After nearly forty years of marriage my husband and I have become skilled at avoiding fights most of the time. We have learned to say what annoys us without anger. We know not to let irritations simmer and brew until they explode. We understand the importance of giving each other the benefit of the doubt. And, after so many years together, we can usually anticipate what each other wants and needs.
Sometimes, though, raw emotions do take over and we forget all the wisdom we have garnered over the years. Such was the situation recently one Friday. Feelings were hurt, thoughtless things were said, and every time we tried to talk things out it seemed as we just made them worse. This lasted until about three in the afternoon, some nine hours after the negative energy began. Finally, finally we worked through our resentments and Shalom Bayit returned to our home.
Literally translated Shalom Bayit means a peaceful house but it is far more than that. According to Rav Leff, shlita, it does not mean a home without any arguments and everything is quiet, peaceful, and serene. That, the rabbi maintains, describes a cemetery. Rather, there can be arguments and yelling in a home with Shalom Bayit with one stipulation. Everyone in the family is concerned about the wellbeing of all the family members.
At that point on that Friday afternoon, with our Shalom Bayit restored, we were at last able to continue Shabbat preparations as partners, friends, and lovers. Feeling much better about life I went upstairs to do a task. Just moments later I heard my husband asking, “Where is Mommy?”
“I’ll be down in a few minutes,” I called. That did not stop him from climbing the stairs. Somehow I felt him coming up was not a good omen.
“Everything is okay,” he began speaking to me. And then I was sure his coming up had not been a good omen.
He told me two of our married sons had been at the swimming pool with some of the grandkids. The younger son had been bitten by something, probably a snake. His foot had blown up so quickly that his older brother had carried him to the doctor’s house. She deemed it necessary for him to go to the emergency room. My husband was taking off with him and his wife in a matter of minutes. Could I help get a Shabbat bag ready?
The implications of his question made me catch my breath. Hospital emergency rooms have their own time zones. Even if my son was one hundred percent okay it would be iffy that he would be discharged before Shabbat began. And even if he was discharged the chances of it being early enough to make it all the way home from Jerusalem before sundown were slight.
As I went into emergency preparation mode my mind was racing. Besides being concerned about my son I was thankful that my husband and I had restored our Shalom Bayit. How difficult it would have been to deal with the crisis if we were still at odds with each other. Along with my prayers for my son’s health were my prayers that they would make it home for Shabbat. I could not help wondering if HaShem was sending me a strong message. You wasted your day not getting along with your husband. Now let’s see how you like spending a Shabbat without him.
In the end I did not have to spend the Shabbat without him. Once at the emergency room our son’s vitals were checked and all was normal. The doctor ordered a blood test and settled him in for observation. As the swelling went down and the sun waned a decision was made. My husband, son, and daughter-in-law would make a run for it. They left the hospital without discharge papers and burst into our home six minutes before sundown.
Although he came home with a slight limp by the time Shabbat ended my son was doing fine. He had been stung about three o’clock Friday afternoon, more or less the same time my husband and I had ended our argument. My husband feels certain that it was our Shalom Bayit that protected our son from whatever bit him.
Some questions remain. Did our son get bit as a punishment to us because of senseless bickering or was my husband indeed correct? Would the situation have been worse if we had not made up? Why did my son get bit and not one of us?
There are no certain answers to these questions. We can only guess how HaShem works. What is important, though, is to listen to the messages He sends us. It is Elul now, the month before Rosh HaShanah. Not only must we listen to His messages. We must try to learn from them and in doing so become better people.