Marriage Equals Chesed
Rivka Olenick
The Sifre says: "Chesed, kindness, begins with those who are closest to us and then to encompass our neighbors and then finally the rest of the world. Jewish law requires that a man be as concerned about his wife as he would be about himself. However, it is only when each is concerned for the other, will happiness fill their lives."
It appears that the most essential component for building a marriage and happy home, directed by Torah is kindness, chesed. The foundation of chesed is built by husband and wife, and ideally should be the primary focus of their marriage. Marriage is the beginning of chesed, because each one is obligated to shift the focus from the self to their spouse. Our natural inclination is to live by and for ourselves. A person who pursues true chesed, is sincerely concerned for their spouse's well being.
For many people this does not come easy and requires so much patience and thought. Once a person satisfies his or her emotion of "what will I get out of doing this kindness" hopefully he or she will gradually become more involved in chesed based on emotional identification with the other person. Often we forget and/or ignore the concept of "created being", selem elokim, which is the identification. This "other" person is also created in the image of God.
The next level of doing chesed is to be involved in it more objectively, meaning that the emotions do not have to be satisfied in order to do the chesed. The chesed is done automatically because this is God's will. This is a high level. However, the more each one focuses on the fact that marriage itself is perfection as God's will is perfection, the chesed can become automatic. Understanding that to live harmoniously, in service of God, according to law requires the appropriate philosophy of Torah that encourages chesed. A philosophy that follows a middle path, as Maimonides says.
The appropriate philosophy I am referring to is certainly not a societal one, although we are so influenced by society. Philosophy within the Torah "way of life" is very important for couples to discuss, before and during marriage. This "way of life" understands man's nature and this "way of life" becomes parallel to that nature. It is that man's nature needs to attach itself to a "way of life" that provides "true happiness." This happiness is not the pursuit of pleasure and fantasy, as most of the world thinks. True happiness occurs when one is involved in search of Torah knowledge, which is internalized so that growth occurs. Chesed permeates this "true happiness" that each partner contributes to.
If a woman could clearly see that she and her husband are the transmitters of Torah, she might be less preoccupied with what her material gain in marriage might be. She would be less demanding of her husband to make more money and more appreciative of his need for "true happiness." This is chesed. At the same time, if a man sees clearly, that his wife provides a nurturing and calm home for fostering Torah, he might be more appreciative of her. He would be much more concerned about her needs. This too, is chesed.
Ideally, chesed should permeate all areas of life for husband and wife. In Proverbs, a verse refers to a Torah of chesed. Is there a Torah not of chesed, the Talmud asks. The Talmud answers that one who learns Torah to help others and one who allows another to learn so that others may benefit are both Torah of chesed. One who is involved in learning purely for his own growth does not represent Torah of chesed. In Judaism, for male and female spiritual growth and fulfillment lie in "service." The obligation to pursue "chesed" is encumbent upon man and woman, as the essential part of their life. No one, male or female may use the Torah for their own selfish purposes. The involvement of "chesed" in marriage is perfection - as marriage itself is perfection.

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