Honor & Respect

Parshat Naso begins with the families of Levi being counted. The tribe of Levi (which includes both Kohanim and Levi’im) had been entrusted with this Avodat Kodesh – the holy service of the Mishkan and everything that goes along with it. In Parshat Naso the specific responsibilities in the transportation of the Mishkan and its vessels are being conveyed.

The parshah also contains Birkat Kohanim (the blessings given by the kohanim) which conclude with the blessing of peace: “Ve’yasem lecha shalom – and He will give to you peace” (6:26). Interestingly, the tefilah of Shmonei Esrei (Amidah Prayer) also concludes with a blessing for peace as does the Birkat Ha’mazon (grace after meals).

A joke is told of a husband explaining the key to his successful marriage. “We don’t argue because we have very well defined roles and areas of responsibility. I determine our position on all of the big issues and my wife decides on the small ones. The big, important issues such as nuclear disarmament, global warming and the federal deficit are my domain. The small issues such as the neighborhood we’ll live in, the schools our children will attend and the budgeting of our salaries, those are decided by my wife.”

When discussing peace, it is very tempting to be dragged into a discussion of the ‘big’ areas which we can’t decide or affect while ignoring the ‘small’ areas which obligate us to evaluate ourselves, our relationships and our actions.

The Midrash tells a story of a woman who had attended Rabee Meir’s Friday night lecture. She returned very late and the Shabat candles had already finished burning. Her angry husband demanded to know where she had been. She explained that she attended Rabee Meir’s lecture. He rudely swore that she would not be allowed to enter the house until she go and spit in the face of Rabee Meir. As she left the house, Eliyahu Ha’navi Zachur La’Tov appeared before Rabee Meir and informed him about the poor woman who was banished from her house. When Rabee Meir heard the entire story, he went and sat in the Bet Midrash. When he saw the woman approaching, he acted as if he had a serious eye problem.

“Do you know how to cure an eye problem?” he asked the startled woman.

“No, I do not”, she stammered.

“Well then quickly, right now, spit seven times in my face and that will alleviate the problem.”

The astonished woman did as she was told and spat seven times in Rabee Meir’s face. Rabee Meir then told her, “Go and tell your husband that he had asked you to spit once and you spat seven times!”

When the woman left the surprised students asked Rabee Meir if the husband and wife’s argument needed to end through such a degrading act against the Torah’s honor. “We would have brought him here, whipped him and forced him to take back his wife!” they exclaimed.

“Should the honor of Meir be greater than the honor of Hashem?!” was Rabee Meir’s piercing response. “Hashem instructed us to erase His holy name in the waters of a woman suspected of adultery, in order to establish her innocence and restore peace to their relationship. I certainly won’t be concerned about my honor!”

This Midrash is a bit puzzling. The students were making a valid point. The same outcome of the wife returning home could have been accomplished without such a degradation. Furthermore, the husband surely deserved lashes, both for his rudeness to his wife and for his irreverence to Rabee Meir.

The Lev Eliyahu (a”h) explains that Rabee Meir had uncovered a profound insight concerning the story of the accused adulteress. Hashem could have had the water check the woman’s validity without blotting out His holy name. Yet the Torah is teaching us that since there is a greater degree of confidence and thereby peace and harmony in the relationship – if the woman is checked by water that contains Hashem’s name in it, then such a degradation is imperative!

Rabee Meir simply followed Hashem’s initiative. Since whipping the husband would not have contributed to the shalom bayit, Rabi Meir chose to have her spit in his face.

We began this topic by discussing the special role of Shevet Levi. Before the establishment of the Mishkan, the divine service was the domain of the first borns. Their participation in the sin of the golden calf caused this status to be transferred to the Leviim who did not participate in the sin. We find that in addition to not participating in the sin of the golden calf, Shevet Levi had always been the leaders and teachers of Klal Yisrael. And in that capacity, they were exempt from the oppressive enslavement of Egypt.

What was the root of Levi’s holiness?

Rav Chaim Shmuelovitz explains that it began with the very birth of Levi. His mother, Leah, felt secondary to Yaakov’s other wife, her sister Rachel. Yaakov had worked for their father Lavan, in order to receive the hand of Rachel in marriage. After the agreed upon seven years of labor, Lavan deceived Yaakov and replaced Rachel with Leah. Yaakov was forced to work an additional seven years for the right to marry Rachel.

Prophetically, it was known that there would be a total of twelve tribes. With two wives and two maidservants, each mother had a ‘share’ of four tribes. Leah was the first to give birth. When her third son, Levi, was born, she let out a sigh of relief. My husband can have no complaints against me because I have done my part. “Ha’paam yelaveh ishi elai” (Breishis 29:34).

Leah says, “Now my husband will join me.” And she named him Levi (derived from the word yelaveh – to join). This name and this tribe that brought a heightened degree of closeness between Yaakov and Leah is what bridged the division between them. The divine service is the domain of Levi.

It would seem that the foundation of shalom in any relationship is based on the honor and respect that is displayed. Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky (a”h) was engrossed in a conversation at a wedding when he realized that his wife was trying to catch his attention. He quickly approached his wife and asked, “What is it that the Rebetzin wants?”

“I wanted to know when the Rav wants to leave,” she responded.

“Whenever the Rebetzin wants to go,” was his quick response.

“I’d like to go whenever the Rav wants to leave,” she answered.

“The Gemara states that ‘heavenly matters’ are decided by the husband and ‘worldly matters’ by the wife. It seems to me that this is a ‘worldly matter,” Rav Yaakov replied.

“For me, listening to the Rav is a ‘heavenly matter,” his wife countered.

“Well in that case, my ‘heavenly matter’ decision is that we should go when you want!” Rav Yaakov persisted.

“Well, in that case, I’d like to remain another thirty minutes,” concluded his wife.

Rav Yaakov smiled and said, “We will stay another thirty minutes.”

Honor and respect leads to true shalom bayit.