||SHARING VS. DIVISION OF LABOR IN MARRIAGE
- Thursday, August 24, '00 - Parshas Re'ay 5760
Some women complain that there are
husbands who do not help around the house, even though their wives work. They speak of
marriage as being a bundle of responsibilities, of a case of a "talmid chocham"
husband not stooping to take out the garbage and a lazy husband not helping a working and
overwhelmed wife with housework and so forth. Each of these is addressed by the Torah, so
I will simply bring the sources, since the Torah can speak for itself.
There are two parts to the creation of a Jewish marriage. The first is
"kedushin." "Nesuin," the final step of creating the marriage bond, is
from the same Hebrew root as the words * "nosi (leader, president - one who carries,
in Torah terms, responsibility for others)," and * "naso (to carry or bear a
heavy load or responsibility)," and * "nisaw (noble, exalted, lofty, elevated,
The above cluster of words are derived from the same root as Nesuin. From this cluster,
we can discern that marriage is, by definition, a state in which husband and wife totally
owe, and obligate themselves to, RESPONSIBILITY TO THE OTHER AND TO THEIR MARRIAGE. Until
there is ACTIVE AND MUTUAL ACCEPTANCE OF RESPONSIBILITIES BY EACH ONE TO THE OTHER, the
couple has NOT YET ATTAINED TO A COMPLETE STATE OF MARRIAGE!
This state of "relationship founded upon active, ongoing responsibility" is
shared with the state attributed by the Torah to authentic and qualified leaders. BY
DEFINITION IN TORAH, leaders accept and carry full responsibility for the people they
lead; to care for needs, to provide for, to protect, to maintain the well-being of. And,
this is synonymous with exaltedness, with noble behavior.
Until there is formal exchange of commitment to responsibility, no state of complete
marriage can exist. People find it useful when I tell them that fundamental to the
definitions of "responsibility" are: * making things happen that have to happen,
and * keeping from happening things that have to not happen. Seeing to these actively,
steadily and reliably; and ongoingly approaching life as a growth and maturation process;
are fundamental to being a responsible, and therefore marriageable, person. The Hebrew
root nune-sin-alef means, by definition, that marriage = responsibility, and that the
acceptance of responsibility is nobility.
The Steipler Gaon, a Torah leader of the previous generation, advised that a woman look
for a man who is diligent in Torah learning, who has "straight [i.e. unperverted]
intelligence" and who has good midos - one who will take out the garbage when needed,
will handle it well if she ever makes a sour face or care for her when she gets sick. The
Steipler said that if a fellow is a "masmid [constant and diligent in Torah
learning]" and has a straight and intelligent mind, this is no proof that he will be
a good husband. All day he learns over his "shtender [wooden learning stand]." A
shtender never talks back, never gets sick and needs to be taken care of or asks him to
take out the garbage. If he has a hard time understanding the gemora, he might smack the
shtender. There is no indication from his learning or intellect that he can be a good
husband. It must be verified that he has good midos. One of the Steipler's concrete
example of a man who is worthy of marrying is his taking out the garbage when needed.
Tractate Shabos (119a) tells us that the Talmudic sages used to help their wives
prepare for shabos every Friday. Rabbi Safra heated meat. Rava salted fish. Rabbi Huna lit
the lantern. Rabbi Papaw prepared the candle wicks. Rabbi Hisda sliced beets. Rabah and
Rabbi Yosef chopped wood. Rabbi Zayra lit the fire. Rabbi Nachman ben Yitzchok carried
utensils, clothes and delicacies (to honor the coming Shabos), as if he were receiving the
most distinguished rabbis as his guests, with the attitude that he was frightened about
honoring them properly and about exerting himself adequately for these most important
guests (such is the honor to be accorded Shabos). These distinguished rabbis did not see
it as beneath their station to honor Shabos or to help their wives.
Further, joint preparation before shabos by a husband and wife brings G-d's presence
into the house. Chazal, the authorities of Torah tradition, honored their wives and shabos
by doing menial tasks humbly, cheerfully and willingly. In the Torah's parsha
"Truma," the Torah instructs construction of the ark, specifying that it is to
have four precious rings around it. The ark represents Torah. The four rings tell us that
the true talmid chochom is distinguished by four precious attributes: Torah learning,
fulfillment of the commandments, kind deeds and humility (Medrash Agada 10). The
"talmid chocham" who wouldn't take out the garbage appears to have been missing
the last two attributes. Without ongoing and practical kindness, without fine midos, vos
eppess [what is he]? If he calls himself a talmid chocham and chazal say he's not, don't
we have to go with chazal?
To be fair, some men and women have harder times than others handling the
"job" of the other. Remember that Chazal tell us that the "avodas parech
(oppressively hard labor)" of the Jewish slaves in Egypt was men and women being
forced to do the other gender's work. Most important in such marriage questions is that
there be sincere consideration for the personalities and abilities that each spouse has,
or does not have, willing "give and take," a good and caring attitude and a
division of labor that fairly addresses the overall needs of the family, that enables the
family to effectively function and that both can peacefully live with.
The "symptoms" which women describe indicate things missing in the
relationships or chinuch, more than in the housekeeping. To really address such deeper
problems, the solution may be in education of spouses and in addressing why there isn't
enough relationship health to get all of those responsibilities successfully fulfilled in
a thoughtful, nice, agreeable, mature, effective and individually-tailored way.