Better to Disrespect a Stranger, Than to Disrespect a Spouse

It’s hurtful when we’re disrespected by strangers.

But it’s heartbreaking when we’re disrespected by loved ones.

And the reasons for that heartbreak are so obvious.

Firstly, when a loved one - someone with whom we have a deep relationship – disrespects us, it’s so cutting.

Secondly, there’s the fact that one act of disrespect usually leads to another such act. And that’s because once we cross red lines - like those involving disrespect – we’re likely to cross them again.

And it’s especially problematic when a loved one crosses those red lines. Why? Because we spend much time with our loved ones. And that provides much opportunity for the additional disrespect that can follow in the wake of that first disrespect.

Lastly, there’s the fact that a cycle of disrespect can evolve. That cycle starts because disrespected people frequently strike back in anger at those who disrespected them. They’ll strike back because they were hurt. And that can lead to an ongoing back and forth of hurt and retaliation. And here, too, the ample time spent with loved ones provides opportunity for feeding into such vicious cycles.

Yes, awful as disrespect is, it’s especially awful when it’s evinced by a loved one.

And that may explain one of the rules governing cohanim who worked in the Mishkan. That was the demand that cohanim, among other things, wear: “pants to cover the flesh of their genitalia… … so that they do not sin and die.” [1]

These special pants only needed to be worn by cohanim. And only when they were doing holy work. All the Mishkan’s other visitors - cohanim who weren’t doing holy work and all non-cohanim - didn’t wear special pants.

Why was this so? Why was such respect only demanded for holy work?

It’s because that work was an expression of our special relationship with Hashem. As such, it required special respect. Because in special relationships, any small show of disrespect can be heartbreaking.

This may also explain the tragic fate of the cohanim gedolim who served during the second beis hamikdash. Most of those cohanim gedolim died on the very first Yom Kippur on which they officiated. They were struck down when they performed the day’s service which included entering the holy of holies. And the reason they were struck down? Simply because they weren’t very illustrious. And only truly illustrious people could survive encounters with the holy of holies.[2]

Surprisingly enough, the holiness that killed those cohanim gedolim didn’t affect other people. Even evil people. Even Titus, a man so evil that he even destroyed the second beis hamikdash. Even when Titus, as we’re told: “took a prostitute into the holy of holies, spread a Torah on the floor and performed a vile act on it. He then took a sword and slashed the dividing curtains.” [3]

Titus does these ignominious things - inside the holy of holies! – but he suffers no immediate consequence.[4] But cohanim gedolim died upon entering the holy of holies simply because they weren’t very illustrious!

This too, can be explained by noting that Titus’s visit to the beis hamikdash – unlike that of the cohanim gedolim – wasn’t based on a relationship. As such, his awful disrespect didn’t demand immediate punishment.

Yes, deep relationships - because they are deep - exact a steep price when they’re. It’s a price that was exacted from cohanim who disrespected the Mishkan and the beis hamikdash. And it’s a price that is exacted from our loved ones - and from us - when we disrespect one another.

It’s exacted in how even small acts of disrespect cause great pains to loved ones. And it’s exacted in how those pains boomerang back at us and damage our relationships with those loved ones.

Strangely enough, despite that terrible price, so many of us disrespect our loved ones.

And astonishingly enough, so many of us disrespect our loved ones while punctiliously respecting strangers.

Think, for example, of a husband who needs to “vent” his frustrations after a difficult day at work. He won’t vent on the stranger sitting next him on his commute home. He may, though, vent on his wife.

Or of the mother who won’t criticize a surly cashier. But will criticize a daughter for any small infraction.

This father and mother are clearly capable of restraining themselves. They demonstrate that in how they restrain themselves while in the company of strangers.

Why, then, wouldn’t they restrain themselves when they’re with family?

Shouldn’t we respect our loved ones more than we respect strangers?

[1] Shemos 28:42-43

[2] Yoma 8b- 9a

[3]  Gittin 56b

[4] Although see Gemara loc. cit. which notes the terrible consequences that Titus later suffered.

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