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Parsha Tetzuvah: How a Man Should Treat a Woman

Valentine’s Day – How A Man Should Treat a Woman

I know, I know, Valentine’s Day is not a Jewish holiday. Named after a saint, no less. But it’s a good excuse to address the timeless topic of love and relationships and how to keep them strong. 

We get our first inkling into this early on in the Torah. After God creates Adam and Eve, the Torah declares,  עַל־כֵּן֙ יַֽעֲזׇב־אִ֔ישׁ אֶת־אָבִ֖יו וְאֶת־אִמּ֑וֹ וְדָבַ֣ק בְּאִשְׁתּ֔וֹ וְהָי֖וּ לְבָשָׂ֥ר אֶחָֽד “Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother, cling to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” That line is a bit odd and seems out of place because Adam and Eve did not have parents. Clearly this statement is not part of the story’s narrative and is being included to highlight a lesson about marriage that the Torah wishes to emphasize. 

And that is, once you find the one you wish to spend the rest of their life with, that person gets top billing to the exclusion of everyone else, including parents. The Hebrew word in the above verse עזב azav is actually stronger than the simple translation of “leave” and literally means to abandon or discard- as if never to go back. Now, this does not mean that one no longer has contact with Mom or Dad, but it is emphasizing that the #1 relationship one has after marriage is no longer with parents but with the wife or husband. 

I only fully appreciated the difficulty of this idea once my children started getting married. I recall thinking that Karen and I raised our daughter, Atara from literally nothing. Nurtured her to be a mature young woman, paid through the nose for her schooling, did all this for 23 years, and then along comes this complete stranger and he now becomes #1 in her life?! We, who have gone all out for Atara for so many years, now have to take a back seat to Avi, who she barely knew when they got married?! You bet we do. Bite your tongue and shut your mouth and let them grow together. In truth, we are thrilled with Avi (and Tova and Yehuda) and there is very little tongue biting, but you get the point. Step aside.

We all know of marriages that have suffered because one partner has allowed parents to infiltrate and insinuate themselves into the marriage, creating friction, discord and tension. Don’t allow Mom or Dad to do that and certainly don’t become one of those parents who do it to your kids.

But even more difficult than keeping parents at bay is making sure that your hubby or wife is greater in your eyes and more important than any other relationship, even the children. Yup, s/he takes precedence even over the kiddies. 

I recall once reading a telling piece by the editor of the Sunday’s NY Times weekly column, Modern Love:

What’s the best way to re-calibrate a marriage as the years pass? I wish I had the answer, because clearly millions of us would like to know. As the editor of the Modern Love column for nearly a decade, I have sifted through roughly 50,000 stories that have crossed my desk. I have noticed people wrestling with two questions above all others. From the young: “How do I find love?” And from those wallowing through marital malaise: “How do I get it back?”…

Among my 50,000 strangers, I’ve also heard from just a handful of couples who claimed to have maintained sexually charged marriages throughout the decades. The one story  I published from this happier-than-thou crowd, by the writer Ayelet Waldman about her still-sexy marriage (with four children) to the Pulitzer-winning writer Michael Chabon, was met with jeers and hostility when she went on “Oprah” to talk about it, mostly because she dared to confess that she puts her marriage ahead of motherhood. 

That alignment of priorities, she said, is part of what has allowed her to keep her marriage passionate. And she argued that doing so is also a healthier model for children, most of whom would be better off with a little less time in their parents’ spotlight. As she spoke, the studio audience seemed to regard her as if she were from another planet. She might as well have been, given how rare that kind of marriage is these days.

How sad and confused is a generation that this notion of putting spouse first, ahead of the kids, is met with jeers, hostility and a sense of it being alien, because this is precisely what Judaism prescribes. Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother, cling to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. The Torah mentions that a man clings, דבק – the same word for glue – to his wife and they become one. It mentions no such phrase with the kids. 

Quite the opposite. As John Rosemond once put it, “The goal of having children is to get them out of your life as soon as possible.” Which is just a brash way of saying that children go on to have their independent lives. Of course you might be spending more time quantitatively with the kids, and trust me, with seven it can take up quite a lot of time. But my kids need to know – and indeed deep down are happy to know because it offers them a greater sense of security – that they aren’t first and foremost in my life. Karen is. 

Want to know how a man ought to treat a woman? Simple, make sure you’re 100% clear in your mind, your words and most importantly your actions that she is the Queen. The children are still treated well of course, but they are merely princes and princesses. Mom? The Queen Mother – a very respected and dignified position, but she’s not the Queen. There is only one Queen.

Do this and guess what? You will be a King. 

Ooh, you make me live
Whatever this world can give to me
It’s you, you’re all I see
Ooh, you make me live now honey
Ooh, you make me live

Ooh, I’ve been wandering ’round
But I still come back to you
In rain or shine
You’ve stood by me girl
I’m happy at home
You’re my best friend



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