There is great excitement when a young couple meet and there is a spark of connection. The excitement builds and reaches its peak with the great celebrations of engagement and marriage. The feelings of love are overwhelming and the relationship appears very deep. This, however, is not the true test of love.
The true test of love is its ability to withstand the test of time. Does the love, connection and respect continue through the challenging years of raising young children and later adolescent young adults? What happens when the years pass and age begins to take its toll? Most indicative of true love, though, is if, God forbid, serious illness strikes. One’s expectations and plans are dashed, the script rewritten. How does the loving spouse rise to the challenge?
What if it is the wife who becomes ill? The husband may not naturally be inclined to be a caregiver. He may be used to being very active in community matters and earning a living for the family. Now he is cast in a demanding role that he never expected. What if the challenge continues for years and even decades? Does he persist? What if his stamina wanes? After all, he is getting older as well.
This is the story of a relative of mine whose wife recently ascended to her eternal reward after a very prolonged bout with horrific illnesses. The husband rose to the challenge. He lovingly took care of his wife’s every need until the last moment. She was never assigned to a nursing care facility but was lovingly attended to by her loving spouse for 17 years. Anyone who witnessed mealtime was struck by the sheer outpouring of care and love. Anyone who saw how the gallant husband brought his ailing spouse to smachot despite the difficulty was struck with awe and admiration. He maintained his wife’s weekly Scrabble game and even placed the tiles on the board because she was too frail to do so.
When I paid a shiva call, I told my relative that he is a hero. He did not see himself that way. He modestly said he did what the situation demanded and thanked Hashem for giving him the strength to be a caregiver. I omit the name of my relative out of genuine admiration and respect for his privacy and modesty.
It is important, though, that we hear the story. Hillel, the Gemara (Yoma 35b) relates, devoutly studied Torah despite his severe financial handicap. The Gemara states that Hillel obligates the poor—no longer do they have an excuse not to learn Torah. Similarly, my relative obligates the husbands. There are no excuses. Authentic love, love that persists and endures, is one in which devotion knows no bounds.
Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck.
By Rabbi Haim Jachter