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Thursday, 30 July 2015

Serve or get served

Daf Yomi Nedarim 66

Divorce is a terrible thing.  The Talmud tells us that when a couple gets divorced, the Holy Altar in the Temple sheds tears.  And nowadays, it’s happening more and more.  Some have suggested that it just wasn’t socially acceptable in the past, but the causes run much deeper than that.   Marriages take a lot of work and effort and although there are certainly those who get divorced for more complicated reasons, most of the time people just aren’t willing to do what it takes to maintain a vibrant marriage.

When a person comes to the Beth Din to have his vow annulled, we initiate an exit based upon his personal honour and the honour of his children.  We say to him: If you had known that tomorrow they would say about you ‘that’s the way of that fellow, he divorces his wives,’ or about your daughters, they’d say, ‘they’re children of divorce – why did their mother ask for a divorce?’ would you have made the vow?  If he says that he would not have made the vow with such knowledge, he is released from the vow.
The Ran explains: This man vowed that his wife should have no benefit from him.  Consequently, they have no choice but to get divorced.

Divorce in Judaism presents a strange dichotomy.  On the one hand, only the man has the power to give the gett (divorce papers).  On the other hand, generally most divorces are initiated by the woman!  Why does the Torah set up a system that is counterintuitive?

Most men who divorce don’t want to get divorced.  They’ll refuse to accept it until the bitter end.  In their minds, divorce equals failure.  So instead, they would prefer to continue their “marriage” but act like the man in our Mishnah who refuses to step up and treat his wife as he should.  This fellow has gone so far as to vow that he won’t do anything for his wife – he won’t provide, he won’t help around the house, he won’t be there for her emotionally.  And yet he still wants the kavod (honour) of being married!  To that we say, ‘Sorry, if you’re not willing to be a decent husband, she has every right to a divorce.’

The problem with many men is that marriage is all about their personal honour.  That is the antithesis of marriage.  It’s not about your honour; it’s about your wife’s honour.  Our Sages say that one must honour one’s wife more than one honours oneself.  That means doing what she likes to do, going where she likes to go, buying what she likes to buy.  It doesn’t mean that you can’t take care of yourself; but that you must honour her more than your own honour, i.e. take care of her needs and wants and then see to yours.

When marriage is about your own honour, like with this fellow in our Mishnah, it is doomed for failure.  Most women understand this principle intuitively.  They dedicate their lives to honouring their husbands.  But for most men, it doesn’t come naturally.  They don’t comprehend that when they got married, they signed on to a lifetime of service to their spouse.   So long as marriage is about you and your honour, it’s not going to survive.  Only once it becomes about the other person will your marriage be sustainable and thriving.

Do you feel honoured to be married to your spouse?  Great!  Now take that honour and invest everything you’ve got into her/him to make them feel like the most honoured, loved and cherished person in the world.  May you merit a life of service to your basherte!