Mark Braham was a British Army officer during World War II, after which he migrated to Australia. An Orthodox Jew, he has written articles over the years for many publications, including News Weekly. In October last year he travelled to Los Angeles to attend the marriage of one of his grandsons, Moishe Simons, to Itta Rachel Roth. The following article is taken from an address Mark Braham delivered at the subsequent wedding feast.
It is not always easy to express, at a joyous simcha (celebration) of this kind, the message that should be delivered to a young Jewish couple starting out in married life in the present climate.
Rabbi Avigdor Miller
However, what I will do is to refer you to a book by the indisputably great Rabbi Avigdor Miller (1908-2001). This book was not included in his enormous output, much of which I handled in tapes and books in Australia, in the last century. I still play his tapes in my car almost every day in Australia and can never hear enough of him.
However, a book of his, taken from his papers which he left behind, is called Career of Happiness: True Joy in the Home (New York: Yeshiva Gedolah Bais Yisroel, 2000). Although I have a copy for you to take away, I limit myself now to briefly introduce his Ten Commandments of Marriage.
1) Be realistic
The first of his commandments is to be realistic! Be realistic and do not expect that in your marriage you will have a glorious career of endless enjoyment. Marriage is like life. When you enter life, you must take it with all details — its ups and its downs. Sometimes there is smooth driving; sometimes the road is rocky and not comfortable. Sometimes there are periods when you are in the depression of unhappiness; and sometimes you climb to heights of success.
Life is full of variety and it is planned by HaKodesh Boruch Hu (The Holy Blessed One) for a purpose. The purpose for the variety of life is in order to test us under all circumstances. What will be our reaction in times of success? How will we act when we are faced by obstacles or worries?
2) Do not disrupt the routine of marriage
The second of the commandments is that, no matter what, things are going to happen. Sometimes these consist of minor tragedies or break-ups, and sometimes major quarrels. It is easy to talk about living successfully; but sometimes in practice there are fumbles, and sometimes you drop and break the dish. However, no matter what happens, the routine of married life should never be interrupted.
3) Make peace
The third commandment is to make peace as soon as possible. Do not let a quarrel continue for long. “The beginning of a quarrel is like opening a dyke of water.” As the water starts coming out of the dyke, it wears the breach and makes it wider and wider. It will take longer and be more difficult to mend subsequently.
As soon as possible, even if it means going beyond what the other party is entitled to — even if the other party was wrong — make peace as soon as possible. Even if it means that the wife should offer her husband a titbit or a piece of cake, and even if, from anger, he turns it away, she should not become angry. It is already an overture for peace. It is already a success.
So, no matter what happens, pick up the pieces. Put them together! Of course, it is better if the dish never fell down and broke; but at least put the pieces together now. This is a very important admonition, because a long-standing quarrel becomes an illness — a permanent attitude. Of course, it is never too late as long as both are together in the same house.
4) Never say the word get
The fourth commandment is never to say, “I want a get” (a written notice of divorce). That word is apikorsos (blasphemy). It should never be mentioned by either party, even if it is not said seriously.
“If you don’t like it, you can divorce me.” Never say that! That should be entirely out of the realm of possibility. There is no such thing! This is a very important point, because once a seed is planted, even though years have passed, the seed has taken root and grows. It is always in the mind of the other party, and it has become a possibility to be considered, although it may never happen.
Because the word was mentioned, from now on it has entered the realm of possibility. It should be unpardonable to say that word.
5) Be loyal
The fifth commandment is: be loyal. Feel that you are responsible for the welfare and happiness of your mate. Be ready to go through fire and water for your husband or wife. It is not a matter of love, but a matter of duty. Once you are married, you have committed yourself; you have given your word in the utmost holiness to be loyal to each other.
If you can help your husband to save money, if you can help your wife with a little bit of work, even by washing a dish, or if you can protect her reputation from people who would like to wag tongues: “No, my wife is a very good cook.” Among relatives, sometimes, somebody will make a joke: “Jenny isn’t such a good cook.” Oh no! You must leap to the defence of your wife! Whether she is or not, you must be loyal. She must always be loyal when she speaks about her husband to her parents.
No matter what happens in the house, the loyalty of the couple has to be unimpeachable! It is not a matter of affection — it is your duty to fight for each other.
6) Never say, “I hate you”
The sixth commandment is that never should anyone say, “I hate you.” That is like taking a precious piece of dinner-wear and smashing it on the floor. After that, you can pick it up and glue it together, but it is never the same. Those words should never be said.
And never say, “You are ugly” — especially to a wife. You must maintain the imaginary situation that existed at the moment of marriage — forever and ever. Even when your wife is very old and wrinkled and toothless, make sure that you do not acknowledge any change in her appearance. Now if you wise enough to say, “You look as nice as you were when I married you”, you are going to get Olam Haba (the World to Come) for that. But under no circumstances should you even hint that there has been any change in your attitude.
7) Love your neighbour as yourself
There is a special mitzvah (commandment) in the Torah that everybody knows, but it is not spoken about enough. If you are a frum (devout) Jew, then this must be one of the major goals in your attempt to serve Hashem (The Name). “Váhavta l’raiacha komocha” (“You should love your neighbour as yourself”).
The Gemara (rabbinical teachings from the Talmud) says that one shouldn’t marry through an intermediary. He should first go and take a look at his intended. Because later, if he did not see whom he was marrying, he might be disappointed, and he would not fulfil the commandment of “Váhavta l’raiacha komocha”, and he will transgress “You shall not have any animosity towards your fellow man” — it applies to your wife as well as to anyone else. The truth is that it applies much more to your wife. I will briefly explain why.
The famous 13th-century Jewish scholar, Rabbeinu Yonah of Gerona, Catalonia, says in his work, Shaárei Teshuvah (“The Gates of Repentance”) that when a man transgresses a Mitzvah Asay (a positive commandment) a number of times, it becomes so serious that it becomes like those sins that require cutting off or death by Beis Din (a rabbinical court of judgement).
A small transgression, repeated a number of times, is like taking thin cords and twisting them together until they finally become a heavy rope. That is how serious it is to repeat a sin over and over again.
8) Display your regard for your mate
Always do things in a way that demonstrates a certain regard for your mate — especially in the presence of children and to children. When a man sinks so low as to belittle his wife to their children, that man has lost his morality. And sometimes it happens, even in the presence of his wife — and it has happened more than once — it means this man has a corrupt character.
In the synagogue he may be important and sound like an official. He stands up in the Shul (synagogue) and officiates at the omed (standing place). You might think he is very important, maybe even a holy personality; but at home he is a corrupt character. If he can say in the presence of his wife to the children, or even not in her presence, “Your mother is this or that”, he is a rosho (a wicked person).
9) Maintain your appearance
Another of the ten commandments is especially for women, but also for men to some extent. Women must make it their business never to look slovenly in the house. They should always look good, smell good, and not talk too much.
How important it is to maintain your appearance in the presence of your husband. If you open your mouth and talk and talk and talk and talk, it is disgusting to your husband. If he is a good husband, he keeps quiet; but you are selling yourself down the river by your wagging tongue. You are making yourself cheap by endlessly “hakin a tsheinik” — talking and talking. You are advertising that there is nothing in your head at all.
How wonderful it is when a person is able to close the dam on conversation. Stop talking! I am not saying you should not talk at all — but endless talking ruins your image in the presence of your partner. Sometimes a man talks too much. It is also a very great blot on his reputation in the eyes of his wife.
10) Do not be a tyrant
The last of the commandments is: Do not be a tyrant! This is so frequently disobeyed. It is not the major source of tragedies of our time, but it is a frequent cause. Sometimes it happens among frum people, who learned a little bit of Gemara: “The money a woman acquires belongs to her husband.” And therefore whatever money a man’s wife gets, as when she earns something from her little job, her husband appropriates it for himself.
This is something which should not be measured by the Halachah (traditional law derived from the Torah). You must use common sense. If a woman does paid work, you must give her leeway with that money.
Here is a man who did not trust his wife’s shopping ability. For years and years he did not allow her to go to the grocery store or butcher shop. He did the shopping himself. Among all of her friends she was the only one not allowed to shop. Her husband was a tyrant. Who cares if his wife wastes a few dollars a week? Think of it as an expenditure towards happiness.
Mark Braham was a British Army officer during World War II, after which he migrated to Australia. An Orthodox Jew, he is author of Stronger than Fiction: Jews and Christians Are Natural Allies (London: Minerva Press, 1999). The above article is from an address he delivered on the occasion of the marriage of his grandson, Moishe Simons, to Itta Rachel Roth, in Los Angeles on October 23, 2014 [Hebrew calendar: Tishrei 29, 5775].