As we approach the New Year we find ourselves drifting towards a more reflective state of mind. Throughout the year most of us are forced to maintain a much focused mindset, especially during these highly volatile and uncertain times. However, it is both healthy and natural to periodically switch gear enabling us to step back and make an evaluation of our personal performance as human beings.
One of the first areas about which we tend to think is the health of the relationships with the people with whom we are closest. For whilst we fully appreciate the vital importance of a healthy relationship, we nevertheless neglect to dedicate the sufficient time and effort needed.
This week a friend of mine told me something very profound; the most powerful truths are often the simplest ones. And it is a simple truth derived from this week’s Torah portion that I would like to share with you.
The verse records three words that comprise the obligation of a man towards his wife. In Hebrew the words read; V'semach et Ishto. The translation is somewhat ambiguous and it is in the clarification of this ambiguity that the most profound lesson in all human relationships can be derived.
We are all human beings, who are all naturally selfish. The good news is that because we possess a soul, we also have the capacity to be selfless. The problem lies in the gravitational pull towards being selfish. This causes a blurring of the line between selfish and selfless to the extent that even whilst thinking we are being selfless, subconsciously we are focussing on ourselves. The line between selfish and selfless is so powerful it becomes blurred. To the degree that even when we think we are being selfless we are still subconsciously thinking about ourselves.
Let us now revert to the verse we mentioned. The word V'semach, Rashi explains, is a causative verb h meaning the obligation of the husband is to focus exclusively on making his wife happy. In other words, the husband should not do what “he thinks” makes his wife happy, but rather on what “his wife thinks” would make her happy.
Sometimes in life we become so self centred, that we lose any genuine sense of other people’s true feelings. Yes, we are committed to our family, our spouses and children, and our friends, but we tend to address their feelings and needs through our own self-centred lenses. We rarely truly satisfy their needs as individuals carrying their very own independent needs and dreams. We tend to think about them only as they exist within our own paradigm, with ourselves at the epicentre.
If we really want to make someone else happy we have to move beyond our own paradigm and begin to truly empathise with them and to discover their true feelings. When we can overcome ourselves and begin to think only through their paradigm and making them happy, they will behave in a likewise manner.