Shovavim Shalom Bayis Initiative – Week Three, Parshas Bo


yehoshua-bermanBy Rabbi Yehoshua Berman

Last week, we left off with the awareness that honoring another means understanding the different, unique nature of that other, and showing them honor and respect in accordance with that uniqueness.  Now, we come back to the story about Rav Yechezkel Abramsky to delve into it and see the gems that we can cull from it.

Making it a Part of You, and Her

Rav Abramsky told his visitor that it may have appeared to the latter that he was discussing trivialities.  Indeed, how many of us would expect to hear a gadol b’Torah speaking about such seemingly unimportant details of his daily activities?!  Rav Abramsky told his visitor, though, that he should thank Hashem that he merited to see how a man is meant to converse with his wife.  Rav Abramsky’s behavior shows us a phenomenal understanding of the feminine nature and character.  Therefore he was able to really honor his wife and express his love for her in a way that she would feel it.

The way Chazal expressed the obligation to love your wife is ohavah k’gufo, he loves her like himself.  But why did they say k’gufo instead of k’atzmo?  What this shows us is that just like your love of yourself is an inherent reality of your being that goes with you, in your guf, wherever you go; so too must be the love of your wife.  Furthermore, it needs to be that this reality becomes just as inherent a part of her existence as it is yours.  It needs to be that your love for her travels with her wherever she goes because it is a basic, inseparable part of her.  Just like your love for yourself is always inside you because it is inherently part of you, so too must your love for your wife be always inside of her because it is inherently part of her.  She feels it always.  And this can only be achieved if that love is expressed to her in a manner that she can feel it, experience it, and internalize it.

Rav Abramsky told his wife about all the minute details of his day because he knew that that is what women love to hear.  For them it is not the accomplishment or the purpose of what occurred that is the main thing, but the experience itself.  She wants to feel that her husband is sharing that experience with her, and she wants to be able to share it with him[1].  Not only because it is the experience that interests her, but more so because that is what makes her feel connected to him.  She only feels this sense of sharing if she is told enough detail that she can relive it with him as it is being told.

Most probably, any one of us would have assumed that honoring one’s wife in a situation such as described in this story of Rav Abramsky would mean making sure to pleasantly greet your wife first before addressing the visitor.  Rav Abramsky’s example demonstrates for us the difference between honoring one’s wife and someone for whom honoring his wife, and making his love for her an inherent part of their shared reality, is a state of being.  Because it is so much a part of who he is, he cannot suffice with a few cursory words of greeting, pleasant though they may be; no, he has to immediately sit down with her, provide her with his full and undivided attention, and share his experiences of the day with her so that she receives that which is so important to her, to feel that close connection with her husband – that she is an integral part of his life and part of his every day.  And this she feels so strongly when she sees that when he comes home he simply cannot involve himself with anything before telling her all about what he did and experienced that day.

Share with Her, but Put Her Mind at Ease

From there I walked up the hill.  It wasn’t too difficult for me.”

Women tend to worry about things.  One of the pieces of advice that many chassanim are told, and indeed this is something that we should all make a point to be careful about, is that if you are going to be late, call home to let your wife know[2].  Otherwise, she may worry about you.  She may even start fearing the worst.  Because of their sensitive, emotional nature, women can easily begin to conjure up all sorts of terrifying scenarios in their mind[3].  Part of your caring for her and respecting her is making sure that you do whatever you can to prevent her from experiencing any anguish.  But it is not only about the “big things” that women can worry about.  They care.  They care a lot.  Hopefully, you’ll succeed in building a good relationship with your wife, and you will see and feel that there is literally no one in the world who cares about you as much as your wife does.  And when you care that much, you are concerned about every small detail.  Rav Abramsky knew that his wife may worry how he fared walking up that hill, so he calmed her by making a point to mention that “It was not too difficult for me.”  She knows he did not suffer walking up that hill.  She feels a sense of relief that her husband did not suffer.  Nevertheless, he also did not say, “it was not difficult at all”.  By telling her that it was not so difficult, he is sharing with her the fact that it was a bit difficult for him.  This makes her feel very close and connected to him because he is sharing even his relatively small experiences with her.  It was something that affected him, he did have to exert himself a bit.  She hears, gets to share the experience, but without distress because “it was not too difficult”.

Obviously, one cannot expect of oneself such balanced perfection right off the bat.  After all, this story is describing a gadol ha’dor in his elder years.  The benefit that we can derive from this analysis is that it serves as a beacon of light pointing us in the right direction.  This way we know where we need to be headed.  With that in mind, let’s continue.


Your Kavod is Her Kavod

“I went to Rav Yechezkel Sarna’s house and he received me with great honor.”

This one really is quite a chiddush.  In general, to talk like that is unbecoming; it smacks of pride.  Furthermore, we all know that it is simply unpleasant to be around people who talk like that and toot their own horns.  The chiddush that we see from Rav Abramsky is that speaking in such a manner is pasul only when it comes to other people; when it comes to your wife, though, it is a mitzvah to speak in such a manner.  Of course, not to chalilah say such things in a big-headed tone of voice, because even a wife will most certainly not appreciate that in addition to it being inherently wrong.  However, stating the facts as they are is very important when it comes to your wife.

Think about it, although you don’t go around tooting your own horn, you certainly enjoy it and it makes you feel very good when other people show you recognition, admiration, and kavod.  Well, your wife completely identifies herself with you.  When you get kavod, it is her kavod[4].  There is almost nothing that gives a woman greater pleasure than to see or become aware of her husband being respected and honored.

So, for example, to not tell her when the Rosh Kollel or the other avreichim complimented you on your chaburah, or when you got an aliyah in Shul is just unacceptable.  It is an avlah of “al timnah tov mi’baalav”.  For her to never hear that you were complimented or that you got an aliyah is the equivalent of you never getting complimented and never getting an aliyah[5]; and how do you think that would make you feel?  Regarding everyone else, you keep it to yourself, but regarding your wife, you must tell her all such things[6].

There is a maaseh with Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky that makes almost the identical point, albeit it with a slight, additional twist.

Nothing better expressed Reb Yaakov’s extreme modesty than his abhorrence of having people stand for him when he entered a room.  But there was a time he made an exception even in this.  Reb Yaakov and Reb Shneur Kotler were once preparing to enter the main hall during the annual convention of Agudath Israel.  Reb Shneur suggested that they enter from the side in order to avoid anyone standing for them.  But Reb Yaakov shocked him by rejecting the suggestion.  “Our wives are present, and it will give them pleasure to see everyone honoring us.  It makes it easier for them to put up with the constant intrusions on our time throughout the year[7].”

Despite Reb Yaakov’s severe aversion to people being mechabeid him in such a manner, he displayed tremendous wisdom and sensitivity regarding the needs and desires of his wife to be able to see her husband’s kavod.  His deep and clear understanding of a wife’s needs prompted him to overlook his own discomfort and act in the manner that will provide her with the emotional satisfaction that is so important to her.  Because Reb Yaakov spent a lifetime cultivating honoring his wife as a state of being, as opposed to just something one does, he recognized how he must act in order to make his wife happy even in a situation where such behavior was inherently anathema to him[8].  Of course, it stands to reason that Rav Yaakov and Rav Shneur did not suffer undergoing what otherwise would have made them suffer, because they were only focused upon and thinking about the fact that through this their wives would be happy and fulfilled.

Do make sure to tell your wife about all of your successes and honors.  It means the world to her.

Compliment Naturally

Coming back, the final point we should focus upon in the story of Rav Abramsky is this:

You already know that I hold that there is a need to expand the number of those who take part in the Vaad’s meetings…You know what type of person he is, after all, Chazal say that women are better judges of character than men…you know how anxious I am for them to finish the project quickly…”

Throughout the conversation Rav Abramsky utilized the expression “you know”, which means “you know so well”.  The most immediate effect of talking in this manner is that it greatly compliments his wife.  It shows how it is a given that she knows so many significant matters.  She is a knowledgeable person.  And it goes without saying that when he stated in so matter-of-fact a manner that she of course knows how crucial Rav Sarna’s participation is, since after all Chazal say that women understand people better than men, that his wife must have felt very flattered by this.  Particularly because it was said in such a way as to convey that he was not intending to flatter her, he was just simply stating the facts as they are (that makes it clear that it is truly genuine).  This is a big point to take note of: inextricably woven into Rav Abramsky’s casual conversation with his wife were numerous expressions that indicate esteem and high regard.  He made it a point to talk in a way that would praise her and make her feel great about herself without even making it overtly discernible that he intended to do so[9].  This is a very worthwhile habit to make every effort to adopt.  It is a true kiyum of the mitzvah to be honoring one’s wife and make her happy.


Express Closeness

There is yet another aspect to these expressions of “you know”.  It shows an assumption of intimate closeness and knowledge.  It essentially conveys the following message: “I am not aloof of you.  It is not as if I have a whole involved life and you are but one part thereof, and perhaps I tell you about bits and pieces about the rest of my life from time to time.  No, not at all.  ‘You know that I hold there is a need to expand…”, “you know how anxious I am…” – you know all of this because I share my whole life with you.  We are two parts of one unit and as such you naturally know everything significant that I know because as the other half of my whole I of course automatically share all of it with you.

This message is at the heart of what a woman needs to feel in life: that her husband is truly, deeply, and inextricably connected with her and that she is connected with him.  When he naturally and automatically always shares the major and minor details of his life with her[10], and particularly when he makes it clear to her that he is not just doing so to make her happy but because it is just a given and is simply a natural outcome of their deep bond, she powerfully feels this reality and it fills her with a deep sense of fulfillment and joy.  She experiences real simchas ha’chaim.

A man usually does not naturally have the same deep need for this type of intimate, sharing relationship with his wife.  In of himself he’d be able to manage with a more superficial type of relationship, albeit loving and warm.  But he needs to respect his wife.  He needs to honor her.  He has a mitzvah to make her happy and to be honoring his wife; love her like himself and make that fact an existential reality.  So he needs to expand beyond himself.  He needs to stretch and grow to truly understand her needs and calibrate his relationship with her to provide her with those needs.  When he does that, he is not just honoring and loving her, he is being honoring and loving her.  He is making honoring and loving his wife into a state of being for himself; and for her.  This is the goal you are aiming for.

Always On Your Mind

There is a story about Rav Elyashiv that also demonstrates this yesod with an additional angle.

Rav Avraham Yeshayah Yanovsky used to visit Rav Elyashiv frequently to receive his halachik guidance, and enjoyed a special connection with him.  One question he posed pertained to a new grape-harvesting machine.  Similar to the combine harvester for grain, this machine separates the grapes from the vine and throws them into a container, from which a conveyer carries them up into the shovel of an accompanying tractor.  When the shovel is full, the driver of the tractor empties it into a truck.  During this process, juice begins to come out of the harvested grapes.  The questions was: If the harvester or the tractor is operated by non-Jews, is the wine thereby rendered yayin nesech (prohibited for use by Jews)?

                                Rav Elyashiv said that in order to answer the question he would have to observe how the machine works.  He planned to visit the vineyard to watch the machine in action, but for technical reasons, he was unable to carry out the planned visit.  Someone suggested that they film the machine in operation, and then Rav Elyashiv could watch a video of the machine working and issue a ruling without leaving his home.

                                Rav Elyashiv agreed, and a Yated Ne’eman photographer was hired to film the new machine in operation.  He then came to Rav Elyashiv’s house to set up the viewing equipment.

                                When all the equipment was in place, Rav Efrati entered the inner room where Rav Elyashiv was learning and told him that everything was ready.  Rav Elyashiv emerged, and when he saw the equipment he said, “One moment.”  He then entered the room where the rebbetzin was and invited her to watch the video too.

                                This was the first time in his life that he would watch a video, and he knew that the rebbetzin, who also had never before seen a film, would enjoy the new technology.  He spoke only two words, but these two words spoke volumes about his consideration of his rebbetzin, who would not utter a single word of her own to him during his lengthy study sessions or while he was answering questioners[11].

The normal rules of honoring and loving your fellow Jew would most certainly not require you to be thinking about them at any given moment.  It does not need to occur to you, “Oh, you know what, probably my neighbor Yankel would also like to see this; let me go call him.”  But this is not the case when it comes to your wife.  In the words of Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky, from the time of the chasunah and onward “all thinking needs to be in terms of we.”  Before you get married, there is “I”, and that “I” takes into account other people when necessary.  There are times when you are obligated to do a chesed.  You have to be careful not to upset other people.  Sometimes you must give a person advice.  But you are still separate from them; it is an “I” interacting with “them”.  With your wife, though, there is no more “I”; there is just “we”.  Because you have to be honoring and loving her.  It is not enough to show her honor and love, it has to become part of you; your state of being that goes with you wherever you go.  Of course, then, if you are about to see something interesting, it will automatically occur to you to think of her.  This is the goal.  It is in this direction that we must be determinedly headed.

Even If You’re Patur

There is yet one more facet of this yesod that is worthwhile to uncover which is expressed beautifully in the following maaseh of Rav Avraham Pam.

Rav Pam’s rebbetzin was born on erev Yom Kippur.  Every erev Yom Kippur there would be flowers on the table in honor of her birthday.  One year, Rebbetzin Pam told him that although she really appreciated it, she did not want him to be spending some of his precious time on erev Yom Kippur going to buy flowers.  Rav Pam agreed.  Nevertheless, come erev Yom Kippur, the flowers were there.  Rav Pam’s excuse?  “I just could not let your birthday go by without giving you this expression of my deep appreciation.”

A lot of times we are busy; sometimes very busy.  Certain days of the year are high pressure.  There is a lot going on, either in the physical or metaphysical realm, and we really need to not be bothered so that we can do everything that needs to be done.  What can you do, though?  Sometimes obligations vis a vis others hit us even when it is very inconvenient.  There is no choice, a mitzvah is a mitzvah and a chiyuv is a chiyuv even when it comes at a very inopportune time.  So, for example, if your neighbor gets a flat tire on Erev Pesach and you’re the only one around to help, you’ve got to do it, even though it may mean that you are going to be much more harried for the rest of the day and you may not even manage to finish everything on your list.  Almost all of us, though, would be so relieved if, just as we started making our way with the jack to his car, his wife opened the door and called out, “Don’t worry about it, I just called triple A to take care of it and they said they’ll be here in 15 minutes.”  Phew!  That’s what it feels like, doesn’t it?  You know why?  Because even though you have a mitzvah and chiyuv to help out, it is not necessarily part of who you are.  When the meshulach is going on and on about his woes, you are most probably quite relieved when his driver tells him that they’d better get going if they’re to make the rest of the names on their list.  Even though you listen to him respectfully and show him his due honor, it is not your state of being.   So you are happy to have been yotzei-zein and be able to move on.

With your wife, though, it is not meant to be like that, and this story with Rav Pam beautifully illustrates this point.  Who would not be happy to get an exemption from having to do something like buying someone a birthday present on Erev Yom Kippur?  She gave it to him.  She did not want him to have to spend his precious time on this incredibly significant day carrying out such a mundane activity as buying flowers.  Although he agreed in principle, he just couldn’t not do it.  He was not able to follow through.  Honoring his wife and the love that he felt for her was such an ingrained part of him that he simply could not bring himself to allow her birthday to pass without giving her this expression of how much he appreciates and cares for her.  To show her respect, esteem, and appreciation was a state of being for him.  Therefore an exemption was irrelevant.  I don’t care if I don’t have to; I want to.  No, I need to!  It is simply a part of me that I cannot let go of!

[1] This is not a redundancy.

[2] Of course, it goes without saying that you don’t leave before telling her.  Whether or not you should always tell her precisely where you are going, or whether or not you always need to tell her what time you’ll be home will depend on the particular needs of your wife.  Some women don’t always need to know where their husband is at any given moment, and do not necessarily need to know when to expect him home; whereas others do.  It may also be that early in the marriage she will still feel insecure and/or lonely and therefore may really need this information, whereas later when she feels more secure and is not so lonely she may not.  No matter what, though, if she is expecting you back at a certain time and you are going to be late, you must call to let her know.

Regarding the importance of this matter, see Rav Pam (Artscroll) page 436 where the following is related.  “One day, he was feeling very ill and needed to be taken to the hospital.  His grandson Rabbi Mordechai Pam happened to be with him and was to accompany him in the ambulance.  As he was being wheeled out of the house, Rav Pam turned to his grandson and said, ‘Call your wife and tell her that you might be home late.’  This was in the afternoon and his grandson was not expected home for a while.  But Rav Pam, though ill enough to require hospitalization, was anticipating that his grandson’s wife might later worry if her husband did not arrive home when expected.”

[3] כ”כ רב חיים פרידלנדר זצ”ל בקונטרס וידעת כי שלום אהלך בעמוד כ’ וז”ל שם “הבעל או הילד מאחר להגיע הביתה, והאשה נמוגה מפחד וחוששת כבר לגרוע ביותר…על הבעל לדעת, שפחדים אינם מעוגנים בהגיון, אלא נובעים מהרגש.  ככל שהרגש שולט יותר, כן הפחדים גדלים…זה מחייב אותו שלא לאחר.  ואם קורה שדבר מה מעכב אותו מלחזור בזמן, צריך לחפש אפשרות להודיע לאשתו על ידי טלפון…על ידי זה הוא מונע מאשתו פחדים.  יתר על כן אשתו תהיה אסירת תודה לו, על שהוא מתחשב בה.”

[4] עיין כתובות עה. “דאמר ר”ל טב למיתב טן דו מלמיתב ארמלו אביי אמר דשומשמנא גברא כורסיה בי חראתא רמי לה” ופירש רש”י “מי שבעלה קטן כנמלה כסאה בין השרות בנות חורין מושיבה כלומר גם לי בעל כמוכם”.  וע”ש עוד

[5] Likewise, if she only hears it infrequently, it is the equivalent of you only getting complimented or receiving an aliyah infrequently.  In fact, it is much worse because her emotional need for it is greater.

[6] Derech agav, the same thing goes for your parents.  To them as well you must tell about all your successes and kavod.

[7] Reb Yaakov (Artscroll) page 321.

[8] As mentioned above, it is critical to recognize that these stories are about Gedolei Torah in their golden years.  As such, the degree of beauty and perfection they display is truly mind boggling.  It should therefore be self-understood that in no way do these comments reflect negatively on Rav Shneur Kotler.  Rav Yaakov was known, even amongst his contemporaries, as the Urim v’Tumim of the generation; a pikeach of phenomenal proportions.  In addition, Rav Shneur was decades younger than Rav Yaakov.  It is more than safe to assume that Rav Shneur as well lived his life in accordance with this yesod.  That he did not think of this particular nekudah, though, until Rav Yaakov pointed it out to him, does not reflect poorly on him at all.  Even amongst Gedolei Torah, not every gadol will necessarily come up with every single chiddush that his contemporaries come up with, even if the chiddush is clearly yashar and emes la’amito.  And don’t forget, Maseches Aizer K’negdo is a sugyah amukah meod!  And lest you think that Gedolei Yisrael are at the pinnacle of their perfection even right from the start, consider the following comment by Rav Aharon Kotler’s rebbetzin, “When we first got married I needed to get used to his unique sharpness, but by the time we reached our later years I had to get used to his unusual patience.”  The hallmark of a Gadol b’Yisrael is that he is always growing throughout his life, constantly reaching ever higher vistas of perfection and balance.

[9] The fact is, that it is wholly possible that he really did not have any conscious intention to do so, and he nevertheless did so because that manner of communicating and relating to his wife was so deeply ingrained in him.  The fact that Rav Abramsky only mentioned to his guest the idea of telling your wife about what goes on in your day supports this assertion.  Simply because Rav Abramsky was a true embodiment of the Rambam’s instruction to be honoring your wife did it come naturally to him to speak in this way to his wife without even thinking about it.

[10] This is not to say that spouses should share every single last detail of their lives with one another.  Rav Avigdor Miller said that, in general, it is not advisable for spouses to share negative information about each other with one another.  Rather, the general impression each spouse should be giving to the other is that “everything is fine with me” (see Ohr Olam volume nine, page 171).  Obviously, there are many, major exceptions to that rule, and of course spouses will often need to talk about each other’s issues where necessary.  Nevertheless, the general rule is try to keep things positive.

[11] Rav Elyashiv (Artscroll), pages 98-99.