Matzav Shovavim Shalom Bayis Initiative


koselMotzoei Shabbos marked the beginning of this year’s eight week period of Shovavim Tat (since it is a leap year).  Boruch Hashem, tens of thousands of men the world over utilize this auspicious time as an opportunity to strengthen the foundations of the Jewish Home by attending shiurim that provide an exhaustive review of the pertinent halachos.  This wonderful, widespread minhag brings into sharp focus the centrality of the kedusha of the Jewish Home.  In addition to strictly adhering to the sur mei’rah; to ensure that our homes are truly filled with the kedusha of the Shechina making its dwelling place there, we need to engage in the asei tov component as well.  Proactively taking appropriate steps to foster and cultivate the positive reality of shalom bayis.  Towards this end, will be providing a weekly installment of shalom-bayis refresher essays (for men) compiled by Rabbi Yehoshua Berman.

Found or Finding?  The Bedrock of a Successful Marriage

 By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman

The Gemara in Brachos 8a says that in Eretz Yisrael when someone would get married they would pose the following question to the chassan: is it matzah or motzei?  The reference being to two pesukim that describe extremely divergent outlooks on a woman.  One pasuk says, “matzah ishah matzah tov va’yafek ratzon mei’Hashem, one who has found a woman has found goodness and he will extract favor from Hashem (Mishlei 18:22).”  The other pasuk says, “motzei ani mar mi’maves es ha’ishah, and I find [something] more bitter than death, the woman…(Koheles 7:26)”  Quite a stark difference isn’t it?  Basically, it would seem, they were asking the chassan if his wife is good, or more bitter than death.

Sounds like an awfully strange thing to be asking a chassan right after he married his wife, doesn’t it?!

It’s hard to imagine that if a chassan was himself wondering what the answer to that question is, that it would be good for his shalom bayis!  Let’s not forget that the Gemara in Kesuvos 17a says that one should dance in front of the kallah and call her gracious and beautiful even if she doesn’t really look so beautiful to most people.  Clearly, Chazal were very concerned that we should say things that will endear the kallah to her chassanKal v’chomer that it would be a serious sin to say something to the chassan that may make him think poorly of his kallah!

So what could possibly be the pshat in this Gemara about asking the chassan if its matzah or motzei?

Rabi Yaakov Mi’Lisa (“the Nesivos”), in his Emes L’Yaakov, explains that they were not asking the chassan to tell them what he thinks about his wife.  Rather, they were indicating to him that are two approaches a man can take towards his wife.  One approach is the approach that leads to the message in the pasuk of matzah, and the other approach is the approach that leads to the result in the pasuk of motzei.  In every word of the Torah, nothing is arbitrary or random.  If the positive approach is dubbed “found” in the past tense, and the negative approach is dubbed “find” in the present tense, there must be a reason for that.

Matzah means he found.  He was looking for a wife, and he found one.  The search is over.  “Being in the parsha” can mean that a young man can be almost drowning in an ocean of research, considerations, investigations, inquiries, deliberations, hesitations, clarifications, weighing relative options, and the list goes on and on (for some boys, quite literally!).  And even those that were only ankle deep in it still had the same experience, at least qualitatively.  But, now, that parsha is over.  Done.  Finished.  Never to be revisited ever again.  He has found his girl.  No ifs ands or buts about it.  The search is over.  For good!  From this point on, none of all the intensive work that went into all the beirurim matters anymore.  Not even one iota.  Once he has found and married her, that’s it.  This is his wife.  No second guessing, no niggling doubts, no wondering if he really made the right decision or perhaps he could have done better.  This woman is the one that he found and that’s all there is too it.  End of story.  Matzah, he found her; it’s done.

Motzei, on the other hand, means he is finding.  It’s present tense.  He is still in finding mode.  Even after he said the harei at and put the ring on her finger, he hasn’t internally moved on from being in the parsha.  Although, technically, they are now married and his wife is most certainly a full-fledged eishes ish, he has not truly exited the previous phase of his life to enter the new one.  He is unable to fully make peace with his situation.  Every time he notices some flaw, folly, or failing that bothers him, he cannot help but wonder if he made the right decision.  In his mind he is still searching.  He’s still “in the parsha”.  Still checking to see if she really was the right one for him to pick.  He is a motzei, a finder, still looking; forever in a state of second-guessing his choice.  Of wondering if perhaps he could have done better with someone else.  In his mind he is constantly assessing and reassessing her to see if she truly measures up to what she was made out to be when they did all the beirurim on her and when he dated her.

So long as this is his attitude and outlook, he is doomed to suffer a fate more bitter than death.

Because the motzei does not make peace with his situation, every little thing is going to drive him crazy.  In shidduchim, there is a certain fantasy-land outlook that on paper and on dates everything needs to be “perfect”.  But real life is not like that.  Far from it.  Everyone, but everyone has failings, some more pronounced, some less.  This motzei guy, fool that he is, refuses to enter reality.  He is still stuck in the immature, romantic, fantasy world of “the parsha”.  And it is going to make his life a gehinnom on earth.

His expectations will never be met.

Not only because they are not grounded in reality, but more so because of the attitude towards marriage that those expectations engender and express:  “You need to deliver!”  Isn’t that in a nutshell how it works in shidduchim?  “If you want us to consider you, you better be able to sell yourself as a top-notch product.  And if you actually want us to choose you, then you better present yourself as something really special.  You have to prove your worth.  If you can do it well, then we may just choose you.”

In marriage, though, that outlook is doomed to failure.  A marriage just does not work that way, no matter how much a babyish mind may want it to.  In a marriage the focus needs to be on what you can bring to the marriage, not to be a taker; most certainly not a demander.  Even if that taking and demanding is done only in the recesses of your own mind.  You are there to work together with your spouse towards a common, shared goal and value; not to see if she can prove herself worthy of your having chosen her.

The matzah guy understands that whatever led up to this point is now irrelevant.  Completely irrelevant.  “Once I’ve signed on the dotted line, it’s time to roll up my sleeves and get to work!  Whatever was, was.  This is my wife and that’s it.  This is my life and this is my situation and that’s it.  No ifs ands or buts about it.  The only thing which is up to me now is what I am going to do with my situation.  How I am going to take it, go with it, and the make the best of it.”

He will succeed because he is committed.  He doesn’t consider any other options and therefore he will find the way that will make what he has work.  And work it will.  Because one who has found a wife, has found ultimate goodness, and he will have tremendous siyata d’Shmaya – va’yafek ratzon mei’Hashem.

This, then, is the very first thing a man needs to know to have a successful marriage; it’s forever.  Forever!  Marriage is for keeps.  Once you put that ring on her finger, she is bound to you and you are bound to her for all eternity.  Make no mistake.  This is not a mussar-vort.  It is a recipe for a happy marriage; without which there is no recipe for a happy marriage[1].


Understanding the Flawed Thinking of the מוצא

To sharpen our appreciation of this fundamental point, we’ll quote a small section from Rav Eliyahu Goldschmidt’s Dear Son (page 173), which really ought to be required reading for every chassan and husband.  If you don’t have it yet, go buy it.  And read it many times b’iyun.  Rav Goldschmidt writes about the following brief occurrence that happened with him:

You know, my son, on one of my visits to Argentina I met a Jew who was divorced and happily remarried.  He had some questions about the education of his children, and he wanted my advice.

In the course of the conversation, I asked him, “Why did you divorce your first wife?”

“I just had no patience for her,” he said.  “I couldn’t deal with her.”

“I see.  And now you are happily married?”

“Oh yes.  Very much so.”

“So is your second wife opposite in character to your first wife?”

“No.  Not at all.  You can’t imagine how much patience I need to deal with her.”

“I don’t understand,” I said.  “Why are you able to be so much more patient with this wife than you were with your first wife?”

He smiled and shrugged.  “You learn from your mistakes.”

There is a saying, “Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.”  Because someone who doesn’t learn from his mistakes is acting like a complete fool.  Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if a guy would not have to make such a gargantuan mistake as allowing his family unit to crumble and fall apart in order to acquire the wisdom he needs to get it right?

So let’s try to dissect this a bit and see if we can perhaps learn from Mr. I’ve-got-no-patience-for-my-first-wife-but-plenty-for-my-second so that we don’t fall into the same trap he did.

What drives a guy to want to divorce his wife (barring severe, extreme circumstances wherein divorce truly is the only option)?  Has he given up on the whole idea of married life?  Definitely not.  No-one wants to live in loneliness for the rest of his life.  Certainly, a frum guy who gets divorced is almost immediately going to look to get remarried.  So, no, it is not that he has given up on the whole idea of marriage.  So, what is it?  It’s pretty simple, isn’t it?

He thinks he can do better elsewhere.

“If only I would have married someone like…then I would be happy.”  There could be different variations of this going through a guy’s head depending on his background and orientation, but they all come down to one basic assumption: with a better wife I would be happy.

And that is an outright fallacy that brings down so many marriages.  Rabosai, it’s a sham!  It is an outright, flaming lie and fantasy that people indulge in to exempt themselves from doing what they need to be doing in life.  You won’t have it better with anyone else.  Sure, if the guy learns from his mistake and realizes that the only way he is going to achieve marital success and happiness is if he changes and adjusts his behavior to match the needs of the marriage-unit, then he might in fact have a shot at having some happiness with his second marriage.  But, and this is the fundamental point, it is not because of the different woman to whom he is now married; it is because of the different person he became.  If he doesn’t get the point, though, and does not change, he will not find marital happiness the second, third, or even fourth time around.  It just won’t happen.  So, don’t wait for a second or third round to learn the right way.  Adopt the matzah approach, roll up your sleeves and get to work, and start building your happiness now.

Next week, iy”H, we will begin reviewing some of the major points which comprise the recipe to a successful marriage.

[1] Perhaps you’re thinking, “Well, if that’s the case, why does the Torah allow for divorce?!  If the Torah affords the possibility of giving a get, then that means it must be an option!”  Well, yes, the Torah does allow for divorce, just as it allows for a full-leg amputation.  But is that a thought that you walk around with, “You know, amputating my leg is always an option.  If it starts causing me too much trouble, I could always get rid of it”?  Even people who suffer from terrible, chronic aches and pains in their legs don’t have such thoughts even cross their minds, let alone think about such an “option” on a regular basis.  Divorce is much more drastic and severe a step than amputating a leg.  Yes, amputating a leg is an option; but it is an option that exists only for the most severe and extreme circumstances such that, until one is c”v faced with such a horrific situation, the thought of amputation does not exist on his radar screen; at all!  At least to the same extent, divorce must not even be on your radar screen – at all!  And, remember, this is not a mussar vort.  It is the key to your happiness.

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