Rachel and Binyomin have enjoyed a number of years in a pleasant relationship. They have three children who ages range from 3 to 8 and all have enjoyed family time together. Unfortunately, Binyomin has lost his job recently and the relationship between himself and Rachel has become quite uneasy, with sporadic arguments and feelings of resentment. Both Rachel and Binyomin do not understand why their relationship should turn sour in a hard time when things had been going so well until now?
It would seem that the reason for the arguments between Rachel and Binyomin have been caused by Binyomin’s lack of work. A noted reason for relationship problems are financial problems in a household which make a relationship very hard. That does not mean that every relationship has to have issues when there is a financial crises but it definitely makes it harder. The question which is asked why can some relationships become stronger under pressure but with many it becomes harder?
The answer might lay in a lesson from a part of this week’s Torah portion. The Torah relates that Abraham after going through a number of trials is given a respite and is able to dwell peacefully in the land of “Plishtim”. At this point Abraham planted an “Eshel” tree and went about publicising the belief in one G-D[i]. Only after many years, the Torah goes on to relate, Abraham is tested again with the “Akeida”, with G-D seemingly asking Abraham to offer up his son Yitzchok (although in the end telling him not to touch him).
The Torah does not relate every incident in Abraham’s life but relates the major events which instruct us how to live our lives. Why does the Torah describe the planting of the “Eshel” tree? What could this teach us and what is the connection to the next event which is the test of the “Akeida”?
The simple meaning of “Eshel” is a large tree which was planted in an arid land, where the heat beat down. Abraham planted a tree in such a place to protect himself from the sun. The Talmud[ii] states that the Eshel was not one tree but a whole garden of fruit trees and the goal was that the passing travellers/guests should enjoy the fruit. A third view is that the word “Eshel” should be translated as an “inn”, Abraham did not just give fruit but also gave food, drink and lodging. The midrash[iii] relates that Avraham, due to these guests, set up a court of law in order to answer any questions which his guests might have.
The Torah is describing to us the way Abraham treated his guests and explaining that Abraham was not satisfied by giving his guests the minimum of bread and water. Abraham instead gave delicacies such as fruit, wine etc and lodging, with a court of law to answer any questions. Abraham gave these things even though all these people were complete strangers and in no way was he obligated to help them.
To understand why this is relevant to us we need to answer another question, why do we call Abraham “avinu” (our father/patriarch)? How is he our parent? It is because in the merit of his work he caused that every Jew inherit the potential for certain qualities (like a father causes their children to inherit), such as the characteristics of charity and benevolence. The potential of these traits is not just to do the minimum and give what is necessary for the situation but like Abraham to give beyond what the other needs e.g. giving delicacies. This means not only giving and supporting them physically but also intellectually and emotionally.
Giving somebody because they lack something would be acting in a rational manner because it is natural to feel a desire to help in such a case. To give someone something which is not necessary for them to receive but is something which is seen just as a pleasurable object would be acting in a way going beyond the letter of the law and one’s understanding. The type of good attitude which this expresses is the nature to desire and search that also another individual should have good.
This then is the connection between the “Akeida” and the planting of the “Eshel”. Where did the ability go beyond one’s limit of understanding and to have the self sacrifice of Abraham and Yitzchok for the Akeida? Abraham was enjoying a relatively quiet time from all his problems when faced suddenly with such a hard trial, where did his strong conviction come from? The answer is it came from the work before when Abraham planted the “Eshel”, which included all the self sacrifice he had for the strangers who he helped physically and emotionally. The way that both Abraham and his son were giving of themselves, doing kindness and going beyond their comfort zone/understanding, caused that they could go to the “Akeida” with joy.
The “Akeida” was a test in the relationship between Abraham and G-D, was Abraham given over to do what G-D wanted of him? Was he interested in doing what G-D wanted for G-D’s sake or just what Abraham could get out of the relationship? Abrahams interest in doing good for people in a way that Abraham went beyond his comfort zone and understanding was a preparation for the hard test to follow[iv].
Back to Binyomin and Rachel
Binyomin and Rachel have enjoyed a number of years living a nice life together but now are experiencing problems. The problems they are experiencing are being agitated by their financial situation which is causing more stress on both of them and so their “fuse” is shorter to cope with actions or statements from their spouse which trigger anxiety.
Binyomin and Rachel acted in an appropriate way when their circumstances were better and helped each other when necessary. Each one of them was able to identify their spouse’s good qualities and appreciate the good that they had. This though is not enough because when the couple have to sale through a rough time in their lives, it is in that time that an individual becomes more self focused and it is harder to recognise the positive aspects of other people. Then each individual in the relationship needs to go beyond their own self focused lives and help their spouse even when it does not make sense.
The lesson of this week’s Torah portion teaches that the individuals in a relationship should not wait until they are tested to find the power to overcome their trial. There must be a constant attitude of revealing the potential for good which they have spiritualy inherited from Abraham, going beyond one’s comfort zone and looking to help others who are in need. Then when the situation does become hard each one is able to cope with the needs of their relationship, helping out in chores, showing some understanding, giving space when nessary etc.
Nevertheless, however hard an individual finds their relationship it can always be helped by a qualified Jewish orthodox marriage therapist. The therapist can help the individuals go beyond their own “framework” and find the best way that the marriage can continue in a more appropriate atmosphere, helping the couple to feel closer.
Yitzchok Kaye BA, Pg. Dip., Msc is a trained, qualified Cognitive Behavioural Therapist, who also specializes in other therapies. He helps individuals and couples with their challenges and issues. He has been a practising therapist for a number of Counselling Organisations but now has his own private practice. He is available around the world via Skype. He can be contacted at Yitzkaye@gmail.com
The above article is a general structure for people but for specific problems a qualified therapist should be consulted.