T he Seder had ended and as I put away the last items in the fridge my only thought was to reach my bed.

Sleepily I opened the door for a breath of fresh air to strengthen me for the trip upstairs. As the hour was late even by Seder night standards I was surprised to see someone walking toward me.

I could tell by looking at the face of Tzvi Bloomstein* that he was in pain. Although not a word was spoken we both understood that something was broken. I silently opened the door wider and with a nod guided him into my house. Then I went to the kitchen and brought two cups of tea.

Tzvi is a man in his early forties married for almost 20 years and the father of five children.

“Tough night?” I asked.

“Rabbi ‘tough’ is way too much of an understatement.

“Whatever I did tonight was wrong.

“When I made Kiddush she said I was going too fast.

“When I attempted to add in my own ideas and explanations she said ‘Oh now you have plenty of time to be the big tzaddik who says divrei Torah but last week when I asked you to clean the dining room chairs you were too busy!’

“And when I went to open the door for Eliyahu she declared without hesitation ‘If you want to keep walking after you open the door please don’t let any of us stop you!’

“Finally the Seder finished. I knew if I went upstairs I would be subject to another barrage of insults and insinuations. I just had to leave and calm down.”

I am well aware of the struggles and challenges of Tzvi and his marriage. He has been coming to “cry on my shoulder” for years and I had even met with both Tzvi and his wife a number of times. Marriage therapy — which they engaged in for years in a stop-and-start fashion — had never yielded results and accusations over wasted money for unhelpful advice were leveled by each of them against the other. Their issues were serious and the problems very real; nevertheless the marriage was intact and the house functioned and the children seemed “normal.”

“Rabbi how can I go home?” Tzvi now asked me. “What does my family think of me?”

I asked Tzvi just one question. “How did you react when your wife accused you of going too fast and when she criticized you for your divrei Torah and requested you keep on walking when you opened the door for Eliyahu?”

“I said nothing of course…. I was totally silent. Why add fuel to a fire?”

“Tzvi ” I said “you can go home with your head held high. I know your struggles are real. I’m not dismissing the issues in your marriage although I cannot sanction your wife’s sarcasm. However none of this precludes you from going home. Your marriage — like many others — is a work in progress and it’s the work of a lifetime.

“When you walk with your children to shul tomorrow morning you can take the comfort and pride in knowing that your children — who unfortunately witnessed the tension between you and your wife — were also privileged to see a father who despite ample opportunity and justification to respond held his peace in an attempt to live in peace. That lesson was not lost on your children and their neshamos. You were silent in the face of insult and that is greatness.”

Tzvi finished his tea and slowly walked back into the cool night on his way home his head held just a little bit higher than before.

I really should get into the habit of opening the door and taking a breath of fresh air more often. (Originally featured in Mishpacha Issue 661)