Categorized | Columnists, Rabbi Yogi

Posted on 19 April 2018 by admin

Imagine if your wife had a bird’s-eye view of what you did at the office every day. Would she find herself impressed with your productivity level and work ethic? Or, would she discover a ship that needed much righting? Could she rightly point to multiple items on your business to-do list left unattended to, as well as time that could have been used more efficiently (say, for more sales calls and less YouTube dancing squirrels)?
For many men, this is more of a theoretical scenario than a real one, as offices are typically tucked away in an office park, miles away from the house, and office visits from family members are somewhat of a rarity.
How different is it for our wives? Even as many modern women work outside of the house, the primary duty of taking care of the home typically remains upon them and essentially transforms our homes into their “workplaces.” And there lies the challenge. We live in their “workplaces.” How do we remain profoundly appreciative for all that our wives do for our households, never treating their familial service as a job to be held over their head, or their performance as something subject to our critical analysis?
This challenge proved too difficult for one of my students. He is a keen observer and persistently felt an underlying feeling of annoyance walking through his house each day, his dwelling much too untidy for his liking. His wife didn’t work, and he felt that she had the time to keep the house in order if it was truly a priority in her mind. He knew full well the myriad responsibilities that she had on a daily basis. They had a large family, after all. But, he still felt that there was enough time in the day to also care for the house properly and, of course, have a freshly prepared dinner ready each night by 6.
His fraught emotions turned more and more to charged, critical statements directed to his wife. “I thought you were going to take care of that already.” “Why is dinner never ready on time?” “This house is filthy.” His venting brought him relief from emotions otherwise suppressed, while his wife had to endure the heartache that came with each and every verbal blow.
Recognizing that he had an issue that needed to be dealt with and that he was the responsible party, he came to speak with me. I shared with him the Rambam’s famous injunction that we should always seek the middle path in middos (character traits), and that this requires us to veer to the opposite extreme of wherever we happen to be. That only by moving from one extreme to the other can we free ourselves of our bad habits and ensure that we end up with a balanced approach to life.
As Rabbi Reuven Leuchter explains on Page 89 of Teshuva: Restoring Life:
“The underlying assumption behind the Rambam’s approach is that every midda (character trait) has an extreme quality. When we find ourselves under the influence of a particular midda, it alone determines our perceptions and feelings. We become oblivious to any other perspective or reality. Only by shifting to the opposite extreme can we counteract this blindness. Only by focusing on the direct opposite of what we are experiencing and by treating the initial extreme as if it does not exist can we eventually arrive at a point in the middle.”
I advised my student to apply the Rambam’s methodology to his own life and to veer to the opposite extreme. His critical perspective of his wife was blinding him from ever perceiving a different, more positive reality of his wife’s help in the upkeep of their home. He needed to not only refrain from criticism of any kind, but to desist from any discussions or requests, however innocuous they might seem, concerning the subject of housekeeping. As he was not yet able to walk the middle path, any discussion of housekeeping was likely to turn ugly. The only exception to this rule would be expressions of gratitude for anything his wife might have done in the house. I encouraged him to use his observant nature to discover positive contributions that his wife had made each and every day and to heartily express his gratitude.
“This commitment would need to be for one month,” I told him, “and only then might you attempt to form a healthy, middle-of-the-road approach.”
To my utter delight, a month passed, and with it a renewed sense of peace and tranquility in the student’s home. Both husband and wife found themselves happier. A fresh set of lenses (which only took shape after a few grueling weeks of self-restraint) enabled my student to finally see how hard his wife truly worked for the family, and his wife felt appreciated for the first time in quite a while. After experiencing newfound calm in the house, my student recognized how responsible he had been for creating a toxic environment in the house, as well as how much pressure and anxiety he had exerted on his wife.
Unable to discuss any household needs with his wife, he found himself picking up the broom and the dustpan to take care of problem areas around the house. It dawned on him how rarely he had ever offered to help with the housework that mattered so much to him.
My student could now attempt life in the middle path, but he would need to be vigilant lest he slide back to his old habits.
During this period of the counting of the Omer, we are instructed to use each day as a steppingstone toward self improvement. The Rambam’s advice can help us get there.
Rabbi Yogi Robkin is the co-director of DATA of Plano.

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