My Personal Redemption - "What Husbands Need To Know" - the original uncut article
Editor's Note: I received an email from Chaim Michel (pen name, to protect his privacy for obvious reasons), calling my attention to his article, "What Husbands Need to Know" on Aish.com, where he attributes saving his virtually hopeless marriage to "The Garden of Peace" by our beloved rabbi and spiritual guide Rav Shalom Arush shlit"a. Chaim was quite upset that the Aish editors toned down his praise for Rav Arush and the book as well as removed some of his most important points, such as the necessity to guard one's eyes and maintain personal holiness to assure marital bliss. When he confronted them about it, the purportedly told him, "those parts are not for our readers." Hashem wrote Lo Taturu in His Torah, commanding us to guard our eyes. Hashem intended all of "our readers" to be aware of this commandment. We are therefore happy to present you with Chaim Michel's original uncut article. We have highlighted the sections that the Aish editors completely removed.
I am a simple Jew in my 30's. In the past few years I have been coming closer to Yiddishkeit; donning tefillin, davening three times daily, learning Chumash. More recently I started observing Shabbos, which was a huge step in my personal journey. I share this with you because I often feel like I live in two worlds. I relate very well to the frum community and find inspiration and pride in my fellow Jews who are more observant than me. I can also relate well to fellow Jews who are secular and not observant because that is how I grew up and lived my life until a few years ago. Although I believed in Hashem, until recently I never bothered to check in with Him unless I was in a jam or needed something. The concept of gratitude and emunah just weren't things that I was aware of on a meaningful level. I, like everyone else around me, thought my successes and failures were entirely due to my own efforts and shortcomings.
In ten years my wife and I were blessed with four beautiful children, but the marriage itself was often difficult and painful. We were divorced for two and a half years, at which point, due to Hashem's grace and compassion, I had the chance to do the mitzvah of remarrying my ex-wife. This is not a recommended course of events that I would ever encourage, but Divine Providence took me on this unusual path. I was fortunate that my wife and I usually got along pretty well during the time we were divorced and I saw my kids nearly every day. Nevertheless being divorced was definitely not ideal. There were times that the hate I had for my wife was so intense, so brutally un-G-dly, that I could never repeat those awful thoughts out loud.
I now know my marriage was lacking true harmony and peace from the very beginning. At the time of the divorce, I did not know about the concept of Shalom Bayis, the uniquely Jewish approach to peace in the home. I never had a real understanding of how precious and critical the marital relationship is. My first marriage was pretty much defined by periods of time when things were calm and periods of time when things were not calm. Not terribly unusual unfortunately, but I always felt there was something missing. What caused me a lot of anguish was that I never had the inner peace or trust that the calm would last. There was always a storm brewing around the corner. We could go a couple weeks or maybe a month or two of relative calm, but I always knew it wouldn't last. Inevitably, I would blame the ups and downs on my wife. She was simply an unreasonable woman, who just couldn't deal with the fact I was basically a good husband and father who wasn't perfect. After all, we all have our schtick! Right? It was almost as if her personality just couldn't be content if things were too calm for too long.
It was such a great feeling when I got remarried. After all, how many people who get divorced get the opportunity to be together as a family again? Things were very good and we were very considerate of each other. It is as if we both grew and learned a lot about ourselves during the time we were divorced. Unfortunately after several months we fell back into the same old negative patterns and pitfalls after the “honeymoon” period was over. We had been in counseling but it felt like those sessions were just scheduled times for my wife to blame me for all my faults. She would express why she wasn't happy, but it never made sense to me. She was always overreacting, claiming I just didn't "get her." I think we both felt deep down that we got back together for financial considerations as well as for the sake of the kids. I was kicking myself for getting back together because no matter what I did or how good a husband I would try to be I was never going to be able to satisfy her. She just wasn’t capable of being satisfied! I felt so foolish. It got to the point where we were both ready to walk away and admit with much embarrassment that we made a terrible mistake, twice! Our second marriage would not even make it to the first anniversary.
I tried to figure out how I was going to make divorce work the second time financially since it didn't work well the first time when I had quite a bit more in the asset column. I felt trapped and hopeless thinking how my kids were going to suffer greatly both short term and long term. I was in a rut, and just at that point two observant acquaintances recommended the book Garden of Peace by Rav Shalom Arush, within a week of one another. Although I told the first friend I would look into it, I don't honestly think I would have read the book if only one person had mentioned it. There are so many books with so many answers and techniques that I didn’t even consider getting the book until after the second friend mentioned it.
One reading of the book, and I felt the rug had been pulled out from under me. Everything that I had struggled with in my marriage and all the confusion that I had felt suddenly became crystal clear.
It was as if I was able to see my situation in an entirely different light.I quickly realized that, underneath all of my blaming, criticizing and finger pointing, there lay a fundamental truth. The true reason for all my marital strife was me.
Now I know this comment may feel uncomfortable, even infuriating, to many of you. How could it be all my fault? There must have been things my wife did to contribute to the breakdown of our marriage! What about all of her miserable behavior?
What I now fully grasp is that all the blessings a husband receives are in the merit of his wife. The Ketubah clearly states that the husband is ultimately responsible for his wife's happiness and hence the husband is responsible for Shalom Bayis. This was a complete paradigm shift for me but it was the truth. It is the men that need to be the givers; especially when it comes to giving honor. It can be no other way. It even says in the Gemara “there is no blessing in one’s home without the wife’s honor. I now experience discomfort when I witness men dishonor their precious wives even in a seemingly trivial way because I know how profoundly they are hurting them.
It cannot be overemphasized that Shalom Bayis is the most important mitzvah, and the worth of a man is entirely dependent on how he treats his wife; not just in public but also behind closed doors. The mystical works of the Torah compare the husband to the sun, and the woman to the moon. Any “dark” behavior a woman shows; withdrawing, complaining, nagging, or being passive aggressive is all a symptom of her not receiving proper illumination from her husband. It begins with the sun, and if the moon isn’t showing light (the woman is acting negatively), it’s ultimately due to the insufficient illumination of the sun. When I first read this, my instinctual feeling was that it might be true with some women, but it certainly doesn’t apply to my “difficult” wife! Yet what I didn’t yet understand is that the sun’s light (the light used to illuminate the moon) comes straight from Hashem. When a person begins to internalize this, they understand that there’s no shortage of energy or desire to display the patience and love that creates true Shalom Bayis.
There’s no doubt about it. This eternal wisdom is antithetical to much of today’s pop psychology on marriage. I know many will raise eyebrows and snicker, saying it simply doesn't fly in our sophisticated and advanced culture. I admit I had my doubts not too long ago. I can assure you this is derived from Torah and hence it is eternal truth. I tried traditional marital counseling. It didn't work for me and I doubt it works in the long run for most couples, because the secular views of "equality" and "compromise" go against Hashem's will when it comes to the sacred relationship of husband and wife. I strongly feel that when we go against the will of Hashem in this most holy area it can only take us to places we don't want to go, both materially and spiritually.
Everything falls into place once the husband treats his wife properly, as the book so powerfully explains. I do not want to go into too much detail for two reasons. First I am unable to properly convey the deep beauty of the book to the degree it deserves. Also and just as importantly the Garden of Peace is written for men only and for good reason. I plead with every woman to please not read or even glimpse at the book. It is a big mistake to do so and will surely jeopardize the success of your marriage. I would however encourage women to read Rabbi Arush's book on marriage Women’s Wisdom that is written specifically for women.
I urge every man regardless of age or marital status to read and internalize the Garden of Peace. I review it again and again and keep reaching higher levels because the more I internalize the wisdom the more Shalom Bayis becomes a real and deeply ingrained part of me. The wisdom of Hashem and our Sages of blessed memory will guide you in the loving path of Hashem's will. Please don't burden your wives or yourself with unecessary suffering. No matter where you are holding spiritually and no matter how good or bad your marriage is right now, if you read the book with an open heart and sincerity only good things can result.
I will share that even though I never cursed or hit my wife, I was in fact a very cruel husband. How could this be? Well, everytime I was stingy and tight with money, criticizing every penny she spent, that was cruelty. Everytime I didn't give her my full attention or was abrupt when she spoke to me or asked for my help, that was cruelty. Perhaps those actions seem like simple and common flaws, yet once I stopped blaming my wife and started looking inwardly, I began to see how responsible I was for the deterioration of our marriage, and how so much of her “misbehavior” and "complaining" was simply a response to my complete misunderstanding of the role of a husband. Once I began to look within, I saw a man who was generous with his time, attention, and money with anyone who needed me except for my wife! Seeking honor and recognition from outside my marriage (sometimes even from strangers) while simultaneously ignoring my wife's needs is indeed cruelty.
Garden of Peacehas also brought to my attention the absolute necessity of guarding my eyes. I am only beginning to realize the damaging effects secular influences have had on me. I, like so many other men, had a serious problem with lust. It never dawned on me that it was a problem. After all, our entire society condones immodesty and forbidden intimacy. I figured as long as I wasn't hurting anybody I can do what I want. Never did I think about the serious spiritual damage to myself and my family that results from lust. What I have come to truly understand is every forbidden thought, image, and act originates from what my eyes process. Every time I viewed a forbidden image, whether it was online, on the street, in my car, or in a restaurant, I was destroying my marriage. I strongly recommend every man go to www.guardyoureyes.com. The material there is so helpful and it helped me realize I had a serious problem with lust. I now receive free daily emails from guardyoureyes.com which are incredibly inspiring and go a long way towards keeping me in the right direction.
It is almost surreal how in several months I have gone through a total transformation and a sincere and deep personal redemption. I can only thank Hashem for his mercy and compassion. I will never doubt the ability of people to change no matter how low they have fallen. I often find myself feeling very sad that the Divine Presence fled my home for so long and that I caused my wife so much pain. I cringe when I think how I was ready to end my marriage, especially now that I understand all the problems stemmed from my flawed thinking and ignorance of Hashem's will. I am deeply grateful to the Almighty that I read Garden of Peace before it was too late. It was a tragedy to get divorced the first time, but to ruin a second chance would have been beyond any words.
Sometimes I just sit in awe at how blessed I am to have read Garden of Peace. Hashem does not make mistakes; my wife was meant for me and I was meant for her (even though in the past I would have disputed that with every fiber of my being). Like the book illustrates, my wife sensed a change unlike any previous attempts I had made in the past. Although I don’t want to sugarcoat things and make it sound too easy,I honestly feel that it wasn't nearly as hard as I thought it would be. With a true understanding of what my role is as a husband, I felt a sense of renewed purpose in my life, almost like allowing the wind of Hashem's will to be at my back.
I am blessed to have gotten the message with total clarity, that the key to Shalom Bayis was, is, and will always be in my hand. This book has saved me and my family from untold pain and anguish. With Hashem's help I will continue to improve and refine myself so I can be the man and father that I am meant to be. As I was putting the finishing touches on this story my wife was leaving to run some errands and wished me good luck on some appointments I had a bit later in the day. I looked up from my laptop straight into her eyes and had to let her know it isn’t luck that brings me blessings but it is her who is the true source of our blessings. She stopped with a smile and twinkle in her eye and replied in a loving way, “Honey, you should write a book!” I smiled back with a deep inner feeling of harmony because my sincere efforts were having a major effect, a true repair for many years of disappointment and pain.
Who am I, a simple Jew, to be writing an article on the husband’s responsibility in marriage? I suppose I am a man with a sharp sense of gratitude and purpose, a man who believes that he is doing a tremendous mitzvah by sharing the impact of one of the most precious books the Jewish people have ever been gifted with. If my words lead to one man lifting up this book, turning its pages and considering the words within, I will know my contribution is not in vain.