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Parasha Insights

By Rabbi Jonathan Tawil

A couple came in for counselling. The husband was a football ‘fanatic’. The wife spoke of how every night he would rush to the TV and ensure to watch the game.

The therapist assured her it was actually quite the norm amongst men.

He turned towards the husband and asked him to explain what his issues were with his wife.

“She is so materialistic, all she wants to watch are the evening sitcoms and serials!” came the reply.

The therapist now took the lead. “I see that your interests in televised entertainment are quite polarized. But I think there is a simple solution.”

“I understand that you are an affluent couple, why not buy an additional TV set, and each of you watches your desires in different rooms!”

This was bad news for the couple and together they shrieked. “DIFFERENT ROOMS??”

“How can we watch in different rooms? That’s the time we spend together!”

We live in a generation that is consumed within itself. People have become so busy that it is difficult if not impossible to spend quality time together without being interrupted by bleeps, texts, phone calls, emails etc.

Spending time is tough but it is the key to a quality relationship.

The Midrash commenting on Noach’s generation says, “Had Iyov only come to explain the incident of the Flood that would have been sufficient.”

According to our Sages there are many verses in the book of Job that refer to the sins of the generation of the Flood.

For example, the verse in Iyov [24:18] says, “He is light upon the face of the water, their portion in the earth is cursed, he does not turn by way of the vineyards.” The Midrash relates this verse to the sin of the generation of the flood: They were cursed that they should perish in water. Why? The Midrash tells us that they were cursed because they lived with their wives not for procreation or for their wives’ sake, but only for their own pleasure.

The Midrash in fact already alludes to this in Bereishit. “The custom of that generation was to take two wives, one for having children and one for pleasure. The one taken for having children would sit ugly and neglected like a living widow; the one taken for pleasure would be sterilized and would sit by him, made up with cosmetics like a harlot.”

One of the reasons Hashem sent the Mabul was because of the lack of morality and respect even towards ‘spouses’ in that generation.

Looking to Avraham and Sarah we see a different picture altogether.

Avraham lived over three thousand eight hundred years ago. Imagine what kind of society existed then. One would have expected a male dominated society, without much respect to their spouses.

Avraham was told to go to the land of Canaan.

“Hashem told Avram to go to the Land of Canaan. Avram travelled to the Land of Canaan, and pitched his tent. The Torah narrates: “From there he relocated to the east of Beth-el and pitched his tent (spelt Ohelah – meaning her tent), with Beth-el on the west and Ai on the east; and he built there an altar to Hashem and invoked Hashem by Name” [Bereishit 12:8].

What would you have anticipated 3800 years ago from a man and women travelling? Perhaps he would have commanded her to set up base while he rested?

Rashi comments that in fact with Avraham the opposite was true. The special spelling of the word (pronounced Aholo but written Ohela with a ‘heh’ at the end) hints that Avraham was particular to pitch his wife’s tent first!

Why did he do that? According to some commentators, Avraham was simply fulfilling the sages’ directive, “Respect your wife more than yourself.” Since women are more sensitive to privacy, he made sure to set up her living space before his own.

According to others (Levush) Avraham first pitched Sarah’s tent to help her fulfil “Kol K’vudah Bat Melech P’nimah” – “The honour of a princess is within.” She needed her tent in order to be Tzanua – modest.

What is respect?

Respecting other people involves respecting their needs, regardless of whether one can relate to those needs or not. Respecting your wife more than yourself means putting her needs before your own.

Is buying flowers on Friday afternoon a sign of respect? How about buying expensive jewellery? They might be. But what if stopping to buy flowers means the husband won’t be home in time to help bathe the kids, which the wife would prefer? And what if she would appreciate his company far more than new jewellery?

What the first explanation may be teaching us is that Avraham Avinu prioritized his wife’s needs above his own. If it meant pitching her tent, he did it, just because it was what was important to her right then, even if it didn’t give him as much satisfaction as buying her a new bracelet (or camel?).

The second explanation may be teaching us the importance of a husband’s support and involvement in his wife’s servitude of G-d and modesty. Avraham understood this. He realized Sarah needed his help to fulfil “Kol K’vudah Bat Melech P’nimah” and he made sure to be there for her.

This may also explain why the Torah uses only one word to describe both her tent and his. Even in her domain, she needed his support. So when he built her ‘tent,’ he was actually building his own as well.

Rashi (24:67) states that as long as Sarah was alive, a candle burned in her tent from one Shabbat eve to the next, her dough was blessed and a cloud hung over her tent.

Sarah was essentially the Mother of the Jewish people. She invested her life in teaching and inspiring others, but her focus was on her husband and son Yitschak.

She was blessed with a special blessing – Shabbat!

Shabbat is the Mekor Haberacha – the epicentre of blessing. It is a time when we re-connect with Hashem and recognise Him as Creator of the world.

The seeds of the blessing of Shabbat to our people were already sewn through Avraham’s respect for Sarah, and her enthusiasm and tireless efforts in building a Jewish future; it is then that we see for the first time a clear blessing of Shabbat through the candles, dough and cloud of honour.

Fast forward 3800 years and here we are in an every busy society. Let’s not lose those values, respect our spouses, build the future, reconnect to Hashem on a weekly basis and together celebrate Shabbat!

Shabbat Shalom!

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