Learning the Laws of Shalom Bayit will Bring Shalom

This post is dedicated in memory of Etya Sarah bat Yitzchak ha-Levi. May it be an aliyah for her neshama.

Elisheva Maline

The key to living a good marriage is wanting the relationship to thrive. Start with reading and throwing out lines from Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. John Gray explains that husbands and wives measure love, need love and solve problems differently; he also mentions communication as the key to preventing shipwrecked relationships. If the first book doesn't strike your fancy the American author happens to have written another seventeen books on the subject of bridging the gap between martians and venusians.

In Judaism, the building that is represented by marriage has foundations that go even deeper than Gary Chapman's review on communication. The Rambam (Maimanides) posits that when a man and woman join together in holy matrimony, they must live with the ideal that shalom bayit, harmony in the home, comes first. How? He writes a fourteen volume set on halacha (Jewish law) called the Mishneh Torah in which he details all the laws encompassing Jewish observance. One of these sections, which is dedicated to the treatment of women, has no more than four lines of Hebrew regarding the spousal relationship. You can't beat that kind of simplicity.

Regarding the men, Rambam tells the following,

וכן צוו חכמים שיהא אדם מכבד את אשתו יותר מגופו ואוהבה כגופו. ואם יש לו ממון מרבה בטובתה כפי ממונו. ולא יטיל עליה אימה יתירה ויהיה דבורו עמה בנחת ולא יהיה עצב ולא רגזן

"Our sages have commanded the man that he must honor his wife more than his own body and that his love for her should be like his love for his own body. If he has money, he should open his pocket for the sake of her enjoyment according to his expenditures. He should not place any terror upon her (he shouldn't raise his voice or do anything to make her feel tense) and he should speak to her with gentleness and not act sad or annoyed."

On the flip side, Rambam tells the women,

וכן צוו על האשה שתהיה מכבדת את בעלה ביותר מדאי ויהיה עליה מורא ממנו ותעשה כל מעשיה על פיו. ויהיה בעיניה כמו שר או מלך מהלכת בתאות לבו ומרחקת כל מה שישנא. וזה דרך בנות ישראל ובני ישראל 

Now, the woman has been commanded to honor her husband a lot, in her eyes he should appear as someone to be revered. She must make all his words manifest. And [wait for it], he should be as a minister or king in her eyes: whatever he desires she should make it happen and whatever he hates, she should distance it. This is the path of the Jewish men and women.

For the last fifty years or so women in secular society have been demanding recognition, equality, and inevitably, a larger measure of power from their male counterparts. I'm not here to ask what affect this build up of resentment against the unfair treatment of women by men has had on the marriage unit. However, I will mention that the Rambam speaks plainly about each sex's need for respect, albeit packaged in a different way. On a personal note, I've done informal research of people's home dynamics over the last decade and I've noticed a recurring pattern: those women who treat their husbands like kings are usually the ones whose husbands treat them like queens. Are matters really that simple? No, they're not. But if you are both looking to have a thriving marriage, they will be.

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