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Saturday, 11 February 2017

The key to a good marriage is keeping score

Daf Yomi Bava Basra 19


Lobbying in the United States is a three billion dollar a year industry.  And yet experts in interest group research, such as Frank Baumgartner and Beth Leech, have demonstrated that political advocacy rarely changes a politician’s opinion about an issue.  So if lobbyists aren’t changing anyone’s mind, why bother?  Why spend all your hard-earned cash on AIPAC?

The answer, they have found, is that political interest groups aim essentially to ‘preach to the choir.’  They seek out likeminded officials and then present themselves as a resource.  Intuitively, these lawmakers might understand that Israel is a liberal democracy with the most moral army in the world, but they rely on AIPAC to help them articulate their position.  And to provide them with up-to-the-minute information that supports Israel’s actions. 

A good Israel activist finds her allies on the Hill, and then maximizes their efficiency and ability to strengthen the US-Israel relationship.

Mishnah: One must maintain a distance of three handbreadths between the following items and one’s neighbor’s wall: Olive pulp, manure, salt, and flint-stones.
Rashi explains: All of these are harmful to a wall, since they emit heat.
Gemara: We have learned elsewhere: With which materials may one wrap hot foods for Shabbos and with which materials may one not?  One may not wrap with olive pulp, nor manure, nor salt, nor lime, nor sand.
Why does our Mishnah mention flint-stones but not mention sand?  Why does the other Mishnah mention sand but not mention flint-stones?
Rava answer: Over there, stones are not mentioned because they would break the pot.  Here, sand is not mentioned since it warms that which is already warm and cools that which is already cool.
Rashi explains: When you place something warm into sand, it increases the heat, which is pertinent to Shabbos-wrapping (and therefore forbidden).  But in relation to the neighbor’s wall, it would have a cooling effect (and therefore permissible).

Recently in Life Yomi, I told the story of how Batya and I met.  The wonderful responses from around the globe were inspiring.  Friends shared their miraculous stories of meeting their respective spouses, many of which we had never heard.  It was truly invigorating to hear the workings of Hashem in this world.

And then there were the sad stories of miraculous meetings and not so miraculous marriages.  If Hashem had worked so hard to bring two people together, why did the marriage not work out in the end? 

When the Almighty makes matches, unfortunately it does not come with a guarantee.  Miraculous meetings are just the beginning.  When He brought the two of you together, all He did was fashion the keli (vessel).  What you do with that keli is up to you.  Some people start off as a ‘perfect couple.’  But then they proceed to throw stones into their keli, which breaks the pot

The Kabbalists have a name for it: sheviras hakeilim – the breaking of the vessels.  According to Kabbalah, initially when Hashem created the world, the vessels of holiness were shattered.  The shards were dispersed throughout our world and we’ve spent every waking moment ever since, picking up the pieces.  That’s what happens when you throw stones into your relationship keli.  You might have started out with a beautiful vessel, but in no time at all, your whole life feels like you’re playing catch-up, as you run after the shards to put the keli of your marriage back together.

Instead of stones, you want to be lacing your marriage with sand.  Rava teaches that sand warms that which is already warm.  It’s like political advocacy: the aim is to make a warm feeling even warmer.  Hashem kick-starts every marriage with a nice warm keli.  But then it’s up to you to constantly seek opportunities to make that keli ever warmer.

How do you do that?  By keeping score.  Not like many young couples who start out their marriages keeping score in a game that they are guaranteed to lose.  ‘I washed the dishes, so she needs to clean the bathrooms.’  ‘I made the beds, so he needs to take out the trash.’  Even if there’s no official scoreboard lighting up on your bedroom wall, it’s a surefire model of a doomed marriage.

What’s the right way to keep score?  To do your very best, in your own mind, to hit the highest marriage score possible!  You’ve chosen to marry this other person.  Hashem has given you a perfect keli.  Now every positive action you take that will make them just a touch happier makes that keli warmer and fills it up with love.

Every time you clear the dinner table, every time you go out of your way to call your spouse in the middle of the day, every time you take time to ask them how their day was, are all extra points you’ve scored.  You are now totally wining.  You needn’t worry about whether they’re also keeping score.  There’s only one player in this game: you.  If you get the all-time high score, it doesn’t matter what their score is. (But here’s the secret: no normal spouse will stand by and let the other one be perfect without making an effort to win as well!  And whether they do or don’t, you win either way!)

And it’s the little things that score the highest points.  One example: Most mornings, I’m up before Batya.  And so I always make sure to make her fresh coffee before she comes downstairs.  Occasionally, I’ll hear her up a little earlier than usual and rush to put the coffee up.  But sometimes I won’t hear her.  Suddenly she’s appeared out of nowhere and she’s making her own coffee.  And I feel awful. 

Now, here’s the thing: she has never asked me to make her coffee.  I just love doing it for her.  It’s so easy and I know how happy she is to enter the kitchen and find the coffee all fresh and ready to go.  And so on the odd occasion that I fail to make the coffee in time, she has no issues.  But I feel like I have squandered an opportunity.  It’s one easy marriage point that I missed. 


The key to a successful marriage is knowing that the keli is raw.  Hashem has given you a gift but you have the choice whether to throw stones into the keli or warm it up.  May you maximize your points score and have the most perfect marriage ever!