MARRIAGE IS A MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN, IN WHICH RESPECT, NURTURING, PEACE AND ESPECIALLY CHESED MAKE THE MARRIED COUPLE LIVE IN SHALOM BAYIT.
By Rabbi Abraham Twerski M.D.
When one’s identity is totally dependent on one’s job, on what one does rather than on who one is, this has far reaching implications on shalom bayit.
Shalom bayit can be simply described as being comprised of two ingredients: mutual love and respect. The Talmud states this succinctly: “A husband should love his wife as he loves himself, and should respect her even more than he respects himself” (Yevamos 62b). Of course, this also holds true for the wife’s attitude toward the husband.
It is of interest that in citing this Talmudic statement, Rambam reverses the order, placing respect before love. I believe this is because it is unrealistic to expect an intense love to occur on day one. Such love takes time to develop. However, respect should begin from the very first moment of the relationship.
Providing sustenance for one’s family is, of course, essential. However, it is not enough to earn respect. Animals, too, provide and care for their young.
The human being is a composite creature, comprised of a body, which is essentially animal in nature, and a “something else,” which elevates him and distinguishes him from other living things. In providing for one’s family, one has not yet elevated oneself beyond animal status.
The “something else” which distinguishes the human being and gives him dignity is the human spirit, which I have defined in my book Happiness & the Human Spirit as being comprised of all the uniquely human traits which animals do not have; among which are the ability to have an ultimate goal and purpose in life, the ability to improve oneself, the ability to make moral and ethical decisions, even in defiance of a bodily drive, and the ability to sacrifice oneself for the welfare of another. When a person exercises all the components of the spirit, one is spiritual. If one fails to do so, one is nothing more than a homo sapiens, an animal with intellect. Having an IQ greater than that of a chimpanzee does not warrant much respect.
Although having a job and earning a livelihood is of the utmost importance, it does not define one as a true human being. Rather, one is then a homo sapiens.
When husband and wife each work on development of middos, subjecting their animal nature to the rule of the spirit, they earn each other’s respect. They are then able to look beyond their own needs in consideration of the needs of the spouse. This fulfills the Talmudic criterion for a happy marriage: to love one’s wife as he loves himself, and respect her even more than he respects himself, and, of course, the reciprocal attitude of the wife toward the husband.
I venture to day that when there is lack of mutual respect in a marriage, it is little than simple coexistence, which is a fragile relationship. One should not be deluded that providing an income, even a handsome income, is enough to earn respect. Respect is gained when a person makes the effort to rise above the state of homo sapiens, and fulfills oneself as a true human being, a real mentsch.
Husbands and wives should introspect and ask themselves, “What am I doing to be respected by my spouse?”