By Rabbi Zamir Cohen
In his great work, Mishneh Torah, the Rambam (Maimonides) surprises his readers in that he does not give the same relationship advice to both partners, instead, he makes one set of demands on the husband and a different set of demands on the wife. A person with a poor understanding of the core differences between a man and a woman may find that the Rambam’s advice is too discriminatory and may reject it.
However, the words of the Rambam, which are based upon the teachings of our sages in the Talmud, are clearly understood. The Torah is a Torah of truth. It teaches us what each side must give the other based on his/her emotional needs and not on some kind of distortion of truth seen by many psychologists and people in the media these days.
And so, it is necessary for the husband to ‘honor his wife more than he honors his body, and love her like he loves his body’. With regard to love, it is sufficient for him to have the same level of love for her as he does for his body. In other words, in the same way that he loves himself and takes care of his physical needs in a timely fashion, so too, he must be attentive to the physical and emotional needs of his wife.
And the moment he realizes that she needs his physical or emotional support for whatever reason, he must pay attention to her right away. He may not neglect her and wait until she becomes emotionally distressed or in urgent need of something before he tends to her needs. Rather, he must see his wife as his other half and thus be attentive to her needs in the same way he is attentive to his own needs. He must provide for her out of a true desire to see her happy and content. This is the meaning of true love!
However, regarding matters that pertain to her dignity, such as being sensitive to her feelings, buying her respectable clothing and accessories, complimenting her, and speaking to her in a respectful way that does not offend or belittle her, with regard to such matters, he must take care of her more than he takes care of himself.
Anyone who examines the Rambam’s teachings will clearly understand that there is no discrimination against the man. The man’s obligation of prioritizing her needs over his when they can only afford to buy one article of clothing for a special occasion, for example, is not meant to detract from his needs, rather, because one of the tools she received to fulfill her role in the family nest is the inclination towards esthetics, her need for beautiful clothes that will give her that dignified appearance is a real emotional need that is much stronger than her husband’s.
When a man wears his old suit for the holiday or a special occasion, his discomfort wanes within minutes. A woman on the other hand, may feel distressed during the entire holiday or evening. Therefore, the point of truth dictates that it is necessary for her to precede him. That’s why when a man offends his wife with his words and says that he was only joking, he cannot say: ‘I joke around like that with all my friends at work and they love my sense of humor! But when I joke around with her, she gets offended’. Your wife is not one of your friends. Her nature is different than theirs and if she complains even once, or implies that your words (especially in front of others) make her feel uncomfortable, you must be considerate of her feelings even if it is not easy for you – otherwise you are injuring her dignity.
Instead, the husband must increase his level of respect towards his wife, either by offering her authentic compliments that address her virtues and actions, or by being careful with her feelings. He may also show his respect by buying her clothes and jewelry befitting her dignified status – as the Rambam indicates in his guidelines for the man: ‘And if he has money, he must bestow good onto her as much as his money allows’.
Read Part 2 – For More Insights