Humility Brings Honor in a Marriage

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By: Miriam Yerushalmi

*Note to the reader: These words are from my heart, my own life experience and the counseling of others. I hope that this will help you, dear readers, to implement more humble energy in your marriage and other relationships, allowing you to reach new heights in them.

 

When one respects and helps one’s spouse, he or she becomes elevated as well, and this is particularly germane to women, as we see from the following teaching of the Lubavitcher Rebbe[1]: The verse describing Miriam as a prophet identifies her only as the sister of Aharon and not as the sister of Moshe, who was the leader of all Israel and their greatest prophet. Rashi explains that although the omission of Moshe’s name might appear to disparage him, the verse is written this way to teach that Miriam was a prophet even before Moshe was born.

According to the Lubavitcher Rebbe[2], however, telling us that Miriam was a prophet even before Moshe was born does not warrant a phraseology that might be interpreted as implying disrespect for Moshe. Therefore, when the Torah describes Miriam (Exodus 15:20) only as “the sister of Aharon”, it must be teaching something more.

The Rebbe goes on to explain that the verse is showing us that even before Moshe was born, Miriam, although she was the eldest child, deferred to her brother Aharon and showed him the utmost respect. This had three results. First, Aharon’s spiritual qualities grew. Second, Miriam attained the same good qualities that Aharon was noted for—she too became a pursuer of peace. And third, Miriam’s latent abilities developed as well.

 

Light of Their Life

The Lubavitcher Rebbe applies this to the role of a wife. Women excel at kindness. Therefore, they should infuse their actions with an extra dimension of generosity. A woman should express love for her husband, even when he is acting far from lovable.

In one of his discourses[3], the Lubavitcher Rebbe teaches that women light the Shabbos candles because this alludes to their ability to elicit the light of the positive qualities of other people.[4] Women accomplish this by showing love, patience and care. In addition, they do so by serving as a positive example. As the Frierdiker Rebbe teaches, “Where the lantern is placed, those who seek light gather around, for light attracts.”[5]

Women have the capacity to be this light to their families by putting on a happy face, even when they are having marital difficulties. A woman in such a situation may question her need or her ability to do so, but a downcast look serves only to push her spouse further away from her (even though—or because—he himself may be largely responsible for her discontent and sadness).

 

Women and Humility

Women in particular should strive to cultivate the trait of humility before G-d, emulating our matriarchs, Sarah, Rivkah, Rochel, and Leah. The greater a woman’s humility, the more she enables her loved ones to flourish and achieve their true potential. The Torah tells us (Genesis 24:64) that Rivkah first saw Yitzchak as he stood praying in a field. Awed by his evident holiness and purity, she fell off her camel, as though bowing to him. By doing so, the Zohar explains, she “subdued the evil force” around her.[6] Homiletically, this can be understood to mean that she humbled herself before him, knowingly and willingly.

In her merit, Jewish women have a special ability to subordinate themselves to others—in particular, to their husbands—without their ego being threatened.   

 

Effective Respect

Our sages taught that “a wife shall honor her husband exceedingly and shall accept his authority and abide by his wishes in all her activities.”[7] When a wife humbly defers to her husband and respects his wishes, she creates an environment that facilitates the actualization of his potential for spiritual greatness. In doing so, she herself grows more elevated and is granted some of the same strengths that her husband possesses. This creates a “holy cycle” of growth.

Many benefits accrue for a couple when a woman acts with humility, generosity, and kindness. For instance, the way in which a wife speaks to her spouse can create a new will within him, as the Lubavitcher Rebbe explains in one of his sichos[8]:

 

…When the husband is, G-d forbid, stumbling, and additionally, due to his lack of knowledge, things appear to him to be the opposite of what they are....then, in a pleasant and peaceful manner, the wife must create his will…[T]he “righteous woman” finds pleasant and peaceful ways to create within her husband a desire to do as the Torah wants.

 

Similarly, Rabbi Ginsburgh writes[9] that the Chassidic interpretation of the statement (Tana D’vei Eliyahu Rabba 9), “Who is a proper wife? She who performs [osah] the will of her husband”, is that she “rectifies” it, explaining: “The most literal reading of osah is ‘to make’, implying that the proper wife not only ‘rectifies’ her husband’s will, but actually ‘produces it’.”

 

Contemporary Stress Affects Humility

Today, many women seem to feel that they are being abused if they are not pampered by their husbands and if they stay in marriages that do not match their expectations. This is not meant to imply that there are not cases of genuine abuse in marriage; there are, and they require immediate intervention to ensure the safety of the spouse who is being victimized. But it seems that there are far more cases in which a wife harbors unrealistic expectations of her husband and is ready to jettison a marriage that could be rescued if she was committed to self-improvement and improvement of the relationship.

The material conditions of previous generations were much more difficult than our own. Yet, the women of those generations made great sacrifices so that their husbands could develop themselves spiritually through prayer and Torah learning. These women evidently found great satisfaction in caring for their families, and did not resent their apparent subservience.

We can only speculate as to the reason for the change in attitude today. Perhaps, it is due to the different kinds of stress and pressures that modern women experience, or to the greater exposure to the secular media, which promotes values antithetical to the Torah’s perspective on the roles of husband and wife in marriage. It may be due, in part, to the fact that women today commonly live far away from their extended families, and as a result, they lack the support system that women in previous generations enjoyed. With fewer family members on whom to rely, a woman can be more prone to tension and anxiety.

 

Women’s Devotion

Today, more than ever, it is essential that women realize that they have a special role to play in maintaining a healthy and loving marital relationship.

First, the very fact that a woman is married expresses her devotion, appreciation and commitment to her husband. The Zohar teaches that although a man may have to be reincarnated to rectify his sins, this is not the case for a woman, for she accomplishes her rectification in the higher worlds.

However, when a man returns to earth to rectify his sins, his soul-mate often cannot bear to be separated from him and so she chooses to return to this world to serve as his helpmate. She thus demonstrates an extraordinary degree of love and devotion.

In this generation, as most people have “old” souls that have undergone previous incarnations, we can assume that most women have chosen to come down to earth to help their soul-mates fulfill their spiritual potential. G-d willing, this time around, they will succeed in elevating their husband’s soul sufficiently, so they can be reunited again eternally.

Optimally, a woman achieves the elevation of her husband’s soul through her gentleness, selflessness, love and affection. As Rabbi Ginsburgh writes, “She does this by deepening her faith in G-d and His providence and her awareness of His purpose in Creation (which entails the rectified image of her husband and their marriage).”[10]

The “rectified image of her husband” refers to the transformation of a man’s selfish and unrefined qualities into holy and noble ones. That process is facilitated when a man’s wife serves as a positive role model and helpmate. The rectification will also be apparent in the husband’s attitude toward his wife—when a wife becomes her husband’s greatest supporter and encourages him to succeed in life, he is likely to respond by treating her as his equal, or even as his superior.

 

Women’s Spiritual Capacity

In general, women find it easier to improve themselves and others than men do. This is due to two reasons. First, the Almighty granted greater intuition to women than He did to men (see Niddah 45b). Second, He gave women a greater capacity to bring out the spiritual light that lies within themselves and within others.

The Oral Torah itself is an expression of this feminine capacity. The Alter Rebbe states that the verse (Proverbs 1:8), “You shall not cast off the teaching of your mother”, refers to the Oral Torah, “just as all the organs of a child are comprised, very latently, in the sperm of the father, and the mother brings this out into a state of manifestation when giving birth to a child, complete with 248 organs and 365 sinews”[11] (correlating to the number of positive and negative commandments, respectively). This means that just as a woman is able to develop the physicality of another human being, she is capable of developing their spirituality as well.

Rabbi Wineberg elucidates that “this is an instance of the ‘superior measure of Binah [understanding] that was granted to woman’, which is the power to make latent gifts manifest and corporeal.”[12]

The Lubavitcher Rebbe points out another difference between men and women. Men need to be commanded to perform time-bound mitzvos, such as prayer and Torah study, because performing these mitzvos is not in their nature. Women do not need to be commanded to perform these mitzvos because they naturally possess the desire to do them.[13]

              

Woman is the “Foundation of the Home”

The Talmud teaches (Kiddushin 2b) that “the nature of man is to be influenced by the woman”, and that “the Divine Presence does not rest with a man who lives without a wife” (Yevamos 62b). Thus, a man is dependent on his wife in order to have G-d’s Presence rest upon him and his household.

The Medrash Rabbah (Bereishis 17:12) tells us about wicked men who were transformed for the better by righteous wives (and conversely, about righteous men who were influenced toward evil by their wicked wives), and it has been my experience in more than thirty years of working with couples that when one spouse—in particular, the wife—expresses patience, perseverance, and a deep commitment to the marriage, amazing turnarounds can often be achieved.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe teaches[14]:

 

There is a special mission given to women, each of whom is called (Psalms 113:9) akeres habayis, the “mainstay of the home”, for the conduct of the entire home depends on her. Every Jewish home must be similar to the Sanctuary and Holy Temple in which G-d’s presence resided. It must be pure and holy, so that G-d can say, “I dwell within them.” Since the women are the “mainstay of the home”, it is she [sic] who makes the home a sanctuary, similar to the Holy Temple of which G-d says, “I will dwell within them.”

 

When a woman works to refine herself, she restores and preserves the purity within her family and helps create a home that is harmonious and beautiful. The reassuring presence of such a wife, whose faith in Hashem is firmly rooted, gives a man the ability to focus on his most important mission in life—to serve G-d and fulfill His will.

 

The Beginning of Wisdom

We recite in our morning prayers each day, “Reishis chochmah yiras Hashem, seichel tov lechol oseihem, tehilaso omedes law’ad”, which translated, literally means that “the beginning of wisdom is the fear of G-d, good understanding is given to all their practitioners; His praise endures forever.” But another possible interpretation is that when this verse is “reishis” or foremost in a woman’s mind, her accumulating Torah wisdom (chochmah) will lead her to a greater awareness of G-d and a greater sense of awe (yiras Hashem) in His presence.

 Every Friday night before Kiddush, we recite King Solomon’s poetic homage to the “woman of valor” (Proverbs 31):

 

Her value far exceeds that of gems.

The heart of her husband trusts in her; he lacks no gain.

She treats him with goodness, never with evil, all of the days of her life.

She seeks out wool and flax, and works willingly with her hands.

She is like the merchant ships; she brings her food from afar.

She rises while it is still night, and gives food to her household and sets out the tasks for her maids.

 

According to one commentary[15], this means that the woman of valor will, even at a time of “night”, when the family is undergoing difficulties, transcend those difficulties with love and devotion, and provide the best that she can for her family.

              

Woman and Relationships

Many contemporary women struggle in their personal relationships because they do not understand the nature of relationships according to G-dly directives. They have been led astray by the values of feminism which permeate the society around us. The Lubavitcher Rebbe comments brilliantly[16]:

 

The goal of the “Women’s Liberation” movement appears to be based on noble values: that a woman should not be given an inferior role to a man, for she too was created in the “image of G-d” (Bereishis 9:6), no less than man. In truth, however, “women’s lib” has brought about the degradation of women by demeaning the unique talents and worth of women, suggesting that the only worthwhile choice is to act like someone else.

This is highlighted by the Torah’s commandment, “An article of men’s clothing may not be worn by a woman” (and vice-versa). The significance of this concept extends well beyond the appropriateness of garments and clothing. The Torah is teaching us that a woman cannot utilize her unique potential, and enjoy the true satisfaction which that brings, by trying to be like a man.

A woman has the privileged task of imbuing her home with a truly Jewish atmosphere, and she has unique talents for rearing a family, thereby perpetuating the existence of the Jewish people.

…Femininity is not, G-d forbid, a weakness that needs to be “overcome”, but a Divine distinction to be nurtured and cherished.

 

Beauty Is in Your Eyes

Indeed, every woman has unique talents for rearing a family. She should appreciate the work she does for her family, and realize that her family appreciates her as well. Mrs. Chassida Mortner told the following story, which illuminates this point, at a mother-and-daughter tea at my daughter’s school, Bnos Menachem:

 

A small boy once became lost in the woods. He began to cry loudly. The king happened to be passing by with his entourage, and he overheard the boy’s cries. Halting his procession, he approached the child. “What’s wrong?” the king asked.

“I’m looking for my mother,” the boy replied. “I don’t know where she is.”

The king was moved by the boy’s plight and said, “Come with me. Together we’ll find her. Can you describe her?”

The boy sighed. “Her smile, her hair—everything about her is beautiful. She is the most beautiful woman in the whole world.”

Back at the palace, the king sent out messengers to find a woman who fit the boy’s description, but to no avail. No one had seen her. Then the king had an idea. He would have all the women of the kingdom come to the palace and walk past the boy, and he would surely recognize her.

The next day, the palace was filled with housewives, shepherdesses and aristocrats. They lined up, and one by one, they strolled past the boy. As each one walked by, the boy sadly shook his head. Not one of them was his mother.

Suddenly, in walked a pockmarked crone, dressed in rags. Disgusted, the courtiers tried to throw her out, but the king insisted, “Let her have her turn.”

When the woman hobbled by, the boy cried out, “Mommy!”

“My son!” the woman exclaimed. “I thought you were lost forever!” And they ran into each other’s arms.

 

Although a woman may not be a flawless mother, her child still sees her as being perfect. Applying this idea to our own lives, whenever we feel that we may have fallen short of our standards, we should not allow the evil inclination to persuade us to despair. Instead, focus on the fact that even at such moments, your family still loves you. Consequently, when we see the imperfections of others (particularly in our own family), we should focus on continuing to love them wholeheartedly.

 

Exercises and Meditations

Visualize your soul accepting the assignment—willingly and happily—of coming down for the sake of elevating the soul of your husband, in order that you may be reunited again, eternally, in Heaven. Consider the example of women such as Rachel, the wife of Rabbi Akiva, who readily gave up honor and wealth, and whose devotion was so treasured by her husband. See yourself as being on that same level in your devotion to your husband and family members.

 

Points for Practical Reflection:

·        Women bear the major responsibility for creating a peaceful home.

·        Women are the light in lives of their loved ones.

·        The greater a woman’s humility, the more she gains and the more she enables her loved ones to achieve their true potential.

·        When a woman puts her husband's will first, he will strive to do her will.

·        A wife with a strong faith in G-d gives her husband the ability to focus on serving Him.

·        The tenets of feminism are not in keeping with the Torah and are not beneficial to women.

·        Realistic assessments and expectations of a relationship ensure that the relationship will endure.


[1] Divrei HaMaschil, “Vatikach Miriam HaNeviah”

[2] See Likkutei Sichos, vol. 11 pg. 55 and on

[3] Likkutei Sichos, vol. 9 pg. X and on

[4] It is important to note, however, that unmarried men who live alone are also required to light Shabbos candles.

[5] Hayom Yom, 13 Teves

[6] Ginsburgh

[7]  Rambam, Yad Hachazaka, Ishut 15:19–20

[8] See Sichos: Acharon Shel Pesach 5730 seif 8. 2nd Day Shavuos 5731 seif 3. 15th Shvat 5732 seif 4

[9] Page 24, fn 50

[10] Ibid., page 105

[11] Tanya, Iggeres Hakodesh, Epistle 29, p. 225

[12] Tanya, Iggeres Hakodesh, ibid

[13] Since their other responsibilities may interfere with the timely performance of these mitzvos, women are not held to set times as men are. However, the Alter Rebbe did say that women are obligated to pray twice daily. The Alter Rebbe also held that women are obligated to know what is permissible by Jewish law and what is forbidden (which implies that they are obligated to learn Torah, in order to know this information).

[14] Gutnick Chumash Vayikra, based on a sichah of the Rebbe 27 of Elul 5742

[15] Sefer Bechorei Aviv citing Hayihudi

[16] Gutnick Chumash, Parshas Ki Seitzei, p. 160 (based on a sichah of the Rebbe, of the 6th of Tishrei 5745)

 

 
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MIRIAM YERUSHALMI

holds an MS in Psychology and Family Therapy. She was trained at Pepperdine University and is uniquely skilled at combining behavioral and humanistic approaches to address a wide spectrum of issues. Additionally, Miriam has authored the highly acclaimed book series, “Reaching New Heights” on marriage, and on prayer and meditation, which is endorsed by Dr. Avraham Twersky, and “Heavenly Waters: Mikvah Messages for Our Daily Lives”. She has also authored many children books. Over 200 of her free classes are available online at Torahanytime.com and on her YouTube channel. Check out her meditation video on bonding with your inner child here. Miriam can be reached at Miriamyerushalmi18@gmail.com.