In his book, A Tzaddik in Our Time: The Life of Rabbi Aryeh Levin, author Simcha Raz relates a story from Rabbi Levin’s life containing advice about how to treat a wife. One of the rabbi’s young students was about to get married. He came to the rabbi and asked how he should behave towards his wife, how he should treat her. The rabbi replied, “A wife is like your own self. You treat her as you treat yourself.” Raz then shares the following example from the rabbi’s life.
“…when his own good wife Hannah felt pains, he went with her to Dr. Nahum Kook and told him. ‘My wife’s foot is hurting us…’” [p. 150]
“Hurting us.” Rabbi Levin identified with his wife’s pain so thoroughly that the pain in her foot was also his pain.
In the first chapter of the novel The Good Earth, the peasant farmer Wang Lung is returning to his farm from the city. He had gone there to pick up his wife, a young woman working as a slave in the house of a wealthy family. The marriage was arranged; it is the first time Wang Lung sees his wife. On their way home, the young couple stops at a small temple at the edge of one of Wang Lung’s fields. His grandfather had built the temple years ago, and his father maintains the two earthen figures inside, the god and his lady. Wang Lung bought incense while in town to burn it before the two temple gods on this memorable day, the day of his wedding. Here is author Pearl Buck’s description of the scene inside the temple.
Together this man and this woman stood before the gods of their fields. The woman watched the ends of the incense redden and turn grey. When the ash grew heavy she leaned over and with her forefinger she pushed the head of ash away. Then as though fearful for what she had done, she looked quickly at Wang Lung, her eyes dumb. But there was something he liked in her movement. It was as though she felt that the incense belonged to them both; it was a moment of marriage.Buck, Pearl S. The Good Earth (The Good Earth Trilogy Book 1) (p. 15). Open Road Media. Kindle Edition.
Note the phrase Buck uses, “a moment of marriage.” She uses the indefinite article “a” rather than the definite one “the.” We are given to understand that this is only the first of what, hopefully, will be many moments of marriage in the life of the couple. This incident is the first time that the feeling that something belonged to them both, that it belonged to them as a couple, occurs.
One morning, when I was working for a company in Philadelphia, the phone in the cubicle next to mine rang. I tended to go in to work early. I found the time quieter than the rest of the day and could get a lot of work done before my colleagues showed up. The caller, a woman, asked to speak to the man whose phone I had answered. It was the man’s wife. The problem was that her husband was no longer employed by the company; he had been let go a few days earlier. I asked her to hold on. I went to my boss’s office; like me he came to work before most others. He asked me to transfer the call to him, which I did. When the call was over, my boss came to me. “That was awkward,” he said. The man had not told his wife that he had been laid off. Apparently, he would get up each morning, dress for work, and leave. He couldn’t bring himself to tell his wife what had happened.
Fast-forward a couple of decades. I was working for a small company in the suburbs of Philadelphia. The company had fallen upon hard times, and there had been several waves of lay-offs. I had survived them all. But then one morning, my supervisor told me to go to the company’s large conference room. There was a meeting I needed to attend. When I entered the room, about twenty people were sitting in rows, and the company’s CEO standing alone in front of them. It was another lay-off, and I was in it. We were given packets of information and told to go clear out our desks.
I put my personal items in a small box. Years earlier, a good friend had told me he always kept a small cardboard box at his desk for just such emergencies. I picked up the phone to call my wife. I was nervous; I wasn’t sure what to expect. I dialed her work number; she picked up almost immediately. “I’ve been laid-off,” I said. There was the slightest pause. Then my wife said, “Well, then, you’ll be able to have lunch with me.” A perfect moment of marriage!
Pablo Neruda exquisitely captures the identification of lover and beloved in his sonnet XVII. Here are the sonnet’s last two stanzas.
I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where
I love you directly without problems or pride:
I love you like this because I don’t know any other way to love
except in this form in which I am not nor are you,The Poetry of Pablo Neruda (p. 514). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Sonnet XVII, translated by Mark Eisner.
so close that your hand upon my chest is mine,
so close that your eyes close with my dreams.
All the best,