The Talmud (Yevamot 63a) encourages a husband to love his wife at least as much as he loves himself and to honor her more than himself. R’ Elazar elaborated on the verse, “It is not good that man be alone; I will make him a helper against him” (Bereishit 2:18.) He asked, how can she be a helper and be against him at the same time? The answer is that if he merits it, she is a help to him. However, if he does not merit it, she will oppose him.
In this week’s parsha of Lech Lecha, we read that Avram had a good life because of his wife, Sarai (12:16). R’ Chelbo (Baba Metzia 59a) deduced from this verse that a man should always be careful about affording his wife the proper honor she deserves since blessings on his household only derive on her behalf. Rava additionally advised that husbands honor their wives since this will inevitably ensure wealth.
The Torah is replete with stories of wives who did well for their husbands and wives who did not do well. When Korach began his rebellion against Moshe we read that On, the son of Peleth, had been one of the leaders of the rebellious protesters. Later on his name is absent when the confrontation takes place in earnest. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 109b) recounts that On’s wise and righteous wife persuaded him to withdraw from the rebellion. She also made sure that his colleagues would not coax him back to their ranks. She said to him, “What will you gain from all this nonsense? If Moshe and Aaron stay in charge you will be subservient. Moreover, even if Korach wins, he will be made kohen gadol and you will still be in a subservient position. There’s no gain in it for you.” He wisely withdrew from the insurrection and his life was saved.
Korach’s wife, on the other hand, egged him on. She said to him, “See what Moshe has done? He made himself the king and, using nepotism, crowned his brother as the kohen gadol, the high priest. Moshe shaved off the hair of the men in the tribe of Levi, including you, and made fun of you. He treated you like dirt.” This upset Korach even more and enraged him even further, causing him to carry through with his insurrection against Moshe. He had a supernatural, spectacular ending when the earth opened and engulfed him and his followers alive. The story in the Gemara ends with a quote from Proverbs (14:1) that “The wisest of women builds up their house while the foolish ones tear it down.”
The Gemara (Yevamot 63a) continues by describing the importance of honoring one’s wife even when the relationship is less than ideal. R’ Chiya’s wife used to nag and pester him relentlessly. Yet, whenever he found a suitable present he would buy it for her, wrap it up and bring it home for her. He felt that he still owed her this level of honor simply for the sake of her having raised his children and having provided him with a good home.
His contemporary, Rav, had a wife who tormented him constantly. For example, if he told her to prepare fish for dinner she would do the opposite and prepare meat. If he asked her to prepare meat she would prepare fish. His son caught on to this and deliberately switched the father’s instructions so that the wife would end up preparing exactly what Rav wanted. Nevertheless, when Rav learned that this was taking place, he asked his son to distance himself from speaking falsehoods and simply be honest, despite the consequences that might ensue.
In my professional experience I have typically discovered that often couples who come for marital therapy have lost their way when it comes to honoring and respecting their spouses. Whereas when they were courting each other they could not do enough for their partner, now that they were married and together for some length of time, their partner could not do enough for them. Relationships are analogous to bank accounts. We have to make deposits before we can expect to make a withdrawal. As the Beatles song advises, “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” In other words, we have to invest in our loving relationships if we expect to be treated likewise.
May Hashem grace us so that we follow the wisdom of the sages and learn to honor our spouses more than ourselves. In return, may we find blessings and wealth in our homes, as did Avram, all on account of the honor and respect he showed his wife, Sarai.
Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg is a forensic, clinical psychologist in private practice. He is acting president of the Chai Riders Motorcycle Club of NY/NJ. He leads the Summit Avenue Shabbos Gemara shiur and minyan in Fair Lawn, NJ, and is a member of the International Rabbinical Society. He can be reached at [email protected]