Thursday, November 13, 2014


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – ASHAR
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor


          A man once approached Rabbi Mordechai Shulman zt’l, the late Rosh Yeshiva of the Slobodka Yeshiva in B’nei B’rak to seek his advice. The man had a daughter who was of marriageable age, and a specific boy who studied in the Solobodka Yeshiva was suggested for her. The boy was a diligent and erudite scholar, and had a sterling reputation. He wanted to know Rabbi Shulman’s opinion about the shidduch.
Rabbi Shulman replied, “If you are looking for a chavrusa (study partner) for your daughter, you will not find anyone better than that boy. But if you are looking for a husband for your daughter you should look elsewhere!”[1] 
           “The River, The Kettle, and The Bird”, authored by Rabbi Aharon Feldman shlita[2], relates a Torah-based approach for developing marital harmony.[3]
In the opening chapter Rabbi Feldman discusses the unique title of his book. It is based on a passage in the Gemara[4] which states that if one envisions a river, a kettle, or a bird in his dream he can hope and look forward to peace.
Rabbi Feldman utilizes that idea to explain that there are three levels of marriage. The first level is tantamount to a river flowing between two cities. There is essentially no connection between the two cities except the potential benefit they can have from each other. The river serves as a means for commerce, allowing them to transport goods from one city to the other. But the cities never connect in any meaningful way; their ‘relationship’ is based purely on their own self interest.
Spouses, who view their marriage as a means to personal benefit and gratification, will quickly become dissatisfied when the marriage stops providing for them. Such a marriage is unsteady and destined to fail.
A kettle is designed to prepare food by utilizing the combined forces of water and fire. Each force alone could not cook the food properly. But the mediatory effect of the kettle allows the process of cooking to be accomplished. Similarly, there are marriages that exist based on commonalities and shared goals. As individuals it may be too daunting to raise children and deal with the everyday frustrations of life. Marriage provides an ally with whom to share the burdens. The peril of a marriage built only with commonality in mind, is that once the alliance is no longer needed the bond of the marriage dissipates as well.[5]
The third level of marriage is symbolized by a bird. A bird has two disparate abilities; it flies and soars across the sky, though it needs the earth as well. A bird is simultaneously an earthbound and an airborne being. These dual facets of a bird are not separate components which the bird utilizes at will. Rather, the survival of a bird is based on its ability to know when to fly and when to land, when it needs to coast high above and when it needs to forage among the earth. In that sense, a bird represents the embodiment of two natures fused and synergized into one being. It is one organism encompassing two very different and diverse abilities.
The ultimate marriage is achieved when there is a synergistic internalization of the connection between two spouses. It is a peace that results from an internal sense of identity that each partner feels with the other. Both partners are indeed two very different and disparate beings; however, they view their selfless connection as inextricable. That is the level of marriage which transforms “I” into “we”.  Marriage is not merely ‘extra baggage’ but the formation of a new entity, a potent force with incredible potential.
The prophet Malachi exclaimed, “For she is your comrade and the wife of your covenant.”[6] The purpose of marriage is to develop the ultimate friendship and connection. But such a lofty bond can only result from true dedication and relentless effort to constantly foster and maintain that relationship.

During the recitation of the morning blessings, when we recite the blessings thanking G-d for granting us the Torah and allowing us to engage in its study, we recite a passage[7] which commences: “These are the precepts of which a person enjoys their fruits in this World, but whose principal (reward) remains intact for him in the World to Come.” The Gemara then proceeds to list certain precepts which fit into this category, including visiting the sick, allocating funds so that the needy can marry, and accompanying a deceased person to his final resting. It then concludes, “…bringing peace between man and his fellow – and the study of Torah is equivalent to them all.”
According to those who pray Nusach Sefard[8] there is a textual variance. After the words, “and bringing peace between man and his fellow”, the words, “and (bringing peace) between man and his wife” are added. Why does Nusach Ashkenaz omit those words?[9]
Based on the aforementioned insight from Rabbi Feldman, we can posit that Nusach Asheknaz did not include ‘making peace between man and his wife’ because in an optimal marriage it is redundant to say, “Between man and his fellow, and between man and his wife”. True marriage contains the greatest bond of friendship, on a deeply internal level.
Fostering peace between husband and wife is fostering the greatest level of friendship. This is clearly enunciated in one of the blessings recited after a wedding: “Gladden intensely the beloved friends, as You gladdened Your creation in the Garden of Eden from days of old. Blessed are You, G-d, Who gladdens groom and bride.”      

When the time came for Avrohom to find a suitable wife for his son Yitzchok, he dispatched his trusted servant Eliezer, instructing him to travel to his homeland to find a suitable woman from there. When Eliezer met Rivka at the well in Charan he was immediately overwhelmed by her kindness and righteousness. When he discovered that she was a cousin of Yitzchok he was overjoyed. He accompanied her back to her home where he met her father Besuel and brother Lavan.
There Eliezer recounted all of the events that transpired from when he departed from his master’s home until then. Eliezer also explained how his meeting Rivka was unquestionably divinely ordained.
Rashi notes that, in a moment of candid honesty, Eliezer revealed to Rivka’s family that he himself had clandestinely hoped Avrohom would choose his (Eliezer’s) own daughter as a wife for Yitzchok. But Avrohom had countered, “My son is blessed and you (as a Canaanite) are accursed. The accursed cannot cleave to the blessed.”[10] [It is a testament to the faithfulness and integrity of Eliezer that, despite his personal disappointment, he still fulfilled his mission with alacrity.]
The vernacular of Rashi, quoting the Medrash, seems to be grammatically incorrect. When Avrohom explained to Eliezer why his proposed shidduch (match) could not work, the subject was Yitzchok. In other words, prima facie it would seem that Avrohom was telling Eliezer why Yitzchok could not marry Eliezer’s daughter. However, if that is true, Rashi should have written, “My son is blessed and you (as a Canaanite) are accursed. The blessed cannot cleave to the accursed.” Rashi’s phraseology seems to be inverted?
The answer is that Avrohom was not explaining to Eliezer why the match could not work from Yitzchok’s vantage point. Rather, he was explaining to him why it would be a bad idea for his own daughter. As a descendant of Cham who was cursed, the daughter of Eliezer would herself feel like a second-class citizen in the marriage. Knowing that her husband was of noble descent when she herself descended from inferior lineage would inevitably lead to feelings of resentment.
The foundation of a happy marriage is built on mutual respect and admiration. A marriage which begins with one spouse feeling like a second-class citizen is off to a precarious start. 

In discussing the proper outlook on marriage Rambam[11] writes, “Likewise the Sages commanded a man that he should honor his wife more than himself, and love her like himself. And if he has money, he should increase spending in her benefit according to his wealth. And he should not put on her excessive strictness. He should speak with her gently and he should not be sad or angry (with her).
“Likewise the Sages commanded on a woman that she should honor her husband more than is fitting, and she should have great respect for him, and do all her actions according to his mouth. And he should be in her eyes like a king; she should go in the desires of his heart and distance from him anything he dislikes. And this is the way of the daughters of Israel which are holy and pure in their marriage. And in this way their home will be great and praiseworthy."

Proper marriage fosters connection and internal bonding which cannot be accomplished when both individuals are not on equal footing.

“The accursed cannot cleave to the blessed”
“For she is your comrade and the wife of your covenant.”

This Thursday, 27 MarCheshvan, is the yahrtzeit of my beloved Zaide, Harav Yaakov Meir Kohn zt’l. I refer to my Zaide as my Rebbe because, even now, almost three decades after his passing, he continues to be an inspiration and role model.
Zaide was a remnant of a lost generation of those who had learned in the great Yeshivos of Europe. He was a leader and an inspiration to his congregants and all who knew him. Above all, he was a person who lived and loved Torah, his greatest passion. His greatest pride was to see his children and grandchildren learning Torah.
But to me he will always be my Zaide, who loved his grandchildren unconditionally and could find no fault in them.
In his memory, I am including a lecture I found among his writings which is apropos to the topic of marriage:

“The relationship between the Almighty and Israel is often portrayed as that of a marital relationship. The prophet Hoshea (2:21) foresaw the day when the Almighty will take Israel unto Himself and effect a perfect union.
We repeat those words which G-d said to us every morning when we don our tefillin: "וארשתיך לי לעולם – I shall betroth you unto Me forever”
This first idea expressed is that the union must be a permanent one. Too many young people enter the marriage relationship with mental reservations that they will dissolve the union when living together will be difficult. Trial marriages are never successful because they begin with the wrong idea, namely, that the marriage may be dissolved. One must begin with the idea that come what may, for better or worse, the marriage will continue.
In this week’s sedra (Torah portion)[12], after Yaakov left the home of his father Yitzchak in order to build a home for himself, he had a dream: “Behold a ladder was standing on the ground and its top reached into the heavens.” Life is like a ladder. It is not always smooth; it is not always like a bed of roses. You do not always go up the rungs of the ladder; sometimes you must go down. However, you must always remember that G-d is always above you and will guide you forever.
The verse continues, “Behold! Angels of G-d were ascending and descending it (the ladder)”. Through the vicissitudes of life remember that your position on the rungs of the ladder may fluctuate. There are times when you have to submit to the opinions of others and heed the advice of others. That will insure an everlasting marital relationship.
The verse in Hoshea continues, “וארשתיך לי בצדק ובמשפט ובחסד וברחמים – I shall betroth you to Me with justice and righteousness, with kindness and mercy.”
The union must be characterized by proper consideration for one another, by justice and kindness. Neither spouse must take advantage of the other; they must be fair, ready to share the burdens as well as the joys that life holds for them.
Finally, the verse in Hoshea concludes, וארשתיך לי באמונה וידעת את ה'" – And I shall betroth you unto me with faith, and you shall know that I am G-d.”
Faith and knowledge of G-d are the third elements that must be present. Faith in one another and knowledge of G-d are most essential because they grant an ideal which both spouses hold in common and which brings idealism into their lives. The more things in common that two young people believe in, the greater will be their chance for cooperation and collaboration.
In order to achieve any goal in life, it must be accomplished step by step, rung by rung, on the ladder of success. Life is not always smooth, but if it is based on harmony, mutual conscientious concern, understanding, compassion for another, character and love, then it will indeed be a success.
May you be guided by these ideals and may the union be form be permanent and lasting. May the Divine Presence ever be in your midst and bless your home with happiness and joy.”

[1] I heard this story from a son-in-law of the man who approached Rabbi Shulman.
[2] Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Ner Yisroel, in Baltimore, MD. Rabbi Feldman is a scholar of note and one of the great Torah leaders in America today.
[3] It is rare to find a book written by an author who is not only a prolific writer but also a respected Torah scholar. The book is invaluable and its insights are integral to achieving the ultimate satisfaction from marriage.  
[4] Berachos 56b
[5] [This is the root cause of many empty-nest divorces.]
[6] Malachi 2:14
[7] Shabbos 147a
[8] As opposed to Nusach Ashkenaz, Nusach Sefard is the name for a variant form of the prayer book. It was designed to reconcile Ashkenazic customs (based in Germany and Western Europe) with the kabbalistic customs initiated by the holy Ari who lived in Tzefas in the fifteenth century.
[9] This question was posed to me by my father-in-law
[10] See Rashi (24:39)
[11] Hilchos Ishus (15:19). When I was engaged to my wife, I had this quote from the Rambam printed onto a wooden plaque. It hangs on the wall in our home.
[12] Note: This lecture was delivered during the week of Parshas Vayetzei


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