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Monday, 21 December 2015

The woman is not the neck

Daf Yomi Gittin 7

Rabbanit Batya was once giving a class on gender roles in Judaism.  A young lady raises her hand and tells her, "Before I got married, my kallah teacher taught me that the husband is the head of the household but the wife is the neck that ultimately controls the direction the head will take.  My wife chuckled to herself and thought, “I guess her kallah teacher has also seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding!”

Rav Yehuda quoted Rav: Whoever instills excessive fear in his family members, will eventually end up transgressing the three sins of immorality, murder, and Shabbos desecration. 
Rabbah bar bar Chanah said: That which the Rabbis taught, “A person must say three things in his house Erev Shabbos (Friday afternoon) as it gets dark: Have you tithed the food?  Have you prepared the eruv?  Have you lit the candles?” one must say them gently so that they are accepted from him.
Rabbi Abahu taught: A person should never instill excessive fear in his family members, for a great man instilled excessive fear in his family and they fed him something major.  Who was that?  Rabbi Chanina ben Gamliel.
The Gemara asks: Do you really think they fed it to him?  No, they almost fed it to him.
What was it?  A limb from a living animal.
Rashi explains:  They misplaced the slaughtered meat and they were so afraid of how he would react that they simply cut off a limb from a living animal and prepared it for him.

Rabbi Abahu warns against instilling excessive fear in the house.  But what’s interesting is that he does not say that one should never instill any fear in his family members; he says one should not instill excessive fear.  Why would Rabbi Abahu want a man to instill fear in his home?

According to Kabbalah, mitzvos need wings to fly up to Heaven.  What are the wings for mitzvos?  Love and fear.   

How do you do your mitzvos?  Some people do the mitzvah perfunctorily, and that’s that – I’ve done my duty, now leave me alone.  But that’s by far not the ideal way to do a mitzvah!  The way to shoot your mitzvah all the way up is to attach the wings of love and fear to the mitzvah.

It’s like little Johnny who comes home from school one day and tells his mother they had a substitute teacher.  ‘How was she?’ asks the mother.  ‘Not as good on piano as Mrs. Brown.  She needed two hands to play the piano.  Mrs. Brown can play with just one!’

Obviously, playing piano with one hand only gets the melody. It’s a nice tune, but once you add the left hand, you capture the whole song in all its vibrancy.  That’s what love and fear of G-d are about – taking the mitzvah from its dry, monotone state; and making it come alive!

And so Rav and Rabbi Abahu remind the head of the household that his job is to instill fear into his family members.  His role is to teach them how to serve Hashem with discipline, rigor, and seriousness.  He must be like the captain who makes sure on Erev Shabbos that everything is ready on time.  Shabbos is fun and exciting; but if it’s not ready at the right time, it is no longer a mitzvah.  Lighting Shabbos candles a minute after sunset isn’t a mitzvah; it’s a sin.

Nevertheless, he is warned that it must be said gently.  If you come in like a tyrant, that defeats the purpose.  That is called excessive fear.  You’ve taken all the fun out of Shabbos; you’ve made it into the time of the week that everyone in the home dreads. 

That’s what happened with Rabbi Chanina ben Gamliel.  Instead of gently instilling fear of Heaven into his family members, they had become scared of him.  And so when they misplaced the meat, they were so terrified of his reaction that they served him treyf meat, rather than facing his wrath.  

As the head of the household, your job is instill fear of Hashem into your family.  If your family members are doing mitzvos because they fear you, you have failed in your mission.  Inevitably what happens next is the kids grow up, move out, and leave Yiddishkeit altogether.  Why?  Because they were only keeping it because they feared their father; not because they feared Heaven.

As an aside, it’s worth noting what fear of Heaven truly means.  It doesn’t mean that you feel the Almighty is a vengeful G-d who is out to get you.  It means that you fear detaching yourself from your Heavenly connection.  Every mitzvah you do strengthens your bond with Heaven.  Every transgression you commit loosens the bond, weakening the Divine flow of energy.  That’s pretty scary.  Who would want to detach themselves from the Divine energy flow?  That’s the meaning of fear of Heaven and it’s the role of the patriarch to instill that ‘fear’ into his household.

How about the other wing – love of Heaven?  That’s the role of the matriarch of the home.  That fun, exciting feeling that the children have as Shabbos is approaching?  That’s the love of the mitzvah that mother must instill in her family members.  And that’s why the aishes chayil, the woman of valour, has always been the mainstay of Judaism.  It is she who fills her family with the love of Heaven that makes them want to embrace our tradition and carry on the baton to the next generation!

So if the man is the head of the Jewish household, the woman is the heart.  The heart is the true source of life.   As long as the heart is beating, the body remains alive.  The love for Heaven a mother instills in her family is the ultimate determinant of their dedication and commitment to Judaism.

For mitzvos to fly up to Heaven, they require love and fear.   Both aspects are vital for ideal service of Hashem.  May you instill the right amount of love and fear in your loved ones to have all their mitzvos fly directly to the Almighty’s glorious throne!  

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