My esteemed guest today is the Chabad shliach in Minnesota and dean of the Bais Chana Institute of Jewish Studies Rabbi Manis Friedman, who is frequently described as a rabbi, author, social philosopher, public speaker, marriage counselor and more. While he is certainly deserving of all these appellations, his charm and lack of pretention make one forget for a moment how multifaceted and influential he truly is.
People from all walks of life and backgrounds seek him out for guidance on matters large and small, especially when their marriage appears to be on the rocks. Indeed, it is Rabbi Friedman’s ideas about the concept of marriage that I find particularly intriguing, not so much because they are revolutionary but because the world might be tempted to dismiss them as old-fashioned and even politically incorrect in these hypersensitive times.
“The foundation of marriage has to do with the concept of mashpia and mekabel,” he sums up his perspective as we venture into that topic. “If the man isn’t the mashpia, the giver, it destroys the mekabel, the receiver. If the wife isn’t receiving, it just about kills him. He has to be the one who gives, while his wife has to be able to rely on him and look up to him.”
I tell him that he must get a lot of pushback when he says that, not because he is wrong, but because such an approach to relationships flies in the face of feminism and its mantra about the equality of the genders.
“No. Women desperately want to be mekabel,” he gently but firmly corrects me.
“Even New Age women?” I wonder.
“Yes. I get feedback like ‘Why didn’t anyone tell us this before?’ or ‘How did you know I have this issue?’ I was speaking to a completely secular audience,” he continues, “and I said, ‘I apologize because I know that this is a trigger word, but I can’t think of a better one: You want to surrender to your husband.’ And they said, ‘Yes, but where do you find such a guy?’ If that foundation is absent, then the marriage is doomed. A bachur once told me that he had met a girl who impressed him very much, but something was stopping him from proposing. He didn’t know what it was, but it was causing him to hesitate. ‘I know,’ I said. ‘She’s smart, she’s good and she’s very capable, so why would she need you? How will you be the mashpia? Of course you can’t marry her.’
“A woman once called me and said, ‘I met a guy who is very sweet, nice and eidel, but I don’t know why I’m hesitating.’ I told her, ‘I know why: it’s because you want to adopt him, not marry him. You want to be his mother, not his wife.’”
“You don’t think that some women want be a mother to their husbands and be in control?”
“They might, but that’s not the point. The point is that it goes against nature. The Torah says, ‘V’el isheich teshukaseich, v’hu yimshol boch—your desire will be for your husband, and he will have influence over you,’ so how could it not be true? The marriage counseling I give people isn’t about psychology or psychobabble; it’s Torah. Nikarim divrei emes. Truth is self-evident, and if it isn’t Torah, it isn’t true.”
“So you’re saying that this dynamic is true across the board and applies to everyone.”
“Yes, and it applies to non-Jews as well, l’havdil,” he states resolutely. “And the stronger the hashpaah, the healthier the marriage.”
“How do you define hashpaah?” I ask.
“And you’re saying that when the buck doesn’t stop at the husband, it causes problems with shalom bayis?”
“All problems in marriage originate because something is off between the mashpia and the mekabel. I’m not talking about the technical things like washing the dishes and cooking the food; I’m talking about the basic nature of the husband as the mashpia and the wife as the mekabel. In today’s world, where all of the lines have become blurred, there’s a lot of confusion, which has also seeped into the frum community. People read secular books on the subject and receive misinformation. That’s one part of it. The other part is selfishness. But just like everything else in life, you aren’t in a marriage for yourself.”
“In what ways are spouses selfish?”