Marriage

A Practical Guide for Husband and Wife - Rabbi Zamir Cohen

In his great work, Mishneh Torah, the Rambam (Maimonides) surprises his readers in that he does not give the same relationship advice to both partners, instead, he makes one set of demands on the husband and a different set of demands on the wife

A Practical Guide for Husband and Wife - Rabbi Zamir Cohen

In his great work, Mishneh Torah, the Rambam (Maimonides) surprises his readers in that he does not give the same relationship advice to both partners, instead, he makes one set of demands on the husband and a different set of demands on the wife. A person with a poor understanding of the core differences between a man and a woman may find that the Rambam’s advice is too discriminatory and may reject it.

However, in light of our discussions in previous articles, the words of the Rambam, which are based upon the teachings of our sages in the Talmud, are clearly understood. The Torah is a Torah of truth. It teaches us what each side must give the other based on his/her emotional needs and not on some kind of distortion of truth seen by many psychologists and people in the media these days.

And so, it is necessary for the husband to ‘honor his wife more than he honors his body, and love her like he loves his body’.[1] With regard to love, it is sufficient for him to have the same level of love for her as he does for his body.

In other words, in the same way that he loves himself and takes care of his physical needs in a timely fashion, so too, he must be attentive to the physical and emotional needs of his wife.

And the moment he realizes that she needs his physical or emotional support for whatever reason, he must pay attention to her right away. He may not neglect her and wait until she becomes emotionally distressed or in urgent need of something before he tends to her needs. Rather, he must see his wife as his other half and thus be attentive to her needs in the same way he is attentive to his own needs. He must provide for her out of a true desire to see her happy and content. This is the meaning of true love![2]

However, regarding matters that pertain to her dignity, such as being sensitive to her feelings, buying her respectable clothing and accessories, complimenting her, and speaking to her in a respectful way that does not offend or belittle her, with regard to such matters, he must take care of her more than he takes care of himself.

Anyone who examines what we’ve explained in previous articles will clearly understand that there is no discrimination against the man. The man’s obligation of prioritizing her needs over his when they can only afford to buy one article of clothing for a special occasion, for example, is not meant to detract from his needs, rather, because one of the tools she received to fulfill her role in the family nest is the inclination towards esthetics, her need for beautiful clothes that will give her that dignified appearance is a real emotional need that is much stronger than her husband’s.

When a man wears his old suit for the holiday or a special occasion, his discomfort wanes within minutes. A woman on the other hand, may feel distressed during the entire holiday or evening. Therefore, the point of truth dictates that it is necessary for her to precede him. That’s why when a man offends his wife with his words and says that he was only joking, he cannot say: ‘I joke around like that with all my friends at work and they love my sense of humor! But when I joke around with her, she gets offended’. Your wife is not one of your friends. Her nature is different than theirs and if she complains even once, or implies that your words (especially in front of others) make her feel uncomfortable, you must be considerate of her feelings even if it is not easy for you – otherwise you are injuring her dignity.

Instead, the husband must increase his level of respect towards his wife, either by offering her authentic compliments that address her virtues and actions, or by being careful with her feelings. He may also show his respect by buying her clothes and jewelry befitting her dignified status - as the Rambam indicates in his guidelines for the man: ‘And if he has money, he must bestow good onto her as much as his money allows’.

The sages in the Talmud say the following:[3]“Honor your wives, so that you may be enriched”.

It also says:“One must always protect the dignity of his wife, because blessings rest upon a man's home only on account of his wife, for it is written, ‘And he treated Avraham well for her sake’”.[4]

Meaning, when a woman is happy and content because of the respect she receives from her husband, she becomes the home’s entryway for financial abundance.[5] The opposite is also true, G-d forbid. Moreover, a woman whose needs are properly respected by her husband resembles a beautifully viable flower whose needs are properly addressed by its owner – and the one who ultimately profits from the flower is the owner himself.

On the other hand, the wife is required ‘to do everything according to him, and he must be in her eyes like a king or a minister. She must comply with the wishes of his heart and keep anything he dislikes away from him’,[6] as he was provided with the necessary emotional tools to handle the survival and protection of the home. These positive tools that are so critical to the family nest create a need in his nature to be the decision-maker. A wise woman knows that her status is not degraded when she manages the matters of the household according to him and keeps away the things he dislikes. It should be emphasized here that this does not imply that a man is commanded to conduct himself like a king or a ruler, but rather that she should let him feel like an authority. In fact, there is some wonderful and surprising evidence regarding this behavior. A man who is treated like a king in his own home, will relinquish his “high position” and will tell his wife to do whatever she wishes in every area, or he will at least ask for her opinion, and in most cases, will make “his decision” according to her wishes. Either way, he will never do the opposite of what she says without seeking her agreement in a pleasant manner.

Couples living this way are the happiest people on earth. She doesn’t need to be the authority[7] and he does not really need to make the decisions. When the wife gives her husband the authority he needs, he will feel secure enough to let her make the decisions as she sees fit. He will not go against her will in the areas that are important to her.

And when this is the atmosphere at home, the woman is more likely to be flexible in the areas that are important to him, as her nature is not heavy and rigid, rather, it says:

‘The mind of a woman is light’.[8]

Women are flexible and willing to change their views for their loving husbands. They are willing to please them and make them happy as long as the husband’s actions do not cause his wife to go against her nature.

And indeed, the Rambam says that the husband ‘must not cause her to be fearful, and he must speak to her softly. He must not be despondent or angry’, as he is the pillar of strength that the wife and the entire family naturally lean on. When the man is calm, patient, soft spoken, and full of life, he infuses a positive force into his wife and the rest of the household. He is after all, their pillar of hope.

On the other hand, when a man is distressed for whatever reason, he gives off an air of disappointment that’s directed at his wife and members of his household. Therefore, even if the reason for his sadness is external and has nothing to do with his family - for example, if he was insulted by his boss or has difficulties with his livelihood, he must not deviate from his role as the mainstay and backbone of the home. And when he is happy and in good spirits, he radiates a constant sense of hopeful joy that encourages the family and makes them feel secure. But when he’s sad the whole house falls into a state of depression.

This brings us to the attribute of anger. A man whose tone and style of speech is irritable and angry, or one who angers easily and creates unnecessary fear, causes a great deal of anxiety for his wife and children. Because of their fear of his angry and raging reactions, their sense of joy is taken away from them. As soon as he walks in, the happy and cheerful activities in the home come to a halt and the whole mood changes – as the saying goes, “When ‘Av’ (father) enters, our spirits are lessened” (This is only a pun – as the original phrase refers to the month of Av. The word Av has a double meaning – it means both father and the month of Av) and everyone is afraid to approach the head of the family with the openness necessary for a well-functioning and healthy family nest, as no one is able to endure his heated reactions. And so, everyone withdraws into themselves and avoids sharing their personal affairs with him. A person like this should not be surprised that if for example, a drop of milk touches his meat stew, his wife may be afraid to tell him because she is afraid of his reaction. This can make him stumble upon many prohibitions. As the sages say in the Talmud:[9]

If a man terrorizes his household, he will eventually commit the three sins of unchastity, blood shedding, and desecration of the Sabbath.(Translation: come-and-hear.com)

Refer to the source for the story about a great man who terrorized his household and as a result, was almost fed Ever Min HaChai – a limb from a living animal.

These are some good examples of how a man’s negative reactions can cause his family members to withhold critical information from him. And certainly, when his children grow older, they will not turn to him for guidance or help resolving their doubts and hardships. Rather, they may turn to others and open up to people who may not have their best interests at heart.

A person who examines the words of the Rambam will discover that even though it is just as important for the husband to see his wife happy and not sad, calm and not angry, the Rambam did not specify this as a stipulation for the woman like he did for the man, as it says: “He shall not be sad or angry”. The reason for this is clear. The Rambam did not merely provide suggestions – even if they are important, rather, he provided necessary demands without which the family nest could not survive. As the ‘foreign minister’ of the household, the man has the ability to handle his wife’s sadness or anger, as he is naturally inclined to operate well under such conditions. When he leaves the house, his mind becomes preoccupied with other matters. He meets and talks to people and encounters the outside world. Conversely, the wife who also works outside the home absorbs the majority of her happiness and energy from her husband and when he is sad, the light of her life becomes extinguished and she becomes a dim moon - unilluminated by the sun.

Regarding anger, a man possessing the tools to fight for the survival and protection of his family is strong and aggressive by nature and can therefore withstand various anger-provoking situations around him without having them affect his soul. Therefore, even though his soft-natured wife must also avoid becoming angry and sad, her anger does not pose as a critical threat to the emotional state of the husband. On the other hand, the husband must make an extra effort not to become angry at home, because if isolated displays of anger will threaten her soft and delicate nature, then certainly, when her husband, the symbol of strength and protection suddenly uses his force and aggression against her, she will undoubtedly become devastated.

And so, if she is living with a chronically unhappy man, the light in her life will eventually be extinguished and she will ultimately wilt away. And if she is living with a hot tempered man, then either her security will collapse and she will become a broken vessel that cannot function, or she will begin to develop the feeling that she must take care of herself, or no one else will, and begin to revolt by waging war. Either way, they will both lose out on the happiness in their lives. But the one who will lose out the most is the one who caused all of this with his anger.

It should be indicated that the one critical thing that the Rambam asks both partners to work on in his list of requirements is honor.

Concerning the husband he says: ‘He must honor her more than he honors his own body’

And concerning the wife he says: ‘She must honor her husband more than necessary’

This is because mutual respect is a basic human need and when it is damaged it can completely break apart a marriage.

Anyone who delves deeply into the attributes of the man and woman according to what we’ve explained in the previous articles will clearly understand why the Rambam changes the wording pertaining to the way in which a wife is required to honor her husband and the way in which a husband is required to honor his wife.

A man is required to honor his wife more than he honors his own body because in contrast to him, her soft and gentle nature calls for a higher standard of sensitivity with regard to her dignity – like the importance of having a flattering appearance or receiving respectful treatment etc. as we’ve mentioned earlier. On the other hand, the Rambam advises the woman to honor her husband more than necessary. The expression ‘more than necessary’ is rarely seen and therefore demands an explanation.

Women tend to give their husbands less respect than what they receive outside the home. They say to themselves: ‘He’s overly appreciated outside. I know exactly who he is. The amount of respect I give him is enough for him’. Regarding this common attitude the Rambam says: ‘She must honor her husband more than necessary’ - more than what she thinks is necessary for him. The woman must be especially mindful of this because she herself does not need the kind of respect that her husband’s soul requires and she therefore might only give him the amount of respect she thinks he needs based on what she herself can relate to. This is another reason why she must give more than necessary.

We will conclude this chapter with a wonderful piece of advice given by the wisest of all men.

It says in the book of Mishlei:[10]

An irksome dripping on a day of rainy confinement and a contentious wife are alike.

In other words, rain that drips into a house on a rainy day is likened to a hostile and belligerent woman. By means of this verse, King Solomon is teaching the woman a major principle regarding the depth of her husband’s soul and the way in which he perceives the time he spends at home. A woman who internalizes this principle and conducts herself accordingly, is guaranteed to achieve peace in her home. Let us explain.

A man walks about on a rainy day, a day in which all the windows are shut and everyone is indoors. He becomes wet from head to toe. He walks home without complaining because he knows that rain is required and beneficial for the world. When he arrives home, he discovers that the rain is dripping into his house from the roof – he becomes troubled and begins to lose his temper.

We may ask him: When it came to the strong downpour outside you dealt with it in a peaceful manner, so how is it that a light drip can cause you to become so irritated? He replies with honesty: “When the storm is outside I’m willing to deal with it. However, at home, the place that’s supposed to be mine and my family’s shelter, I am unwilling to suffer and withstand any bit of dripping”. 

The lesson here is clear. Naturally, the man is willing to deal with any battle or conflict outside his home; at work, at the bank, when he’s out shopping, running errands, and on his way home. After all, he’s the ‘foreign minister’ and he received the appropriate emotional tools to fill this role. However, it will be very difficult for him if his wife is an argumentative faultfinder who constantly instigates fights and conflicts. A man wants to feel like his home is his refuge - a warm and pleasant family nest in which he will find a resting place for all his daily troubles and vicissitudes. But when his wife is quarrelsome, his strengths become exhausted and he becomes an angry and impatient man who reacts in an extreme way to any kind of request anyone makes of him at home. This explains why some men tend to come home late after work. And women who complain about this do not understand that his lateness stems from the fact that he needs to relax after a day’s work and he knows that he won’t be able to do so at home – in fact, he knows the atmosphere will be anything but relaxed.

A woman who understands what the home means to her husband and understands that she is different than him in that the home for her is the center of her kingdom,[11] she will appreciate the deep-seated need that her husband has for a peaceful atmosphere at home. She will greet her husband in a pleasant manner when he enters the house – even if she herself also had a hard day (the opposite is also true - if the husband is home and his wife returns from work or shopping etc. the principle is: the one who is home greets the other one in a pleasant manner) she will ask him how he’s doing and will immediately make sure he eats, drinks, and rests from his day. And only after all of this, can she approach him with her troubles. And even then, she must do so in a calm manner, in a way where she is merely updating and discussing rather than using hurtful words and resentful comments. And when it is necessary for her to point something out, she must begin with praise and end with praise. A woman like this is a woman of valor! She’s the captain of the family ship and leads it with security to a wonderfully solid and long lasting environment of love, respect, peace and amicability.

 

Notes and Sources

[1] Rambam – Hilchot Ishut 15:19

[2] For a more detailed discussion refer to the chapter in this book called “What is Love”

[3] Bava Metzia 59a

[4] Bereishit 12:16

[5] This is the explanation according to Kabbalah: The root of the female lies in the Sphere of Malchut, which corresponds to the letter ‘Hey’. The root of one’s livelihood is situated there too, in the Sphere of Malchut. A man who honors his wife is not honoring her physical body but rather the inner soul of the woman whose root lies in the upper Sphere of Malchut. Therefore, by respecting her, he draws financial abundance upon himself from that Sphere.

[6] Rambam Ibid.

[7] On the contrary, in the words of Tanna, D’bi Eliyahu Rabbah chapter 9, “A kosher woman is one who fulfills the wishes of her husband”. I will indicate here what I’ve heard from the righteous Rabbi, Eliezer Ben David Shlita, who had asked: Why was the word ‘kosher’ used in this context? After all, the area of kashrut has a completely different connotation. Instead, of a ‘kosher woman’ it should have said ‘ a good woman’ or ‘a woman with a good character’ etc. His response: We’ve seen in the teachings of our sages that a man or an animal with a life threatening injury to a limb or organ is referred to as a treifa (refer to the tractate of Chulin 3a). We see from here that anyone whose essence is not whole, may not be referred to as ‘kosher’. According to her nature, a woman does not possess an innate need of being the decision maker; therefore, it is easy for her (provided that she is conducting herself according to her nature) to fulfill the wishes of her husband. So when she fights with her husband about wanting to be the ‘man’ in the house, her nature becomes deficient and damaged…

[8] Kidushin 80b

[9] Gittin 6b

[10] Mishlei 27:15

[11] The proof for this is if we ask a man who is walking home from work the following question: What do you plan to do when you get home? His answer will be: I plan to rest. On the other hand, if we ask a woman walking home from work what she plans on doing when she gets home, she will say: I plan to organize the house, clean, do laundry, cook etc.

Adapted from "The Keys to Life" by Rabbi Zamir Cohen

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