Naso: A Happy Marriage

[Tal Chermon]

Parashat Naso teaches us that we must do everything possible to ensure good marital relations - even to the point of actually “blotting out” G-d’s name. One reason for this may be that the Torah places marital relations within the context of loving one’s fellow man. This Mitzvah is not only a lofty ideal to be carried out in principle, it is also an obligation to treat those around us with love every day. “Love of Klal Israel” begins with a general love of Judaism and Jews, but must also be expressed in simple acts of love for real people.

This is obviously a difficult task. It is not easy to rise to the level of those great Tzadikkim who loved every member of Am Israel with all their hearts and souls. Where does one start? At the very least, we should love one member of Am Israel with all our heart. And who should that on person be? Our husband or wife. The Gemarra teaches us that the main criterion for choosing a mate should be whether we feel we can love him or her "as yourself” (Kiddushin 41a).

Once you succeed in truly loving one other person on a day-to-day basis, you have built yourself the foundation for establishing a loving relationship with everyone else. “Love your neighbor” reaches its peak when you really love your mate, despite the inevitable tensions that arise in every marriage. It’s quite easy to love a Jew living in Japan without making any compromises; loving someone you have to live with is much more difficult. There are differences of opinion, and accidental - or purposeful - slights. One gets upset or angry at the other. This may even be what the Torah means by prohibiting hatred “in our hearts.” “Hate” need not be an emotion so extreme that it leads to murder or violence; it may also be simply bearing a grudge.

But it is not only the most extreme hatred that is forbidden: even a tiny crumb cannot be tolerated - just as a tiny portion of ham is just as unkosher as a large plateful. If one mate bears a grudge against the other on account of some unkind words or action, it is considered “hatred”. The Torah teaches us that in such a case one must either speak softly but firmly and ask the other why he did such a thing, or alternatively, completely forgive and forget the incident. It is absolutely forbidden to bear a grudge (Rambam, Hilchot De’ot 6:6).

Such incidents may happen every day, but it is not practical to discuss each and every one of them. If we did, it might vey well be even more harmful than the little hurts which provoked the discussions. As Shakespeare put it, it causes a “tempest in a teapot.” A more practical solution is to agree to simply erase such minor infractions from one’s mind.

Man suffers enough from society around him. We all live within a social context from which we both benefit and suffer. Some people are so sensitive that they suffer immensely. And some people are themselves to blame for the insults they suffer, because of their own failings. In any case, by the end of the day, we are all weary from the wear and tear of our social interactions. We need a sanctuary where we are accepted unconditionally, without having to answer for our failings or to make up for them. This is not, of course, the be-all and end-all of the institution of marriage, but it is one of its important components. A mate who accepts you and loves you as you are, instead of throwing all the books at you, provides an immeasurable amount of strength and support.

This is not to say that one should completely ignore all the other’s failings or confuse good with evil. Amends must certainly be made. But this only comes after the establishment of unconditional love, based on the secret of mutual “blotting out.” Only after that, can we begin to correct the wrongs.

Why should you be dissatisfied with your mate, or bear him a grudge? Are you yourself perfect? Isn’t it better to ‘make a deal’ that you will both ‘forgive and forget?’ Our sages declared: “He who forgives others has all his own sins forgiven.” If you forgive your friends even when they don’t deserve it, you will be treated the same way by the Heavenly Tribunal.

It is well known that Yom Kippur does not atone for sins committed against one’s fellow man, unless that person has agreed to forgive (see end of Mishna Yoma). This is the message of the Tefilla Zaka said before Kol Nidrei. Of course, there is no need to wait until Yom Kippur. The Ari Ha-Kadosh composed a prayer to be recited every night before retiring: “I forgive every person who has sinned against me, whether accidentally or on purpose....” There were other rabbis, including Rav Kook, who even added, “I forgive those who will sin against me in the future.”

 This is the kind of relationship one should have with his spouse - complete readiness to forgive and forget, even in advance. Such an attitude promotes consideration, friendship, and happiness.

There is a famous story about the Ba’al Shem Tov and his disciples: They once asked him whom to emulate in preparation for the High Holidays. He suggested observing one particular man’s behavior, and they saw an amazing scene: The man stood before his fireside holding two notebooks and said, “King of the World! In this notebook I have written down all the sins I have committed. Unfortunately, they are very numerous. I confess. In the second notebook I have written down all my sufferings - and You, King of the World, allowed them. I “forgive” You for all the troubles You caused me, and I ask You to please forgive me for all my sins. See, I am throwing both notebooks into the fire.”

Husband and wife must also learn to throw both notebooks into the fire. Sometimes we may think: Fine, I can forgive all the hurts I suffered myself, but not the sins committed against Heaven. They are what make me angry. To this we must reply: Don’t worry about God, and don’t hate your husband or wife in His Name! In Parashat Naso, we learn that God commands that His Ineffable Name be blotted out in the bitter waters in order to make peace between husband and wife. No human is completely free of violence, be it verbal or physical; this is one of the most difficult tendencies to overcome. It may sometimes appear disguised as righteousness, or in the guise of admonishments and lectures on morality (see Rav Kook, “Midot Re’eya, on Tochacha), or even in a mildly antagonistic silence. Difficult as it may be to completely overcome this tendency, we should at least try to leave G-d out of it. “God is good to all, and His Mercy extends to all of His creatures” (Tehillim 145:9). He is willing for His Name to be blotted out in order to restore marital bliss.

We always advise young couples: First of all, learn to live together, only afterwards, try to attain Kedusha (a high spiritual level). Simple natural married love takes priority. A couple who aspires to build a life of holiness which is not based on simple honest love will end up with a dishonest relationship. The first step is to stop all mutual “point giving,” and throw all the lists in the fire, even if they involve matters of Heaven. There is no better way to express this philosophy – that complete, mutual, unlimited forgiveness, even regarding religious observance, must form the basis for marital harmony - than in our sages’ concise comment on our Parashah: “The Ineffable Name is blotted out for the sake of making peace between a husband and wife.”