It’s true – the husband is the leader of the home.
It’s also true that there are different types of leaders.
There are wise and beloved kings, such as Dovid HaMelech (King David), Shlomo HaMelech (King Solomon), and, hopefully soon, the Mashiach.
There are also despised despots, such as Kim Jong Un, Saddam Hussein, and Stalin.
Both types are rulers. The subjects of both do their ruler’s will with smiles and alacrity.
There is one big difference, though.
The smiles they give the righteous kings are real. They stem from genuine love, respect, and trust.
Despots also get smiles and obedience. But those smiles cover over hatred, ridicule, and despair.
Because a despot can bully-rule his subjects’ words and actions, but he can’t control their inner feelings and thoughts.
To a thug like Stalin, it didn’t really make a difference. A soulless obeisance was enough to stroke his crude ego.
But for a Jewish husband, having a wife who truly loves and respects him versus one who doesn’t, even if she may ‘act as if’ while secretly she can’t stand him, should make all the difference in the world.
KING OR DESPOT?
This dichotomy of righteous king – or melech, versus despot – or mosheil, is a familiar one.
On Rosh Hashanah, we are called upon to make Hashem our King. On the surface, it seems absurd. Who are we, as puny human beings, to ‘decide’ whether the Creator and Master of the entire Universe – including us – is or isn’t king? He’s all-powerful; obviously, He’s the King whether or not we say so.
True, Hashem is the absolute ruler over all. But until, and unless, we, His subjects, actually desire that He rule over us, Hashem remains our mosheil (dictator) and not our melech (king).
Only once we truly want Him to lead us, when we actually feel it in our hearts and not only mouth the words, do we ‘make’ Hashem the King.
Of course, the question is how do we come to feel it? How do we come to relate to Hashem as our desired, loved, and admired King, instead of merely a despot/dictator that we are ‘forced’ to serve and praise?
The answer to this question of how to ‘make’ Hashem into a King, will also reveal to us how we can make ourselves into truly admired, desired, and loved kings of our own kingdoms – our marriages – and not merely tolerated despots.
THE ULTIMATE HUSBAND
You might be thinking, “This is going too far. Look, I might be a nice guy, but I’m not going to try to compare myself to Hashem.”
Don’t be so sure. The Torah itself makes this comparison. In many places (Shir HaShirim, for example) Hashem is compared to a husband, and Klal Yisroel to His wife. The Torah doesn’t make analogies lightly. If this is the metaphor it has chosen, then it’s one we can learn and extrapolate from.
The Torah even takes things further. The Midrash tells us that just as a man looks toward Hashem to give him life and provide all of his needs, so does a wife look toward her husband in that same way.
So, yes, in your wife’s eyes, you do have a certain ‘leadership’ quality. But whether she views you scornfully as a powerful despot, or lovingly as a powerful king – is entirely up to you.
WHAT IT TAKES
Therefore, let’s explore what makes the Ultimate King, Hashem, worthy of that title, and at the same time learn how to emulate Him and become true kings of our home.
A major difference between a desired king and an endured despot is trust. Once we trust that Hashem truly cares about us and will provide for our genuine, deeply-felt needs, we begin to desire His leadership.
The classic Jewish ethical work, Chovos HaLevavos (Duties of the Heart) lists seven qualities in a being (all of which Hashem possesses) that leads us to trust him (I paraphrase):
- Kindness (Harachamim, Hachemla, v’ha-ahava – the combination of compassion, sympathy, and love) – We know that he truly wants to treat us well and doesn’t look at it as a ‘bother’.
- Caring (Sh’aino misaleim – doesn’t shirk) – He doesn’t neglect us. He’s never ‘too busy’ to make our needs a high priority.
- Power (Chazak, v’loy’nutzach – strong and determined) – We know he’ll exert himself to the fullest for us and won’t ‘jump ship’ when the ‘going gets tough’.
- Knowledge (Yodea b’afnei toeles – knows our needs) – He understands us well enough to give us what we really need, with no ulterior motives or ‘projections’.
- Consistency (Misyacheid b’hashgacha – always there for us) He continues to give to us at all times; never ‘turns his back’ on us.
- Exclusive Responsibility (Masoor b’yado – dedicated and responsible) – He ‘owns’ the responsibility to make sure our needs are met. He won’t ‘pass the buck’ or play the ‘blame game’.
- Unconditional Giving (Tachlis ha-nidivos v’ha-chesed l’mish’roi lo u’l’mish’ainoroi lo – gives 100% whether we deserve it or not) – He doesn’t ‘keep score.’ He gives without demanding anything back.
When a person sees and feels that Hashem has all those qualities, it’s only natural for them to trust Him, love Him, and gladly accept him as their King.
When we emulate Klal Yisroel’s ‘husband,’ Hashem, in our roles as husbands in our own marriages, our wives will naturally trust, love, and gladly accept us as her king, too.
That is, once she knows that her husband:
- Truly wants to treat her well and he doesn’t look at it as a ‘bother.’
- That he doesn’t neglect her; he’s never ‘too busy’ to make her needs a high priority.
- That he’ll exert himself to the fullest for her and won’t ‘jump ship’ when the ‘going gets tough.’
- That he understands her well enough to give her what she really needs, with no ulterior motives or ‘projections.’
- That he continues to give to her at all times; never ‘turns his back’ on her.
- That he ‘owns’ the responsibility to make sure her needs are met. He won’t ‘pass the buck’ or play the ‘blame game.’
- That he doesn’t ‘keep score.’ He gives without demanding anything back.
A husband like that is royalty in his wife’s eyes, someone she can genuinely love, respect, and accept upon herself as her king.
WHAT WOULD HE DO?
Every marriage, even the best, has their less than perfect moments, when our wives don’t live up to our hopes or expectations. This is when the ‘king’ of the marriage can truly reveal his royalty and earn her deep respect and love, or ch’v’sh fall into the trap of reacting like a despot with all that it entails.
Again, we take our cue from the ‘Ultimate Husband and King’ of the Jewish People, Hashem, and learn from how He reacts when His ‘wife’ falters. It just takes one look at Hashem’s middos of rachamim as brought in the Chumash (Shemos 34:6-7, see Rashi and Sifsei Chochomim) and in Tanach (Micha 7:18-20, see sefer Tomer Devorah) to see just how patient, loving, and forgiving a kingly husband should be.
SECRETS TO A HAPPY MARRIAGE
As good husbands as we might already be, we know we’re far from perfect. But there was a perfect, prototypical man, made directly by Hashem – Odom (Adam) HaRishon. His marriage to Chava (Eve), the first and archetypal woman, is recorded in the Torah in Parshas Bereishis (Genesis) not merely as history, but to give us a model of what it truly means to be a ‘king’ of a man, the nature of a woman, and the secrets of a sublime, successful marriage.
Let’s look at a number of these secrets – these ‘Bereishis (Genesis) Principles’, as we’ll call them (or BP’s for short) that clearly illustrate the essential characteristics of a man, and how that knowledge can bring him true peace, happiness, and satisfaction in his relationship with his wife.
BP# 1: REIGNING BY REMOTE CONTROL
The key to understanding the mystical foundation of marriage is to realize that a man and his wife, while appearing to be two separate, independent beings, are in essence a unit – two halves of a whole.
This is hinted to in the in the verse that says: “…male and female, He created them.” (Ber. 1, 27)
Rashi cites a Midrash that the first human was originally created as androgynous, being both fully male and female, and at a later stage was separated into two distinct beings of different genders.
Only afterwards did they reunite as man and wife.
This process, a single being divided into two seemingly independent halves and then reuniting, was not merely a one-time phenomenon.
Every married couple is actually one soul divided between two bodies, yet connected at a higher unseen point. That means that a husband is able to influence his wife not only a conscious level, but even subconsciously on a deeper spiritual level, which will then show itself in day-to-day life.
Understanding how this hidden spiritual influence works and accessing its power is a key to a happy and successful marriage. Our second ‘Bereishis Principle’ shows us how…
BP# 2: IT’S ALL IN YOUR HANDS
The real-time hidden soul connection between a man and his wife is hinted to in the passuk: “And Hashem, G-d, said; ‘It is not good for man to be alone; I will make for him an Ezer K’negdo.’” (Ber. 2:18)
The words, ‘Ezer K’negdo’ can be translated as a ‘confronting supporter’.
Rashi, citing a Gemara on the passuk (Yevamos 63a), explains this mysterious term: “If the man is worthy, she will be his supporter; if he’s unworthy, she will confrontationally battle against him.”
Therefore, we see that the way a wife treats her husband is actually a subconscious reaction to and function of his worthiness.
When the Torah refers to worthiness, it obviously means spiritual worthiness. If a man chooses to behave sincerely in a spiritually worthy way as defined by the Torah – behaving as a ‘king’ – his wife will be his pleasant and admiring follower, his ‘supporter.’ Conversely, if he chooses to behave unworthily, as a ‘despot’, she will become confrontational, rebellious, and put him down.
It’s important to note that this dynamic takes effect subconsciously on the spiritual plane. The wife needn’t witness or be consciously aware of her husband’s worthy or unworthy behavior, and she herself is often unaware what’s influencing her to adopt one mood or the other. Therefore, if the husband wants to change the dynamic for the better, he needn’t (nor will it help to) criticize, complain, or retaliate, but rather simply increase his own spiritual worthiness.
So we see that the tone of the relationship is entirely in the husband’s hands. He truly is its ruler in the deepest spiritual sense. This is tremendously empowering – and it’s also a tremendous responsibility.
But how can we say that this awesome spiritual power/responsibility is really in the husband’s hands? Our third ‘Bereishis Principle’ will make it clear…
BP#3: RULING HER EMOTIONS
After the misdeed with the Tree of Knowledge, Hashem told Chava that from then on: “… to your husband will be your yearning and he will rule you.” (Ber. 3:16)
This concept of ‘ruling’ applies on a deeper level to ruling a wife’s emotions and self-esteem. An essential part of a man’s spiritual worthiness or the opposite is measured by how he treats his wife.
The Torah places supreme priority on interpersonal relations, and the closer the relationship is the greater its spiritual importance. As we see, a husband is his wife’s ‘yearning.’ She subconsciously craves to be beloved and esteemed in his eyes.
If he adopts the spiritually worthy path of treating her that way – a ‘king’ who treats her like a ‘queen’ – she will be happy and content, and therefore respond as a ‘supporter.’ If he fails to do so, but merely acts like a ‘despot’ toward a ‘servant’, his spiritual unworthiness will earn him a disrespectful ‘combatant’ (while she may sometimes be too afraid or polite to show it, she can’t choose not to feel it – it’s a spiritual rule, beyond her bechirah).
Even if how a husband treats his wife determines his spiritual worthiness and the dynamic of his marriage, how can we know how to give her what she needs? ‘Bereishis Principle’ number four tells us how…
BP#4: BEING A REAL MAN
Later in the Torah Portion, we’re told: “And Adom knew Chava his wife, and she conceived and gave birth…” (Ber. 4:1)
The procreation process is based upon a man giving his portion of the potential child to the woman, who in turn receives it. There’s a basic axiom in penimius HaTorah (Inner, mystical Torah teachings) that the physical world and all of its processes reflects a spiritual counterpart.
So if on the physical plane, in man’s defining interaction with his wife, he gives and she receives, this implies that the same dynamic is meant to exist in the higher emotional and spiritual realms.
When a husband focuses on unconditionally giving to his wife – physically, emotionally, and financially – he’s in line with his male ‘kingly’ spiritual essence and is thus ‘worthy.’ But if he’s focused on what she is or isn’t giving to him on any of these levels, he’s acting as a ‘despot’ and has effectively usurped a female spiritual role, which is unworthy of a man – and certainly of a king.
Maybe it’s a man’s spiritual role to give. But what type of giving does this mean? Our next ‘Bereishis Principle’ gives us the key…
BP#5: KEEPING PRIORITIES STRAIGHT
What is a man’s most important relationship? Where should his primary loyalty lie?
The Torah answers this: “…A man shall leave his father and his mother, and unite with his wife as one…” (Ber. 2:24)
Kibud av v’eim, honoring and being close to one’s parents, is a very big mitzvah. Yet the Torah hints to us that a man’s relationship with his wife takes precedence even to this.
When a man relates to and treats his wife as his queen, the most important person in his life, bar none – even his parents, children, or employer – he gives her an enormous gift, fulfills her subconscious yearning to be cherished by him above all others, and his worthiness grows. If he fails to do this, even if he gives her money or other material things, his spiritual unworthiness will produce its predictable results.
All of this may be great, but what if she messes up? Isn’t it our responsibility to set her straight? Our final, and perhaps most important ‘Bereishis Principle’ gives the answer.
BP#6: DAMAGE CONTROL
There was never a bigger mistake in the history of the world than the one Chava made at the dawn of creation, persuading Adam to eat the forbidden fruit from the Eitz HaDaas. Every pain and sorrow suffered in the world since then was rooted in this humongous cosmic mess-up.
If ever a husband had the right to let his wife have it, it was Odom after this.
The Torah recounts his choice words about her right after G-d had cursed him with a life of hard work and then death. He called her…
“…the mother of all life.” (Ber. 3:20)
He praised her! Although her blunder had caused all death and suffering, including, eventually, their own, he spoke nicely to her and tried to make her feel good!
Nothing a man’s wife could possibly do or say could reach even the toenail of such an error. And there’s nothing that can ever spiritually justify a man criticizing his wife in the least. As we said, they are two halves of one soul and he, the husband is the ‘king’ who can control her feelings and actions without even saying a word. She’s his Ezer K’negdo who mirrors him, rising or falling in her madreiga (spiritual level) and feelings about him according to his spiritual worthiness. So if he wants her to improve, and to truly love and respect him (and not just put on an act) there’s only one surefire, simple way to make it happen.
He should work on himself!