Sometimes, the most glaring traits are not the positive ones, but the negative ones. This is why.
Pizza and Ice Cream is Not Enough
When our children learn about the mon in cheder, and how it’s taste could be manipulated by thought, it sounds like a dream come true! The kids are drooling! Pizza and ice cream every day! What could possibly be better?
Yet in our parsha we read the actual reaction the bnei Yisrael had to the mon, “They wept and said: אין יבשה נפשנו ועתה עינינו המן אל בלתי כל, Our life is dry; there is nothing but mon.” How can this be?
The truth is we understand this all too well. Human nature is to focus on the negative. We are always focusing on what we don’t have, and it makes us very unhappy.
We Only Notice What We Don’t Have
Unfortunately that’s what we often do in a marriage, “Yes, my spouse has qualities, and it’s certainly possible that others would appreciate them. In fact, I myself was initially attracted to her because of them. But what irks me is and what’s really important to me is that one quality that she does not possess.”
When that becomes your main focus, it becomes a very difficult and sad situation.
People will always be picking up on the one thing that’s not great. Most often it is precisely because that’s what’s not there! If your husband has a particular desirable trait, you become conditioned to it, you don’t notice it. It’s only what he lacks that you tend to pick up on.
We All Have Natural Weaknesses
When we have to live with another person, we’re going to have to accept their weakness. It’s not about disregarding the weakness or pretending that it doesn’t bother you. The other person’s weakness may affect you and even hurt you, but you must accept that this is your spouse; it’s part of her nature.
Now, just because you have a certain trait is part of your nature, it doesn’t absolve you from working on improving it. But when your spouse has a certain problem; accept that it’s simply natural. There are no ill intentions, it’s just really very difficult for that person. It may not be so difficult for you, but for your spouse it could be something that will always remain challenging.
Acceptance is the Key
Let’s say your wife has a problem with time management; you already sent her for therapy. She already attended a variety of courses and she has learned all about it. However, unfortunately, she’s still having a problem with her time management!
So number one; It’s just silly to hyper focus on the time management issue, when your wife is really so much more than “a person who can’t tell time.” If you can taste everything in the mon will you insist on focusing on those onions and melons you used to get as a slave?
But aside from that, we should learn to accept another person along with their faults. If you’re honest with yourself you can find a trait in yourself, or maybe even two, that probably annoys your wife. Of course you’re a nice guy and try to go against your nature, but I’m sure here and there you slip up. Surely you wish your wife would stop getting so hung up about that one thing; you’re a great guy after all. So it would be nice if you accept her as she is, with her faults as well.
Are You Sure You’re Not a Kohen?
There’s another mistake people make and I have mentioned this in the past – assuming that if you’d care for me enough, then you would work on it. “I understand it’s difficult for you, but what about me? Don’t you care about me? Don’t you realize how much you bother me when you come late?” It is important to realize that it’s not a lack of feeling for you that’s holding your spouse back from overcoming a natural weakness.
The Klausenberger Rebbe told this story about one of his uncles who was a Rav before the war. For medical reasons he had to be in a certain city and his doctor happened to be a reform rabbi. This Rav was friendly with the doctor, and when the doctor had his first son, a baby boy, he invited the Rav to the pidyon haben and honored him to be the kohen.
Knowing that the doctor was Reform and perhaps did not realize that the kohen must actually be a kohen, descended from Aharon, the Rav tried telling him as much. “Oh, no no rabbi, of course I know that the kohen must be a kohen!” was the “rabbi” doctor’s response, “But because of our yedidus – friendship, I’m asking you to be the kohen.” You hear? I understand you’re not a kohen – but for our friendship you should be one. Some husbands are like that – “I understand you’re more of an introvert, but for my family you should be outgoing…”
Love is Not the Answer
You can love your spouse very much, but you love yourself too. Just because someone can catch a flight when it’s necessary, doesn’t mean that it is easy for them to be on time. I can actually do somersaults if I want, but I’m not going to do them every day!
This is important to remember because often, along with all the disappointment people have in their spouses not being able to do this or that for them, they also carry the pain of “My spouse doesn’t really care about me.” “If she would really care for me, she would change…” So it’s important to remember that you can love someone very much but if you weren’t born a kohen; don’t officiate at the pidyon haben.
Will She Never Change?
Some people are afraid that if they accept their spouse’s weakness, it will never improve. But in reality if your wife is a habitual latecomer, you have two options. Keep harassing her, keep mentioning it and ensure both of you are aggravated. Or, just accept that this is who she is.
Some people say, “What do you mean? Is this what I’m going to deal with forever?” This week, I heard this from somebody. “You mean I’m going to have to deal with this forever? I can’t handle it!”
And the answer, unfortunately is, yes, you may have to deal with this forever. That’s what acceptance means. It means shifting your focus, forgetting about this one problem and seeing your spouse for who he or she really is: a wonderful person with a multi-faceted personality!
I’ll let you in on a little secret though; when you really accept someone, and you show them enough understanding and true acceptance, it makes it easier for them to change. I’m not guaranteeing that it will happen overnight. The words “I accept” are not a magic spell that can influence your spouse’s behavior. But chances are that if you’re ready to work on yourself to be more accepting, your situation will change.
“I Accept It,” But Do You?
Occasionally someone will tell me that they understand and accept their spouse’s difficulty. “But she needs to change because I care for her so much.” If his problem only affects her, and it doesn’t affect you, why do you want her to change? Are you really completely altruistic? Often people with codependency issues will convince themselves that they’re not being affected, when in fact they’re being affected in a very big way.
If there is something about your spouse’s nature that affects you, you don’t have to just accept it. You should work on it; but work on what affects you. A very important distinction has to be made. You accept that her nature is to be a certain way, but you can also accept that you are bothered and hurt by it, and that is something you can try to improve.
Chinuch: He’s More than Just a Sloppy Kid
This is so important in parenting; learn to accept your children and their natural weaknesses! I’m not saying that you should stop waking your son up for minyan because it’s naturally hard for him to get up in the morning. But make sure your son doesn’t feel he is inherently flawed just because he has this one difficulty.
So often you see parents who label their children; this one is the sloppy one, this one is always fighting… We must remember to focus on their natural strengths just as much as we focus on their weaknesses. Yes he is sloppy, but he is always the first one to share his snack, he always volunteers to help. Yes she is always fighting, but she is great at schoolwork and has a terrific singing voice. Of course middos are more important than school and singing. But while I wouldn’t be so concerned about your daughter scratching her sister when she’s 35, if you crush her self-esteem now, it will quite likely leave its mark past the age of 35 as well.
We can have everything and still feel we have nothing. While we tend to focus only on what we don’t have, it is in our best interest to notice what is right about our spouses and children and accept what is not so great. That’s the lesson of the mon.