A Practical Guide for Husband and Wife – Part 3

By Rabbi Zamir Cohen

Regarding anger – a man whose tone and style of speech is irritable and angry, or one who angers easily and creates unnecessary fear, causes a great deal of anxiety for his wife and children. Because of their fear of his angry and raging reactions, their sense of joy is taken away from them. As soon as he walks in, the happy and cheerful activities in the home come to a halt and the whole mood changes – as the saying goes, “When ‘Av’ (father) enters, our spirits are lessened” (This is only a pun – as the original phrase refers to the month of Av. The word Av has a double meaning – it means both father and the month of Av) and everyone is afraid to approach the head of the family with the openness necessary for a well-functioning and healthy family nest, as no one is able to endure his heated reactions.

And so, everyone withdraws into themselves and avoids sharing their personal affairs with him. A person like this should not be surprised that if for example, a drop of milk touches his meat stew, his wife may be afraid to tell him because she is afraid of his reaction. This can make him stumble upon many prohibitions. As the sages say in the Talmud:[9] If a man terrorizes his household, he will eventually commit the three sins of unchastity, blood shedding, and desecration of the Sabbath.

Refer to the source for the story about a great man who terrorized his household and as a result, was almost fed Ever Min HaChai – a limb from a living animal.

These are some good examples of how a man’s negative reactions can cause his family members to withhold critical information from him. And certainly, when his children grow older, they will not turn to him for guidance or help resolving their doubts and hardships. Rather, they may turn to others and open up to people who may not have their best interests at heart.

A person who examines the words of the Rambam will discover that even though it is just as important for the husband to see his wife happy and not sad, calm and not angry, the Rambam did not specify this as a stipulation for the woman like he did for the man, as it says: “He shall not be sad or angry”. The reason for this is clear. The Rambam did not merely provide suggestions– even if they are important, rather, he provided necessary demands without which the family nest could not survive. As the ‘foreign minister’ of the household, the man has the ability to handle his wife’s sadness or anger, as he is naturally inclined to operate well under such conditions. When he leaves the house, his mind becomes preoccupied with other matters. He meets and talks to people and encounters the outside world. Conversely, the wife who also works outside the home absorbs the majority of her happiness and energy from her husband and when he is sad, the light of her life becomes extinguished and she becomes a dim moon – unilluminated by the sun.

Regarding anger, a man possessing the tools to fight for the survival and protection of his family is strong and aggressive by nature and can therefore withstand various anger-provoking situations around him without having them affect his soul. Therefore, even though his soft-natured wife must also avoid becoming angry and sad, her anger does not pose as a critical threat to the emotional state of the husband. On the other hand, the husband must make an extra effort not to become angry at home, because if isolated displays of anger will threaten her soft and delicate nature, then certainly, when her husband, the symbol of strength and protection suddenly uses his force and aggression against her, she will undoubtedly become devastated.

And so, if she is living with a chronically unhappy man, the light in her life will eventually be extinguished and she will ultimately wilt away. And if she is living with a hot tempered man, then either her security will collapse and she will become a broken vessel that cannot function, or she will begin to develop the feeling that she must take care of herself, or no one else will, and begin to revolt by waging war. Either way, they will both lose out on the happiness in their lives. But the one who will lose out the most is the one who caused all of this with his anger.

It should be indicated that the one critical thing that the Rambam asks both partners to work on in his list of requirements is honor.

Concerning the husband he says: ‘He must honor her more than he honors his own body’ – and concerning the wife he says: ‘She must honor her husband more than necessary.’ This is because mutual respect is a basic human need and when it is damaged it can completely break apart a marriage. Anyone who delves deeply into the attributes of the man and woman according to what we’ve explained in the previous articles will clearly understand why the Rambam changes the wording pertaining to the way in which a wife is required to honor her husband and the way in which a husband is required to honor his wife.

A man is required to honor his wife more than he honors his own bodybecause in contrast to him, her soft and gentle nature calls for a higher standard of sensitivity with regard to her dignity – like the importance of having a flattering appearance or receiving respectful treatment etc. as we’ve mentioned earlier. On the other hand, the Rambam advises the woman to honor her husband more than necessary. The expression ‘more than necessary’ is rarely seen and therefore demands an explanation.

Women tend to give their husbands less respect than what they receive outside the home. They say to themselves: ‘He’s overly appreciated outside. I know exactly who he is. The amount of respect I give him is enough for him’. Regarding this common attitude the Rambam says: ‘She must honor her husband more than necessary’ – more than what she thinks is necessary for him. The woman must be especially mindful of this because she herself does not need the kind of respect that her husband’s soul requires and she therefore might only give him the amount of respect she thinks he needs based on what she herself can relate to. This is another reason why she must give more than necessary.

Read Part 4 – For More Insights

Notes and Sources

[9] Gittin 6b