For those interested in the truth behind the complex saga of Rav Berland, the entire book is available for free download today, Tuesday through Thursday, on Amazon here:
As many of you know, Rivka Levy & Y.D. Bergman have come out with a new book of the Rav Berland saga:
One in a Generation: Rabbi Eliezer Berland: Volume 2: Into Exile
As good as the first volume was, this second volume surpasses the first.
Full of complex events running in parallels, plus convoluted histories, and a wide variety of corroborating sources (ranging from the Gemara to commentaries & Sagely works to secular newspapers & video clips), this book is gob-smackingly organized.
To add credence to the mind-boggling stories, this book provides the names of eye-witnesses and sources wherever possible: diamond mine-owner Yaron Yamin, Rav Moshe Tzanani, Rav Shimon Baadani, Rav Chaim Dov Stern, Rav Yitzchak Meir Morgenstern, and more.
Rav Berland's Prediction for Achashverosh's America
To read in retrospect the events Rav Berland predicted, along with his behind-the-scenes involvement in world affairs and leaders (like Morocco's king), is incredible.
For example, Rav Berland compared the newly elected Obama to King Achashverosh.
In hindsight, this is a spot-on comparison.
Achashverosh, a foolish and self-absorbed king, was just as much as a Jew-hater as Haman, but Achashverosh was too decadent and inane to get organized about it without Haman.
Just like Obama, apparently.
And just as Achashverosh, a former stable boy, became king on Vashti’s coattails (as the granddaughter of Nevuchadnetzer), Obama’s rise to power always seemed conjured by a “lift up” from others more intelligent, driven, and successful than him — included his own wife, Michelle, who was also more physically imposing than Obama, in addition to outshining him in the above-mentioned qualities.
And just like Rav Berland predicted, Obama ruined America.
While many like to blame Trump, the divisiveness between Right and Left, the vitriol from the Left, the radical bias of the mainstream media, racial division and identity politics, the hatred of police, the descent toward socialism, plus the muzzling of free speech via “politically correct” extremists — all this ballooned during Obama’s occupancy & with his encouragement.
Lions, Elephants, and Hippos...Oh My!
This volume also contains one of my favorite episodes: Rav Berland does hitbodedut in the African jungle.
From the Depths...
Also, the book mentions Rav Berland's prison time…in Zimbabwe & South Africa.
Prison conditions in Third World countries are atrocious. You also end up in the company of truly savage people who’ve committed the worst crimes with no remorse — and easily commit those crimes again in prison against fellow prisoners.
For an elderly religious man to willingly risk spending time in such a place and also not to lose one shred of emuna during that incarceration just boggles the mind.
Tying Up Loose Ends
Another benefit this book provided was to address more fully one of my own nagging doubts.
While I realized that Rav Berland actively took upon himself the nisayon of vicious unfounded widespread slander, one of his methods still niggled at me…until I came across the section of the book which fleshed out the whys and hows of that particular issue, settling my niggling doubt once and for all.
The book is also very current. Some of the events and sources within are as recent as April 2019!
A Tell-All Turned Inside-Out
Finally, I feel that the decision to avoid naming the more extreme detractors and provocateurs strengthened the book. (Yes, you can discover the names in other ways, but not from the narration of this book.)
Generally, an exhaustively researched non-fiction book of this type seeks to provide as much identifying information as possible. Such a goal heightens the book’s veracity.
Yet in Volume II: Into Exile, you get the names of all sorts of people positively or neutrally involved with Rav Berland…but no one negatively involved with him.
This makes reading the book a one-of-a-kind experience because such a thing never happens in the genre of investigative journalism or exhaustively researched biographies.
And like I said, the book is much stronger for it.
Along these lines, it has been noted for years that placing the names and photos of murderers — particularly those of mass murderers in newspapers actually increases the likelihood of that crime happening again.
Names and photos grant a warped celebrity status to these atrocities and their perpetrators, something that appeals to other evil & twisted minds. (That’s just one reason why this blog tries to avoid — but admittedly doesn't always succeed — naming really awful people in posts.)
So even when technically, it’s halachically permitted, it’s good to avoid naming names.
As a side point, when Rav Shach spoke against certain rabidly anti-Torah Leftists, he was careful not to use their name, but say something like, “that wicked woman in the Knesset.” Another side point is the prohibition against looking at images of bad people; frum publishers shouldn’t publish the pictures of reshaim. (And yes, I wish the frum media would stop publishing photos of reshaim!!!)
But enough with this digression…
All in all, it’s a very compelling read, exhaustively researched, and well-written.
If you are interested in the whole controversy, if you’ve niggling doubts or you’re confused by all the conflicting information, One in a Generation: Rabbi Eliezer Berland: Volume 2: Into Exile comes to clarify and set straight the ongoing saga and controversy surrounding Rav Berland.
Available at the following outlets:
Note: I was not asked to write this review nor do I receive any commission from promoting the book. I just plain like the book!
Surviving the Extreme Rollercoaster of the Feminine Journey: Knowing What's Normal Helps You Stay in Your Seat as You Zoom Around Upside-Down
Like all the other harmful “isms” over the past century, feminism zeroed in on & embellished the negatives in order to foment their social upheaval.
This was easy to do because the traditional women’s sphere of domestic chores provides a mixed experience for women:
...and so on.
(And a lot was exacerbated by Hollywood, which encouraged the oppression, dumbing-down, and abuse of women. Please see How Hollywood Corrupted America for more.)
A lot about a woman’s traditional roles and even her very biology play out like one very long rollercoaster ride:
There are other heights and descents, but these are just a few examples.
The Sweet Trap of "Salvation"
And despite cheery well-meaning claims to the opposite, you can’t completely avoid the descents.
Yes, intelligent efforts suited to your personal situation plus copious tefillah can both lessen the amount of descents in life, and soften the ones that do occur.
But they aren’t completely avoidable.
What feminism did was target and embellish the low periods of womanhood.
For example, most mothers can experience a real low with housework and childcare, even back in the times when stay-at-home moms were the expected norm.
Lows are a part of any role in life.
Even the most successful professional can be plagued with profound dissatisfaction, boredom, frustration, and exasperation—all the more so, a mother with such a physical, spiritually, and emotionally intense duty that never ends.
So when one infamous feminist branded the average American suburban home of the Sixties a “comfortable concentration camp,” she was preying on the lowest lows of a woman’s rollercoaster ride.
In fact, feminists pathologized both the highs & lows of a normal woman's life.
Feeling content & fulfilled with your domestic life meant you were vapid & repressed while feeling miserable & trapped meant you were oppressed overall and in need of permanent escape and salvation.
Not respite. Not help. Not in need of a tweak to your situation.
But total escape and salvation.
And just like the yetzer hara offers suicide as escape and salvation, feminists offered feminism and women's "liberation."
Elated? Depressed? Normal!
In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s most autobiographical book of the Little House series, The First Four Years, 18-year-old Laura expresses great satisfaction with the little home built by her new husband, Almanzo Wilder.
Yet throughout the book, Laura also expresses negative feelings, even profoundly negative feelings about her domestic duties:
Yet Almanzo surprised Laura by sending a hired girl to clean the windows instead and Laura enjoyed other kinds of food preparation, even stating that she’d gotten quite good at making light bread.
Furthermore, on the day she was "particularly blue and unhappy" during her second pregnancy, a neighbor stopped by to loan her a set of Sir Walter Scott’s Waverly novels:
“And now the four walls of the close, overheated house opened wide, and Laura wandered…through the enchanting pages of Sir Walter Scott’s novels…”
The thought of the stories also distracted her from the nausea induced by cooking-smells and she simply cooked faster to get it over with.
But going back to the first trimester of her first pregnancy, Laura felt so sick that initially, her hard-working farmer husband needed to get his own breakfast. (Not so simple when you need to first heat up coal for cooking and make some kind of bread from scratch.)
She fainted whenever she left her bed, yet she forced herself to do so anyway, describing herself as “creeping around the house” and going “so miserably about her work.”
Yet by the second trimester, Laura was feeling better and able to go out and enjoy the buggy rides she and her husband formerly enjoyed. In her third trimester, Almanzo built her a handsled and a harness for their large dog, with which Laura went sleighing up and down a snowy hill for the next month until the moment she went into labor.
At times, her home is “bright and cheerful,” yet at other times that same home grows “to look rather dingy for she couldn’t give it the care she always had” or the house feels "close and hot and she was miserable.”
And in contrast to her grim observation that her family “must be kept warm and fed. The work must go on, and she was the one who must do it,” she describes another phase of constant occupation with “cooking, baking, churning, sweeping, washing, ironing, and mending” as “a busy, happy time.”
Yes, she perceived that time as "happy" even though “The washing and ironing were hard for her to do.”
And also this:
“There was very little visiting for neighbors were far away…and the days were short. Still, Laura was never lonely. She loved her little house and the housework.”
This all occurred between the years 1888-1892 on the prairie of South Dakota—not exactly a bastion of feminist thought or women's "liberation."
Likewise, Laura had no manicured Hollywood housewives or magazines ads of smiling women mopping glossy floor in heels forced upon her as the feminine ideal.
Laura felt whatever she felt simply by virtue of her innate nature and situation.
Therefore, sometimes Laura loved her little home and her housework...and sometimes she absolutely couldn't bear it.
And that's exactly how it goes on the rollercoaster of womanhood.
In other words, that's NORMAL.
Welcome to the Old Normal
Laura’s times of dissatisfaction and misery with her domestic responsibilities weren’t a sign of feminism (or a need for overall “liberation”—although sometimes a break or respite was necessary, as shown above).
Nor did those times mean that anything is wrong with wifehood or motherhood.
Likewise, Laura’s times of perfect contentment and pleasure with those exact same responsibilities don’t brand her as a Stepford wife or a submissive brainwashed twit.
This kind of rollercoaster journey throughout a female life is NORMAL.
And it’s really important to know this so that these movements of despair can’t ever get a chokehold on you.
Most of us are familiar with the famous liturgical poem, Shoshanat Yaakov—Rose of Jacob, which is recited after the reading of Megillat Esther on Purim.
Here are some links for lyrics & more information:
Shoshanat Yaakov with Chabad (includes an audio track)
Know the Words!: Shoshanas Yaakov (with inspiration regarding Charvona)
While we love singing “Baruch Mordechai Hayehudi!--Blessed is Mordechai the Jew!”, there is another stanza which reads: “Arur Zeresh eishet mafchidi—Cursed is Zeresh, the wife of my terrorist.” (That is how the book of Rav Levi Yitzchak Bender’s lectures, Words of Faith, translates mafchid: terrorist.)
The word mafchid is literally “a frightener” (as in “one who frightens”) or “scary one” (as in “one who scares”). So mafchidi is like my own personal frightener, one who scares & terrorizes me — my own personal “terrorist.”
In the name of the Arizal (Netiv Yitzchak 128), Rav Bender explains that there is a klippah (a spiritual "shell" of spiritual blockage) called “Zeresh” that injects fear into the heart of a person...and even makes him paranoid.
And this stanza in Shoshanat Yaakov remedies fear, as Rav Bender explains:
“About this we say, ‘Cursed is Zeresh, Arur Zeresh’ — to subjugate that klippah which terrorizes a person.”
A great many people today understandably suffer from anxiety, fear, or even paranoia.
But all that anxiety and fear are really the klippah called Zeresh, the evil conniving wife of Haman.
B’ezrat Hashem, if we say "Arur Zeresh! — Cursed is Zeresh!" with enough heartfelt gusto, we can nullify & overcome that awful klippah.
(Don’t give in to terror!)
In Shemot 6:1, the Kli Yakar offers a comforting observation for hard times:
For it is one of the known phenomena that this is the quality that exists within each day close to sunrise:
It’s like Rabbi Wallerstein’s parable of the flapping fish dying on the fishing dock.
Fish are never as active and wild as when they’re taking their last breaths. Rabbi Wallerstein said then that lots of craziness and sin is coming to the surface because all the bad is gasping its last breaths.
It’s true now that a lot of loonies and people expressing anti-Torah values regularly work themselves into a frenzy—and it’s only increasing.
Many of us keep saying, “It can’t get worse than this; it can’t get crazier than this”—and then it does exactly that: It gets worse and crazier.
And we’ve been repeating that pattern for years now.
I don’t know when the end of bad is going to come and the good revealed.
But it really does seem close because the insanity is overwhelming—it’s like the Plague of Frogs, with the slimy little varmints getting into every crook and cranny.
And yes, because it’s only natural for one force to fortify itself to the utmost and fight back with everything it’s got against a rising counterforce, things could get even crazier, chas v’shalom.
If we can all just HOLD ON AS BEST WE CAN, I really think we can make it.
The above is mostly my translation, with some help from Elihu Levine's incredible & highly recommended translation of the Kli Yakar, Shemos I. But any errors are still mine. Sigh...
There was an acquaintance I knew for 4 years—and during that entire time, I never knew she was separated and then divorced. (This also says wonderful things about that community, by the way, that people didn’t gossip.)
I ran into her at the supermarket, on the bus, at the park with her children—and she was always sweet, friendly, and cheerful with nary a bad thing to say about anyone.
Needless to say, if a separated or divorced woman needs help, she should be able to ask for it and receive it. Also, there’s no problem with mentioning your marital status, whether it’s divorced, widowed, married, or single.
My point is that she never said a word against her ex-husband nor her in-laws, including after they were divorced. And I’m sure she must have had what to say. Marital problems are incredibly painful.
But as the halacha tells us: If there is no halachically permitted to’elet (beneficial purpose) to lashon hara, it’s forbidden to say it.
Later, she remarried to a good man with children of his own. Because her family size suddenly doubled, life got busier and more stressful, but she seemed happy. The marriage seems good.
What I also found both unusual and heartening is how the stepchildren get along together. Some even became best friends, share clothes, and walk arm in arm together. You’d think they were twins, but they are step-siblings. Obviously, both she and her second husband must have been good parents as single parents and apparently continue to be good parents together.
But I can’t help thinking that guarding her tongue & maintaining a good mood & good middot in what must have been a very trying situation brought her a lot of bracha.
Shemirat Halashon Helped Other Things Too
In another situation, a couple with several children separated. The woman wasn’t a bad person at all, but nor did she have the most appealing personality.
Yet throughout the separation, she refused to say one word against her husband. Even when prodded, she either kept her silence or said something brief in his defense.
She also didn’t play around with lashon hara by dissing him under the guise of “merely” commenting or joking about male generalities and stereotypes.
As time went on, admiration for her grew.
Even people who hadn’t liked her much before developed a high regard for her because of her integrity during the separation. Eventually, she and her husband got back together and stayed together. She also found herself better-liked than before.
Just to emphasize: Her personality didn’t change from the time of separation to the time of reunification. People who didn’t like her so much before suddenly liked her a lot now SOLELY because of the integrity she displayed during the separation.
All in all, a win-win situation—all because she guarded her tongue so carefully.
No Guarantees in This World
The above are in very strong contrast to yesterday’s post, in which a very well-meaning community involved itself in the details of each other’s shalom bayis problems (which means engaging in copious unnecessary lashon hara)—which not only didn’t alleviate any problems, but didn’t prevent numerous divorces either.
Does guarding your tongue always work out so nicely?
Or does indulging in continuous lashon hara always backfire?
I think we all know people who slander their spouse (or ex-spouse), their boss, their co-workers, their parents, their in-laws, their children, their siblings, etc. and it doesn’t seem to hurt them. On the contrary, maybe they even do it in such a way that garners them lots of sympathy.
Likewise, there are people very careful to guard their tongue, and they don’t get the benefit of the doubt or the support they need.
The simplistic explanation is that the sinning person gets his reward in This World for the good he has done while punishment awaits him in the Next.
In contrast, there is also the concept of tzaddik v’ra lo—Hashem stores all the reward for a good person in the Next World and allows that good person to experience their atonement in This World.
There are also very deep and complex reasons having to do with past lives and other stuff to which I’m not privy, but trust that Hashem knows exactly what He is doing.
The Lashon Hara Deception
But in general, everyone I know who regularly talks or writes lashon hara about people do not experience relief from their problems.
This includes people dealing with genuinely difficult and dysfunctional people. Sometimes, the pain simply leaks out—and who can blame them? There’s definitely room for compassion here.
But over time, I saw that it just doesn’t help. There’s temporary relief and nothing more than that.
You see people who write about this family member and that neighbor—using real names!—and things never improve or only get worse (which gives them a lots of fodder for future columns, I guess).
And how many times have you sat through a shalom bayis class in which the rebbetzin disparages her husband (with humor, of course) under the guise of talking about normal male-female differences in marriage?
Notice that her marriage never improves and she rarely holds up her husband as a good example.
And people who truly suffer in their marriage or family don’t really find resolution in dropping lots of sarcastic comments about their nemesis or even continuously pouring their heart out to friends and a string of therapists.
Please notice that as long as they keep doing that, their situation stays the same or even worsens.
I could give several real-life examples of people who simply could not stop themselves from badmouthing their in-laws and spouse.
Some were quite justified in their complaints (like in the case of emotional or verbal abuse) while others merely imagined they were justified.
Regardless, nothing good or healing ultimately came out of it.
But because yesterday’s post was full of negative examples, I want to stick with positive examples in today’s post.
So I’ll just say this:
The exception to the above ended up being those who initially complained about their spouse, in-laws, parents, neighbors, etc.—and then stopped.
Whether justified or not, they stopped.
Those who stopped the understandable but ultimately forbidden lashon hara and instead turned just to prayer and gratitude to Hashem often saw an improvement in their situation.
Turning Ideas into Action
So tachlis: How do you deal with difficult people in life?
You just don’t say anything unless there’s a clear halachic to’elet for doing so.
Hopefully, you’ll experience blessing in this world for guarding your tongue—and many do.
But the Pele Yoetz emphasizes that it’s the Next World that counts.
He clearly states several times that guarding your tongue from revealing the faults—and going so far as to praise to others--of specifically your spouse, parents-in-law, and children-in-law reap great reward in the Next World...even (or especially) if these people are genuinely dysfunctional and your complaints are perfectly justified.
He says that in the case of children- or parents-in-law, you often will see the fruits of your silence (and praise) in this world via your own children or grandchildren.
But as he says to the husband who’s married to a wicked wife, if you treat her badly and get angry at her and slander her, then you simply get Gehinnom in both This World and the Next.
Pretty strong mussar if you ask me!
But again, he’s only saying this because he wants to truly help us and he wants what’s truly good for us.
And the only true good is Eternal Life in the World to Come.
It’s hard to always remember & actualize this, but any step we take in this direction is very, very good.
I once got to know a certain community that prided itself on its close-knit support.
“Our children know they’ve got extended family through our community,” they explained. “All the adults are known as their aunts and uncles. We always pitch in for each other’s simchas and crises.”
Whether a family experienced sickness, birth, divorce, moving, or any other life upheaval, they received the full support of the community. And it really was heartwarming to see how they would pitch in to help—and give real help—without even being asked.
Many were committed to a kollel lifestyle—or at least a partial kollel lifestyle. Many didn’t have a computer or if they did, it really was for work and the children had no access to it.
So it was a community with a serious commitment to Torah and chessed. Very nice!
The Snake Slithering through Gan Eden
But I admit I was uncomfortable with the way they talked about each other. Very warm and accepting, you pretty quickly got an earful of what was going on with different members of the oh-so familial community.
Furthermore, they weren't always so nice to each other or talk about each other's kids so nicely.
For example, one of the teenagers clearly suffered some form of mental retardation. And she was a nice and friendly person too.
Yet the other girls her age responded stiffly or rudely to her when she approached them to chat. And the minute her back was turned, they doubled over with repressed laughter, their hands clutched over their mouths and exchanging looks with each other that clearly said, Omigosh—such a freak! Right?
Of course, people can be very uncomfortable around those with special needs. It’s pretty normal to be stiff or awkward when you aren’t used to them.
But these girls had all grown up together and were family, right? Also, you’d think their parents had spoken to them over the years about how to behave with this very nice yet mentally challenged girl.
Yet they didn’t seem to know how to behave and they didn’t seem very compassionate either. Where was the unity and warmth?
And yes, I realize that people like to dismiss such behavior as “Teenagers!” But I’ve seen so many teenage girls behave with sensitivity and refinement in so many different situations to know the difference between youth and a display of poor middot.
Anyway, there were several things like that. That’s just one example.
We are (a Fragmented) Family
But what really took me by surprise was the divorce rate in this seemingly lovey-dovey community. Some couples divorced early on in the marriage, but others got fed up after 12-20 years of marriage and 5-7 children.
What a strange thing to happen when there is such much support and so much “We are family!” feeling...
Some people who noticed this high divorce rate remarked that the community didn’t have a firm hashkafah and therefore lacked the stability a firm hashkafah gives. And that can be true. And the rav to whom they were wholeheartedly committed lived in a faraway city, so he wasn't right there with them, which can be a problem.
But to this extent?
No, it didn't make sense that hashkafah or the rav's location were the major factors in the high rate of shalom bayis issues.
What came out over time was how involved they were in each other’s personal lives. They knew so much of each other’s marriages. Open discussions took place with each spouse facing an entire community of shalom bayit advisers.
This is a problem because the halachot of lashon hara do not allow this at all.
Both spouses openly discussed their issues with—well, everybody.
So everyone knew all the dirt on everyone else.
And some of the couples were getting divorced over problems that were indeed problems, but not the kind of thing you’d necessarily get divorced over. And not problematic enough to divorce in your son’s bar mitzvah year (as happened in one case).
Revenge & Abandonment
The other thing was the antagonism of the divorcing wives toward their husbands.
It was like there was all this repressed resentment and anger suddenly bubbling to the surface.
By the way, I’ve known women who’ve gotten divorced from verbally or emotionally abusive husbands and these women just want him OUT. They never want to see, speak, or deal with him again.
That’s normal, as far as I can tell.
And in this community, many of the women were very angry at their husbands. And yes, some for good reason.
But one even developed an elaborate plan of how she was going to torment her husband via the court system after their divorce. She wanted to milk him for all he was worth—which puzzled everyone else because he’d been in kollel the entire time and had no money of his own. So what was she trying to do? It was obviously pure animosity on her part because there was nothing there to milk.
Yet that elaborate plan of vengeance didn't seem like a normal reaction. Like I said, most suffering wives want him out of their lives; they don't want to keep up after him with all sorts of nasty plots.
Also, while she had a lot to complain about him, he didn’t have much to complain about her. In fact, he even justified her complaints about him. (He wasn’t very communicative within the marriage.) But admitted that he wasn’t sure how to be more communicative with his wife. He said that he just froze up when dealing with her—something he didn’t do with other people and he honestly didn’t know why nor how to solve the problem.
Fortunately, Hashem put a stop to the wife’s plans for revenge by causing her to remarry within months after the divorce and then having that marriage go on the rocks, which between that and dealing with her kids and the stepkids, absorbed her too much to carry out revenge.
Her ex-husband kept quietly about his business and within a year, was remarried to a very nice divorcee with her own home, several young children, her ex-husband totally out of the picture—a very nice woman who wanted nothing more than to support a husband in learning.
And she was fine with the fact that he was quiet as long as he was nice (which he was).
Other women just picked up the kids and went back to Europe or North America, stranding their Israeli husband as an older and suddenly childless bachelor.
In one case, I think he deserved to be abandoned because he’d consistently made poor decisions to the detriment of their children (among other stuff)—and he refused to improve.
But in another case, it seemed more vindictive--especially when she came back after a few years to dump the child on the ex-husband and go back to her life (and new marriage) in chutz l'Aretz. (Fortunately, the ex-husband was very happy to have his child back in his life again, even though the adjustment was a challenge.)
So you had avenging or abandoning wives in situations that didn't seem to really call for such measures. (Although like I said, it seems that at least one husband deserved to be abandoned.)
What are the Real Laws of Love & Honor?
But the point is that this community perceives itself as oh-so close and supportive.
Yet just under the surface, there are a lot of shalom bayit problems. (And not all those suffering unhappy marriages get divorced.)
So the community has support and unity (at least on the surface), but the actual married couples don't?
I can’t help thinking that with all the emphasis halacha places on respecting one’s spouse and not exposing the flaws of family members—especially family members that halacha obligates us to honor, such as parents, parents-in-law, and our spouse—that this well-meaning community is blocking itself from blessing.
We know that refraining from lashon hara earns us unimaginable light in worlds we cannot see. But we also know that indulging in lashon hara brings about the opposite: terrible din.
It was really the Pele Yoetz that brought the severity of this to my attention.
Despite modern society’s penchant for joking around about one’s husband or wife or in-laws, the Pele Yoetz strongly opposes any kind of negative comment about people you’re commanded to honor.
Today, it’s amazing how much dirt people spill about their spouse while chalking it up to “normal” masculine or feminine behavior—as if that makes exposing it okay.
People do the same about their in-laws—again, downplaying their lashon hara as talking generally about normal tensions with in-laws.
But the Pele Yoetz exhorts us to do the opposite.
He says we should davka cover up the flaws of our spouses and in-laws (both parents-in-law and children-in-law) and praise them to others.
Why? Not because we are big fake liars, but because that is the proper thing to do according to him.
Let’s look at what other truly great people say about all this:
Rav Levi Yitzchak Bender explains in Words of Faith, page 376 (emphasis mine):
"Meaning that the tikkun of sin is only through confessing before Hashem Yisbarach or the true Tzaddik. For few are those who are able to hear confess without it causing the confessor to be discouraged."
This means there is no tikkun in talking about your problems to others. Yes, it's permissible at times. But if you want to actually be fixed, you need to turn to the Original Source of your flaws and problems.
Rav Bender further advises (page 373):
"Know this: To join a friend in personal matters, especially in sins and iniquities, does much damage."
That's for the listener. Unless there's a real halachic to'elet (beneficial purpose) to listening, hearing out another's personal stuff and flaws "does real damage."
And then on page 376, he cautions listeners against "digging after mistakes, even if you mean well." He advises such well-intentioned listeners:
"In practice: Do not desire to know another's personal matters for it is only the work of the yetzer and his seductions. And it is the complete opposite of why friends bond."
And in a nutshell, that explains why this seemingly close-knit community wasn’t actually close at all: “…it is the complete opposite of why friends bond” and "the work of the yetzer."
In efforts to help each other and figure out what people needed to do to improve their situations, they ended up joining "a friend in personal matters" and "digging after mistakes."
And this is a very easy mistake for a well-meaning & compassionate person to make.
How would we know without Rav Bender to lay it out for us?
On page 4 of The Laws of Interpersonal Relationships: Practical Applications in Business, Home, and Society, Rav Ehrman elucidates the mitzvah to love one’s fellow by the following principles (culled from the Ramban, Shaar Hatevunah, Shemirat Halashon, and the Gemara)
Dissecting your spouse’s flaws with an entire community (or inserting them into casual conversation with friends or relatives) obviously violates the above precepts, especially the first three.
Having said all that, if your spouse is awful in some way and you need outside help, then halacha allows you to get it. Just as one example: The Pele Yoetz praised as “a great mitzvah” the act of assisting a Jewish woman married to a “snake” to get divorced if she wanted.
It’s admittedly to difficult to observe the above principles because our society deems acceptable the mentioning the flaws of people we’re obligated to honor and love—as long as we do it humorously or we hide behind the veneer of gender stereotypes or in-law stereotypes.
Look, I didn’t know it either until I read the above books.
Live and learn, eh?
So hopefully, we’ll all keep learning and improving—and be the kinds of Jews defined by Chazal and not by society.
May we all succeed in living up to the dictates of the Torah.
The Real Purpose of a Home & Family
The Best Marriage Counseling: Tefillah, Teshuvah, and Tzedakah
The Pele Yoetz on Family Relationships: When Honesty Stops being a Virtue, Part II
UPDATE: It's very helpful to read this link too:
Rav Avigdor Miller on The Man who Dresses like a Rabbi
I’d like to start off by talking about a negative experience with a rabbi who seemed very big.
But first, I need to give a bit of background:
We all have some kind of sore spot on our nefesh. It’s a place that’s vulnerable to pain, like a severely sunburned patch of skin.
So mine is being treated like I don’t exist.
Also, my husband and I served as rabbi and rebbetzin for a small shul in the US and also as part of a kiruv group in another place, so I saw a lot from the inside as far as rabbis go.
Is That You Talkin' or a Bumble Bee Walkin'?
Anyway, at the beginning of our marriage, my husband and I went to visit a rabbi (with the rabbi’s agreement) and at my husband’s prompting, I asked the rabbi directly, “What nusach should I daven?”
That question was part of the reason why we were there.
I’m Ashkenazi, my husband is Sephardi, and another rabbi told me that some poskim say the wife should take on her husband’s nusach while some say she should stick to her own familiar nusach.
So we went my husband’s rabbi to get a decisive answer.
And the rabbi acted like I hadn’t said anything. He just looked away and didn’t say a word -- not even a grunt.
I felt very embarrassed and confused. Had I said something wrong? Or was he thinking it over? Perhaps he hadn’t understood me with my heavy American accent?
I glanced at my husband, who also seemed taken aback, but after a long and uncomfortable silence, the rabbi started talking to my husband about something else.
I was really confused.
Also, just for knowing, the rabbi would look at me directly (in a modest manner) and address me directly at other times. So it wasn't that he refused to talk to or look me in the face by custom.
At a pause in the conversation, I waited a moment and then politely said something like, “Excuse me, kavod harav, um…I was just interested in knowing what nusach I should daven now?”
He looked at me in an odd way, then turned away and made no response.
So I said, “Um, the thing is I davened Ashkenazi until now, but now I’m supposed to take on Sephardi minhagim…” I faltered because he still made no reply. “So, uh, I heard that some poskim say one way and some say another and, uh, I was just wondering which nusach I should daven?”
He frowned and looked away from me.
Now, instead of feeling mildly confused or a bit taken aback like a normal person might, I felt devastated—because this is my sore spot. I’m way too oversensitive in this area.
At this point, my husband got up the guts to politely re-ask my question and the rav looked at him, frowned, and made this irritated motion with his hands and shoulders.
And my husband immediately raised his palms in surrender, “Okay, sorry, sorry! Never mind. Ah…” And my husband changed the subject.
When we got home, I burst into tears as I asked why the rabbi treated me so. My husband tried to make a joke out of it and quipped that apparently the rabbi wanted to rely on my husband.
“So why didn’t he SAY that?” I cried. "Why did he act like I don't even exist?"
My husband shrugged apologetically. He grew up in a traditional immigrant Moroccan neighborhood in Eretz Yisrael, where respect for people who learned Torah was sacrosanct and he couldn’t bring himself to speak about his rabbi any further.
To compound things (and I'm revealing this with my husband's consent), my husband’s father died very suddenly when my husband was a teenager, and he always missed the closeness they’d shared. So he instinctively sought a father figure in his rabbi.
And this rabbi could be very warm and friendly when they learned or spoke together, and such paternal warmth is what my husband understandably craved—but the rabbi could also be irritable and sharp and prone to short bursts of frightening temper. (I saw it once and it froze me speechless—and all because his wife brought the wrong coffee. Cripes.)
What I didn’t know at the time was that this rabbi has a lion-like temper (which was why my husband got nervous when the rabbi got irritable and why my husband was hesitant to push the rabbi to answer the innocent—and very simple!—shaila).
And as I also saw several times, this rabbi can be very friendly and warm toward people, then treat them with disdain or hostility. (And he did this to me, sometimes acting like I didn’t exist as he did above, or being really nice and then with a paternal smile, plunge his verbal dagger into my nefesh.)
Eventually, we drifted off from him and much to his credit, my husband eventually managed to overcome the very understandable desire for some kind of father figure.
In other words, despite his hasmadah in learning and the tremendous intellectual knowledge he possessed, this rabbi's Torah learning remained stuck in his head only and never managed to fully flow down to his heart.
You could definitely see the influence of Torah on him, but there was still a lot missing.
And some people are like that.
Derech Eretz Kadma L'Torah
For whatever the reason, some people learn tremendous amounts of Torah (sort of like academics like to learn their own weighty tomes and philosophies), but such people never manage to actually INTERNALIZE the Torah they learn. (Or they only internalize a very small percentage of the vast amount of Torah they’ve learned.)
Of course, we’re all flawed and even someone who learns Torah for years can still exhibit flawed middot at times.
Only Hashem is perfect.
But this rabbi's extreme behavior exhibited itself regularly.
And we need to use caution when choosing a rav. Just because someone has a lot of Torah-learning in his background doesn’t mean he is a Torah personality.
For example, when a regular frum Jew asked Rav Avigdor Miller how to deal with a learned rabbi’s lack of derech eretz, Rav Avigdor DIDN’T say, “Gevald! Why aren’t you giving him the benefit of the doubt? Who are you, a lowly regular Yid, to judge such a big talmid chacham?!”
Rav Avigdor knew that rabbis can lack derech eretz. So he recommended that the regular Jew write the rabbi a polite anonymous letter.
Here’s the original Q&A:
How Can We Know which Rabbi to Follow?
In Going Home…to Yerushalayim, a commenter asks how can we know who to listen to and who not?
It’s an excellent and vitally important question.
So first of all, it’s important to pray for this.
Both Rav Levi Yitzchak Bender (Words of Faith) and Rav Michel Dorfman recommended saying “Utaknenu b’aitzah tovah milfanecha” (said in Maariv and Bedtime Shema) with as much kavanah as you can regarding this issue.
Another thing: If you learn halacha and mussar, it helps a lot in recognizing who you should listen to.
Then you can see whether the rabbi behaves more or less according to, say, Orchot Tzaddikim or not.
In the above example, I’d already learned a bit about the Torah ways of derech eretz and treating people with courtesy and compassion—even if those people aren’t really cool hotshots like yourself [sarc].
So the rabbi's very obvious lack of derech eretz (which I saw on several occasions) combined with the fact that he obviously knew how to behave with derech eretz (as he did so when he wanted to at other times) could have told me that he wasn’t the real deal.
And regarding his bizarre flares of rage?
Well, I’d already learned that Shlomo Hamelech declared in Mishlei that anger rests in the bosom of fools.
And I’d already learned that the Gemara states that anger is like worshiping an idol.
And here’s the Rambam’s Yad Hachazakah, Chapter2, Halacha 3:
“Anger is also an exceptionally bad quality. It is fitting and proper that one move away from it and adopt the opposite extreme.”
So when I saw the rabbi erupt into bursts of short but very intense anger (over nonsense), I could have realized he wasn’t the real deal.
It was confusing at the time because in those days, there was tremendous pressure on baalei teshuvah to find a rav (any rav!) and many stories showcased how blind obedience to a rav reaped a satisfyingly happy ending.
There are also many stories showing rabbis acting oddly and later revealing profound and legitimate reasons for such behavior.
But they were tzaddikim with ruach hakodesh—which is very different than the vast majority of rabbis who most certainly do NOT possess ruach hakodesh or tzidkus. So you needn’t assume your rabbi’s unhalachic behavior is the result of profound holiness.
Anyway, I thought the problem was me and that if I only had enough emunat chachamim, everything would be fine.
(But things didn’t work out and I learned a big lesson: Intellect is NOT the same as wisdom. And we shouldn’t place our emuna on a “walking encyclopedia,” but only on a real true chacham.)
So it’s not easy and it takes some time, but that’s one way to go.
The following pertains specifically to gedolei hador, but it's still good general advice.
This is what Rav Avigdor Miller suggests in Recognizing a Gadol Hador:
Courtesy, Not Crony
By the way, we can and certainly should respect all people for the good middot and authentic Torah knowledge they DO possess. Some people are experts on the halachos of tevilat keilim or lashon hara, but lack sensitivity or expertise in other areas.
We should not start gossiping about a rabbi’s—or any person’s—bad traits unless there is a halachically mandated benefit in doing so.
We must always find a good point in every Jew—the more good points, the merrier.
However, on the subject of rabbis, you don’t need FOLLOW them if they aren’t up to par.
If their views conflict with those mentioned in STANDARD halacha and mussar, you DON’T need to follow them.
Yes, you treat them with same courtesy and respect as you do any human being.
But you don't need to follow them.
Their opinions and hashkafahs aren’t kodesh kedoshim—unless that rabbi truly embodies Torah haskafah.
So if they aren’t representing Torah truth (and long gray or white beards with impressive rabbinical attire and rabbinical degrees don’t AUTOMATICALLY determine their level of Torah truth), you don’t need to (and shouldn’t) follow them.
Frum media isn’t perfect either.
Rav Avigdor Miller on the Yeshivah & the Sane Asylum
And this connects to what’s happening in both Eretz Yisrael & Chutz L’Aretz today:
Are the Reshaim Endangering Us?
P.S. This post started off with mentioning the problem of a sore oversensitive point. I want to continue discussing how to deal with any point of oversensitiveness. When ignored, it interferes with having a good life and good middot. So more on how to deal with that in an upcoming post…
Back to Part I
I want to start off by reiterating that the Pele Yoetz was a very holy and knowledgeable Jew who chose to die of plague in order to spare his community of suffering that same plague. He strove for honesty and yosher in every aspect of life.
And as much as he felt the pain of his fellow Jews in whatever difficult interpersonal situation they found themselves, the Pele Yoetz maintained equal awareness that Olam Haba is a very real place, and that rising to the occasion by overcoming your bad middot earns you a goodly portion in Olam Haba while giving in to your lower instincts and emotions can land you in a lot of trouble with Heavenly Judgement.
With this in mind, much of the his advice flies in the face of what our secular-influenced culture tells us now. Yet you’ll see that the Pele Yoetz’s advice follows the actual halacha.
In other words:
And this final point:
The Pele Yoetz focuses on your present and future behavior.
He barely focuses on external causes because despite your upbringing and many other factors, you still have the capacity to behave with good middot or you wouldn't be commanded to do so.
Needless to say, I struggle with the above as much as anyone else. Sometimes, I do my best to maintain my middot and succeed, but sometimes I fail. That's how it goes. I publish the Pele Yoetz's advice for myself as much as anyone else.
Secular modern psychology is atheistic, even if many psychologists aren’t actual atheists. So psychology focuses on the surface-level emotional well-being of the client rather than on the client’s soul and future well-being once the soul leaves the body.
Also, no therapist is going to be as mosser nefesh for you as the Pele Yoetz.
Your therapist will never take your Heavenly Punishment upon his- or herself like the Pele Yoetz did for his errant brethren.
So it's best to listen to him as much as we can.
Being "Real" -- for Real
Rav Avrohom Ehrman’s book Journey to Virtue notes that part of fulfilling the mitzvah of v’ahavta l’re’echa kamocha (love your neighbor as yourself) includes (but is not limited to):
The above is admittedly VERY HARD to do with people who treat you badly.
Modern society accuses people of being "fake" or "in denial" or "Pollyanna" or "a stooge" when they do things like only speak positively of others or camouflage other people's deficiencies.
Yet that's only true when your INTENTION is to cover up for a bad guy who uses your cover to keep hurting others. It's true when prefer to disassociate and actually pretend nothing in wrong and continue neglecting yourself or others, or if you're trying to be a goody-two-shoes.
In Judaism, you don't pretend that bad is good. (That's chanifah -- totally forbidden.)
You simply emphasize the good.
However, when your intention is to remain well-aware, but commit to HASHEM'S value system and follow the above strictures with integrity, then that's being more REAL than anything else.
Remember, as elucidated in a past post, Judaism considers the whole truth told only when the positive is included.
Modern society is the exact opposite. Truth is only when the negative is included.
When Separation is Good
And of course, there are the little known halachot of keeping away from people who repeatedly sin, display bad middot, etc., so as not to be influenced or harmed by them.
The Pele Yoetz himself urges family members who cannot get along (i.e., adult children & their parents, children-in-law & parents-in-law) to refrain from spending much time together and even from sitting together at gatherings, if necessary.
This separation from impossibly difficult situations includes helping a very abused wife get divorced if she so desires, calling this divorce assistance “a very great mitzvah” -- meaning, you'll increase your reward in Olam Haba by helping her.
On the other hand, the Pele Yoetz emphasizes that such relationships are from Hashem. So therefore: Rising to the occasion accrues generous reward (though he doesn’t promise you’ll see that reward in this lifetime).
This was a very complex post to put together because the Pele Yoetz acknowledges both the awful reality of some people’s behavior together with the unknowable Divine Plan behind putting you together with such people.
And he discusses both the spiritual reasons along with the here-and-now reasons as motivation to rise to the occasion when dealing with difficult people.
But his MAIN FOCUS is on CORRECT BEHAVIOR. He openly acknowledges that correct behavior may not influence the difficult person to behave better. He says that it can, but it doesn't necessarily.
This approach is very different than the approach even many frum advisors use today, so it can take time to internalize the Pele Yoetz's message because it initially feels like sandpaper-rubbing rather than a loving caress.
So it’s all together and that makes it difficult to sum things up (especially on a computer screen where the eye naturally skims the information rather than reading it carefully—mine too).
The Pele Yoetz doesn’t mince words when describing people (“lowly and disgusting” “depraved” “bad character” “bad and difficult”) nor does he make excuses for the miserable behavior.
You don’t hear about anyone’s unfortunate upbringing or background or environment. Instead, he mostly attributes people’s flaws to the generation or to general factors (like old age), rather than to specific circumstances.
HOWEVER, he also very strongly encourages people to push themselves spiritually to be the best they can be—despite the weakness of the generation and the rampant ignorance in society, or any other factors (like old age, stressful situations, etc).
His Balkan Jewish society was interesting because while there weren’t secular Jews per se, there were very ignorant Jews. Some didn’t know how to read or know how to read Hebrew.
For example, he advises a man who doesn’t know Hebrew to go to a Sage before Yom Kippur to have the Hebrew Vidui (Confession) translated into the vernacular.
(We don't need to do that nowadays because we have Artscroll and Metzudah and the like. But the point is to understand each word of Vidui.)
At the same time, Sarajevo was the Torah center where the Pele Yoetz learned too, and Sarajevo produced many talmidei chachamim and tzaddikim. And then you had everyone in between those 2 extremes.
No More Blame Game
The Pele Yoetz speaks strongly about the need to overcome your lesser middot and behave in an exemplary manner while at the same time acknowledging how hard that can be. Sometimes, his expectations seem too high—yet he addresses this too by saying that if the Torah commanded it, then it cannot be impossible.
“The Sages spoke only of one whom the controversy pursues him. And he flees from it and the peace flees from him and he runs after it [i.e the peace]—THAT is called a ‘rodef shalom—a pursuer of peace’ and his deeds will be praised at the gates.”
Several times, the Pele Yoetz makes the point that being a rodef shalom—a pursuer of peace—implies behaving peacefully with truly difficult people. Else why do you need to pursue peace? If a person is lovely, then peace exists on its own—no need to go running after it.
So he definitely understands that some people are difficult and that maintaining your middot with them is very difficult.
How does that all connect with lashon hara?
Our most difficult and painful relationships are exactly what trip us up, spiritually speaking.
There is opportunity for great loss—or great gain, depending on our response.
Lashon hara for no halachically permissible reason entails spiritual loss.
Problems among family ties can trip off the most lashon hara.
So among our more intricate family relationships, the Pele Yoetz has a lot to say.
Below, you’ll see some of the advice he offers both spouses and in-laws.
Note: Coming from secular Western society, it’s quite a pop in the face. So be prepared…
General Advice for Relatives
The Pele Yoetz insists on exemplary behavior on the part of spouses and in-laws even toward a spouse or child/parent-in-law who is awful.
First, he reminds both husbands and wives:
Love of the soul is the most important love of all, so the spiritual goals for you & your spouse need to be foremost at all times.
He actually repeats this idea for husbands, wives, and parents throughout the book.
Ladies First: Advice for Wives
The Pele Yoetz says to wives:
It is difficult to offer general advice because not all people think alike.
Note: I wish EVERY person involved in ANY shalom bayis counseling would commit the above to memory and engrave it on their heart!
It IS difficult to offer general advice because NOT ALL PEOPLE THINK ALIKE. The Pele Yoetz encourages women to conduct themselves according to the nature of HER husband and HIS character—NOT according to whatever stereotypes your advisor has of men or according to your rebbetzin’s husband’s nature.
He stated this nearly 2 centuries ago, but who is listening?
Anyway the Pele Yoetz also advises wives:
Many give this advice despite the fact that pleasing and appeasing behavior never changes abusive people. Also, because most people with personality disorders FEAR intimacy, giving them more love not only doesn’t help but can even trigger MORE abusive behavior, depending.
But the Pele Yoetz doesn’t advise respectful behavior to improve shalom bayit (although he says that explaining to the person using soft words can help, which he bases on a verse from Mishlei--but no promises).
As indicated above, he clearly states that the reason for good treatment, whether for husbands or wives, is for Hashem’s Sake and for the sake of your Olam Haba.
Because, as the Pele Yoetz states, the whole point of relationships is to facilitate spiritual goals.
Even with marriage, the Pele Yoetz encourages a wife to look behind the curtain of her husband (“whether praiseworthy or dishonorable”) because that marriage (like EVERYTHING else in life) is a decree from the King of the Universe.
You honor your husband because doing so honors HASHEM and his decree.
This is just like the idea propagated throughout Judaism (including the Pele Yoetz) that you should be among the insulted who do not return a hurt with a hurt, which is an ideal Judaism also upholds outside of marriage.
Because the unpleasant incident or situation is from Hashem. Therefore, there is some benefit to it, like an atonement or middah-building exercise, or whatever.
Unlike modern-day shalom bayis advisers, the Pele Yoetz doesn’t focus on pleasing the husband nor does he start engage in exaggerated generalizations about men in an effort to blindside the wife into submission.
(Secular/non-Jewish therapist often do the same, including using their diagnosis of the husband suffering from a personality disorder or Aspergers or just needing unconditional love or whatever in order to manipulate the wife into co-dependence or submission.)
In fact, he doesn’t mince words. He acknowledges that some husbands are “dishonorable” and that a husband can be “harsh in character and opinions, a lowly and disgusting man who shares no good--ish kasheh b’middotav u’v’de’otav, nivzeh v’chadal ishim, chasar kol tov.”
(Nor does he quantify such behavior with allusions to an unfortunate background or dysfunctional upbringing of the aforesaid “lowly and disgusting man.”)
He wants a wife to rise above her natural inclinations in the face of such behavior—just as he encourages EVERY person (including the husbands of dysfunctional wives) to respond to ALL insulting or dishonorable behavior with dignity.
(Meaning, his mussar isn’t just for wives or even just for marriage, but a general principle applicable to all interpersonal dealings.)
At the same time, the Pele Yoetz encourages a wife to wait for a more relaxed moment and then “rebuke” her husband in a soft, sweet way by saying things like:
“Why did you do this-and-such? What is my sin and what is my transgression that you got worked up against me and got angry at me when I’ve done nothing to harm you? Is this good in the Eyes of Hashem?—and other good things.”
(Note: The language suggested by the Pele Yoetz was originally for early 19th-Century Sefardi Bulgarians and may need to be adjusted for modern English-speakers. They are just suggestions, after all.)
He also recommends pleading sweetly with an abusive husband in a more conducive moment, but he’s clear that these are only recommendations. He makes no guarantees that such words will reap the desired effect if the behind-the-scenes Heavenly decrees indicate otherwise.
Finally, he insists that:
(Again, the Pele Yoetz obviously understands how challenging this is, else why would he advise utilizing such strength in the face of such a nisayon?)
At the same time, the Pele Yoetz obviously heard from suffering wives he’s clearly aware of abusive behavior.
For example, in the case of physical abuse and insensitive behavior in the bedroom, the Pele Yoetz extols as a very big mitzvah to help such a wife, whether by Jewish officials beating the husband into submission or by assisting her in obtaining a divorce if she wants. (Interestingly, he offers neither option to husbands suffering from difficult or evil wives.)
How does this connect to lashon hara?
The Pele Yoetz shows heavy insistence against bad-mouthing your husband in any way, yet if it’s l’toelet (like she needs outside official help to protect her from an especially abusive husband), then obviously she can say something. Otherwise, how would the Pele Yoetz have known what was going on in her home or that a woman needed such help?
But whether the husband’s behavior is severe or just annoying, it’s clear that a lot of what passes for acceptable conversation nowadays is actually completely forbidden.
In actuality, no joking or kvetching about your husband is permissible, even when his behavior seems to justify complaint.
Finally, the Pele Yoetz advises an abused wife:
Again, this doesn't rule out divorce from such a person or asking for intervention.
As the Pele Yoetz agitates against husbands who "may their name be obliterated" are "biliya'al (depraved)" and "treat Jewish women like maidservants (shifchot)":
"It is fitting for anyone who has the ability to chastise them [the abusive husbands] when possible. And if they have the ability to extract their wives from their hand when it's the desire of the wife--because a woman cannot dwell in the same place as a snake--it's a great mitzvah to save the oppressed from his oppressor."
Advice for Husbands
Likewise, the Pele Yoetz insists that husbands behave with exemplary middot toward even a difficult and wicked wife, all the more so toward a regular wife.
And again, he repeatedly emphasizes the importance of doing so for Hashem’s Sake.
And he holds the husband of a dysfunctional wife to much higher standards than he holds the wife of a dysfunctional husband.
The Pele Yoetz insists that in general, there’s an obligation of “mighty love--ahavah azah” between a husband and wife, repeating what’s written in Yevamot 62b, that a husband is obliged to love his wife as himself and to honor her more than himself.
The obligation to be sensitive is cast upon you more than her as Baba Metzia 59a says: "A husband must always be cautious in regards to hurting his wife because since her tears are near, so is her pain.”
I know, I know.
This is in direct contrast to what’s taught in shalom bayis shiurim, which teach that the obligation of sensitivity is upon the wife.
The husband gets a free pass because "he’s a man" and "men aren't smart enough" and "can’t understand these things"—or so they claim.
This is why it is so important to turn to classic sources written by real tzaddikim and leave behind all the secular-influenced or Christian-influenced blather.
People who offer such advice come from despair; they’ve despaired of getting men to fulfill their halachic responsibilities—just like feminists have despaired of men.
So instead, they dump everything onto the wife. And looking at marriage and children today, it obviously isn’t helping. But their despair doesn’t let them think with an expanded mind.
Thank God we have our Sages to open our minds to the truth!
Anyway, the Pele Yoetz insists even if a wife:
--nonetheless, a husband should never:
Furthermore, the Pele Yoetz insists that a husband:
A husband must bear the yoke and be among the insulted who do not insult and accept upon yourself the Judgment of Heaven with joy "because a woman is sent to man from God."
Again, the Pele Yoetz avoids being superficial about things.
He clearly realizes that some people are just plain bad apples, yet because these people are challenges sent by Hashem, we are supposed to rise to the occasion.
He cautions husbands several times that hating a bad or difficult wife can lead to producing a ben sorer u’moreh—the son of a hated wife, as mentioned in the Torah.
To my mind, this a very high demand in light of the terrible middot mentioned above.
How can a man love the kind of sinful, vindictive wife mentioned above?
Again, the Pele Yoetz bases his advice on achieving the best Afterlife possible. The awful spouse is merely the conduit to achieve a blissful eternity:
Though sympathetic to the challenges of a dysfunctional spouse (and even supports divorce for an abused woman), the Pele Yoetz reassures both suffering wives and suffering husbands that if they can maintain their own good middot (including refraining from lashon hara), then their Heavenly Reward will be tremendous.
Note: He provides a more advice & obligations for both husbands and wives than listed here.
Advice for Children-in-Law
The Pele Yoetz insists that a daughter-in-law should:
Please note that the Pele Yoetz doesn’t say “even if she THINKS they are bothersome and have bad character,” but that they ARE bothersome and DO have bad character. Once again, he acknowledges that some people are indeed bad apples and doesn't dismiss the daughter-in-law's perception as mere tension common in that relationship.
Again, the Pele Yoetz doesn’t get all sentimental about it all.
The reason for the above is because the merit of the parents aids the children. Meaning that performing the above actually helps the daughter-in-law. In a sense, she’s doing it for herself and her own children.
He reassures both children and children-in-law that in regard to honoring parents and parents-in-law, “one who honors others will be respected and his reward will be greatly increased and l’fum tzaara agrah”—one’s reward comes according to one’s exertion.
Interestingly, the Pele Yoetz states that:
Regarding adult children and their own parents, the Pele Yoetz recommends:
He advises that in situations in which parents-in-law and children-in-law cannot behave peacefully and properly with each other, then:
Advice for Parents Still Raising Children
Finally, the Pele Yoetz also speaks against discussing your children negatively with others.
The Ben Ish Chai in Laws for Women goes as far as saying that a mother who complains to the father about the children is actually endangering them because if justified, her complaints against them can cause them to be punished from Shamayim.
He doesn’t condemn a beneficial discussion of how best to handle Junior’s difficult behavior, but he’s referring to the litany of teinos some parents pour forth toward their spouse.
Why "Getting It Off Your Chest" Ultimately Doesn't Help
Much of the above advice is anathema to Western mores. With the modern emphasis on standing up for yourself and your rights, being “honest” and “real” about everything, “being yourself,” and much more, the Pele Yoetz’s advice seems backwards and constraining.
Yet over the years, I cannot deny that all the people who publicize the faults of their spouses or in-laws (children or parents) receive no good from this and don’t even experience real relief.
It’s hard for me to say this, but this includes those who really suffer (as the Pele Yoetz acknowledged above) and whose complaints leak out due to their immense pain.
I’m really sympathetic to those whose pain leaks out because living with a horrible spouse infects your very being and every aspect of life.
Particularly for women, who are likened to the Moon which receives light from the Sun (i.e. her husband), a woman whose husband maltreats or neglects her genuinely feels like a cold dead rock suspended in a dark airless Universe.
A woman in such a situation will find it very difficult to keep it all in and only pour out her heart to Hashem (as the Pele Yoetz encourages her to do) but not to other people (unless there’s a toelet, like to get divorced, as the Pele Yoetz notes).
One woman I knew married to an emotionally abusive man even became suicidal at one point—despite frequently leaking out her pain and resentment to others, despite therapy and despite consultation with rabbis. All the outpourings and/or comments never helped.
Whether it’s via humorous jabs or sad comments or even tearful admissions, I’ve seen that it really doesn’t help and any relief is only temporary. (Though relief isn’t guaranteed because sometimes the listener responds in a way the speaker finds hurtful.)
Like I've said before, my initial heart's reaction is to listen and empathize with the other. But I can't help seeing that all the intended support and empathy doesn't seem to offer more than temporary relief. However, when there has been something practical that I could do, then things ended up better.
So there's a difference between pouring your heart out when it can't help you (but maybe it feels like it helps you) and pouring your heart out when it can.
I'm not demonizing anyone for doing it -- believe me, I understand what emotional pain is like -- I'm just saying there is a way to do it that's beneficial and a way that is not.
Well, not me saying it, but the Pele Yoetz.
I'll be following up this last bit in another post.
So to sum up:
Back to Part I
May this post be considered a kaparah for my own falls into lashon hara and may we all be protected from any sins of the tongue.
In the Pele Yoetz, Rav Eliezer Papo stresses that the whole point of being a rodef shalom (a pursuer of peace) is davka with people who don't want to behave peaceably with you.
And he repeatedly reassures the reader that responding with good middot to difficult people reaps loads of Heavenly Reward.
As he writes in the chapter entitled Peace/Shalom:
The Sages spoke only of one whom the controversy pursues him.
In another section, the Pele Yoetz points out that it is no challenge to respond peaceably to people who are pleasant and refined.
No need to race off in hot pursuit of peace with lovely people!
Instead, being a rodef shalom is davka with people who are difficult. That's the mitzvah. You need to run after peace when peace starts acting like an escaped fugitive.
Note: Needless to say, this does not apply to terrorists and the like of whom the Gemara says, "He who comes to kill you, rise early and kill him [first]."
He also explains throughout the book that if it is impossible to maintain civility around a certain person, then best to avoid that person.
That's right -- peace doesn't always mean being all lovey-dovey. It depends on the dynamics of a situation. Sometimes peace means to embrace the other and sometimes it means to avoid him or her.
Either way, the challenge of difficult people is implied in the actual mitzvah.
You're not a rodef shalom when it comes easy.
You're only a rodef shalom when the shalom is hard to come by.
May we all succeed in living in peace with our brothers and sisters.
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I'm a middle-aged housewife and mother in Eretz Yisrael who likes to read and write a lot.
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