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For her: my wife thinks I'm a failure, and so do I...

Updated: Jan 16

This is a follow-up answer to the question, "For him: my wife thinks I'm a failure, and so do I...." Let's briefly recall the question:


My wife had great ambitions for the man she would marry, and it didn't work out well for her. I am not a successful Rosh Yeshiva nor even a lecturer, and unfortunately, I wasn't even successful as an elementary school teacher. I'm not part of an important kollel for high-level studies in Jewish law let alone passed tests that demonstrate any sort of expertise in Talmud. In short, her disappointment is heavy, and the following sentence already slipped out of her mouth: "I will accept you when you are a serious Torah scholar who runs (like the those who run in front of our house) to the kollel at 9 in the morning. Without that, it is difficult for me to accept you." Do I have a chance at accepting myself as I am?


In the previous answer, I replied to the husband what I think he should know. The answer here is for the wife. We will try to touch on her pain here, and she is indeed experiencing great pain and major disappointment.


Answer:


Let's go back to the high school seminary: the teachers, the friends, the passionate lessons about the dream of building a home based on Torah learning and the enormous privilege to become the wife of a Torah scholar. That seminary girl is certain that the only thing separating her from the beautiful dream is getting married and devoting herself to her scholar.


The speeches at the sheva brachos (the week of festive meals following the wedding) only increased her anticipation of what she imagines to be her reality in the near future. After all, she married the most studious guy in the yeshiva. Everyone said so and repeated it many times over. It's obvious to her that she married the greatest rabbi of the generation no less — and not the greatest rabbi as he once was at the young age of her new husband but rather the greatest rabbi as we know him today in his wise old years.


What an idyll!


A week passes. A month passes. She finds out that she in fact married a young man with all that this implies. Yes, he wants to study diligently, but he has a long way to go before becoming "great"; it is also very possible that he never will become so.


At the moment, he also seems interested in small and petty things (in her estimation), and it is difficult for him to study continuously. For this young woman with a dream, reality is dealing her a hard blow. Her dream is shattering before her eyes, which is truly a hard blow, very hard.


The problem is not with her, definitely not. Her expectations simply reflect her upbringing, what she was taught to anticipate. She cannot be blamed for this situation; however, the solution does depend on her.


First of all, let's return to the little catch-phrase you've heard me repeating from time to time, the one I encourage you to memorize: no one owes the other anything! He doesn't owe it to his wife to study at all and certainly not to be on par with or compared to the greatest names in Torah scholarship. She must accept her husband as he is and perceive anything above his current standard as a bonus. View every word of Torah, every prayer (even if at home and not in shul), every smile, any help at home as a bonus!


Don't worry. There is full equality in this as you also don't owe him anything. Each of us owes it (our selfless actions) to ourselves, to our own conscience, for what we know God requires of us. But toward the other, there is no obligation! This mentality will allow you to live correctly in love and unity, in peace and friendship.


Second, I heard a beautiful little parable I'd like to share. I don't know its origin. Our foremothers Sarah and Rivka were granted a wonderful blessing, a divine cloud that hovered over their tents. Why is this a wonderful blessing? Because it hides what is inside the tent and mainly protects from what is outside of it.


When there's a cloud, you can't peek inside and see the neighbor's husband, how he ran to the kollel. (By the way, you never know what's going on inside someone's house, how much he has to "pay" to run to his studies. This I can promise you! As someone who has peeked into the depths of many houses as part of my work, I've been surprised how often complex issues are successfully hidden from the neighbors.)


You can only look inside your own house at what you do have, the multiple virtues of the husband you were blessed with. And by the way, no great Torah scholar is similar to another, and if the wife of one of them would not have appreciated him because he is not like, let's say, her father or some other great man — then you and the world would have lost out on this spiritual leader.


This sense of needing him to be great before you deign to appreciate him (i.e., first prove your greatness before expecting me to recognize it) is exactly the opposite of the woman's role, which leads us to a discussion of the essential role of a woman within a relationship. The saying goes that behind every great man stands a great woman. Well, what she doing there behind him? Is she pushing him forward? Definately not, nor should she be!


Let's return now to our young couple, and specifically to the guy, our groom, who sits and studies the best he can, or at least he tries, or is even less than successful in fulfilling his potential. Many were like him at his yeshiva, some better, some worse — as there will be in a sea of people in any institution. No matter how unique our guy is, his signature aspects will be somewhat lost in the crowd and forgotten. The uniqueness of each and every one becomes muted. There is an overriding rhyme and rhythm of the collective, and this noise makes it very difficult to hear the special melody of each and every one.


Here comes the role of the "great woman."As someone who only looks at him, does not compare him to anyone else, and certainly does not drown him in the sea of the collective — she is able to see what is special about him. She sees what he already possesses, not what she wants him to be, his uniqueness, which she can grow only by way of encouragement, expressing what wonderful qualities he already has, how special he is, without demanding anything in return. This is the divine cloud of perception that should always hover over your household.


That's the secret. Don't demand anything! Find out what is special about him, which is a special talent of a woman, and she too will benefit from it big time. When he discovers what he has — out of liberation and not out of binding obligation — he will be able to truly bring out the best in himself.


He will feel happy, calm, with a sense of satisfaction, and such a person is much more capable of giving to his wife, satisfying her needs, and making her happy, especially when he is aware of the fact that if it weren't for her feminine view of his virtues, he would never have been able to put them into practice.

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