26 Av 5781 / Wednesday, August 04, 2021 | Torah Reading: Re'eh
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HomeFamily & Daily LifeMarital HarmonyThe True Test of Character - Part 1
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The True Test of Character - Part 1    

The True Test of Character - Part 1

…no brass bands, no testimonial dinners, no walnut-framed certificates of honor. Once Elkana proved his true integrity at home, Hashem gave him honor...


People are great actors. They have watched so much television and so many movies from an early age that they have internalized the fine art of acting. Many people ask me if there's one true test of character. How can we really know who a person really is? The Torah gives us a precise answer to this question, as we shall soon see, with Hashem's loving help.
Let's begin with an important fact of life: If you have marital bliss, you have everything. What good is wealth, material amenities, or even good health if a husband and wife are at war with each other? That's why peace in the home is probably the biggest blessing anyone can dream of. Don't think that shalom bayit (peace in the home) is an unattainable dream. The Torah teaches us exactly what to do for each and every one of us to enjoy a tranquil home.
In Chapter 1, Shmuel I, the Bible tells us about Elkana, the father of Shmuel (Samuel the Prophet). He would "ascend from his city from year to year." Literally, Scripture is describing Elkana's ascent to the holy altar in Shiloh, where he would offer sacrifices to Hashem.  Figuratively, our Sages teach us that Elkana's ascent was both personal and spiritual; not only did he succeed in everything he did, but he enjoyed a special charisma that drew all of the people of Israel to him. After the death of Joshua and the Judges, the people of Israel had gone into a spiritual decline. Elkana was a one-man outreach program. He would travel from village to village encouraging people to return to Hashem and join his pilgrimage to the holy alter in Shilo. Normally he had tens of thousands of followers join him.
How did Elkana reach such a lofty level? The Midrash tells us that before he was elevated to a national level, he was elevated on a local level. And before he was elevated to a local level, he was elevated on a personal level. That's not all, before he was elevated on a personal level, he had elevated himself on a domestic level. In other words, he treated his wife with absolute love and consideration. Before Shmuel was born, very late in his mother’s life, Elkana's wife, CChana, was heartbroken.  For years she had no children. Scripture tells us that Elkana said to his wife Chana, "Chana, why is your heart broken? Am I not better to you than ten children?" How many husbands can make such a claim?  Let us ponder this point. Every single letter of our holy Torah is eternal and absolute truth. So, if Scripture says that Elkana was better to his wife than the gratification of ten children, we can surely believe that he was a model husband.
What was Elkana's secret? He worked on his middot, his character traits. He certainly rid himself of anger and  arrogance. He was compassionate, considerate and utterly modest. He tried to emulate the traits of Hashem in every way. He listened attentively to others. Still, his first priority was at home, pleasing his wife Chana. Before he did good deeds out of the home, the kind of deeds that often earn public recognition, he was kind, considerate, helpful and compassionate behind closed doors. He performed good deeds for his wife in a private environment where no one would see him, no brass bands, no testimonial dinners, no walnut-framed certificates of honor. Once Elkana proved his true integrity at home, Hashem gave him honor and prestige on the outside.
Recently, I received a phone call from a woman in distress. She said, "Rabbi, my husband tortures me. He's so mean to me! When he's not gritting his teeth or hissing at me, he ignores me altogether. He's not satisfied with a thing I do." And she broke out in tears. "What's a matter with me?" she asked. "Nothing," I said. Your husband needs to do tshuva, I thought to myself.  The Torah requires us to be just as careful to avoid hurting others as we are to be in avoiding forbidden foods. The Talmud tells us how one righteous husband received a heavenly verdict of death for causing his wife to shed a tear.
A person’s spiritual level is measured by how well he treats his wife. If he treats his wife cruelly, he's lower than an animal - not even an animal is cruel to its mate. To be called a human being, a person has to be a human being to his wife, for she is his very own flesh and the other half of his soul.  To be considered a religious person, he must treat her with respect. A man who doesn't respect his wife cannot be considered truly religious. He lacks emuna, faith, and gratitude to Hashem.
The true test of a man lies in how he treats his wife. Some people are master diplomats outside the home, with a smile from a toothpaste commercial for business associates or outsiders whom they want to impress. It doesn't mean a thing.
To be continued.

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