When I was a boy of about eight, I remember feeling helpless to bring my fighting parents closer together, and then seeing a vision of myself, running from home to home, rescuing those that could still be saved. I even gave myself a moniker: "The Marriage Missionary," and later, "the LoveProphet."
I would spend long hours thinking about the secret of how to keep a husband and wife happily under the same roof for the duration of their lives. When I flew on airplanes, I would watch couples sitting together and try to discern the difference between those who 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 every Monday at 10 p.m. 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 peace is heaven. Harmony is life’s greatest blessing, without which human existence becomes a nightmare of insufferable conflict. The ancient rabbis said that when G-d 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 centuries, 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 Shalom Bayit—the Hebrew term for peace in the home—in general, and peace between husband and wife in particular. In the Bible, G-d 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 G-d’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, in post-Temple Jewish tradition, the purpose of lighting Sabbath candles, one of the most important and meaningful of all weekly rituals, is to illuminate the home with warmth and light so that a loving ambiance can govern the home on G-d’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 wary 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.
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 ploughshares, 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 kid until parents and children are also defanged of their claws. The lion and the lamb 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 that 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 life-long 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 axis 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 kids 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 healing sessions on "Shalom in the Home," we have rejected the dominant TV and radio therapist’s approach of making people feel useless and stupid, and instead sought to make them feel 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 by illuminating 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 to their own inner voice of what they wished to be before life made them something else.
Rediscover peace. Cherish your blessings. Enjoy the show.