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Sholom Bayis: The Art of Vatranus

Remember the period of time just after the weather started getting hot, but before you could really begin dreaming about summer vacation – you know, about the time when you had your first bout of “Post-Barbecue-Heartburn’ blues or the “Air-Conditioning-is-not-cooling-off-the-house” blues. I’m talking here about something else: Tests, Finals, Regents, the stuff that kept the house studiously quiet at night. Well, in the spirit of the times, I offer one final Final exam, what I like to call a quick “Mom and Pop” quiz:

“Srulik comes home from a long day at the office, but instead of finding the table set and supper ready, his kitchen looks like a fashion studio with dresses and outfits spread out on every chair and counter, while his wife, Laytchu, and her best friend Yentchu, are excitedly picking up one outfit after another to check sizes and fit. He is finally noticed after the first two polite coughs didn’t do the trick and he was forced to clear his throat in a manner akin to a rumbling 18 wheel tractor-trailer. In a voice oozing with pride and happiness, Laytchu calls out, “Srulchu, dear, look how well I did today – seven designer out/its, all 40% off and they’re all 100% wool!” Srulik should:

1)  Use the hot pink blouse that’s already spread out on the table as a tablecloth, haphazardly setting down silverware and a bowl of left-over Shabbos cholent. and then eating with particular care to make as big a mess as possible. Or….

2)  Go through Laytchu’s purse removing all credit cards and any other thin, square-shaped plastic objects. including driver’s license and library card, and throwing them into a hastily erected bonfire, all the while swaying intently and singing inspirational songs.

3)  Swallow hard (possibly more than once will be enough) and slowly walk outside, conveniently remembering the joke you heard on your way out of the office – something about Italian fashion designers getting shot at the door of their home.

That one was a toughie! You can’t possibly be expected to know the answer for such a question right off the bat. Another? Okay, here goes:

Shprintza Bella has just about had it! The oldest is torturing his younger brother, the youngest has emptied out the shoe closet, and everything in the vicinity of a three room radius, and all those in between (who can remember so many names!) have decided to touch up on a patented art form: Kvetching! Sunday, the one day that Gimpel is home from work, he should at least help lighten the load, she thinks bitterly to herself. Suddenly, the door burst open and there he is, tracking mud across the carpet, tossing everything on the once-clean couch and declaring, “What a game! I hit a shot so hard that Velvy threw out his back just reaching for it and I was able to make it to second without having somebody run for me! I’m really pooped – I think I’ll lay down for an hour or two!” Shprintza Bella should:

1)  Cut up Gimpel’s baseball glove and sew it into long leather strands to be used for something so practical and invaluable that even he wouldn’t mind: Heavy duty suspenders. Hey, it’s not like he really ever caught anything with the glove anyway!

2)  Remind the kids about all the Afikomen presents that Tatty promised them and then say in a whimsical voice, “Hmm, Didn’t Tatty mention something about going to Toys-R-Us this morning?” Then wind ‘em up and point them in the proper direction.

3)  Wordlessly close the bedroom door, shooing all the kids outside, Once done, call Shmerele, the team captain, and explain that she’s very sorry but Gimpel won’t be able to make it for the next 12 weeks due to his serious condition: Cut-the-grass-itis.

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Another hard one, especially considering the positive effect that heavy-duty suspenders would have and the worry-free, peace of mind it would add – not needing to constantly be concerned with the potential embarrassment of gravity-defying elastic.

Okay, pencils down, you may all begin breathing again. If you answered (1) to either of the questions, not only are you totally off base (no pun intended), but prepare an extra blanket and pillow behind the couch – just in case. If you answered (2) to both questions, you’re learning to properly use guerrilla tactics in the pursuit ofjustice and although you may feel that you are justified in your actions, in the long run you won’t really solve any problems.

The quasi-correct answer is (3). You can’t be expected to be a saint, however, you can tone down and modify your attitude just a bit – thereby it being semi-correct, but not 100% in full. For, true Sholom Bayis and marital bliss needs not just a healthy dosage, but a disproportionate and overwhelming barrage, of Vatranus – conciliatoriness, yielding, looking aside and a general “take the good with the bad” attitude. I cannot be considered an expert in these matters – and most others, although my wife insists that if a pizza-eating contest would be held, I should at least be one of the judges! – however, I’ve found personally, and with many of my friends, that an easy-going, non-confrontational manner, even when I’m upset and easily irritated, is the quickest way to diffuse a potential situation.

Look at it in practical terms: Just about anyone who’s ever been to Israel has experienced at one time or another a phenomenon known as Chafetz Choshud – a suspicious object. A non-descript shopping bag, or an old valise is found lying in a corner somewhere, and everyone starts to worry if it could possibly be a terrorist threat. The crowd is pushed back from the immediate vicinity, the bomb squad moves in, and after a short while the situation is under control. By and large, it’s usually a shopping bag, forgotten by some unwitting tourist containing small bottles of Coca-Cola with Hebrew letters on it (“Isn’t that so funny? It’s in Hebrew!’), tourist guidebooks with particular attractions circled (“We must see the exhibit at Migdal Dovid!” “Again?!”), and of course, an assortment of key chains, wood covered Tehillim’s, and door name­plates from the olive-wood factory. If, Chas V’sholom there was a real bomb, it has been diffused, nothing more to worry about.

Now follow me closely on this one – a marital spat (ever wonder why it’s called a spat? Me too!) is much the same way. The satan, the chief terrorist – a combination Yasser Arafat, Idi Amin and Shulamit Aloni – plants a suspicious object, real or imagined, not on a street corner, but in a spouse’s mind. If that spouse will accept the idea, and attempt to probe and confront it carelessly, it could lead to an explosion that will damage both people involved, and quite possibly, the relationship irrevocably. However, were this spouse to take a step back, away from the damaging range of the “Chafetz Choshud”, and deal with it in a careful and gingerly manner, much of the time he will realize that all it was, was a false alarm or misunderstanding. As the expression goes “Cooler heads will prevail”, and this motto is as important, if not more, than anything else that hangs on the refrigerator door, including your nephew’s Kindergarden graduation picture.

Of course, I’m not making this all up – Chazal tell us as much, and not only that, one will be rewarded greatly. The Medrash in Parshas Naso states, “The Torah teaches that if one will be a Vatran in his house, were she (his wife) to spill wine or oil or rip his clothing (or cause any monetary loss), Hashem will replenish it and grant him all of his requests”. In essence it’s a question of mind over matter – if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter!

In extreme cases, where no amount of yielding is enough to remedy the problems, there are “Bomb Squads” – counselors and specialists, to diffuse any explosive situations. We also have our Gedolim for guidance. When R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ZT”L lost his wife a number of years ago, thousands of people gathered to pay their last respects. R’ Shlomo Zalman gave a very moving Hesped, but his final words were the most poignant. “Although it is customary to ask forgiveness from the deceased, I will not do so now. This is because we lived our years together in total peace, without either of us ever having hurt one another in the slightest. I have nothing for which to ask my wife forgiveness.” Like the Yiddish expression says, “Oif unz ales gezugt” – it should be said the same about all of us!

But it can. We say every morning at the end of davening “Talmidei Chachomim marbim sholom baolam” – Torah scholars increase peace in the world. How so? Do they hold large “Peace Now” rallys? I’ve never had a Rav or Rosh Yeshiva come to my door one night and say, “I’m here from this and this Yeshiva. I was wondering if you had a few moments to discuss some Sholom Bayis issues!” That’s not why they come.

The answer is clear, though, and we must learn from it. A true Talmid Chochom, inside and out, recognizes the tremendous importance of a peaceful household, one of spousal respect for each other, Vatranus, dealing with problematic issues maturely and discreetly, and creating a wonderful environment for their children. A real Talmid Chochom will know, instinctively how to promote Sholom Bayis in his home and since we all look to our Gedolim and Talmidei Chachomim for guidance, this concept should spill over into our own homes. By pure association, they are promoting and increasing, in the world, Sholom – the all-important, all-encompassing, just plain ALL, concept of Sholom Bayis.

For all you sports fans out there, let me put it to you this way – remember, it’s not whether you win or lose, in a husband/wife relationship it’s how you play the game! Vatranus and an easy-going manner allows everyone to be a winner! It’s a win-win situation! You get the picture. However, if you’re not a sports fan – well, go back to the Chafetz Choshud parable!


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