Dovid and Shoshana have been married for six years and have three children. Dovid works long hours as an accountant, while his wife has the hard job of taking care of the children, house work, errands etc. Shoshana is naturally quite organised but with all her obligations, she finds it hard to stream line all the different things she must accomplish. Nevertheless Shoshana is on top of her to do list and even when the kids are at home, she is able to keep the house running in an orderly manner. When she finds some free time, she is able to browse the internet or have a chat with some friends but finds it hard to find time to learn Torah. When Dovid comes home he tries to have something to eat and then give his children some quality time, doing some homework or playing a game. Dovid will then go out to help with some communal work or attend some form of learning.
Dovid has tried to show his wife how much he appreciates her by giving her presents and showing his affection. He feels that he is doing his bit for the marriage but his wife is not reciprocating, since she rarely shows any signs of positive attention towards him. Shoshana on the other hand feels that Dovid is not fulfilling his side of the obligations in marriage, since she feels that he could do a lot more to help when he comes home and in addition they could spend some quality time together. Each time they talk about their feelings it seems that they get into a large argument about who is right.
Gary Chapman PHD wrote his famous book concerning the “five love languages” which reached the New York Times number one spot and has sold over 8 million copies. In the book Chapman describes the five different ways that people show love i.e. physical touch; words of affirmation (verbal compliments or words of appreciation); quality time (undivided attention, not just watching television together); receiving gifts; acts of service (doing something your spouse would like you to do).
Chapman points out that our upbringing, education and what we received from the media can affect how we perceive what is the appropriate way of showing love. People express their love but their spouse can misunderstand how much love they are trying to show because they understand love should be expressed in a different way. Chapman claims that each spouse needs to discover the other person’s love language and each one must observe how they express love to each other. He theorises that people normally wish to receive love in the same way that they give it. In the case above, Dovid would need to focus on the fact that his wife wants to spend quality time together. Shoshana on the other hand, needs to focus on the things that she could give to her husband, including appreciation for what he is doing for her and the family.
Chapman has achieved much acclaim for his ideas and sold millions of copies of his book, nevertheless his theories do not actually have that much evidence from scientific research. This does not take away from the fact that what he says might have a lot of truth to it but it does show the need for a stronger foundation for his claims.
A lesson from this week’s Torah portion helps to put into perspective how to achieve a better relationship with a spouse and gives more credence to Chapman’s arguments.
In this week’s Torah portion the laws of a Kosher animal are discussed, with the signs with which an individual is able to check if an animal is Kosher. There is a question in Jewish law[i] if the signs of a kosher animal actually make the animal kosher or are the signs just to identify if an animal is kosher? For example if a kosher animal (e.g. a sheep), gave birth to a baby which did not have the specific signs but certainly comes from a kosher animal, would it still be considered kosher? If the animal is intrinsically kosher (and the kosher signs are just to clarify this) then yes the animal is kosher but if the signs make the animal kosher then it would not be kosher.
This world is the end of a chain like process of concealment of G-Dliness which created a world which sees itself as separate from G-D. When trying to convey a certain spiritual idea (for example G-D’s kingship) through a parable (using a parable of a king in our world), the actual spiritual concept exists in a level before this world and then manifests itself in our world in the terms which we see.
Accordingly, even the signs of a kosher animal are rooted and mirrored in a spiritual source. It makes sense that both concepts which were mentioned before about the signs of a kosher animal, indicate that these signs have a deep connection with the actual concept of kosher. The signs of a Kosher animal which are that it has a completely split hoof and chews the cud (regurgitates its food and eats it a second time) have a fundamental connection with the concept of kosher.
The laws of Kosher give a Jew the chance to elevate the world to a more G-DLY state. The Talmud states[ii] that a person is similar to an animal in three ways but is separate from the rest of the world in a number of other respects. In the individual as well, one has to elevate the lower parts of one’s personality (which are similar to an animal etc) to a more spiritual level.
The person needs to think if they are involved in the world with a G-DLY purpose and elevating the world around them to a G-DLY plane, or they are just doing things out of habit/rote which would actually draw them away from any spiritual connection. When someone does things just out of habit then whatever they are doing is not about G-D or actually for the sake of other people but it is really it is about what is making that person feel comfortable. It could be a good thing that they are doing which takes effort but the central reason why they are doing this act is because it comes naturally and they feel comfortable with what they are doing.
How does one know if they are doing something out of habit or for a more purposeful reason? In order for an individual to know whether they are doing what they should, they need signs. The signs for an individual to know if they are acting appropriately (in a Kosher way), are hinted in the signs of a Kosher animal.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi explains[iii] an astonishing story in the Talmud (see note 3 below) in which Rabbi Chanina the son of Tradyon did two different actions. In order to do one of these actions Rabbi Chanina needed to be disciplined (this would be given the Hebrew emotional term of “Gevurah”), while the other opposite action was one of freely giving of himself (this would be given the Hebrew emotional term of “Chessed”). Both these actions Rabbi Chanina did with the same enthusiasm. This demonstrated that Rabbi Chanina was doing both actions for the sake of heaven, since no one is naturally inclined in two opposite ways and would be naturally enthusiastic about doing both actions. A person to be enthusiastic about both being very disciplined and very kind, would demand that the individual work on themselves.
The same lesson can be seen with Abraham when he is tested if he would offer up his precious son (the Akeida). In this specific test (although there had be nine previous tests) , G-D says “now I know you fear G-D”. The previous tests all demanded Abraham to act in a certain fashion of giving, with the test of the Akeida, it demanded that Abraham act in a contrary direction of discipline and self focus. Only when Abraham showed that he was enthusiastic about passing all the different types of tests, it proved that he was not doing it because it naturally felt right but because it was right.
When an individual acts only in a certain fashion, it could be that they are doing it because it naturally feels good or out of habit. The sign of a pure animal is to have a completely split hoof, which therefore comprises of two sides at the same time. This is a sign of an individual who will be able to face any challenge which divine providence brings their way, as they are not limited to react in a certain form.
The hoof of a kosher animal must be fully split and not just externally split but joined on the inside. The same is true of the individual, the person needs to keep on working on themselves and not just do what is against their nature. A person through learning, prayer etc will aim to change themselves to feel comfortable with handling situations in which they naturally would fail.
When coming across situations in this material world it is easy to be impulsive, even after having worked on oneself, an individual cannot rely on themselves. The second sign of a kosher animal is that it brings up its food for a second time to chew over and then digest. Similarly it is an imperative for each one of us to think over what we are about to do before we actually do it and see if it is in line with what is required in this situation.
In summary when looking at the world around us, we need to make sure that we act in a Kosher way, which would mean that we are not just doing things to fill our natural desires. Before we act, it is also necessary to think over the appropriateness and correctness of what we want to carry out.[iv]
Back to Dovid and Shoshana
The truth is that both Dovid and Shoshana are not focusing on what their spouse needs, they both are concentrating on their own requirements. The lessons from Gary Chapman are certainly applicable in this case, as both Dovid and Shoshana need to go beyond their own world. Dovid seems to be the easy out going spouse and Shoshana the more disciplined spouse in the relationship. Each one needs to think about the other's needs but that does not mean that they forget about their own. As the lesson from this week's portion points out, there must be a balance and in the case of a relationship, each one has to find room for the other. Dovid needs to find time for his wife and Shoshana needs to give space to her husband, while showing appreciation. The lesson from this week’s Torah portion teaches that each spouse needs to be concerned not just with what is comfortable for themselves but also how to help their spouse. This is a constant need not just in marriage but in all aspects of our lives.
An individual cannot demand in a relationship that it conform with what they naturally feel comfortable. For a relationship to last each spouse will need to be able to leave their comfort zone and attend to the needs of their partner even if that is against their nature. They also need to think before speaking or acting on what they understand, the appropriateness of what they are about to try. They need to think will it achieve what they want to accomplish?
To be able to have this attitude each spouse would need to learn Torah in a way that the person thinks how to apply the lessons in their day to day life and then follow through in action. Each spouse would also need to learn a bit more of the sections in the Torah which put into perspective the broader picture of the world's relationship with G-D. When each spouse can see the bigger picture then they will be able to balance their natural desires with the world around them. It might also take the help of a Jewish orthodox marriage therapist with their techniques to help each spouse to climb out of their own world and see their partner.
[i] Tzafenas Paneach (by the Rogachover Gaon) on the Rambam beginning laws of forbidden foods
[ii] Chagigah 16,1
[iii] Torah Ohr 19,b
There is an interesting and astonishing story recorded in the Talmud (Avodah Zara 18,a) which describes a discussion between Rabbi Yose the son of Kisma and Rabbi Chanina the son of Teradyon. Rabbi Chanina had been flouting the law set by the Roman rulers of the time, who had decreed that Torah should not be taught in public. (The Romans as documented in the annuals of history were the ones who destroyed the Temple and wanted then to destroy the Jews spiritually). Rabbi Chanina asked Rabbi Yose if all Rabbi Chanina’s self sacrifice was coming with the right intention? Rabbi Yosi asked Rabbi Chanina if any incident had challenged him? Rabbi Chanina answered that an incident had happened where he gave out money to poor people from money collected from the public but Rabbi Chanina had made a mistake and actually given from his own money. Rabbi Chanina did not ask for any communal money to replenish what he had given out to the poor people. Rabbi Yose then told Rabbi Chanina that he had pure intentions when teaching Torah.
The story is a bit startling as what was the question of Rabbi Chanina if his attentions were pure? Rabbi Chanina was putting his life at risk teaching Torah, why else would he be doing it? What also was the question of Rabbi Yose, who asked Rabbi Chanina if he had any incident which challenged him?
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi answers even though Rabbi Chanina was righteous and learned Torah without ulterior motives, he was nevertheless worried that perhaps his teaching was not for the sake of heaven. Rabbi Shneur Zalman quotes the Rambam (Shemona Perakim ch. 8) who explains that there are people who are naturally drawn to learning wisdom constantly, as it can be seen in the secular world. There are people who could have a pleasurable material lifestyle but prefer to be involved in learning secular wisdom because of a natural passion to learn.
Amongst the Jewish people as well a similar difference can be found in their natural inclinations. An individual can be drawn towards learning Torah day and night but this is just their natural disposition. Rabbi Chanina had a natural disposition to do the right thing which could have caused him to give up his life for yiddishkeit (Judaism). He therefore asked Rabbi Yosi if his intentions were pure? Rabbi Yosi answers with a question, if Rabbi Chanina had done something which would indicate that his motives are not because he naturally is not interested in worldly pleasure. Rabbi Chanina answers that he was magnanimous with his own money and gave of it freely to the poor. A person who is naturally disciplined and self focused (this would be given the Hebrew emotional term of “Gevurah”), being cold to worldly pleasure, will also be naturally stingy with their money. The proof that Rabbi Chanina was acting with pure intentions and not just because he naturally felt a desire to learn, was from his ability to give out charity freely as well (which is the aspect of “chesed” in Jewish mysticism).