From message by Ranebi Cheshvan 25 5780

What is the Key to a Good Relationship?

It’s surprising how many midrashim are written about this parashah Chayei Sarah “and Sarah lived”, some quite hard to believe. It is so important for us to differentiate between “illustration” and “truth”.  In Judaism, we use a lot of Mishlei (Proverbs) for counseling and as an illustration to better understand them, we use the Mashal, the Parable. These illustrations help us comprehend the principles in the Torah, but when we turn the Mashal into the Word of God and remove its principles, that’s when we run into trouble.

For example, the Torah begins with “And Sarah lived one hundred years, and twenty years, and seven years”.  Our sages explain it with an illustration that when Sarah was one hundred years old, she was as young and beautiful as she was at twenty and when she was twenty, she was as innocent as when she was seven. This is credible since Sarah was so beautiful that wherever they travelled, everyone wanted to have her so she lied saying she was Abraham’s sister not his wife. Isaac was the son of the promise. One midrash tells us that Sarah died of a cardiac arrest after she learned that Abraham killed her beloved son, Isaac.  Abraham came to weep for Sarah, showing how deeply he loved her.

Another Midrash tells us was that Rivkah was three years old when Abraham’s servant met her, but how could a three-year-old draw all that water for the men and all their camels and then agree to go with him? It also states that this is why Rivkah and Isaac had to wait twenty years to have a child. Obviously, this is not in the Torah but the idea here was that Rivkah was simply young and innocent.  Like Sarah, she waited a long time to have children. This shows us that in the Torah when a woman has difficulty getting pregnant and God opens her womb, it’s a sign of the birth of a child who would play a special role.

The story of Sarah, the first mother of the future nation of Israel, is quite controversial. Although she can be regarded as a very strong and courageous woman, she can also seem to be very much behind the times. When Abraham left his home at 75 years old, Sarah was 65, well past her child-bearing years. Abraham’s calling was to bring the understanding that there is only one God who can unify all humanity and he followed this revelation without knowing where he was going, or where he would end up; he just had to keep walking. Can you imagine being Sarah?  How could she prepare herself for this journey?  But Sarah was not the only one who followed him, so did “the crowd of people who he made”.  Abraham didn’t create these people, but he succeeded in helping them understand that there is only one God, the Bore Olam for the entire world and they too were faithful to this calling.  It is important to understand that they were not from his family, his bloodline; the only ones who had his DNA were Lot and Sarah who was his father’s daughter from a different mother (Gen 20:12). Israel was not formed from “physical DNA” rather from “Spiritual genes”.

Look at the greatness of Sarah: she followed her husband on this quest having so little information and based solely upon the faith that Abraham had indeed heard from the Bore Olam. She was far from being weak.

In counseling young couples before they get married, I speak to them about the special relationship that Sarah had with her husband – one of respect and reverence. The key to a good marriage is mutual respect for one another. The husband’s role is to be the protector, and the wife’s role is to be there to support her husband and to nurture the family. Sadly, feminism has destroyed this concept in its desire to prove the superiority of women over men. Men already know that women are more capable than they are in most areas, but that is not the issue here. God gave the man the role of being the protector of the woman, the supporter of the family and the community. The role of the woman is to be the nurturer. The Creator gave us our roles and when we deviate from them, we destroy the family and the community.

Today the world is telling us that it is fine and even good to interchange these roles; the man can choose to be a woman and the woman to be a man. Those of us who know and believe in the Torah, understand the dire consequences that we are faced with in the world today due to this false narrative.  For God, we are all equal in value but we are not equal in position and function. Only those who are blind and without logic or common sense cannot accept this. The Torah doesn’t say that women cannot do the job of men or vice versa, however, there is a grander purpose for how both males and females were designed in accordance with the rules of nature.

Back to Sarah and Abraham. They demonstrated their deep love, compassion and respect for one another.  We see the love of Sarah for Abraham in the case of Hagar. Sarah knew that she was beyond her child-bearing years and that Abraham longed for a son, an heir. Sarah chose her closest, most trusted servant, Hagar, to have a child with Abraham. If she didn’t trust Hagar, she wouldn’t have done this. But after Hagar became pregnant with Ishmael, she began to mock Sarah who was still barren; also because Sarah saw how much Abraham loved Ishmael, she urged Abraham to send them both away so that his inheritance would go to Isaac. Even though Sarah caused a big problem by getting ahead of the Creator, her intention was good, not evil.

Here is another point about relationships within Judaism: divorce is not evil, but can be necessary when the relationship becomes destructive, causing tension in the home. In this way, the children can have peace. There is also the hope that the couple might find a partner better suited to them. It happens when we choose the wrong person, but the Creator in His mercy, allows us to go our separate ways. This was true for Abraham who separated from Lot, not because they hated each other but in order to avoid conflict.  I have met many couples who get along better after their divorce, and even become good friends. They realized that their relationship was caustic. It is good to know that our God is the God of Beginning Again.

Sarah did everything to make things right. She sacrificed herself twice by lying first to the Egyptians and later to Abimelech. Why? Because she loved Abraham and wanted to protect him. These strong and courageous qualities in Sarah are to be honored as a mother of Israel. It doesn’t mean she was always happy and jovial; she had her character – she could be quite pushy, but God told Abraham to listen to her. There are times when we husbands need to listen to our wives since they can be quite intuitive.

Next, we see the development of another relationship, Isaac and Rivkah (Rebekah). Let me ask you a question: Why do you think that Abraham didn’t allow Isaac to marry one of the daughters of the people who came with him? They had the same beliefs and values in the one God. He also didn’t want Isaac to take a wife from the Canaanites among whom they were living.  And don’t say that it was because they were pagans because Rivkah came from a pagan culture. They all didn’t believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Paganism wasn’t the issue.

Abraham sent his servant far away, to the land from which he came, to Haran and told his servant not to take Isaac there.  Away from her family, Rivkah would have been too far from her home to return if there was a problem. She would have to completely rely upon Isaac and his family for everything.  In so doing, over time, he would learn about Isaac’s God.

The relationship between Rivkah and Isaac was very different than Sarah and Abraham’s but like all the mothers of Israel, both women were very strong. The Torah shows us the importance of strong women in the formation of the nation of Israel and its need for a strong foundation. Even though the Torah teaches us that the father is the spiritual head of the home, unless the mother is even more spiritual, the health of the home is doomed. It is the woman who is the backbone of the home, and who builds its foundation. If the woman does not accept her role, the home will fail. I tell young people to choose a partner with good values and strong principles. Cosmetics mean nothing and external beauty fades when the inner person has no values. We live in a society based upon image and we forget about the most important thing…“that true beauty comes from within”. The character of a man is based upon his principles and ethics as well as respect and reverence for his wife.

The Torah shows us examples of two women, Sarah and Rebekah. Although they were stronger than their men, who were of a softer and kinder nature, they understood the value of healthy submission to their husbands, combined with love and respect. I always say to the men: women can take a lot from men but once they lose respect for them, that is the end of their relationship. To the men I say, always be careful how you treat your wives and how you relate to them. Be strong enough to acknowledge your mistakes and correct them.

To the women, I say, don’t blame the men if they don’t understand what you want. Men cannot read your minds; it is impossible. They do not have your intuitive nature; you need to clearly tell them what you want. Don’t be surprised that men don’t always understand what you want.  And men, be attuned to your wives. If you see that your wife is behaving differently, ask her if something is wrong and don’t necessarily believe her when she says that everything is okay. They are usually upset because you don’t know what they want. No matter how long you live with her, you will never completely know your wife. They have an intuitive aspect to their nature that was given to them when God separated Adam into Adam and Eve,

Here is a three-way formula for clear and true communication that is vital to a healthy relationship:  1) You tell something to your spouse. 2) Your spouse needs to repeat what he or she understood.  3) Your spouse then responds, yes or no followed by both confirming that he or she understands and agrees or disagrees. That is the key to excellent communication.

The Creator wants us to have good relationships. There is much to learn from Sarah and Rivkah who survived through difficult times and within various harsh environments, while they were wittingly or unwittingly forming the generation that would guide humanity to the true God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.