Resolving Relationship Problems
David and Rachel have been married for five years and they have two young children who are quite active. David is a computer software analyst and is doing quite well for himself, although he still has a distance to reach his potential in the corporate ladder. David can earn enough that he can support his present family comfortably. Rachel is a lawyer by training but at present works trying to run the household and bring up their children.
Unfortunately, Rachel and David seem to be more and more at odds with each other over the running of the house. David feels bad that when he comes home dinner is not always made by his wife (which he considers shows a lack of caring) and even though he is tired from work, he is immediately hit from Rachel with responsibilities at home e.g. taking care of the children etc. Rachel feels bad that what she does in the day is not appreciated and it seems that when she asks her husband to do something, it is always done in a reluctant manner.
When looking at these issues it is worth noting the famous French psychiatrist Henri Baruk (lived 1897-1999) who was a revolutionist in the way he understood the problems that people faced. He stated[i] that the common treatment when he started work was psychoanalysis and he explained that this type of therapy had a problem because it has a tendency to identify mankind as an animal. Baruk explained that this reduces man to instincts and does not take into account his moral conscience. The view of man as just an animal causes people to focus on themselves which can generate an unhealthy mental state, including frustration and depression. Baruk argued that there needs to be limits and morality for people to be able to function and be happy in this world. It should be made clear that Baruk was not an observant Jew but as a psychiatrist he appreciated the need for people to have a structure of morality.
The Torah portion of Korach enhances and substantiates Baruk’s assertions. Korach lead a rebellion (helped along with two other men named Dasan and Aviram) against Moses in the desert. He asserted that all Jews should be priests and not just a select few. Korach gathered together 250 leaders of the Jewish people and challenged Moses’s authority. Moses responded by declaring a contest the next day between Aharon (Moses’s brother) who was the high priest appointed by G-D and the 250 men. All these people would act like a high priest, trying to offer up the incense offering, the winner being the one whom G-D would choose. At the contest G-D punishes Korach and his followers, with the main instigators being swallowed up into the earth and the rest of Korach’s followers being burnt up from a heavenly fire.
The Talmud states[ii] that “the same way that man acts then G-D acts to him”, which would translate in the story of Korach, that their punishment would be meted out in the same type of way that they sinned. The question can then be asked what is the connection and similarity between the punishments of burning and swallowing up alive to the main sin of arguing against Moses and Aharon[iii]? Why are they receiving these specific punishments?
To understand the answer to this question, it needs to be understood what exactly was Korach’s argument with Moses? Korach claimed[iv] “that the whole community are holy and G-D is found within them. Why do you (Moses and Aharon’s household of priests) raise yourselves over the community of G-D?” That means that Korach did not want differences between Jews (certainly not one elevated above the other). When there would be no differences between Jews then in Korach’s mind this would mean real Jewish unity.
It is hard to understand why then does the Talmud[v] use Korach as a paradigm of someone who “persists in a quarrel”? If Korach wanted Jewish unity so much why does the Mishnah[vi] go even further and say that any argument between Jews is connected with the ideology of Korach?
The answer to these questions is hinted in the answer of Moses to Korach. The Midrash[vii] (brought in Rashi on the Torah[viii]) states that Moses said to Korach “G-D made boundaries in his world, can you mix morning with night? This is what it means when it states in the beginning of the Torah[ix] that G-D separated between the light and darkness, so too he separated the Jewish people from the other nations etc. so too not every Jew can become a priest”.
Moses was talking about the beginning of creation where G-D created the world with ten different statements known as the “ten utterances”[x] such as “let there be light” etc. Since creation was not with just one utterance but with different utterances then this caused differences and limitations in this world. Every creation has its limitations which causes it to be different from another creation, having their own function and constraints. When each item, e.g. day and night, does its task according to its limitations in its time, then both become a functioning unit, in this case “one day”.
The idea of each creation fulfilling its function in its limited way brings about the completion and goal of creation. On the other hand when a creation does something which is the function of something else which is not within its task and limitations etc. then this causes chaos in the order of creation[xi].
The idea of limitation and differences which are found in the world as a whole is reflected also in the whole realm of holiness. In the land of Israel the Mishna states there are ten levels of holiness, one higher than the other. In the concept of time there are differences between the weekdays, Shabbat, Yom Kippur etc. This concept is also reflected in the Jewish souls where the Torah differentiates between a Kohen (priest), Levi and Yisroel (average Jew) or in the priests themselves, the Torah differentiates between a normal priest and the High priest.
Just as it is important that each creation fulfils its function[xii] and not change it, so to in the realm of holiness each item or individual needs to keep to its focus on its job. Peace is achieved even within matters of holiness when each part does not encroach or oppose another part of the realm of holiness.
The situation when someone or something are doing what they are supposed to do but not having any opposition is nevertheless not true peace. Each level or person in the realm of holiness can find themselves in their “own world” separate from everything else. Just because there is no hostility it does not mean that there is a situation of peace and unity.
The Hebrew word for peace is “shalom” which shares its root with the word “hashlomah” which means completeness. True peace is when limitations exist at each level and in each person but each one provides for someone or something else and helps to improve/bring completeness to the situation. For example the Temple in Jerusalem helped to complete the world fulfil its G-Dly purpose through causing a certain awareness of G-Dliness in the whole world[xiii]; Shabbat influences the six days of the week[xiv] helping the Jews fulfil their task in the world; the high priest achieves certain blessings for the Jewish nation[xv]. These entities not only influence the world etc but also receive from the very things they are influencing. The Jews with their donations built the Temples and the Jews through exerting themselves during the week[xvi] are able to achieve an extra holiness in Shabbat[xvii] etc
There is even a higher level of harmony and unity than described above, this is when each part recognises that they are a component of the same unit. Each piece of that unit has an advantage which no other part possesses, creating a situation where each component has an advantage and unique quality compared to the other parts. Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi gives an example[xviii] of the human body, where each limb has a certain quality and advantage which helps the other limbs. The head is necessary for sight, direction etc. but the feet, which are the lowest level are necessary to lift the person up and to transport them somewhere. So too within the Jewish people who are like one spiritual body (even though physically they are detached), each Jew is different but possesses a good quality which no one else owns. That good quality when used by this Jew helps people who are on a higher spiritual level reach an even higher spiritual realm. Just like the parts of the physical body, when each Jew does what they do best this complements the qualities of the other Jews.
When each part is viewed as part of a whole unit then a deeper view of unity can be achieved as if one part is missing then the whole unit is an incomplete item. For example just like the year is not complete without all the different 365 days, including each week day and festival etc. (as if one day would be missing, the year would not be complete), so too the body is not complete without all its individual separate components. Specifically when there is a unit or body composite of different parts, it is important to remember the limitations and differences of each component. Each part needs to be appreciated and seen as important, fitting together, by complementing each other to make a whole unit. Thus every Jew has something to add to the Jewish people and when they do not act as part of the unit of the Jewish people, this affects everyone.
Until now it has been described different levels of unity which can be achieved in this diverse world but when looking at spirituality as it is removed from the world, in its source, then there is no room for diversity. G-D himself is above division and plurality and so is a simple unity.
Korach wanted everyone to be priests, he wanted that all should be the same. He was able to see into the depths of the Jews and see that in their subconscious, there was a G-Dly spark which has no division between Jews. The type of unity which a Jew can experience by revealing this subconscious G-Dly spark will only be revealed in the future after Moshiach comes and the Jews are redeemed, as it states[xix] “A man will not teach his friend etc. because everyone will know me”.
At this present time whilst we are still in exile the Jews and the world are not refined enough to reveal such a level of spirituality, selflessness and unity. In fact such a revelation would cause the opposite of the desired outcome and produce division with disharmony.
An individual is made up of a spiritual G-Dly desire/soul and a separate material inclination/soul[xx] which is more self focused. When a type of service requires too much spiritual input from a person then the consequences are that their spiritual make up splits up. The more spiritual rises above and the more material part of the person is pulled down lower.
It now make sense that the punishments of Korach and his followers were fitting for their wrong doing. Those who were burnt were trying to achieve something more spiritual and selflessness, without the limitations within the Jewish people. They desired for something beyond the people’s ability at that time and they requested it in the wrong way, so their punishment was to be burnt. When something burns it effects that the item’s more refined part rises above, which was fitting to their desire to rise above. Those who had more base goals in their argument with Moses (even though the way it was expressed was cloaked in spiritual demands) were pulled lower and swallowed up.[xxi]
Back to the original problem of David and Rachel*:
David and Rachel are not bad people and their contentions with their spouse do not seem illogical. The question is though, is each one learning the lesson from Korach and thinking about a harmonious relationship in the limitations of their lives?
One possible answer to their problems could be that they each focus on the issues which they have with their spouse and try to cajole their partner into what they think would be a better spouse. The problem with this solution is that it will be seen by their spouse as an imposition, as Henri Baruk would claim the individual needs to feel they are making a moral choice, not being treated like a pet and told what to perform. Baruk would argue that there is right and wrong in this relationship. What we learn from the Torah portion of Korach is how to resolve the issues.
One of the lessons from Korach is that to ask David and Rachel not to have any self interest might have the opposite effect. David is probably more focused on his own issues when it is demanded from him to forget about what he needs and just focus on everyone else. Rachel as well might become more incensed when she is required to disregard her requests and become more selfless.
What then is the solution? G-D made men and women different, with a different spiritual, psychological and physiological make up. Each spouse serves a specific role in the relationship and the household. The first thing which needs to be thought about in marriage is do “I recognise the uniqueness of my spouse in the family unit?”
Everyone has limitations, being who they are means they are not someone else and do not have the ability to achieve the same things. A spouse needs to recognise the limitations of their own and their partner’s personality with their ability to achieve in this world. If one recognises that their spouse has certain limitations then they need to think how they can complement those limitations and make their spouse’s life easier. Their spouse is not to be seen as completely separate entity but a part in the family unit, which includes all the members, the better each individual functions then the better the family functions.
If an individual recognises that they are part of a unit and they need to help the other member of that unit, then the way they speak and act will be not in an aggressive or demanding way. If one recognises that they, as well as the rest of the family unit have their limitations then they will think about what is in that person’s specific ability before requesting something from them. Together with this recognition they must recognise, feel and show appreciation for what their spouse does well.
What happens though if a spouse does not recognise their partner’s limitations and constraints emotionally or physically? There is unfortunately the common route which couples follow when there are problems which is to feel resentment and argue with their spouse. The other options are to firstly try and talk through the issues when the children are asleep and one spouse can explain how they are limited (which is perfectly normal), needing help in a certain way. That does not mean that the other spouse must help in the way that is being requested as they might not physically or mentally be able. What it does mean is that they will show an understanding of the problem and a will to try to work towards at least a partial solution. If this does not work then a third party should be approached to help sort out the issue, the third party might be a mutually agreed friend or orthodox marriage counsellor.
It does not seem that either David or Rachel recognises the limitations and unique contributions each is making towards the family unit. In this specific case David needs to understand that his wife has a hard schedule with a normal need of more appreciation and help with the children. Rachel also needs to recognise David’s limitations of a normal need to eat and mentally rest before helping with the children. This though is not enough as not only should appreciation be verbally communicated but more effort needs to be put into the relationship. Each one needs to not only cognitively recognise but emotionally feel how good are the other’s unique good contributions to the house. After recognising and feeling this, both will speak and act differently towards each other, improving their relationship.
[i] Baruk, H. (2016, July 5). Nigun.info/barukinterview. Retrieved from nigun.info: Nigun.info/barukinterview
[ii] Sotah 8,b
[iii] Bamidbar Rashi 17,3
[iv] Bamidbar 16,3
[v] Sanhedrin 110,a
[vi] Avos 5,17
[vii] Tanchuma Korach 5
[ix] Berishis 1, 4 and 5
[x] Avos 5,1
[xi] Ramban Kedoshim 19,19
[xii] Even though there are specific functions which are similar to the rest of the Jewish people
[xiii] Menachos 86,b see Rashi there
[xiv] Zohar chelek beis 63,b
[xv] See dreushey behalosacha es haneros
[xvi] Avodah Zarah 3,a
[xvii] Lekutei Torah Shir Hashirim 24,a
[xviii] Lekutei Torah beginning Parshas Nitzavim
[xix] Yirmeyahu 31,33
[xx] Tanya chapter 1
[xxi] Lekutei Sichos chelek 18 p.202-211
*This example is being used when both sides are not being abusive. If a spouse is being abused then they should immediatley go to a professional for help. The article is still relevant but the situation demands professional help