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Susan Barth
Advocate for Marriage Education in Israel

Shalom-In-Bayit: A Post-Yom Kippur Resolution

After testing positive for Covid (yes it still is out there) and spending Rosh Hashanah in bidud, I eagerly awaited publicly celebrating my favorite holiday of Yom Kippur. And why is it my favorite holiday? Because for 26 hours we are considered as close to divinity as possible with brotherhood and unity being themes which personify who we are at the core.  And internal resolutions and bargains are made with G-d so that we finish the concluding prayer of Neilah with a clean slate.

For the observant, the immediate post Yom Kippur attention is directed to the festive holiday of Sukkot, but even if not, there still is a lingering feeling of celebration in the air that serves as even a momentary justification for smiles to abound. However, the question is how to channel this positivity in a meaningful direction and this is where “Shalom – In- Bayit” becomes the best candidate of choice.

What is Shalom-in-Bayit?

To be exact, Shalom-in-bayit- is a contextualization of Shalom Bayit. One definition that is simple but elegant was cited in an article entitled Shalom Bayit: Marital Harmony  and reads as follows: Shalom means “peace” and a bayit is a “home.” Maintaining peace in one’s home, shalom bayit, is an important ideal in Judaism, which views marriage between man and wife as a manifestation of G‑d’s connection with His creations.

Shalom Bayit can also be personified by such synonyms as “love” and “harmony” and “support and encouragement” and even “helping to actualize the potential in a spouse”.

Rabbi Akiva and his Wife Rachel

One of the poignant moments of the Yom Kippur service is the depiction of the Ten Martyrs and especially the cruel death of Rabbi Akiva, one of my most favorite rabbinical figures along with his wife Rachel. This couple exemplifies the synonyms mentioned associated with shalom bayit.

I have always been enamored with the love story of Rachel wife of Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Akiva and how this heiress to her father’s fortune gave up her riches in order to marry an unlearned shepherd – who, thanks to her keen vision, became the great sage Rabbi Akiva. She demonstrated for generations to come that character traits are the most important measures of success and that belief and commitment in a marital relationship can have extraordinary dividends for the Jewish nation.

Naftali Rothenberg, in his book Rabbi Akiva’s Philosophy of Love, writes:
“It is Rachel’s love that made Rabbi Akiva a scholar, one of the greatest and most influential figures in all of Jewish culture in his own and subsequent generations… The wisdom and Torah of the sage of love belongs to the woman who loved him. Rachel’s love brought Rabbi Akiva’s wisdom to fruition, making his Torah and that of his students for all generations hers. The sage of love is a woman’s creation, and a woman’s love gave birth to his wisdom.

In an interview, Naftali Rothenberg commented that for Rabbi Akiva, keeping harmony was the most important value. A lot of people preach morality, but the relationship between their spouses is terrible. According to Rabbi Akiva, however, a complete world is one of unity between lovers and is an act of tikun olam (repair the world) in the context of preserving intimacy between spouses. Rabbi Akiva advocated for marital harmony and the everyday challenges of overcoming any temptations of body and mind, and most of all, placing harmony as the most important attribute of all.

A Modern Day Spin on Shalom-in-Bayit – The Rescue at Entebbe

Another story which encapsulates to me the most modern day example of the extent to which we as a nation will go to ensure that our homes remain sacred and that is the story of the rescue of Entebbe.

On the morning of July 4, 1976, 103 rescued hostages held captive in Entebbe, Uganda and their defenders landed safely in Israel, concluding one of the most daring chapters in the history of the IDF. Every aspect of the story, from the time of the hijacking to the trauma the country experienced as the lives of the hostages hung in the balance, provided insights as to what was really captivating our national conscience – the imperative to save the lives of our families at all costs.

From the extent of the drama and the heroism displayed by the IDF soldiers who risked their own lives to fly to Uganda for the rescue operation, to the courage of the leadership who approved a military alternative to negotiating with terrorists, all demonstrated to the world how precious Jewish lives are. The accompanying exaltation that we experienced on July 4 when the remaining Jewish hostages (with the exception of three who were killed, including our national iconic hero Yoni Netanyahu, and Dora Bloch) arrived safely in Lod Airport was a testimony to our values that lives matter.

What Lessons Can we Learn

Both of the examples above demonstrate that at the core we will take extraordinary measures to gain shalom bayit – whether in the form of the unlikely match between Rabbi Akiva and Rachel or the miracle at Entebbe. Our families are worth fighting for.

And yet, how much are we really doing to ensure that our families will stay intact? As I have written over the past ten years of blogs, my passion is marriage education  – which means providing tools and skills for couples for creating and maintaining healthy and happy marriages and families.

What is astonishing to me is the apathy within the sectors who have a stake in the preservation of marriage in jumping on the bandwagon to advocate for marriage education. Without a communal response, there is no incentive for couples to seek out marriage education – and this is especially the case with engaged and newly married couples for whom the defiance of needing any skills becomes a badge of honor!

We as a society owe these couples especially the ones starting out the creation of an environment which sanctions marriage education as a mandatory step towards establishing an everlasting edifice and solid foundation for the couples’ future happiness.

As Entebbe showed, the lessons for marriage education are clear – our families matter above all else and are worth fighting for! Arming our couples with the tools to build the most harmonious homes full of love and unity is an investment worth making and can only safeguard our future no matter what crisis comes along. Entebbe shows us that we can put aside all differences when our lives are imperiled and the home front is the best place to start that.

Before the Yom Kippur Resolutions Dust Settles

Before the Yom Kippur resolutions become “history”, consider joining the grassroots marriage education movement. For example, in regard to engaged couples, I dream that every couple will seek out a marriage education workshop, whether online or in-person, before tying the knot. I want to live in a world where the wedding checklist includes “Take marriage course,” where rabbis and chatan and kallah teachers tell every couple that marriage education is crucial and where parents, grandparents and couples all recognize the importance of learning the skills that are necessary for communicating in a marriage.

And for married couples, giving your own marriages a New Year’s gift also could take the form of a marriage education booster course.

I ask you: What can you do, today or tomorrow, to advocate for marriage in your community? Who can you influence to make saving marriage a priority? How can you convince the couples around you to seek out marriage education? How can you make marriage education accessible for the young couples in your area?

Our sages said that “it is not your duty to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” (Pirkei Avot 2:16) There is much to do in order to firmly plant the roots of marriage education in the Jewish community, and if each person who reads this blog  takes some small steps toward promoting marriage education, we will soon succeed – together – in making this a cultural norm. Make Shalom-in-Bayit a priority – our future as a people depends on it!

For more information and to indicate your interest write me at marriageconf@gmail.com

Wishing you a Happy Healthy New Year! May we have many reasons to celebrate smachot in the coming year

 

 

 

About the Author
Susan Barth is founder and director of Israeli non profit Together in Happiness/B'Yachad B'Osher, promoting stronger, healthier marriages impacting Israeli society. 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 with MK Yehudah Glick a historic Knesset seminar promoting government support for pre-marriage education