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Women Who Marry Below Themselves

Women Who Marry Below Themselves

If I want someone I love to change, what would be the most effective way to accomplish it?


In the midst of labor and hoping for effective distraction (an oxymoron), I turned on the hospital television. It was daytime and the only alternative to soap operas was Oprah. Her topic: Women who Marry Below Themselves. The details of the show escape me, but I remember asking myself what relevance could this possibly have to my life? (Okay, that wasn't the first question I asked about such an inane subject!)

And it hit me. The issue isn't whether you marry below yourself, equal to yourself, or above yourself, but rather what you do with it.

The life of Deborah, the sole female judge of Jewish tradition, suggests a possible and productive response. Deborah was a prophetess and leader of her people -- the greatest Jew of her generation. The entire nation came to her to be judged; there was no one else qualified to assume that role. When the Jewish nation was threatened, she led them in a successful campaign against the Canaanite army led by Sisera. She is glorified in song (in the Book of Judges) and lauded as the Mother of Israel. She was also perhaps the first woman "who married below herself," and how she handled it is a lesson for all of us.

Deborah was an exceedingly bright, knowledgeable and accomplished woman. She was unique in holding the position of the judge for the entire Jewish people. She married a very unlearned man and our sages speculate that initially it was not a "happy" union.

If such a match were to take place today, the solution would be obvious. Barring renewed opportunities to appear on Oprah, most women would say, "It's not working; we're not suited for each other; I'm outta here." Not Deborah. She looked at the situation from a much broader, less selfish perspective. She asked herself an important question that is so simple and yet so powerful, it could transform our marriages, whatever their present state.

"How can I help my husband become a better person -- for his sake not for mine?"
"How can I help my husband become a better person -- for his sake not for mine?"

Not because he'll give to me more, I'll enjoy him more, I'll feel vindicated and validated. But for him. What would be best for him and how can I facilitate that?

Take a minute and ask yourself this question: How would my marriage change if I focused on helping my partner grow, only for his/her sake?

Deborah knew that being ignorant was not the ideal. She also recognized that nagging is a completely ineffective tool for change. Tempting as it is to nag, none of us respond well to it. Not only do we usually not change our behavior as a result, but we tend to resent the nagger as well.

Deborah had to be creative. She had to think of a way to help her husband that would be productive and uplifting, not discouraging and demeaning. So Deborah made wicks for the menorah in the Tabernacle and she encouraged Barak, her husband, to go to Jerusalem and sell them. The wicks were specially made (thick or thin according to the season) to enhance the flames. Was there something magical about those wicks? Some supernatural. kabbalistic amulet hidden among them to effect change?

No. Change doesn't work like that.

Deborah reasoned that the sale of wicks would force her husband into constant proximity with Torah scholars and that their attitudes, philosophies, and knowledge would begin to rub off on Barak.

She was right (although she never said "I told you so!"). But she had to be patient. It wasn't instantaneous. She had to be consistently smiling and positive and hopeful.

And Barak was able to be receptive because he wasn't forced into something against his will. He wasn't browbeaten and tormented. He wasn't degraded and criticized. He was assisted in the most thoughtful way possible.

Take a minute and ask yourself another question: If I want someone I love to change -- a spouse, child, friend -- what would be the most effective way to accomplish it?

If someone is selfish, you can yell at him or her repeatedly in accusatory tones about their bad character, or you could take them with you to deliver food to the needy.

If someone doesn't enjoy reading, you could berate them about their ignorance and their wasting of time, or you could leave many different types of books and other publications lying around.

These are small examples, but the potential for effective change is enormous. Think of it as a creative challenge. Think of yourself as Deborah the Judge. Not only will you help your spouse (or child or friend) grow, but through the process of thoughtful and selfless giving, you will become a greater, kinder human being.

Maybe Oprah's show was misnamed. Perhaps it should have been: "Women who Married Just who They Needed."

Published: May 24, 2003

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Visitor Comments: 16

(15) Jean Valjean, August 20, 2012 4:07 AM

If you listen to women long enough they will show you what they are really about.

Nothing speaks of women's epic struggle for "equality" than complaining about having to marry beneath them. Clearly, a man's value as a human being or "sub-human" is contingent on his ability to make money and willingness to privilege a woman/women with that income. Once that ability is lost or never fully realized women are loath to view him as a human being let along want to marry him. Of course the irony always escapes women when their desire for privilege runs up against their demand to compete directly against men using affirmative action and other preferential treatment. What did you women think when you set out to get the best jobs and demanded the government fast track you to those positions? The higher you go the fewer men remain who meet your elevated standars and those that do don't want some shriveled up hag who spent her best years as a corporate tool when they can get a hotter, younger model with less wear and tear and a better attitude. You have no right to hypergamy so long as you compete against men. And those that think you do deserve to be alone.

Anonymous, November 6, 2013 9:55 PM

To commenter #15--Please look up the word misogynist. That is what you are.

(14) Anonymous, July 20, 2007 1:01 PM

Spiritually below?

What if they are "below" you spiritually, and no matter WHAT YOU TRY TO DO to get them to become spiritual, THEY WON'T?

(13) Anonymous, September 21, 2005 12:00 AM


I have a admit that I have been nagging my husband a lot here lately because of his own short commings, but through this acticle I realize that I can't continue on like this or it will ruin my marriage. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the many tasks I have to do as a wife, mother,daughter. That I just wish that he would take over some of the load ( this is weremy nagging comes in). I will put into practice this new found knowledge into my marriage pray for me and thank you fro writing it . God Bless

(12) Noami Oren, August 6, 2003 12:00 AM

Thank You Emuna:

This article was worth every word written & read.
We all know that whatever Hashem gives us is to uplift our soul & make us better than we are, for the good, thus is the reason for giving us the person we married, to also make them better than who they are....We go forward in life not backwards.

(From a new kalla who is also a new Jewish kalla)

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