Yitro: When You Are Not in the Mood of Your Spouse
by Yosef Y. Jacobson
A Doctor’s Advice
A woman accompanied her husband to the doctor’s office. Following her husband’s checkup, the doctor called the wife into his office to speak with her privately. He said, “Your husband is suffering from a very severe stress disorder. If you don’t do the following, your husband will surely deteriorate and die.”
“Each morning,” instructed the doctor, “fix him a healthy breakfast. Be pleasant at all times. For lunch make him a nutritious meal. For dinner prepare an especially nice meal for him. Have the dinner waiting for him on the table, hot, as he arrives home from work. Don’t burden him with chores. Don’t discuss your problems with him; it will only make his stress worse. No nagging is allowed. You must also compliment him at least five-six times a day, telling him how brilliant and talented he is. And most importantly, never disagree with him.”
“If you can do this for the next 10 months to a year,” the doctor said, “I think your husband will regain his health completely.”
On the way home, the husband asked his wife, “What did the doctor say?”
“He said you’re going to die,” she replied.
There is an enigmatic Talmudic passage explaining a peculiar phrase in this week’s portion, Yisro: “They (the Jewish people) stood in the bottom of the (Sinai) mountain.”
What is the meaning of the words “in the bottom of the mountain”? The Talmud explains that the Jews were actually standing inside the mountain. “G-d enveloped them with the mountain as though it was an upturned vat, and He said to them: ‘If you accept the Torah, fine; if not, this will be your burial place.'”
The event at Sinai is viewed as the marriage ceremony between G-d and the Jewish people. Imagine a groom, who on the day of his wedding, placed his bride under an elevator and declared: “If you marry me, great; if not, the elevator will come down on your head.” How enduring can such a relationship be? Couldn’t G-d have found a more “romantic” way to convince the “bride” to marry Him?
What is even more puzzling is the fact that according to the biblical narrative, the Jewish people had already expressed their willingness to accept the Torah before this event. Why was it necessary for G-d to coerce them into something they had already agreed upon?
Let us present the explanation offered by one of the greatest spiritual masters of all time, the Baal Shem Tov.
There are days when we are emotionally in touch with our inner idealism, spirituality and G-dliness. At such times we are inspired to live deeply and to love deeply.
But then come the days when we feel estranged from our souls. We are emotionally numb, experiencing ourselves merely as self-centered and materialistic creatures seeking to satiate nothing more than our momentary cravings. We are simply not in the mood for our higher, refined aspirations. G-d does not appeal to us. At such times of spiritual alienation, we often succumb to mundane and selfish behavior. Since we feel disconnected, we act as though we are indeed disconnected.
This is a mistake. By G-d forcing the Jewish people to enter into the relationship—even though they had already agreed—He demonstrated to them the truth that their relationship was not based on the fact that they were consciously passionate about it. Instead, the relationship was inherent and essential to their very chemistry. Man is an innately sacred and Divine creature. “Even when you are not in the mood of me,” G-d was intimating, “our relationship is as strong as ever. Act on it.”
Yet you may still think, “Fine, I will behave, but let’s face it, the relationship is not happening. It is all but dead.”
So G-d says “no.” By placing the mountain on their heads at the moment of Revelation, during the profoundest moment of intimacy between G-d and his people, G-d was saying that a relationship inspired by the knowledge that this is the truth, though you may not feel it, is a genuine and authentic relationship. It is a real union. Though there is no passion, when you behave in a moral and sacred fashion knowing that this is who you really are, it is a true bond.
In the Jewish tradition, the marriage of each man and woman reflects the cosmic marriage between G-d and His people. There are the days when we feel truly grateful for our spouses and experience deep love towards them. At such times we crave to give of ourselves to our spouses and make their lives happier.
But at other times we become cold and apathetic. We just want to do “our own thing” and simply are not in the mood of the relationship.
In the majority of cases, it would be a sad error to act upon those feelings of detachment. For the Kabbalah teaches that a wife and husband are essentially “two halves of a single soul.” At their core, they are one. Thus, when a couple enters into marriage, it needs to recall what G-d reminded us on the day of His marriage: Whether we are in the mood of each other or not, we are married and we are one.
Such a commitment could save many marriages when they encounter rocky times. After all, it saved the marriage between G-d and the Jews.