Shalom in the home

While other religions built soaring cathedrals, we built passionate marriages.

jewish wedding 88 (photo credit: )
jewish wedding 88
(photo credit: )
When I was a boy of about eight, I remember feeling helpless because I was unable to bring my fighting parents closer together. I imagined myself a kind of "marriage missionary" and spent hours thinking about how to keep husbands and wives happily under the same roof for life. On airplanes I would watch the couples sitting together and try and discern the difference between those that were smiling and laughing, and those who barely spoke to one another. Now, all these years later, I have spent much of the past year traveling around the United States with a camera crew and a state-of-the-art studio-trailer living with distressed families. The TV show that resulted, Shalom in the Home (airing in the US every Monday evening at 10 on TLC beginning April 10), is the culmination of a lifelong dream to transform the pain of my parents' divorce into the healing of broken families. If war is hell then it follows that heaven is peace. Harmony is life's greatest blessing, without which human existence becomes a nightmare of insufferable conflict. The ancient rabbis said that when God created the world in six days, it still lacked the most important ingredient of all: peace. Hence, when He rested on the seventh day from a whirlwind of activity, the world was now perfect. FOR MILLENNIA, the Christian and Islamic faiths focused their creative energies on creating empires and governing kingdoms. But we Jews, bereft of sovereignty and diminished of power, turned our energies inward instead. We sought to master not the outer world, but the inner, not the state, but the home. While other religions built soaring cathedrals, we built passionate marriages. And while other faiths fielded armies of colossal strength, we sought to raise children of towering moral character. Judaism places an incredible premium on peace in the home in general, and peace between husband and wife in particular. In the Bible God decrees the desecration of His own holy name in order to bring husbands and wives closer together. When a woman is accused by her husband of adultery, she is taken to the Temple where God's name is written in ink and then erased into a potion which she drinks in order to prove to her husband that she is innocent. Likewise, the whole purpose of lighting Sabbath candles, one of the most important and meaningful of all weekly Jewish rituals, is to illuminate the home with warmth and light so that a loving ambiance can govern the home on God's holy day. And the Talmud says that on the Sabbath married couples are meant to make love because the passion and desire between husband and wife is itself holy. BUT IN our time we focus far too much on peace in the world at the expense of peace in the home. We're dispirited with the war and daily carnage in Iraq and we wish our troops could come home from Afghanistan. We're weary of using military force against Iran to halt the development of nuclear weapons, even when there may be no other option. Even when we're forced into war, we still want peace. We all await the realization of the ancient dream of universal brotherhood becoming a reality. Our mistake, however, is not to understand that even if all the world's terrorists laid down their arms and all the rogue dictators were swallowed by the earth, we would still have no peace because our very homes have become war zones. If men beat their swords into plowshares, would that stop husbands from verbally assaulting their wives? If the ancient prophecy were to be fulfilled and no man ever again taught his son the art of war, would that stop our children from fighting with each other over every silly provocation? Even if the world had peace, our homes would still be filled with divorce. Even if all the rifles were silenced, our living rooms would still be filled with shouting. You cannot have a peaceful world without having peaceful people, a tranquil earth without tranquil families. The wolf will not dwell with the lamb until parents and children are also defanged of their claws. The lion and the kid will not lie down together until husbands and wives first learn how to live together. We are losing our minds because we have no peace. We are losing our inner equilibrium because we have no respite from the noise of blaring TVs and phones that forever ring. Our conversations are comprised of words which hurt rather than heal. No wonder our children, in an effort to escape the madness, would rather be at their friends' homes than their own houses. And even when they are at home, they're not home. They shut out their parents with iPods in their ears and video games in their bedrooms. I WAS raised in an environment filled with fighting. I absorbed much of that chaos and I now have strife, rather than stillness, in my skeleton. And I have made a lifelong effort to bring back serenity to my center. But today's families are so distant from the idea of peace that they consciously invite drama. They find fault with each other as a way of relating to each other. And in so doing, they lurch from extreme to extreme, from arguments to apologies, from ripping into each other to reconciling with one another. Peace is supposed to be the apex around which all families revolve. The home is supposed to be a place of comfort rather than conflict, a haven from hostility, a sanctuary from life's sting. In your spouse you are meant to find passion rather than pain. Your kids are supposed to see in you a hero rather than someone they'll do anything to avoid. Shalom in the Home is all about teaching families how to find the fountain of peace from which flows the joy of family life. We have taught parents how to inspire their children with conversation rather than harangue them with hollering. We have influenced husbands and wives to put down the cudgel and pick up Cupid's arrow. We have taught moms who medicate their ADD and ADHD kids that a far healthier medication is more attention and patience. We have persuaded parents and kids to douse the fires of rage rather fuel their fury and anger. We have educated children to forgive their parents' mistakes and to try not to judge them in the first place. We have tutored spouses in recapturing erotic desire and in mining the dormant spark of their once passionate relationship. In all these things on Shalom in the Home‚ we have done so not by using the dominant TV and radio therapist's approach of making people feel useless and stupid, but heroic and noble. We have helped people discover not their underlying ugliness but their neglected blessings. We have rededicated them to family life not by showing them their past mistakes but their future potential and overall promise. Above all else, we have helped them to improve not by having them listen to the wishes of a television host, but their own inner voice of what they wished to be before life made them something else. The writer is the host of TLC's Shalom in the Home. His newest book is Ten Conversations You Need to Have with Your Children.