Happily ever after – Guest post by Yoni Schussel
Rabbi Benzion Klatzko is a fascinating man. In addition to raising 11 children, his family hosts an average of 100 guests each Shabbat. He was one of the founders of campus kiruv (outreach) and travels around the country supporting and encouraging kiruv programs. He has also started many innovative projects, including a website called shabbat.com . This site helps thousands of people find hosts and guests for Shabbat. It also helps facilitate, on average, one marriage match a week.
I enjoy listening to classes by Rabbi Klatzko for his relaxed and upbeat manner and his ability to make Judaism positive, exciting and relevant. This week I heard on torahanytime.com, his class on marriage entitled ,“Happily Ever After”. In it, he shared his, “Ten Commandments of a Good Marriage”, including “let bygones be bygones- don’t use them to fuel future fights”, and “the first one to give in, wins”. I enjoyed the class, but it was the following true story that he related, that really touched me and made me think, “that is how I want to be in my relationships”.
When Rabbi Klatzo was a newly married young man, he lived with his wife in Brooklyn. He was studying in Kollel so he did not have much money. He was grateful for the large, beat up station wagon that his wife’s father had given them to drive, but the problem was that it guzzled a ton of gas.
Rabbi Klatzko then related what happened next:
“One day, I came home and told my wife, ‘I heard that there is going to be a police auction in Queens and we can get a car for pennies on the dollar. I just have to put down a quarter of the money and can pay for the rest later’.
‘But we don’t have any money!’ she replied. Kollel was paying just $1000 a month, most of which was quickly eaten up by rent and basic household expenses. I surprised her by sharing that I had been quietly putting away money each month exactly for this purpose,
‘Guess what! I have $1000 saved!’
She was very grateful to hear that and we made the plan to go together to the police auction.
Before the auction began, we walked around looking at all the cars.
‘Where is the money?’ my wife asked as we walked around.
‘In my pocket.’ I replied.
‘Please don’t leave it there- it’s all we have. It can get pickpocketed. Put it in your shoe.’ (For this auction, you needed to bring a cashiers check or cash so it was a prime place for pickpockets and she was worried.)
‘Don’t worry. It wont happen because I rolled the money into a tight wad and put in the bottom of my pocket with bunched up paper towels on top. This way, if someone reaches into my pocket, by the time they get through the paper towels, I will feel them and do what any rabbi would do- turn around and punch them!’, I said with a smile.
‘Do me a favor,’ she asked again, ‘I’m still not comfortable. Please put it in your shoe.’
‘But then I wont be comfortable!’ I disputed.
She didn’t want to argue more so she left it at that.
The auction began; it was very crowded and noisy. Five minutes later, I get a tap on my shoulder.
‘Excuse me, but I think I just saw someone go into your pocket.’
My stomach flipped. I put my hand in and felt paper towels- only paper towels! I couldn’t believe that it had just taken five minutes and the money was gone! I turned to my wife and said, ‘We have to go.’
‘Did we buy a car?’
‘No – I got pickpocketed.’
I was waiting for her to yell ‘I told you so’ but she said absolutely nothing. Through the drive back from Queens to Brooklyn, its totally quiet in the car. I sit quietly, waiting for her to come out and blame me. Finally she inhales and I can tell she is about to talk. Here it comes, I think. But when she speaks, she surprises me.
‘Don’t worry’, she says, ‘Its from Hashem.’
‘Excuse me?’ I asked, flabbergasted.
‘Hashem wanted it to be, don’t feel badly,’ she clarifies.
“I knew I would be so upset if it happened the other way. Who was this incredible person I had married?
We got back to the house. I sat on my bed feeling violated and upset about the money but also quite grateful for my amazing wife. She came into the room and sat down next to me.
I looked at her, ‘I want to tell you, what you did today won me over for life. You had every right to yell and scream and instead you helped me feel better. You taught me that just because I made a mistake is not a reason to ruin a marriage.’
“I waited for a very long time for a chance to pay her back.
A few years later, I decided I wanted to get a really nice suit for my youngest sister’s wedding. Even though I was still in kollel, I felt it was worthwhile to splurge since this was my last family wedding. I spent time going from store to store, searching for the perfect suit. After a few days, I finally found a great suit but it was expensive. After consulting with my wife, I decided to go for it. I bought it, and of course I needed a nice new shirt, tie and shoes to go with it. I brought it to tailor, and then to shatnez tester; it took over a week until it was ready but it was worth it. I was excited. I will look amazing!
The wedding was in my hometown, Cleveland, Ohio. The plan was that we were going to drive the night before from our Brooklyn home. The day we were leaving, my wife put in a request,
‘Can we please leave right after you get back from Kollel? I don’t want the kids to stay up too late, because then they will be overtired and not sleep on the ride. As soon as you come back, lets get them in the van and go straight.’
‘But I won’t have eaten yet,’ I objected.
‘I’ll put food for you in a Tupperware and you will eat in the car,’ she replied.
‘But I didn’t pack yet,’ I objected again.
‘Don’t worry. I packed for you. It’s all in the van.’ Again my wife had it all covered, so I agreed.
“Within a half hour after I got home from kollel, we were in the van and on the way. We drove over seven hours and finally got to Cleveland, davened and went to sleep.
The next day, about 12 PM, I got the call from my father in law, telling me ‘we need your family in an hour for pictures.’ I told the everyone to get dressed for the wedding and asked my wife for my suit. She went to get it and I see that she looking back and forth through everything that we already unpacked. Then I see her run out to the van looking and then, as I wait somewhat impatiently, she comes back, and still looks around again.
After a while longer, which seemed like an eternity, she turned to me sadly and says, ‘I don’t know how to tell you this but I think I left it in NY.’
I couldn’t believe it. My last sister’s wedding and I had spent a week shopping for the perfect suit and a fortune on it, and it wasn’t here!?!
Just as my stress level was building, then suddenly, it all stopped. In a flash, I remembered the auction and how generous she had been over my mistake.
‘Its fine,’ I replied. ‘Don’t worry about it. I came in a suit and I can wear that- I’m not the groom.’ Truthfully, I had come in an old, wrinkled blue suit which I really didn’t want to wear to the wedding, but I overcame my feelings.
“I went to the bathroom to shave, feeling good about myself that even though I was upset, I didn’t show anything. When I finished, just as I was about to come back in the room, I saw that my wife had gathered all the children around her and was speaking to them. I didn’t enter; instead I stood behind the door to listen.
‘Children,’ my wife began, ‘I want to tell you what a good man your father is. He worked so hard and got the money to buy a nice new suit for his sisters wedding. It had meant so much to him. I told him I had brought it but I just realized that by accident I didn’t. I want you to know that most fathers would be so upset that they would be yelling, but your father did not make me feel bad at all. He is a really such a special man and I want to bless you all that you should grow up to be just like your father.’
The children stood in a line. She put her hands on each head, gave the Shabbat blessing, and then said to each child, ‘You should grow up to be just like your father’.
“I stood at the door crying, touched by the scene. I also felt even more amazed by my wife because she didn’t realize that I learned it all from her, from the auction.”
This amazing story truly touched me and taught me a lot. Most especially that since we all make mistakes, I should try to treat my spouse, (or other loved ones), when they make mistakes as I would want to be treated when I do- with kindness, understanding and love.
Rabbi Klatzko ended his talk with a blessing that I want to pass on as well:
“I bless you to keep what matters- the love, respect, shechina (divine presence)- at the forefront, and to push away the hurt, and harsh words. Be the spouse you want your child to be, and BeH you will build beautiful families and raise gorgeous children!”
Rabbi Klatzko’s Ten Commandments of a Good Marriage:
- You cant take back words- especially charged words (like “stupid”) so be careful with your words.
- Never change the routine of your marriage, its the glue.
- Don’t raise your voice.
- You are a team against the world. Take your spouse’s side no matter what, even if you will disagree in private.
- Let bygones be bygones. Don’t use past mistakes as ammunition in the next fight.
- Don’t pull your spouse down. We are here to grow, you should help them grow.
- First one to give in wins.
- Politeness must reign supreme.
- Remember to keep Hashem in your relationship- learn together so it’s clear that He is the glue that binds you.
- Think about the ramifications of impulsive action. Take a moment because it can take years to undo.
- Yoni is an author, teacher, wife and mother of four children. She also directs the Creative Kingdom Art Center and has had her paintings exhibited at the Var Gallery. She lives with her family in Milwaukee, WI.