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:
- The Pele Yoetz understands your pain.
- The Pele Yoetz also understands that Hashem is behind the difficult situations.
- The Pele Yoetz has an excellent idea of exactly how awful Gehinnom is and how marvelous Gan Eden is.
- The Pele Yoetz VERY MUCH wants people to avoid Gehinnom.
- So the Pele Yoetz tailors his advice to help people avoid Gehinnom in their Olam Haba because he feels that suffering Gehinnom in This World is more than enough.
- Remember, the Pele Yoetz himself was willing to suffer the plague for several weeks and then die so that no one else would need to suffer the same fate (including those very difficult people who might actually deserve such a fate).
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
- Speak only in a positive manner about others.
- Show the same degree of concern for their honor as you do your own.
- Camouflage their deficiencies just as we would wish our own faults to be overlooked.
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
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).
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).
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 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?
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
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
It is difficult to offer general advice because not all people think alike.
Rather, based on the nature of her husband, a wife needs to conduct herself according to his character with grace and insightful understanding in order that their marriage should be successful in love and companionship.
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:
- "You should be sensitive to your husband’s honor whether he is a moral person or a sinner, whether praiseworthy or dishonorable, because he is to her as a decree from the King of the Universe. Hashem brings individuals together and matches them to each other."
- Your reward will increase when your performance of your marital mitzvot demonstrate that you act for the sake of your Creator.
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.
- A wife should pray for her husband.
Finally, he insists that:
- Wives must use iron strength to refrain from revealing their husbands' failings and misdeeds to anyone.
(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:
- "She should also pour out her soul before Hashem every single day and perhaps Hashem will have mercy on her and her prayers will bring forth fruits."
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
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.
- “A difficult wife requires determination to behave toward her with peace and affection in honor of the Shechinah.”
- If a man fails in the test of a difficult or evil wife, then you end up with 2 Gehinnoms: Suffering in This World because of your miserable marriage & suffering in the Next World because you failed your challenge (by responding in kind or indulging in escapist activities or whatever)
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.”
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:
- intentionally burns his food
- engages in certain transgressions (like lashon hara, anger, cursing, taking Hashem’s Name in vain, “similar things mentioned in Nashim and Nezikin”)
- violates his will
- is generally bad and difficult
- lacks intelligence
- spends too much money
- angers him to his face
- and so on,
--nonetheless, a husband should never:
- become angry with his wife
- shame her
- curse her
- strike her
Furthermore, the Pele Yoetz insists that a husband:
- Always speak to his wife pleasantly
- Use soft speech at all times with his wife (including when he's trying to convince her to correct her bad behavior)
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.
- He exhorts men to genuinely love such wives to avoid producing rebellious children of bad nature.
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:
- “The fence to avoid quarreling in his home is to avoid being so exacting with each and every cent of household expenses.”
- “He shall increase the honor of his home, each thing in its time, and appease his wife, because blessing only rests within his home for the sake of his wife.”
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
- Be quick & careful to honor her husband’s parents (“as a king and queen”) even more than she honors her husband even if their “yoke” is heavy upon her and even if her parents-in-law are bothersome and possess bad character (“as is common among the elderly”).
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.
- She should strive to understand what they like and aim to please them.
- At the same time, he recommends that if parents-in-law and children-in-law really can’t manage civility, they should not be together.
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:
- The son-in-law is obligated to honor his wife’s parents.
- The obligation for a son-in-law to honor his wife's parents is possibly even greater than the obligation to honor his own parents because due to his wife’s parents, he merits to be saved from sin and establish his lineage (presumably due to having married the daughter they produced).
- He must not be ungrateful to them.
- He must act as a son to them.
Regarding adult children and their own parents, the Pele Yoetz recommends:
- Avoid financial dependence on parents whom it is difficult to honor.
- “If it happens that the wife of the son is a bad and difficult woman--ishah ra’ah kashat ruach,” it is your responsibility to “bear her yoke and guide her with pleasantness and not to impose your burden upon her.”
- And if she behaves inappropriately, you should let her know (nicely) in private and not expose her awfulness (navlut) to others.
- You should only praise her and treat her respectfully before others.
- All the more so, you should not expose her awfulness to her husband (your son) so that resentment not enter his heart and he shall not come to hate her.
- “Woe to them, the father and mother who cause this [their son’s hatred toward his wife]! For behold the Holy Name written in holiness, the Holy One Blessed Be He commanded to erase it in water to place peace between a man and his wife (Shabbat 116a)."
- "And it is better for a father and mother to suffer a thousand evils and not facilitate controversy (machloket) between a man and his wife.”
- “Therefore, the father and mother need great intelligence to behave with good behavior with the sons and the daughters-in-law in order for their marriage to go forth nicely in peace and straightness.”
- “And even if there are some displeasures or grudges, they [the parents] should be very careful not to let these things be known or seen by outsiders because it is a foolishness and a shame for both sides and causes lashon hara and gives them a bad reputation.”
He advises that in situations in which parents-in-law and children-in-law cannot behave peacefully and properly with each other, then:
- The good and just--hatov v’hayashar” thing to do is avoid sitting together because “this separation is pleasant for them; it is their life--zo hee chayahem.”
Advice for Parents Still Raising Children
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
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.
- Painful relationships are challenges from Hashem.
- Countering painful relationships with good middot earns you amazing Heavenly reward.
- Countering painful relationships with bad middot earns you Gehinnom in both This World & the Next
- Lashon hara offers temporary relief (if that), but no more.
- Lashon hara without toelet (even when justified) can make things worse for you, both in This World and the Next.
- We acknowledge the very real pain of painful relationships, but we don't use that as an excuse to transgress.
- Your good behavior can (maybe) influence the other positively.
- Your good behavior sometimes still can't influence the other to behave better or see the good in you.
- Act for Hashem's Sake, not for the sake of the other person's ego desires and dysfunction.
- "It is difficult to offer general advice because not all people think alike."
Back to Part I