Sh’lom bayis is a very complex area which requires much finesse and understanding. One must be very deft with a couple facing challenges in their marriage. Teaching each spouse to understand the other’s point of view and how to explain his or her own perspective without making judgments is essential when trying to establish good sh’lom bayis.
Although the Sichos HaRan, zt”l, writes that, in general, one should not divorce his wife unless compelled to by the halachah, there are certainly exceptions to this rule. Some people—even those with experience working with couples—believe that every rift in a marriage can be healed. According to that view, if a couple did not make their marriage work it must have been that one or both were unwilling to work hard enough to build their relationship. Although this is true in the vast majority of cases, there are times when the best option does seem to be divorce.
A certain ben Torah worked with a husband and wife who had many areas of conflict, and tried his best to heal their relationship. When his efforts turned out to be of no avail, he brought them to the Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, for assistance. After they had explained all of their many issues, the Chofetz Chaim suggested that they get a divorce. The astounded ben Torah could not contain himself. “How could it be that you won’t even try to make peace between them?”
The Chofetz Chaim explained. “If you are correct that in every situation divorce is avoidable, why did God give the parshah of voluntary divorce in the Torah? Clearly the Torah provided the halachos of gittin because sometimes the only way to bring peace to this couple is to allow them to divorce and go their separate ways!”
Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“The Parshah of Gittin”
The subject of divorce can be pretty touchy in the community of Christ. On the one hand, it is generally believed that there is no valid reason for divorce except for adultery. On the other hand, the available statistics seem to indicate that the rate of divorce in the church is no different than in the secular world, with about 50% of all marriages breaking up resulting in shattered hearts and devastated families. But before proceeding, let’s review the scripture you are all probably thinking about right now.
And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” –Matthew 19:3-9 (ESV)
This teaching of the Master is sometimes used to give Jews a hard time regarding divorce, but as we see from the daf, the desire to make peace among a feuding husband and wife is extremely strong in Judaism. In fact, our example showed us how the ben Torah working with the couple in dispute was shocked when the Chofetz Chaim actually recommended that the couple divorce as the only way to bring peace between them. Also, as I mentioned before, since the divorce rate in the church mirrors the secular divorce rate, we don’t have a lot of room to criticize Judaism, either in ancient or modern times, for allowing divorces.
But what’s wrong? As Christians, on our wedding day, we take a vow before God to love, honor, and cherish our spouse under all circumstances. It’s virtually the only vow the church maintains formally in the 21st century, especially given the Master’s teaching about not taking vows in Matthew 5:36-37. Why do we divorce so much?
I suppose I should say at this point that I am not literally including myself in “we” since my wife and I have been married for almost 30 years. My parents have been married for almost 60 years. I can’t speak for my parents, but I do know my own marriage hasn’t been without without it’s “rocks in the road” and I claim no special abilities on my part that resulted in my wife and I remaining united. I think marriage is always difficult at times and perhaps many “happily married” couples have considered divorce at one point or another. Troubles in the marriage are to be expected. It’s how you react that makes the difference.
But I’m not here to lecture and I’m certainly not here to hold myself up as some sort of example (if I tried that, my wife could easily chime in and lay out all of the details regarding my many faults). I’m here to talk about the humanity of marriage and divorce. Sometimes break ups are necessary…they just shouldn’t be so common.
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. –Ephesians 5:22-24 (ESV)
I’m sure you’ve heard examples of how certain “primitive” Christian (so called) men have used this passage to justify making their wives jump through all sorts of hoops because God told her to “submit”. I’m no Bible expert and I don’t read the New Testament in Greek, but I’m still going to say, “Oh brother” to these fellows. Remember that the Bible also says this.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. –Ephesians 5:25-30(ESV)
Husbands, if you are supposed to be loving your wife like Christ loves the church, consider for a minute just what the love of Jesus Christ means. The number one way we know that Jesus loves us is because he voluntarily surrendered his life for the sake of our eternal relationship with God. Not only that, but it was completely unfair in that he did not deserve to die at all. Add to that the fact that it was a long, lingering, painful, and shameful death. If you Christian husbands love your wives in the same way, I suppose you should be putting up with a lot from her, even the stuff you don’t deserve. Remember, Christ died for us while we were still his “enemies” (Romans 5:8). He didn’t wait until we turned to him in love in order to die. If he had, we’d have no chance at redemption or salvation at all.
I could go on and on, but I want you guys to savor the example Christ gave to us as husbands (I’ve never been a wife, so I’m not going to try and speak from that perspective). The next time you get angry at your wife, feel annoyed because she makes some unreasonable request, or otherwise contemplate how much easier your existence would be if she weren’t around, think about Jesus and what he did for us. Imagine how much we sin, even after we have accepted Christ as Lord and Savior. Don’t you think he should have the right to be annoyed with us for our “unfaithfulness?” Yet he hasn’t abandoned us, though he probably should in some cases. Where do we get off abandoning our wives either physically or emotionally when the going gets tough?
So is it ever acceptable to get a divorce? I’ll express my opinions on that next time in Love and Divorce, Part 2.
“Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.”
-Robert Frost, American poet