> Weekly Torah Portion > Intermediate > The Guiding Light

The Key to a Happy Marriage

Vayeira (Genesis 18-22 )

by Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen

Bereishit, 18:9: “And they said to him ‘where is Sarah your wife?’ And he said, ‘behold – in the tent’.”
Rashi, 18:9, Dh: And they said to him: And in Bava Metsia1 it states, that the Angels knew where Sarah was, rather they wanted to show him that she was modest, in order to endear her to her husband.”

When the Angels came to Avraham, they asked him where his wife was. The Talmud, cited by Rashi, tells us that they knew where she was, but they wanted to indirectly compliment Sarah to her husband by emphasizing her modest behavior in staying in the tent. Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe2 asks a simple question on this episode: When a person speaks at a Sheva Brachot (festive meal in the week after the wedding) in front of newlyweds, it is normal that he speaks about how wonderful the groom is and describes the amazing character traits of the bride in order to cement the relationship between the newly married couple. However, Avraham and Sarah were anything but newlyweds when this story took place: Avraham was almost 100 years old and Sarah was almost 90. It is not clear exactly at what age they got married to each other, but it was certainly many years earlier. One would think that by now either the bride was endeared enough to her husband or, if that wasn’t the case, then by now nothing would help.

Rabbi Wolbe therefore asks, what is the point of the angels attempting to further endear Sarah to her husband by pointing out how modest she was? Moreover, Avraham was a great Tzaddik (righteous man) who is the pillar of the world. He is not normally associated with ‘romance’. Accordingly, asks Rabbi Wolbe, what was this matter of “endearing her to her husband” that the angels were trying to accomplish?

Rabbi Wolbe answers that from here we see that the matter of “increasing endearment” is something which is necessary the entire lifespan of a couple. Marriages are dynamic relationships that need constant growth and renewal, no matter how long the couple has been married. It's essential for the couple to endear themselves to each other. In this instance, other people from the outside, performed the ‘endearment’ but we learn from here that it is also incumbent upon the husband and wife to constantly work on seeing their spouse in a positive way. This should in turn result in them treating the other one with the utmost respect and concern.

The following story gives an excellent example of the attitude one spouse should treat the other3.

Rabbi Dovid Hirschovitz was an old student of the great Rosh Yeshiva of the Mir, Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz, who lived in America. At some point later in his life, he went to visit his Rabbi in Israel after not seeing him for over 40 years. Rabbi Shmuelevitz said he wanted to invite him to his house for lunch. He checked with his wife and brought his guest home for lunch. At the meal, Rabbi Shmuelevitz acted in what Rabbi Hirschovitz thought was a manner not fitting for a man of the Rabbi’s stature. When Rabbi Shmuelevitz first walked into the house he asked his wife “What are you serving for lunch?” She said “I am serving chicken and rice”. Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz, the great Rosh Yeshiva, sat down to eat the chicken and rice. He gobbled up the chicken and rice, leaving only bones on the plate. He literally cleaned his plate. He asked his wife, “What kind of spices did you use in this rice? It is delicious!” She told him and he asked for another portion. She brought out another portion of the rice which he quickly finished off. Again, he said “So tasty! Really delicious!”

Rabbi Hirschovitz could not believe what happened to the great Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz. After the Rebbetsin left the room and was out of earshot, the guest said to the Rabbi “What happened to you? In the Mir in Europe you were so involved in learning. The only thing you thought about day and night was Torah learning to the extent that people had to remind you to eat!” When you ate, people had to remind you to make the blessing after the meal, because you forgot that you ate.”

And now, forty years later Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz was asking about the recipe for the rice and cleaning his plate! Rabbi Hirschovitz could not understand it. Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz told him, “You should know, I am the best maggid shiur [lecturer in Talmud] in Israel. This is not bragging. I worked on these shiurim (classes) for forty years. I said these shiurim in the Mir in Europe and in Shanghai. I worked over, refined, sifted, and resifted these shiurim so much. These shiurim are gold! Yet, after I say a shiur, when a 17-year-old student says to me, “Rebbe that was a good shiur” – that makes my day! What does a 17-year-old boy know? He does not begin to grasp all the questions resolved by my presentation and the clarity accomplished by my approach to the Talmudic passage. Yet, his complement makes me feel good, because that is human nature.” “This lunch,” he told his guest “is my wife’s shiur“. This is what she lives for – to take care of me. Therefore, to make her feel good, I eat what she provides me with relish and with gusto. I clean my plate to eat up every morsel of what she provides. I did not become a glutton. This is her shiur and I want to show her that I appreciate it. Rabbi Shmuelevitz must have been married to his wife for more than 50 years at this point, yet he recognized that every person needs a compliment regardless of how long they have been married.

We learn from the Angels that the work of marriage never ends. May we merit to emulate the Shalom Bayit of Avraham and Sarah.


  1. Bava Metsia, 87a.
  2. Cited by Rabbi Yissachar Frand.
  3. Cited by Rabbi Yissachar Frand in the name of Rav Sholom Meir Wallach shlit’a.

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