This post is dedicated to Dana, my beautiful wife of 22 1/2 years.
As we prepare for this shabbat, we are also heading into Valentine’s Day, the ONE day a year that all decent husbands buy something for their wives and utter the words, “I love you.” Abraham probably does not come to mind when conjuring role models for good husbands. After all, he did try to pawn off his wife as his sister. However, I was recently reminded of an innocuous mistranslation in the Bible that became the foundation for a very important Jewish ideology of how men are to honor their wives.
Decades ago I read of an old woman from the Crow Indian tribe named “She Likes to Move the Camp.” The archive of her photo is maintained by the Smithsonian Institute. The Crow Indians were known for their high and spacious tepees. This woman must have REALLY enjoyed setting up and striking the tent to be named “She Likes to Move the Camp.” But my personal observations are that most women I have met would consider camping, moving, setting up a household as some of their least favorite activities.
Pitching Her Tent
In Genesis 12:8, the Torah reads:
“And he removed from there to a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east: and there he built an altar to the LORD, and called on the name of the LORD.”
The word use for “his tent” is “ohalo.” But this verse records that Abraham pitched his tent using the prenominal suffix “hay” instead of “vav.” This allows the word to be read as “ohalah” which means “her tent”
From this understanding of the passage many sages and rabbis derive the mandate for men to revere their wives. As is recorded in the Tamud: A man is obligated to honor his wife more than he honors himself (Yevamot 62b). Gentiles have long held that Jewish men consider their wives property, are abusive and controlling, and generally disdain the role of women in society. However, Judaism would actually propagate the complete opposite.
Abraham, immediately after setting up an altar to honor El Elyon (God, Most High)(V. 7), Abraham set up his wife’s tent. Abraham honored God and then his wife. He revered her so much that he set her tent up before doing anything for himself. The Bible does not indicate to us that Sarah was the kind of woman that liked to move the camp like the Indian woman. But it is clear that Abraham’s personal priorities were G-d, the needs of his wife, and then himself.
I was talking about this with gentile friend recently and he said there is no way that this is practiced anymore. I told him to drive down to Miami any day of the week and count how many Jewish woman he finds driving a new Mercedes-Benz with a 3 carat diamond on their hand. The fact is, “the U.S. Jewish divorce (rate) remains the lowest of the three major religions” (National Opinion Research Center). Maybe the Orthodox Jews are actually getting something VERY right—the honor of their wives.
May this Valentine Day and Holy Shabbat be dedicated to my becoming the husband my wife desires. May I forever be reminded to pitch her tent and tend to her tent, regarding her needs–physical and emotional–in every area of her life, as greater than my own every moment of the day.
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