire to fire.
So even if one has not achieved yet a perfect level of bitul, it is good to pretend and to behave as if one did...that in itself helps to bring out one's bitul and to get one in the habit of speaking nicely and behaving nicely. This promotes greater shalom bayit.
of course, if the husband is in a rage and screaming and shouting it does make it difficult for his wife to show him true respect and bitul....but with persistence things do work out. It takes time to refine middot (middos: character traits) and often the woman has to be the one to be on a higher level and to control herself and not respond to her husband's anger. That does not mean her husband should not work on getting rid of anger. of course he must. But a woman who is clever can figure out how to maneouver through the stormy times and keep the ship on track with respect and peace.
TZNIUT (TZNIUS) IS ANOTHER VERY ESSENTIAL ASPECT OF MARRIAGE.
One of the main mitzvoth for the Jewish woman is the mitzvah of tzniut, modesty. Modesty is so important that it is equivalent to the woman fulfilling the entire Torah. This is the woman’s essence. She needs to be modest, to hide and conceal her beauty so it is reserved only for her husband.
If a woman is not modest and another man desires her, a spark of that woman then belongs to that man. What happens on a spiritual level? This creates conflicts between husband and wife. They fight. They don’t feel complete. The husband will feel something is lacking, something is missing.
Modesty is essential to shalom bayit.
And by the way if a girl who is not married yet is also not modest, it creates problems and can affect her finding her shidduch in a timely manner . The boys she dates will feel something is not right, something is lacking.
Marriage is all about a complete union of souls and a total commitment. You cant be half committed in a marriage. You need to be totally for each other to the exclusion of everyone else.
If that is lacking your marriage will be lacking. There will be barriers between you and your spouse. There will be a feeling of emptiness or dissatisfaction.
So modesty is the key to purity and happiness. It is the inner essence of the sefira of malchut which the woman personifies.
When Boaz was kind to Ruth she asked him why did she find favor in his eyes. She was from the level of keter, the highest level of modesty, the unknowable head. True modest means you can never know your spouse totally but you connect on a level beyond knowing. You connect in a totally inner spiritual manner.
Esther the queen in the story of Purim was totally modest. That is what the word esther means: to be concealed, hidden. It shows how the miracle was in a hidden manner. But it also expresses the concept of being hidden, being modest.
King David says in tehillim "Kol kevuda bat melech penima". The entire glory of the King’s daughter (the Jewish woman) is within, is through modesty.
We see throughout Jewish history how the great Jewish women were all examples of tremendous modesty and this is what brings blessing to one’s family and home.
Another secret to a successful marriage is proper COMMUNICATION. If husband and wife cannot communicate adequately it is very difficult to understand each other. And misunderstandings lead to judging situations wrongly and to hurt feelings, often without a true justified reason. But of course in order to communicate properly there has to be TRUST.
Of course a real secret to successful marriages is GOOD MIDDOT. A man who gets angry all the time will make it hard for his wife to respond to him with love. Her heart will become hardened and she will close herself up in order to avoid being hurt or belittled. Anger can wreak havoc with even the best marriage. So a person who does have a problem in that area has to work on fixing himself and healing his emotions.
But there is another important aspect to emotions. Sometimes a man or woman may have emotional issues from childhood or certain negative experiences in life. Those issues can sometimes affect one's functioning in the family. Instead of criticism, at those times when those emotions are triggered, one's spouse has to be very understanding , to realize the problem is emotional and to help the other person deal with those emotions productively, get rid of the negative emotions, trust in Hashem for help in all these areas, and simply be there for the other person.
Marriage is a commitment. And the commitment is not only in fulfilling one's usual duties to each other. Commitment means being there for the other person no matter what their faults and problems, and helping them through every aspect of life, no matter what hashgocha protis brings their way.
When a couple marries, they have no way of knowing what the future brings. they have to be committed to stick by each other no matter what and to be a support system.
And if there are emotional problems to be resolved, or perhaps sometimes they cannot be resolved, one has to find ways to help the person get over these emotions, certainly not to trigger them more. Sometimes we look uncaring to our spouse and that is the worst thing we can do. We always have to show care and compassion. If we do not, who will? the world out there is not sympathetic. A person has only their immediate family to rely on. Of course there can be friends, neighbors, other relatives as well. But in general the family unit is where one picks up security, happiness, emotional strength, faith etc. This has to be strengthened in every way.
If we do not learn how to emotionally fulfill each other, the entire foundation can fall. Emotions are a large part of life.
And naturally the way to arouse love and real care in another, is to do for another. To be more concerned with the other than you are with yourself. This is HUMILITY and BECOMING SELFLESS.
A woman tends to reflect, even subconsciously, the way her husband treats her or relates to her and therefore if a man truly wants shalom bayit, he has to watch and correct how he relates to his wife. This is a good way to improve one’s middot and to gauge one’s spiritual progress. it is like a mirror: a woman will mirror her husband's attitudes.
WE also have to keep in mind that men and women have their spiritual source in different sefirot and therefore they think differently , have different emotions and different needs. It takes sometimes years to understand one another. But that is the challenge and beauty of marriage. And with time, husband and wife truly merge and become one (not same, but ONE). And that is the idea of union: of truly becoming one flesh, one soul, one mind. After time you cannot imagine your life without the other person….this is true love.
Remember: become sensitive to what each of you needs and wants. If you know your husband wants his breakfast ready at 7:00 am, have it ready on time. He needs that support in his life. Show you care about him. Nobody else will.
If you are hurt, let your husband know. But do it respectfully. Many times a man does not realize he hurts his wife. Men are not as emotional or sensitive.
If your husband gets home exhausted after a hard day at work, don’t expect him to walk into the house and start cleaning up. Make sure he eats well, has a chance to relax , before you expect help. Of course if you are exhausted after a long day with the kids and you need some help, you can ask for it, but always make sure your husband has a chance to eat and rest a bit before demanding too much from him. That requires some organization on your part.
Of course if a wife works many hours outside the home and both of them get home exhausted, it behooves the husband to pitch in with the kids and even with cooking etc.
And if a woman is tired, pregnant, busy with little babies at home, the husband should do his best to make time to shop for her and do the extra heavy jobs that are very difficult for his wife.
Make each other feel cared about, help each other in all areas of life, and be each other’s partners in everything.
Sometimes a man may project a feeling of disinterest, or a feeling that he considers his wife his “servant”, and that can lead to resentment. Do not allow resentments to build up. Let each other know what you expect from each other and discuss what help each of you needs to function to your maximum potential.
A wife will subconsciously reflect the way her husband behaves towards her so seeing the way the wife behaves or responds is a good gauge of how a husband is treating his wife.
A wife does have a task to give birth to her husband in the sense of helping him develop and achieve his potentials in life. He needs a wife behind him, to support him, to help him, to make it possible for him to give and contribute and do for others, or to learn Torah, or to run his business….a man without a wife cannot function properly. So a woman should never feel belittled in her role. Her role is the most important role there is. That is why Hashem created a wife to be an eyzer kenegdo. But if a man’s ego gets out of control, she has to lovingly keep it in check so he develops properly.
A woman should understand the pressures and difficulties a man faces out in the work world. And as such she should do her utmost to understand him, support him, help him and not criticize or become demanding of him, especially at times when he is frustrated or under pressure or stress.
A woman should not demand selfishly that she must have or buy a particular thing if she sees her husband is going through a hard time. She needs to be considerate. CONSIDERATION is a very important aspect of a successful marriage.
When Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, the wife of the Rebbe, was asked to make a decision about whether or not to transfer the Rebbe to the hospital for medical care after his heart attack, she said she would not do anything against her husband's wishes. She said that all her married life she took great pains never to aggravate her husband or do anything he would not like and she was not going to start now to do anything to upset him. If all women would have that attitude there would be far more shalom bayit.
A woman is able to multi task because she has to. She has to be an eyshit chayil, a devoted wife, and a devoted mother. And this is the most fulfilling time of her life. So do it with simcha. Take time to understand each other and this always will lead to greater love and respect.
Nevertheless a man must know when his wife needs help. A man once came to the Lubavitcher Rebbe complaining that his wife is always late getting ready for Shabbat and he does not know what to do anymore. He comes home and finds the house a mess, the kids crying, everything in disarray and he was fed up. He wanted to know how to get his wife to be more organized and on time. The Rebbe looked at him and said "Take a broom and help her."
It is not even so much the amount of help. Sometimes it is just knowing the other person recognizes how much you do, sees your burdens and stresses, and is willing to pitch in and lend a hand. It is more of an emotional help often. and sometimes it really is a physical help because a wife can be exhausted, not having slept enough the night before, dragging to cook and clean and take care of the kids and she certainly would like to see her husband helping her, if he is able to. Sometimes a man is very busy and his life is also hectic so his wife would not expect much, but if a man has the time and ability, he must help whenever possible.
Someone once asked the famous mashpiah Rabbi Zev Greenglas of Montreal, alev hashalom, a segulah for shalom bayit. He smiled and said he heard of course that folding one's tallit immediately after Shabbat is a segulah but he said that in his opinion, unfolding a dish towel and helping one's wife is an even bigger segulah!
Another man once complained his wife did not respect him properly. So the Rebbe commented;”What do you do to cause her to respect you?” Respect does have to be earned. It does not come in a vacuum.
Remember no matter what arguments, frustrations, problems or disappointments you experience with your spouse, very few things are worth sacrificing your shalom bayit for.
Accepting (and appreciating) differences between men and women is the first step in a good marraige. The next step is to go above and beyond. That involves leaving our own personal galus mentality, and our own habits, whether from nature or nurture, and concentrate on the other partner, and bring out the best in him and her, helping one’s spouse leave his/galus mentality and achieve a higher spiritual level. At that level, there are no differences, no disagreements, and no such thing as “he” or “she”, no ego” At that level, there is only “we,” husband, wife and G-d Almighty. And we do have to remember the third partner in marriage: Hashem Himself who ultimately brings opposites together and brings about the possibility of unity between husband and wife. In a proper marriage, when there is shalom bayit, the Shechina (Divine Presence) rests between husband and wife.