Here’s Looking at You!

The Sages liked to promote a peaceful resolution of conflict, whenever possible. This peace, they knew, had to begin in the home: “shalom bayit.” So even when it was time to teach about the peace between nations, they would turn it to the need for peace between husband and wife.

“When you approach a town to do battle with it, you shall call to it for peace.” (Deut. 20:10)

This week’s portion, Shoftim, is the basis for one of the more compelling images to call for peace. Even so, there are deeper levels available to us from this “rich” tale…

The sages call to us: “Come and see how great is the power of peace!” There was a woman who was a disciple of Rabbi Meir, listening to his lessons on Sabbath evenings. One time she stayed very late, and her husband was angry at how long she had been away. “I swear that I won’t let you back in this house until you go and spit in his face!” What could she do? He was a great sage, and yet she yearned for her husband. For three weeks, she could not return home.

Then Elijah, of blessed memory, appeared to R. Meir and told him what had happened. The next time the woman came to listen, he called out, “Is there any woman here who knows the charm for a sore eye?” The woman, understanding his meaning, rose and spit in his eye; “Do it seven times!” he enjoined her. When she finished, he said, “Go back and be reconciled with your husband: tell him he asked you to spit in my face once, and you did it seven times!”

See how great is the power of peace.

Midrash Rabbah – Deut. V:15

At the simplest level we must ask ourselves: what are we willing to do to promote peace? How far will we go to help another, someone we barely know? Few of us would ever measure up to R. Meir’s performance. And yet, is he without blame?

The complete midrash speaks of the woman being absent until the Shabbat candles had gone out. Remember, the duty of every couple on Shabbat is to make love – and here she is, “studying” with the Rabbi! Even if their relationship was as physically distant as some of the other tellings make it sound, did not Meir have a responsibility not to interfere in her marital relationship? Is he not guilty of some form of seduction?

And to go deeper still: which is more important – the love of study, or loving another? How wonderful that a midrash can speak to us at so many levels through one “simple” story!

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