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How to Properly Treat your Wife

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Rachel Rosen, Astoria, New York
MyLife Essay Contest 2018 

In a recent Yeshiva.net class given by Rabbi Y.Y. Jacobson, entitled “Two Paths to Recovery: The Laws of the Goring Ox” Rabbi Jacobson applies an analogy of the Halacha of “If your animal damages another animal”, taken from Tractate Bava Kama in the Mishna and Gemorrah,   to the Beheimah within the Jewish soul, according to Chassidus. He refers to two levels of consciousness within the Jewish Soul, the Level of Consciousness called the Nefesh Ha Behamis and the Level of Consciousness call the Nefesh Ha Elokis.  He describes the 2 ways of returning the status of the Ox back from that of a “Shor Mued” to a “Shor Tam”  by either (1)retraining them or (2)selling them to another owner.  For a person, it means, retraining the “animal” within the person, through a complex process involving reinforcement, consequences, punishment, decision making involving right and wrong, psychoanalysis or other methods of behavior management, which is a process that takes a long time.  The second way of returning the status is by transferring its domain, that is, taking the animal soul and surrendering it from yourself to Hashem.  This is done by speaking to the animal soul and telling it that it now belongs to Hashem.

To be honest, it wasn’t so clear just how the second approach can be applied in a real problem situation, such that  it can result in a lasting, stable change of status.  However, in the following life situation, application of this alternative approach may be illustrated.  While I was unfamiliar with the Tractate of Bava Kama, and certainly had never learned the Chassidic analogy regarding this issue, I used an approach to counsel this couple using what I called “Applied Bitachon”.  In a precious letter from my cousin, Rav Aryeh Kaplan Z”L, he responded to this case study which I sent him (unfortunately, the original written case study was since misplaced), saying that my approach to the problem was “brilliant”… “Although you claim not to have a great deal or Torah knowledge, you do have an extremely well developed Torah intuition…”  You will note from the date of the letter that this encounter occurred around the year 1982.   I am including a copy of this precious letter, as well as the letter of endorsement from Rav Chaim Lifshitz of “Sadnat Enosh”, who referred this couple to me and entrusted their marital counsel to my “Applied Bitachon” approach to counselling.

In the counseling exchange, you will see that the subject was totally unreceptive to the approach of “retraining the animal”.  However, when addressing the problem in terms of relating to the level of consciousness called the Nefesh Ha Elokis, the subject was immediately receptive, and positively responsive.

 Life Situation – Shalom Bayis

Description of the problem – A young couple in their 20’s married for 2 years.  They did not yet have children. They were both Baalei Tshuvah.  The husband  had, previous to their marriage, explored the world of drugs and hallucenogens.  He considered himself a “spiritual person” and had little patience for mitzvos regarding ethical behavior between man and man.  This included his lack of respect for and patience with his wife who he treated abusively both verbally and physically.  His behavior included kicking, hitting, spitting, and cursing at his wife.   His wife was a quiet, soft-spoken girl who did not share having drug experiences in her past like her husband had.

The husband was cynical and sceptical of seeking marital counseling or getting help from a psychologist. He knew full well and did not need to be told how badly he was behaving toward his wife, and he expected to simply be made to feel guilty of his behavior.  After listening to them both, and getting a general idea of the situation, I affirmed the husband’s feeling of scepticism of him wanting to come to be made to feel guilty of the way he was treating his wife.  I assured him that I was sure that he was aware of his behavior, that I knew he was an intelligent man, and that I understood that he did not have patience for interpersonal relationships and was more tuned into spiritual endeavors.  Reassuring him of this understanding helped him feel that I was not approaching the situation with a judgmental, guilt imposing attitude.

Then I asked him if he would spit on a siddur.  He was taken aback and responded with a strong negative reaction.  I asked him if he would ever step on or kick a Sefer Torah.  Again, his response was a definitive no.  I asked him why not, and he said because they are Holy and Sacred, and he would never treat something Holy and sacred disrespectfully.  I asked, “Do you know that the “Shechina” rests on your wife?  (Hashem is a partner in the marriage between “Ish” (man), and “Ishah” (woman), as revealed in the Hebrew spelling of the words, when the Yud is removed  from the word “Ish” and the Hay is removed from the word “Ishah”, The letters “Yud” and “Hay” spelling Hashem’s name, – When Hashem is removed from these words, you are left with “Aish”, the word for Fire).  He responded that he had not thought about it in this way before, but acknowledged it’s truth.

I said that while he might realize it intellectually, I wanted to help him actualize his awareness of it and make it real for him.  I suggested that he meditate, closing his eyes and visualizing his wife with the Shechina resting on her for 15 minutes twice a day, once in the morning and again in the evening.  BE”H this will help him bring to his awareness her holiness and sacredness to him, and help him be able to treat her with the reverence due to  his Aishet Chail.  His response was – – He looked at me astounded and responded that he felt that Hashem was speaking to him through me!  He was able to relate to this “spiritual approach” which spoke to him.  He was no longer cynical or sceptical of an attempt to change his behavior, and he was open and willing to approach this  perspective.  I myself was personally moved by his reaction.  The couple returned a second time to confirm his commitment to this meditation and to affirm that their relationship had greatly improved in the interim.

By changing his perspective he was able to see the G-dliness in his wife, and enabled him to relate to her through his own “spiritual” values, not forcing him to interact with another person from a physical place, not through guilt, moral behavior, restraint of his impulses, or encouraging him to be more patient.  The Alter Rebbe explains that the only way we can truly Love your Neighbor as Yourself is by seeing through the physical multiple nature of creation to the G-dly soul which is truly one, uniting all Jews as one. Once we see two individuals it is impossible to do.  Only when we see ourselves as one can we truly love our neighbor as ourselves.  Visualizing the Shechina resting on his wife enabled him to relate to her beyond her physical self to the One that unites them both.

I was told that through this perspective this couple was able to live in Shalom Bayis for years after this counseling encounter.

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