Parshat Nasso (5770)

Tweet about this on Twitter0Share on Facebook0Share on LinkedIn0Pin on Pinterest0
Peace is a precious thing, (so much so, that) even G-d Himself made a change for its sake– Talmud Bava Metzia 87a

Shalom Bayit is the Hebrew term we use for domestic harmony, a loving and caring relationship between husband and wife. Shalom Bayit is a deceptively simple term when we think about what it encapsulates, the incredibly difficult task of ensuring that two individuals with different personalities, intellects, backgrounds, families, educations, tastes and foibles can share many decades together in a small enclosed space – and not merely remain on talking terms but actually continuously grow their love and respect for one another.

A young man I know had been dating for a few months and was trying to assess whether he was ready to make a lifelong commitment to this particular woman. His father is a marriage counsellor and a wise man, so he sat down for a chat. He asked his father how he could know if the love and attraction he felt was the real thing – real enough to contemplate marriage.

His father replied with a warm smile. “True love,” he responded, “is not something you can truly understand at this point in your life. True love is when you have been married for so long that your spouse is like a part of your own body. True love is when you do not feel complete when your spouse is not around, when you feel you are actually missing a part of yourself. True love is when you feel their pain and joy as if it were your own. Getting to that point,” he continued, “takes many years of mutual love, respect and hard work.”

Rabbi Aryeh Levin, known as the Tzaddik of Jerusalem, was an exemplar of this type of loving relationship. On one occasion his wife was in pain and he accompanied her to the doctor. When asked what the problem was he immediately replied, “Doctor, the pain in my wife’s foot is hurting us.”

The great importance G-d places on domestic harmony is clearly visible in this week’s Parsha, the section dealing with the “sotah” – an adulterous wife. Here we have a situation where a marriage is clearly edging towards the rocks. The wife is spending time with other men, the husband is getting suspicious, and eventually she is reported by witnesses to have been spending time in seclusion with the one guy her husband had fears about.

What should the husband do at this point? The wife denies any wrongdoing, the husband is jealous – and their marriage is rapidly unravelling. In Parshat Nasso there is a special procedure detailed as to how to deal with this deteriorating situation. The wife is called to court, where she is given a Divine lie-detector in the form of a specially prepared liquid which she is made to drink. This is where it gets interesting: If she has committed adultery the imbibing of the liquid will cause her to die (caveat: as long as her husband had himself not committed adultery); however if she is innocent she returns home with the blessings of the court and of G-d to raise a large healthy family.

What did this liquid consist of? Sacred water, some earth from the Temple floor, and a slip of parchment inscribed with some Torah verses. Yet before drinking, one further action was needed: the dissolving of the inked verses – including the full name of G-d – from the parchment and into the water. Now erasing the name of G-d is normally a grave sin, which carries a severe penalty, yet here we find the Kohen is commanded to erase G-d’s name in the water as an integral part of the process!

The Talmud (Yerushalmi Sotah) learns a powerful lesson from this; that everything possible must be done in order to preserve domestic harmony. No stone should be left unturned in helping a couple regain mutual love and respect – even if it means erasing the Divine Name. G-d says: Let my Name be erased if it will bring peace between man and wife.

And if G-d is prepared to allow His holy Name to be erased in order to strengthen a marriage, how much more must we do to preserve and strengthen our marriages and those of our loved ones.

In his book, Celebrating Life, Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks writes: Marriage does not mean, “we are man and wife as long as we find each other attractive or compatible … it means I will be with you whatever fate brings. I will stay loyal to you. When you need me I’ll be there. When things are tough I won’t walk away.” Marriage is a commitment stronger than passion, emotion or attraction. It is a pledge to share a life together, come what may.

Shabbat Shalom – Rabbi Zalman Lent

Tweet about this on Twitter0Share on Facebook0Share on LinkedIn0Pin on Pinterest0