There is a fascinating rule stated in today’s daf (Nedarim 73b) which I believe provides a powerful lesson for all men who are about to be married or who are already married.
Our Mishna (Nedarim 10:5) informs us that it was traditional for a previously unmarried woman to have a twelve-month delay between אירוסין (halachic engagement – where a couple are technical married but don’t yet live together), and נישואין (the concretization of their marriage when the couple move in together). Explaining this further, our daf quotes from Mishna Ketubot (5:2) which states that this is done, ‘in order [for the bride-to-be] to prepare herself [with clothes and jewelry for the marriage]. And just as one gives a woman [this amount of time], so too does one give a man [time] to prepare himself [for the marriage]’.
Before merely thinking that this is a sociohistorical statement, Mishna Ketubot then proceeds to explain the halachic consequences of this practice, and that, ‘if the [appointed] time [for the wedding] arrived and they did not get married [due to some delay on the part of the husband, then the woman] may partake of his food. And [if her husband is a kohen, and she is not], she may partake of teruma.’ Simply put, even if the wedding does not happen on the appointed date due to delays of the husband, certain benefits of marriage for the woman must begin from the intended date of the marriage.
But why is this so? Surely a marriage is only a marriage once a wedding occurs?! As our commentaries explain, this is because one of the most foundational aspects of marriage is about a couple endeavouring to fulfil each other’s expectations, and if a man says that he will marry his bride on a given date and then delays, then he needs to know that there are consequences of letting her down.
However, beyond this, a further question arises from Mishna Ketubot, because why do men – who in general spend less time invested in making/purchasing clothes and in selecting jewellery – need the same amount of time as women to prepare for the wedding?
The first answer to this is that men need as much time or more, but their preparation needs to be in the realm of their practical provision for the marriage and in their spiritual and emotional preparation for marriage (nb. unfortunately, too many men enter marriages without this spiritual and emotional preparation which unfortunately can have a negative impact on their relationship).
Yet I believe that there is a second answer to this question, as drawn from the words of the Rambam (Hilchot Ishut 10:18), who summarises the above referenced Mishna and writes: ‘Just as a woman is given time to outfit herself after her groom requests to wed her and then the wedding is held, so too, time is granted to the man to prepare himself if the woman requests the wedding to be held. And how much time is granted him? The same as is granted her. If [she would be granted] twelve months, [he is granted] twelve months. If [she would be granted] thirty days, [he is granted] thirty days.’
What this tells us is that marriage requires that men align their expectations and their schedule to match that of their wife-to-be, such that if she needs twelve months then he should have twelve months etc. The key point is that it doesn’t really matter whether he needs that amount of time. Instead, what matters is that she needs that time, and marriage demands that he be sensitive to her needs and in alignment with her.
From here I believe we learn a deep lesson about happy and healthy marriages – that they require the understanding and the meeting – and, ideally, the exceeding – of expectations, especially in terms of the husbands’ understanding and meeting of expectations of his wife. And that marriages are about being in alignment with one another – especially in terms of the husband being sensitive to and aligning himself to the schedule of his wife.