Susan Barth
Marriage Education, Enrichment / Enhancement & Advocacy

Journeys of a Marital Lifetime That Count

The word “Journeys” is synonymous to me with this week’s Torah portion of Devarim (Deuteronomy).  However, what is particularly poignant is that the destinations of the “journeys” identified by Moses in the beginning of his 36 day farewell address refer to places situated in the biblical lands of Edom, Moab, and Ammon, and represent tragic burial places for the generation of Jews who departed in triumph from Egypt. The fact that the burials were the angry response by G-d to the rejection of his intended destination for the Children of Israel to live in the Promised Land of our forefathers has reverberated to this day as the initial event which contributed to the observance of the upcoming Tisha B’Av.

Journeys in the Positive Sense

The subject of “journeys” has had many implications for the Jewish people – from a geographic perspective of our exiles and wanderings. But also the “journeys” concept can be associated with our formation as a nation and particularly in terms of our search for partners with whom to enter into marriage and establish our homes and create a sense of permanency.

And any journey requires a home base from which to use as the secure starting point for setting out for destinations. In marriage, the significance which Judaism places on ensuring that couples are insulated in order to establish a strong base is reflected in the laws cited about the first year of marriage. The Rambam (Maimonides) quotes the relevant verses and explains:

Positive Commandment 214

A Newly Married Groom’s Obligations

“He shall be free to his home for one year, and he shall cheer his wife whom he has taken”Deuteronomy 24:5.

A newly-married groom, for the first year following his marriage, is commanded to remain together with his wife, and should not embark upon journeys, join the army in battle, or anything of the like. Rather he should rejoice with his wife for a full year.

Negative Commandment 311
Causing a Newly Married Groom to be Absent from his Home

“Neither shall he be charged with any business”Deuteronomy 24:5.

It is forbidden to conscript a newly-married groom, for the first year following his marriage, for military or civic duties. Rather, he must be absolved from all duties that would cause him to be absent from his home.

This prohibition is directed to those responsible for conscription as well as the groom himself—he may not journey away from his home for an entire year.

Lessons from the Rambam

What the Rambam is pointing out is the extreme lengths that we are obligated in, so as to free up a newly married couple to focus on one thing – their relationship. Nothing – not a war, not a civic responsibility, nor “the deal of the century” is permitted to take a groom and his bride away from rejoicing in each other’s company.

How to Make Sure the Journey is Protected from the Elements

Like any journey one needs to have a compass of what direction will be required to keep the journey on target and protected from serious disruptions and derailment. In his book “GPS For a Happier Marriage“, the author Rabbi Aaron Laine, provides a compendium of insights into how to achieve a happy marriage. For example, the author states: “Marriage is hard work. It requires doing the opposite of what is instinctive in order to provide what our spouses need.

For a man, this means doing things for his wife even if they don’t make sense to him. For a woman, it may mean accepting that she will not always feel that she is her husband’s top priority, that she will not always be the center of his attention, and trying not to interpret all of his actions as signs that he doesn’t love her.

Either way, it is a great effort. But an effort that is well worth it, one that will lead to a more fulfilling, happier marriage where everyone gets what they need.”[1]

Marriage is the Bedrock for All Our Journeys

If ever there was a time for extolling the virtues of marriage as the bedrock from which to set out on our journeys in life it is during this time of high divorce rates and falling rates of marriage.  So it is fitting to elaborate on those elements which characterize the core values of marriage:

  1. All of Jewish tradition stands on the foundation of marriage
  2. Marriage is a melding of two souls which are incomplete on their own
  3. A good marriage provides many benefits to each partner, spiritually, physically and emotionally
  4. The deep-seated needs of humans can only be fulfilled in marriage
  5. The entire family benefits from a successful marriage
  6. Marriage continues the legacy begun by our biblical forefathers and mothers
  7. Happy and safe Jewish homes are essential to society

Seizing the Moment to Avoid a Dead End

Going back to the Torah portion, an interesting point is that little is known about the 38 years during which the children of Israel were decreed to wander following the rejection to enter into the Promised Land. For the group who started the journey with high hopes after departing from Egypt, this dearth of knowledge constitutes a major loss in the recording of events and lessons in our history,

What is the antidote to such a dearth of historical records? To make each moment count in terms of investing in marriage and making a healthy and happy marriage a priority.  Prior blogs have been dedicated to the advancement of marriage education/enrichment and the necessity for taking advantage of marriage education/enrichment courses offered for couples entering marriage and those married a number of years. In each case, the material covered in such courses permit couples to gain practical wisdom in the arena of communication and conflict resolution in particular and varied on a per curriculum basis.

Make the Investment Count

In this blog, suffice to say that any investment which elevates the topic for building a solid home based on Jewish values is going to counteract the tragedy of the invisible 38 years. It is important for the reader of this blog to pause for reflection regarding what potential exists for ensuring that our couples seek out tools and skills for carrying out the journeys with confidence, self-esteem and commitment to the best possible journeys. By such reflection, couples will benefit to reach destinations with wisdom to tackle the inevitable disagreements and thereby reclaim the “lost parts of the original journey from our Torah portion” and transform the wisdom to helping couples create new journeys full of harmony and peace and ensuring bright futures for trailblazing from homes built with solid anchors.

May the coming Tisha B’Av be converted to a day of celebration both in and outside of the homes.

[1] Rabbi Aaron Laine, GPS For a Happier Marriage (USA,, 2015) pp 118-119

About the Author
Susan (Sarah) Barth is founder and director of Israeli non profit Together in Happiness/B'Yachad B'Osher, promoting stronger, healthier marriages impacting Israeli and English speaking countries' societies. A Project Management Professional (PMP) and businesswoman from the US, Susan sponsored and chaired the First International Conference on Marriage Education in Israel (attended by over 360 professionals) in Jerusalem in memory of her parents and launched I-PREP, an innovative marriage education curriculum. On November 8, 2017, Together in Happiness co-hosted a historic Knesset seminar promoting government support for pre-marriage education
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