By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Yevamos 65 – The Delicate Balance of Marriage
“Great is shalom, for even Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu deviated from the facts for its sake. Originally the pasuk says, ‘And my master is old.’ In the end, though, it says, ‘I have become old.”
This is the lesson that the Tanna d’Bei Rabi Yishmael derives from the contrast between the manner in which Sarah imeinu expressed her wonderment at the prospect of her bearing a child at that point in her life, and the way that Hashem reported it to Avraham avinu.
Sarah expressed herself by saying that her master, meaning her husband Avraham, is already so old. How then could it be possible for him to father a child? However, when Hashem told Avraham about this, He altered the facts, and instead told Avraham that Sarah had expressed that wonder because she had already grown so old. Seeing that Chazal tell us that the seal of Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu is truth, this most definitely serves as a tremendous indication of how great a value shalom is.
The context of this lesson is remarkable. We’re talking about Avraham avinu in his elder years! We can only imagine how many times, over the course of his turbulent and challenging life, Avraham had to deal with people being less than nice with him. When Rabbi Moshe Sherer first joined the ranks of those that are oseik b’tzarchei tzibur b’emunah, Mike Tress – who generally always sported a smile and amicable disposition – called him aside. Wearing an uncharacteristically very serious and solemn look on his face, Mike Tress told his new protégé as follows. “You are now entering the field of askanus, where your whole focus is to help other people. There is something very basic and critical that you need to know. When you do something for someone, and by this I mean something big that takes a lot of your time and effort, you must not expect any gratitude at all. If anything, be happy that the person you helped does not spit you in the face.” That was it. Mike Tress left it at that and never said another word on the topic.
We can only imagine, then, dealing with the clientele of his day, how many innumerable times Avraham avinu had to suffer bizyonos from others. It is safe to assume that an infinitely forgiving nature was so part and parcel of Avraham avinu – that first and greatest paragon of chesed – that certainly nearing his centennial milestone he would not have even noticed any affronts to his honor, let alone get upset over such a thing.
And yet, and yet Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu is concerned about it. This despite the fact that Sarah definitely meant no slight whatsoever in her comment. She was merely pointing out the obvious and it was but a statement of fact. Nevertheless, Hashem was not willing to take a chance – no matter how slight – at Avraham being hurt thereby. Even though Avraham avinu was an individual upon whom the worst abuses would have no effect whatsoever, Hashem made sure that there should not be even the slightest, practically imperceptible insult to him from his wife.
Truly remarkable. It definitely makes it easier to understand why Tanna d’Bei Rabi Yishmael saw in this such a far-reaching implication about the greatness of shalom.
But there is another point we can derive from this. If my memory serves me correctly, it was Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky who brings our attention to it. Marriage is a very delicate balance. So much so, that even when it comes to tzaddikim of the beyond-conception greatest caliber such as Avraham avinu and Sarah imeinu, it is of vital importance to Hashem that there not be an implication of even the most minor, indiscernible friction. The equilibrium can be too easily thrown off.
Now, I am not sure if this comment was intended to actually apply to the Avos Ha’Kedoshim, or if it was set down as such in the Torah just to emphatically drive the point home. Either way, it is most definitely of utmost relevance to each and every one of us.
How important it is to try one’s best, all the time, to avoid saying or doing anything that could be hurtful or upsetting to one’s spouse, that goes without saying. But what about when such things do occur? And they inevitably do. Despite our best efforts, we are human, and human error is a part of life. It can happen that husband or wife can say something – something which did not even occur to them may be hurtful to their spouse – that can set off a chain reaction causing a not-insignificant “earthquake” in their shalom bayis. What then?
Well, the first, and perhaps most important thing is to realize that it is completely normal. Often, when bumps in the road cause the shalom-bayis car to go into a spin, panic can set in. So unexpected and so sudden, spouses can be caught completely off guard by a flare-up of friction. This is dangerous because when the driver behind the wheel panics, his response to the sudden crisis is likely to exacerbate the gravity of the situation, not ease it.
It’s normal, albeit unpleasant and unwanted. It happens to everyone, even the very best of us. When you realize this, you are able to remain calm and deliberate with a rational head how to best proceed in patching things up. Most importantly, when you avoid the gripping sense of panic and maintain your cool, you will be able to avoid the “fight or flight” knee-jerk response that causes things to spiral out of control. Your natural sense of defensiveness will not get the better of you by insisting that you protect your innocence and/or chas v’shalom “return fire”.
Marriage is a delicate balance. We try our best to always maintain its beautiful equilibrium. At the same time, though, we can recognize that if and when the balance does get upset, we do not need to panic. It’s normal. We can stay cool, calm, and collected, and carry out the appropriate steps to restore that beauty of equilibrium to its rightful place.
Rabbi Yehoshua Berman serves as the Rosh Kollel of Kollel Reshet HaDaf in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. Driven by a passion to generate true kinyan Torah, both for himself and others, Rabbi Berman develops innovative tools to getting the most out of what we learn. In addition to having authored the warmly acclaimed Reflections on the Parsha, Rabbi Berman regularly delivers shiurim whose topics range from Halacha to Hashkafa, sends out daily emails of comprehensive chazara questions for the advanced Daf Yomi learner who really wants to retain his learning, and weekly emails of words of inspiration based on the Parsha. For more information on Reflections, to subscribe to receive these emails, or request a speaking engagement, Rabbi Berman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.