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Small Things, Big Impact

Leah Richeimer

Meet three women who were surprised and gratified to discover small changes that could dramatically improve their relationship with the most important person in their lives

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

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PARADIGM SHIFT The real turnaround in Esther’s thinking was the realization that her biggest disappointment in marriage — that Moshe didn’t know how to show his affection — was sourced in her own inability to feel loved

S uccess was always my goal — and, to my pleasant surprise, I achieved it in many areas. Then I got married. My husband was wonderful, but I didn’t feel very successful in my marriage. What had gone wrong?

I turned to our Torah mesorah for shalom bayis insights. Suddenly, I had the keys: to being a cherished wife, having a happy husband, and building a blissful marriage. This learning curve inspired my quest to make shalom bayis a priority in every Jewish home. Women were surprised and gratified to discover small changes that could dramatically improve their relationship with the most important person in their lives. Meet three of these women, and learn the secrets they mastered. (All names and details have been changed to protect privacy.)

Listen Up

Baila ran a kindergarten in her home — as well as a gemach. She took very good care of everyone around her, but gave little to herself. In my class, she seemed happy to just sit back and listen.

Until I said the following: “The Shelah Hakadosh writes, ‘A woman should follow her husband’s will over her own will, even when in her eyes it seems baffling.’ ”4

Baila sat up abruptly, and several women crossed their arms, frowning at me. “Where did you get that quote from?” she demanded.

I paused, hoping to defuse the sudden tension in the room, then said, “It’s from Shaar HaOsiyos.”

“But we’re supposed to be an eizer k’negdo, helpmates opposite our husbands!” Baila said. “How can you say we’re supposed to just go along with his crazy schemes? We’re meant to guide him on the correct path.”

When she was busy taking the time to notice Moshe’s signs of affection, it became increasingly difficult to delude herself that they weren’t there

Nods all around the room.

“So what do you think the Shelah meant?” I asked.

Baila furrowed her eyebrows. “I don’t know. But I was taught that our job is to speak up when we have insights about something. That women have binah yeseirah, and need to use it to help their husbands.” More nods.

I stepped away from the podium and sat in a chair nearer to the group. “Let’s examine this. How do we make sense of these two opposing concepts? And more importantly, how do we know what to do in a particular circumstance when it seems the prescribed actions are mutually exclusive? Do we follow our husband’s will, or do we act like a helpmate opposite him?”

No one seemed to know the answer, and I prayed that the answer I was about to give would be heard.

“Baila,” I began, “without speaking lashon hara, can you tell us what you meant when you said, ‘go along with his crazy schemes’?”

“My husband already told many people about his plans, so I’m sure I can repeat it. He wants to buy a thousand cell phones from China and sell them here in America. He’s in real estate and knows nothing about this business, and we certainly don’t have that kind of money to gamble.”

“I hear. So what did you do?”

“I told him it’s crazy. But he won’t listen.”

“Okay, last week we discussed the fact that often, it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.”

“Yeah, well, I wasn’t here last week,” Baila said. “So I probably said it too harshly. But come on, cell phones from China?”

“Okay, let’s pretend you hadn’t said it harshly, which might have put your husband on the defensive and made him less likely to listen. Let’s say you tried to dissuade him from the idea while being fully respectful of his need to feel in control of the decision, and he was still planning to buy them?”

Baila looked forlorn. “I don’t know. That’s the problem. That’s why I can’t get over what you said about following his will.”

“There is no contradiction,” I told her. “An eizer k’negdo’s job is to be a helpmate by assisting her husband to think things through. If that’s done kindly, she has the best chance of influencing her husband. But once her husband has made up his mind, then her job is to put shalom first.

“Okay, this I can understand,” Baila responded, “But let me ask you this, our fridge is on its last legs. My husband wants me to buy a brand-new small fridge. But I’d much rather spend the same money getting a used large fridge with an ice maker. We’re having a whole battle about it, but it’s my kitchen! It’s so aggravating!”

I turned to Baila. “Do you think it might be possible that if you stay out of his business decisions, he’ll stay out of your kitchen choices?”

Baila smiled and nodded. So did many other women in the room.

I then suggested the following homework for Baila: To try not to say one more word about the phones. If her husband mentions them, she should support him fully on it, like it’s the best decision possible. And it is the best decision; it will be blessed because she was mevater for shalom.

When I visited Rebbetzin Leah Kolodetsky in Bnei Brak, I asked: If she had one message regarding shalom bayis, what would it be? Without hesitation, she looked me in the eye and said, “My father [Rav Chaim Kanievsky] gives over, in the name of the Chofetz Chaim, that nothing bad will ever happen if you’re mevater, if you give in. You may not see it directly, but if you are mevater, you’ll always gain.”

In the moment, following our husbands’ will often feels like we’re losing out. But in actuality, it’s Hashem’s formula for our own contentment. Women in my class so often tell me that when they let go, and stop micromanaging their husbands, their stress level goes way down, and their happiness goes way up. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 546)

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