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Rabbi Meir Makes Peace Between a Husband and Wife

Rabbi Meir Makes Peace Between a Husband and Wife

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Rebbe Zecharia, the son-in-law of Rabbi Levi, would tell this story:

Rebbe Meir would teach Torah on Friday nights in the synagogue in Chamat, a small town near Tiberius, and there was a woman who used to listen to his lectures. One night, Rebbe Meir spoke for longer than usual, and the woman stayed until he finished. By the time she got home, the candles had already burned down. “Where were you?!” demanded her husband.

“I was listening to a Torah lecture,” she answered.

Her husband, a scoffer, said to her, “I swear that you will not enter my house until you go spit in the face of the rabbi who was lecturing.”

Not knowing what to do, she stayed outside, until her neighbors said to her, “Come, let’s go together to the rabbi.”

When Rebbe Meir saw them coming, G‑d gave him insight into the problem. He immediately pretended that his eye hurt him.

“I need someone to spit in my eye, to cure it! Can one among you do it?” he asked.

Her friends nudged her forward.

“Spit in my eye seven times and I’ll be cured,” Rebbe Meir told her.

When she did, he told her, “Go home and tell your husband, ‘You said I should spit once, but I spit seven times!’”

His students were appalled, and asked, “Rebbe, how could you let people disgrace you like that? When they disgrace a Torah scholar, they disgrace the Torah! If you’d told us to, we’d have forced her husband to let her come home!”

Rebbe Meir answered, “The honor of Meir is not greater than the honor of G‑d! If the Torah tells us to erase the name of G‑d for the sake of peace between a husband and wife in the case of a sotah (wayward wife),1 surely Meir can be dishonored for the same reason!”

Footnotes
Jerusalem Talmud, Sotah 1:4; Midrash Rabbah
Translated by Esther Rabi.
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Yisroel Cotlar Cary NC February 27, 2015

These are good questions. like many stories in the Midrash or the Talmud, the story is extremely short and brought down for the purpose of highlighting one particular message/lesson. In this story that message is humility and be willing to put to do something uncomfortable to yourself for the sake of bringing shalom. Even if you are a respected leader.

But of course the actual episode was far more nuanced and there were many other details not mentioned in the brief recounting of the story Talmud. If we knew those details, I think lots of these questions would immediately go away. But they're not mentioned because the story was brought to bring out that one message - not to discuss a good marriage or what to do as to not enable bad behavior - separate issues that need their own discussion. Reply

Chana Florida February 26, 2015

Why assume? Why are we to assume that just because this was a Rabbi, his actions were right and we should learn from him? What Rabbi Meir did was absolutely wrong! Those writing here are not arguing, they are commenting on the story. The lesson from this story is a poor one. The lesson was that Rabbi Meir can show off how holy he was, while ignoring an opportunity to help the husband stop being an abuser. Rabbi Meir was showing off to his students! A much better choice would have been to go to the husband, and with respect and dignity, show the husband a different way. This is a crazy story. We should learn from Rabbi Meir what NOT to do! Rabbi Meir did the wrong thing. As the other people wrote here, if we follow Rabbi Meir's poor actions, we will continue the husbands abuse and reinforce it. This is not how our society works. A Rabbi or Doctor is supposed to report abuse! Reply

Joseph bklyn February 25, 2015

to David, Atlanta Fed 24 2015 Maybe think a little thru your comment before you comment?

1) His lecture was for the mensfolk Fri nite he didn't have to know there were womenfolk there. And even if yes, he didn't have to go around and ask each one if their husbands gave permission to come.

2)Please talk more respectfully when referring to the holy sages of the Talmud . They were no ordinary mortals see Suckkah and other places. Bruchous 6b Reply

Anonymous February 24, 2015

People, you have to assume that under the circumstances, which we don't fully know, the decision was a good one and just try to learn the lesson of the story.We're all involved with Chabad to learn and to grow, not to argue. Reply

David Atlanta February 24, 2015

Another lesson? Rather than have to go through this charade, perhaps the rabbi could have remembered everyone needed to get home for Shabbos dinner and cut it a little shorter? Reply

Malka New Jersey February 24, 2015

Not relevant If this is a story about events many years ago, and if the message is against our current standards of behavior, then why is chabad.org putting this story on their web site!.
This story is not a good lesson for our children. It teaches our children selfishness, that feeling one is holy is more important than teaching the husband to stop abusing his wife.Also, why should our kids accept spitting in a person's eye? Spit carries potential disastrous microbes! If the "insight was from Hashem", the Rabbi would have acted differently.
So, it is chabad.org that is showing poor decision, by putting this story on their web site, when it is very inappropriate. Reply

Esther Levy Tel Aviv February 24, 2015

Humility? No, it shows arrogance I am sorry to disagree, Em. 1. The Rabbi took the easy route. The real humility would have been if the Rabbi went to the husband, and perhaps, showed the husband that spitting in the Rabbi's face was not appropriate. The idea is that the husband was abusing his wife, and the Rabbi needed to address that. 2. It seems the purpose of the story is to show how humble and holy the Rabbi was, it was not a story about a husband who abuses his wife. The husband's abuse of his wife should be the primary concern, and as such, the Rabbi did not act appropriately. 3. There is absolutely no time that abuse of a woman should be tolerated, specially by a religious leader like a Rabbi! If a Rabbi sees abuse and does not actively take steps to help, he should lose his title as a Rabbi and be prosecuted. That is the current law. 4. A Rabbi should have known better, this Rabbi Meir was not humble, he was showing off to his students. Reply

Em February 24, 2015

The comments make sense in our contemporary times, but the story takes place long long ago. Where a husband could even consider dominating his wife in such a fashion. Also he said it with an oath, so it is not so simple to break a genuine oath even if they were to change his mind.
Insight was given to Reb Meir because he was a sainte, unlike the husband who was not on a level of divine inspiration.
The story shows the humilty of a Torah scholar. Reply

Anonymous February 23, 2015

nice Rabbi Reply

Esther Levy Tel Aviv February 23, 2015

Insight Why couldn't Hashem give insight to the woman's husband? Rabbi Meir said he did this for the sake of peace between a husband and wife. But that is wrong! All he did was allow the husband to feel justified, and the husband would continue his poor behavior! In reality, Rabbi Meir is really contributing to the husbands abuse, not preventing it! If the Rabbi wanted to help, he could have told his students to go n ahead of him, and rather than being spit at, he could have gone to the husband and spoke to him, perhaps showing the husband what real spiritual help can accomplish. He could have offered advise or teaching to help the husband understand that this was abuse, and maybe the husband would stop! Reply

Sharon NY February 23, 2015

Rabbi Meir Wouldn't it make more sense to find out why the husband was so insensitive to Torah learning especially if his wife found such pleasure in it! Reply

Eric NYC February 23, 2015

Different Action Possible If the woman went back to her husband, telling him the Rabbi spat in her eye, wouldn't that just re-inforce the poor behavior of the husband? The husband's poor behavior has been made acceptable by the Rabbi, and he will feel like he can act like this again? Perhaps, the Rabbi could have gone, with the wife, to her husband, and try to give the husband some insight, to learn how to treat his wife with respect and dignity? This story seems like it is giving a very poor message. Also, doesn't the woman know that spitting into someone's eye cannot cure an eye disease, rather, the spit will probably cause an infection? This really appears to be a very poor story about poor actions by the Rabbi. The Rabbi had much better choices to take. It seems like the Rabbi was mostly concerned with his own appearance of holiness. Reply

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