Who is the respected woman?
By Rabbanith Ruth Menashe
There have been instances of brides who stepped on the foot of the groom under the Huppah. These were not accidental, but deliberate acts. Some of these marriages ended in divorce. In fact, I even heard a case of a groom informing the bride of their divorce on the night of her wedding because of her action.
What made those brides do so? What, in their minds (or in the minds of those who advised them), did this act symbolize? It gives the following message: I am in charge; I am on top; I am the dominant one. Moreover, there are those well-meaning relatives who guide the bride-to-be to act in accordance with this message (even without performing the ill-advised act of stepping on the foot), building her relationship on these erroneous values.
The Midrash (Menorath Hammaor) speaks about a wise mother who, while accompanying her daughter to her husband’s home, told her daughter the following: “My beloved daughter, when you stand in front of your husband, imagine that you are standing in front of the king. If you will be his hand maid, he will be your servant and honor you as royalty. If you rule over him, he will rule over you against your will, and look down upon you like a maidservant.” This mother’s approach is the exact opposite of the one we mentioned above. Let’s examine our sources in order to establish which one of them is correct.
The Gemara (Nedarim 66b) brings a story about a man from Babylon who moved to the land of Israel and married a woman there. Because of the difference in the dialects of Aramaic spoken in the land of Israel and in Babylon, some misunderstandings occurred between the couple. One day the husband asked his wife to cook some lentils and she cooked him just two. The following day, wishing to have a normal amount of lentils, he asked her to cook a large quantity and she cooked a huge amount. He asked her for two watermelons (using the word Besuni which could mean either watermelons or candles) and she brought him two candles. The husband, in his frustration, told her to break them on the doorstep (Baba in Aramaic). She went and broke them on the head of Baba Ben Buta, one the great men of the generation, who was judging a lawsuit in his court.
When Baba Ben Buta asked her the meaning of her actions, she replied, “This is what my husband ordered me to do.” To this he responded, “You performed your husband’s will, may the Holy One Blessed be He bless you with two sons like Baba Ben Buta.”
As wives, which path should we follow? What school of thought should we adhere to? Shall we seek ways to be in control and in charge and “step on our husband’s foot,” literally or figuratively or, perhaps, treat him like a king in our own private kingdom which is our home? Hakham Yoseph Hayyim, ‘a”h, writes in his well known work “Laws for Women,” that the wife should honor her husband just as she would show respect to a ruler. Even if he is poor (and therefore somewhat lacking in power and importance in the eyes of those around him), she should still relate to him as a rich person deserving of honor.
Though these words of the holy Ben Ish Hai were written over a hundred years ago, the accuracy of the advice has not changed with time, contrary to popular belief. The average person in the outside world who may read the words of our great sages, would undoubtedly raise an eyebrow or two. Many of us are also affected by the new trends. The Kether Shem Tob denounces the practice of a bride stepping on the groom’s foot under the Huppah. Just as it is unacceptable to do so under the Huppah, and usually brings in its wake serious consequences, so too it must not be done metaphorically during a couple’s life together. It is precisely the opposite behavior, that of showing love and respect to one’s husband, that will elicit the same response from him.
May the Al-mighty bless us with the wisdom to make the right choices and build our homes on Torah true values, where we will be treated as queens and our husbands be treated as kings.
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