The Key to a Good Relationship
Cheshvan 25 5780 חַיֵּי שָׂרָה, כ”ה חשון תש”פ
When we read the Midrashim, it is important to differentiate between “illustration” and “truth”. In Judaism, Proverbs (Mishlei) and Parables (Mashal) are meant to teach us principles but the stories are not the Word of God. For example, the Torah tells us that Sarah lived one hundred years, twenty years and seven years. Our sages explain that when Sarah was one hundred years, 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 a beautiful, even credible picture since Sarah had a child at ninety and wherever they travelled, due to her beauty Sarah had to lie and say that she was Abraham’s sister. Another Midrash was that Rivkah was three years old when Abraham’s servant met her and that Isaac had to wait twenty years for her to have a child. It is obvious that this is not in the Torah but the idea here was that she was young and innocent.
Sarah, the first mother of the future nation of Israel, can be seen as a very strong and courageous woman. When Abraham left his home at 75 years old, she was 65. Abraham’s task was to bring the understanding that there was only one God which would unify all humanity. He followed his calling without knowing where he was going, and Sarah followed him without question. All those faithful people who accepted this belief also went with Abraham. It is important to understand that they were not from his bloodline (apart from Lot and Sarah), showing us that Israel was not formed from “physical genes” rather they carried his “spiritual genes”.
Sarah had a special relationship with her husband, one of respect and reverence. Mutual respect is the key to a good marriage. The Torah teaches us that the husband’s role is to be the protector and the wife’s role is to be there to support her husband and nurture the family. Sadly, feminism has destroyed this understanding in its desire to prove the superiority of women. We already know that women are more capable in most areas but that is not the issue. The Creator gave us our roles and when we step out of these roles, we destroy the family and the community. Today the world is telling us that it is fine and even good to interchange these roles, but we who know the Word of God, understand the dire consequences. Each of us is equal in value but we are not equal in position and function. Only those who are blind and without logic or common sense cannot see 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 male and female were designed in accordance with the rules of nature.
Sarah demonstrated her deep love and respect for Abraham in many ways but especially 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 servant, Hagar, whom she obviously trusted, to have a child with Abraham. Hagar gave birth to Ishmael. Even though Sarah went ahead of the Creator, her intention was good, not evil. Over time, Hagar began to mock Sarah and later we see Ishmael mocking Isaac, so Sarah urged Abraham to send them both away. In Judaism, divorce is not evil but necessary when the relationship becomes destructive. This allows them to have hope that they will find the right partner and the children to have peace. I know couples who get along better as friends after the divorce. In the same way, we see Abraham separate from Lot, not because they hated each other but in order to avoid conflict.
Sarah sacrificed herself twice by lying first to the Egyptians and later to Abimelech because she loved Abraham and wanted to protect him. These strong and courageous qualities are to be honoured. It doesn’t mean she was perfect. In fact, she could be quite pushy, but God told Abraham to listen to her. There are times that we husbands need to listen to our wives since they can be quite intuitive.
Next, we see the development of another relationship, Isaac and Rebekah. Why do you think that Abraham didn’t allow Isaac to take a wife from the community in which he was living? Didn’t they have the same beliefs and values in the one God while the people in the land to which his servant was sent, were pagan? Rebekah came from pagan culture. Paganism wasn’t the issue. Away from her family, Rebekah would have been too far from her home to return and would have to rely completely on Isaac and his family for everything. She would learn about Isaac’s God over time.
The relationship between Rebekah and Isaac was very different than Sarah and Abraham but both women were very strong, as were all the mothers of Israel. The Torah is showing us the importance of strong women in the development of the nation of Israel. The mother builds the foundation of the home while the father is the spiritual head. If the woman does not accept her role, the home is a failure. I tell young people to seek out a partner with good values and strong principles. Cosmetics mean nothing and beauty fades when the inner person has no values. We live in a society based upon image and we forget about what is important. True beauty comes from within. Respect and reverence for each other have been lost in this era.
The Torah shows us examples of two women, Sarah and Rebekah who were stronger than their men, but understood about submission to their husbands in a healthy way. A woman can make or break her husband. 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 relate to and treat your wives. Be strong enough to stand up and acknowledge your mistakes and make them right. Clear communication is vital to a good relationship. To the women, I say, don’t blame men when they don’t understand what you want. They cannot read your minds; you need to tell them what you want. The key to good communication consists of three parts: one tells the other something, the other person responds, then the first one confirms that they understand, and either agrees or disagrees. The Creator wants us to have good relationships. There is much to learn from Sarah and Rebekah who survived through difficult times and in many environments.