Defying men’s general resistance to relationship books, “The Garden of Peace: A Marital Guide for Men Only,” by Rabbi Shalom Arush, was a surprise Jewish hit last year, selling more than a half-million copies in English, Hebrew, French and Spanish worldwide.
The religious marital guidebook for men details what women want from their husbands (complete devotion) and provides instructions on how to express it: Never criticize her, never comment on her perceived faults, and treat her as priority No. 1.
Arush, the Israeli Breslover founder of the Chut Shel Chessed Institutions in Jerusalem, has followed his “Garden of Peace” success with a guide for women — “Women’s Wisdom: The Garden of Peace for Women” (Chut Shel Chessed Institutions, 2010). The English adaptation, by Rabbi Lazer Brody, hit L.A. Jewish bookstores last month and is already, Brody said, offto an “unbelievable start,” with 100,000 copies sold.
“It’s a whole handbook for life,” Brody said in a telephone interview from his home in Ashdod, Israel, where he serves as dean of Chut Shel Chessed. “It’s a lot more in depth than ‘Garden of Peace’ for men; it tells women things they didn’t even know about themselves.”
“Women’s Wisdom” covers a range of topics that may plague women in their quest for a happy married life: livelihood, fertility, motherhood, self-esteem and self-image.
Since the book is geared to Orthodox women, some of the religious injunctions and mystical causality might grate on the sensibilities of the modern, secular Jewish woman — for example, weight gain correlates with errant speech, or women must get rabbinic permission to use birth control, and women should avoid sharing the workplace with men.
However, among the many nondenominational self-help teachings of the book is the call for women to focus on the good points — in their husbands and beyond.
Speaking as the English voice of Arush, Brody said there are three cardinal guidelines for married women:
No. 1: “If you make him a king, you’re a queen. If you make him a shmatte [rag], you’re a floor mop.”
Practically speaking, a woman should verbalize gratitude and appreciation for every major and minor deed her husband does for her and be receptive to his efforts to please her. A woman can destroy marital peace with a few misplaced words. She should refrain from criticism, rebuke, insults and nagging. She shouldn’t unload her worries and complaints the minute he walks in the door, but welcome him warmly with a smile and his favorite drink.
“The guy is an economic gladiator. He has the whole world on his case. You’re going to jump on his back, too?”
No. 2: “If HaShem put you under the chuppah with that guy he’s your beshert and he’s your soul correction.”
Marriage isn’t a mere social relationship or fantasy; it’s work, and the building of a home is a woman’s most exalted province. Her husband is her “destined,” the one who will help her achieve her highest spiritual growth. Women have a tendency to compare their marriages to others’ — one reason why Arush instructs women not to dish their marital problems with girlfriends.
Instead of lashing out at her man, she should look within and direct her voice toward a medium where women have special talents: prayer or, more particularly, Hitbodedut, which roughly translates into thoughtful meditation.
“Because that guy is your soul correction, he’s the key to your happiness,” Brody said. “He’s like a washing machine with 26 cycles. If you know only how to push two of the cycles, it’s your loss.”
No. 3: “When you feel good about yourself, you’re ready to love your husband and your kids.”
A woman’s “evil inclination” is strongest in two areas: speech and self-esteem. Women often persecute themselves for not being good enough, pretty enough, competent enough or fill-in-the-blank enough. But a woman’s low self-esteem, Brody said, has far-reaching consequences.
“Livelihood comes by virtue of the illumination of a woman’s soul, which means an angry woman, an unhappy woman kills livelihood.”
Since a wife is considered a “mirror” of her husband and the “mouthpiece” of God, “Garden of Peace” prohibits men from ever criticizing their wives. “Women’s Wisdom,” on the other hand, gives women more leeway in “fixing” their husbands and luring them away from destructive behaviors, such as bad business deals or addictions. Arush provides step-by-step guidelines, starting with words of love and encouragement, and culminating with an ultimatum — but only when more constructive means have been exhausted.
Brody said he has firsthand experience with the power of a woman to make or break a man. Since his wedding 20 years ago, he has become a sought-after author, writer and speaker.
“I would be the biggest nothing in the world without my wife,” he said. “I couldn’t say two words at the Shabbat table. She forced me. Every success that I have is all hers. I can take no credit for myself.”