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Thursday, 16 April 2015

Embracing your in-laws

Daf Yomi Kesubos 71

Fraidy never had a wonderful relationship with her mother growing up.  She always looked longingly at the bond her friends had with their mothers but no matter how hard she tried, it seemed that her mother didn’t get her.  Mom wasn’t a bad person; Fraidy just felt that they had very different ways of looking at the world.

Fraidy met Yitz in her early twenties and they were married shortly thereafter.   She loved everything about Yitz – his sense of humour, his strength of character, his lovely demeanor.  But one thing started annoying her some time shortly after the wedding – from time to time, he would make snide remarks about her parents.

The truth is, he was really only echoing what he was hearing from her.  But in her mind, it was okay for her to put her parents down, but it was unacceptable for him to talk the way he did about her parents.   Eventually, she realized that she would have to change the way she talked about them and hopefully her husband would follow suit. 

The prophet Hosea declares, “It shall be on that day, says Hashem, you shall call Me: my husband (ish); and you will no longer call Me: my master (baal).”
Rabbi Yochanan taught: Israel will become like a bride in her in-laws’ home and no longer like a bride in her parents’ home.

There are two words for husband in Hebrew: baal and ish.  The former connotes ownership, while the latter connotes partnership.  When you get married, there’s a sense of winning a prize – you got the girl, you got the guy.  You own something that nobody else can have!  But true love moves must transition from that feeling of acquisition to a feeling of intense partnership of ish and isha

What’s one of the major impediments to creating that deep bond?  Rabbi Yochanan explains that the innate problem of marriage is that the two of you come from different backgrounds, different homes.  The wedding day is over, and suddenly, not only do you have a new spouse, but you have to deal with a whole new family, as well!  Many people are resistant to this transformation and say, ‘well, I married him, I didn’t marry his family.’

But Judaism does not accept that response.  Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) obligates a person to respect one’s in-laws.  Respect for in-laws is a much more difficult mitzvah than respect for parents – it’s not natural.  You need to work on yourself to make it happen.  And sometimes you need to tune out when your spouse is talking negatively about their parents.  It’s really not okay for them to talk negatively, but it’s certainly much worse if you weigh in.

Naturally, you’re going to be resistant to embracing your spouse’s quirky family.  It’s not what you’re used to.  But working your hardest to become part of the family and treating them as your own flesh and blood goes a very long way to becoming one with your spouse. 

Call your mother-in-law regularly.  Send her flowers for Shabbos.  Ask your father-in-law about the family customs and rituals.  Be the one who organizes their surprise wedding anniversary.  No matter how your spouse feels about their parents, they will unconsciously begin to admire and love you more intensely than ever!

Marriage is about the coming together not just of two individuals.  It is the coming together of two lives.  Those lives include different experiences, backgrounds and families.  May you merit embracing your spouse’s parents and siblings, becoming a regular, equal member of the family, and ultimately joining in true oneness with your spouse!