- Marriage Equals Chesed
- Rivka Olenick
- The Sifre says: "Chesed, kindness, begins with those who are
closest to us and then to encompass our neighbors and then finally the
rest of the world. Jewish law requires that a man be as concerned
about his wife as he would be about himself. However, it is only when
each is concerned for the other, will happiness fill their
- It appears that the most essential component for building a marriage
and happy home, directed by Torah is kindness, chesed. The foundation
of chesed is built by husband and wife, and ideally should be the
primary focus of their marriage. Marriage is the beginning of chesed,
because each one is obligated to shift the focus from the self to
their spouse. Our natural inclination is to live by and for ourselves.
A person who pursues true chesed, is sincerely concerned for their
spouse's well being.
- For many people this does not come easy and requires so much
patience and thought. Once a person satisfies his or her emotion of
"what will I get out of doing this kindness" hopefully he or
she will gradually become more involved in chesed based on emotional
identification with the other person. Often we forget and/or ignore
the concept of "created being", selem elokim, which is the
identification. This "other" person is also created in the
image of God.
- The next level of doing chesed is to be involved in it more
objectively, meaning that the emotions do not have to be satisfied in
order to do the chesed. The chesed is done automatically because this
is God's will. This is a high level. However, the more each one
focuses on the fact that marriage itself is perfection as God's will
is perfection, the chesed can become automatic. Understanding that to
live harmoniously, in service of God, according to law requires the
appropriate philosophy of Torah that encourages chesed. A philosophy
that follows a middle path, as Maimonides says.
- The appropriate philosophy I am referring to is certainly not a
societal one, although we are so influenced by society. Philosophy
within the Torah "way of life" is very important for couples
to discuss, before and during marriage. This "way of life"
understands man's nature and this "way of life" becomes
parallel to that nature. It is that man's nature needs to attach
itself to a "way of life" that provides "true
happiness." This happiness is not the pursuit of pleasure and
fantasy, as most of the world thinks. True happiness occurs when one
is involved in search of Torah knowledge, which is internalized so
that growth occurs. Chesed permeates this "true happiness"
that each partner contributes to.
- If a woman could clearly see that she and her husband are the
transmitters of Torah, she might be less preoccupied with what her
material gain in marriage might be. She would be less demanding of her
husband to make more money and more appreciative of his need for
"true happiness." This is chesed. At the same time, if a man
sees clearly, that his wife provides a nurturing and calm home for
fostering Torah, he might be more appreciative of her. He would be
much more concerned about her needs. This too, is chesed.
- Ideally, chesed should permeate all areas of life for husband and
wife. In Proverbs, a verse refers to a Torah of chesed. Is there a
Torah not of chesed, the Talmud asks. The Talmud answers that one who
learns Torah to help others and one who allows another to learn so
that others may benefit are both Torah of chesed. One who is involved
in learning purely for his own growth does not represent Torah of
chesed. In Judaism, for male and female spiritual growth and
fulfillment lie in "service." The obligation to pursue
"chesed" is encumbent upon man and woman, as the essential
part of their life. No one, male or female may use the Torah for their
own selfish purposes. The involvement of "chesed" in
marriage is perfection - as marriage itself is perfection.