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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."

May 24, 2003

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Visitor Comments: 24

(19) Melissa, January 24, 2015 4:11 PM

i wasn't aware that it's all about 'the money' as true status

it seemed obvious to me that Ms. Braverman was referring to Deborah's husband's SPIRITUAL wealth, not his social status. I'm at a loss to understand what hollywood gossip has to do with the lives of the matriachs and the patriachs? ... for my part i'm busy wondering what role i could ask my husband to take on that would keep him a part of human endeavors ... involved with human 'being' not just human 'doing'. Maybe a back burner family business is the way to greater harmony in my home ...

(18) Bracha, January 1, 2015 7:12 AM

Great article- one correction

Thanks for ti.s It is a great article with an excellent point. Devorah is called, Eshet lapidot, and many interpret that to mean her husband weas named Lapidot or was a wick or torch maker. But her husband was not Barak, who was the general of the jewish army.

(17) Anonymous, January 1, 2015 1:25 AM


Whenever I hear of beautiful successful high profile female celebrities getting hurt by a cheating spouse, I always want to tell them, "Just marry an average guy. He won't cheat on you." Kendra Wilkinson and Christie Brinkley both married successful wealthy men, and both of them got hurt. I always think that for women like them, "marrying below" would actually be a good idea.

(16) Anonymous, December 30, 2014 7:04 PM

Arrogant assumptions of superiority

I think it sad that it is automatically assumed that any person is below another, even sadder that it is always assumed that woman are always the superior gender. Most men find it more difficult expressing themselves emotionally than women and rarely get together to discuss their wife's short cumming s.

Anonymous, January 1, 2015 1:41 AM

social value

" it sad that it is automatically assumed that any person is below another"

Yes it is sad. When a man chooses between different women, he is "shopping" for a product in the social marketplace. Every man wants the most valuable social product he can afford with his social budget at the time. That is why it is common for a struggling actor to marry an average-looking woman as his first wife, then later on when he is a star, he dumps wife#1 and "trades up" to a perfect 10 for wife#2. Jean-Claude Van-Damme and OJ Simpson both "upgraded" wives. It is if the concept of love is an illusion.

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