By Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss
Over thirty years ago, a man approached the Steipler Gaon, Zt”l, Zy”a, and told him he was asked to write for a Jewish newspaper. He asked the Rav on what subject he should write. On the spot, the Steipler Rav answered him shalom bais, marital harmony. This small vignette speaks volumes about the importance of maintaining peace in the Jewish home.
The Borechi Nafshi relates that a chosson came to Rav Zilberstein, Shlit”a, before getting married. This chosson was a promising young Torah scholar and the Rav tantalized him, saying that he was going to tell him an important tip on how to succeed in Torah study. The chosson excitedly awaited for some advice in advanced Torah techniques, but the Rav surprised him when he told him, “If you want to master your learning, always honor your wife.”
What an important lesson! I believe the Rav’s source for this statement is the Gemora in Bava Metzia. It says, “Ein brocha metzuya b’soch beiso shel adam ela bishvil ishto, shene’emar, ‘V’Avrohom heitiv bavurah’ – Blessing is only found in a man’s home because of his wife, as it says, ‘Goodness was granted to Avrohom because of her (meaning, his wife Sorah).'” The Gemora teaches us, “Ein tov ela Torah – Goodness refers specifically to Torah.” Thus, we see that one’s treatment of his wife is linked to his Torah success.
In a similar vein, a layman’s business success is also tied to his giving honor to his wife. The great Rava would proclaim to his congregants in Mechuza, “I plead with you! Honor your wives and you will become wealthy.” In summation, both the Torah scholar and the businessman will have much more success if they treat their wives with respect.
Therefore, this concept should be a required subject in every yeshiva student’s learning career.
Let’s explore this more thoroughly. What does it mean to honor a wife? After all, she is not one’s Rebbe; she is a partner. Yet the Gemora in Yevomos insists, “M’chabdah yoseir m’gufo – You should honor her more than you honor yourself. It is also one of the commitments that a husband pledges to his wife in the Kesuba: Ana Okir – I will honor (her).
So how does one honor a wife? First, we need to talk to her in a way that we talk to someone who we respect and not with a commanding tone, not with satire or annoyance, not in a child-like manner or in a rushed tone. Rather, our tone should talk in a deferential way befitting our queen. Honor also means really listening to a wife’s opinion and not summarily rejecting it even before it comes out of her mouth. It means sticking up for her in public even when she is wrong, admittedly a difficult thing to do at times.
A very important part of honoring a wife is to show that honor and respect in front of the children. Tell the family, “Do you know how lucky you are to have such a mother.” This is not only a masterful stroke of spousal honor; it is also chinuch at its best. Saying to the children, “Watch how mommy treats strangers,” or reminding them how nice she is to everybody is a wonderful way to show respect to our wives. One great tzaddik would have the whole family point at his wife when saying the stanza in Eishes Chayil, “V’at alis al kulanah – And you (the wife) tower above them all.” Now, that’s showing and teaching respect.
Making time for one’s wife, even when you are busy, as you would do for an important person is also a vital aspect of respect. Trying to fulfill your wife’s needs and being liberal with money are also important aspects of treating her honorably! It goes without saying that the same is expected from a wife to her husband. As the Rambam teaches, a wife should treat her husband like a noble or a king. This is the reciprocity of marriage: if you treat him like a king, he will treat you like a queen; if you treat him like a cash register or a shlepper, he will treat you like a maid.
May it be the will of Hashem that we cultivate the fundamental talent of spousal honor, and in that merit may Hashem bless us with Torah, wealth, and everything wonderful.
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