We have become virtual creatures. From celebrities Tweeting what they ate for lunch to regular folk seeking lost relatives on Facebook, society is fixated on technology and with that fixation comes evolving social issues. Last week, we learned that a pastor in Neptune demanded that 50 leaders of his church delete their Facebook accounts or resign their positions. The pastor explained that a number of his congregants have fallen prey to the enticement of Facebook, reconnecting with old friends, which has sparked behavior that is toxic to the sanctity of marriage.
Although the story has become scandalous by virtue of the pastor’s admitted personal violation, I think that we have much to learn from the issue of anonymity on the Internet and its potential impact on marriages.
The Facebook discussion is really one about the state of marriage and, for the purposes of this article, the state of marriage in the Jewish community. Well before the advent of the Internet, our rabbis spoke about the yetzer hara, the evil inclination that we all inevitably encounter on a regular basis. Moral and ethical dilemmas are part of our daily routine. Most of the time, we, hopefully, make the right decisions and encourage our children to do the same. Nothing has changed in that regard nor will it change in the future. What has changed, however, is the anonymity associated with Internet use.
I am speaking here about secrecy that may exist between spouses in this regard. The Internet age allows many people to live secret on-line lives, unbeknownst to their closest family members and friends. The foundation of every marriage is trust. It is only after trust is established that love is kindled. Love grows into a flame over the years with constant hard work, but can be extinguished rather quickly if there arises a sense of distrust. Once one spouse loses trust in another, the marriage is on thin ice. This is not to imply that that the marriage cannot be saved; however, serious damage is done.
In Parshat Vayeshev we learn how the wife of Potiphar tried to seduce Joseph — and nearly succeeded. At the moment that Joseph was prepared to sin with her, something sparked within him that prevented him from proceeding. The Talmud in Masechet Sota explains that Joseph saw an image of his father, Jacob, in the window, and the sight prevented him from sinning. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik explained that the magnitude of this experience for Joseph cannot be underestimated. His actions were refocused at the moment he saw the image of his father. He was able to bring himself back to reality and recognize the consequences of his actions. His moral pulse beat strongly inside of him.
The “father’s image” may not apply for everyone, but for those who are married, the image of one’s spouse must always appear before them. When I counsel couples before, and during, marriage, I explain to them that there should not be any secrets between them, only secrets between the couple and everyone else. All bank accounts and passwords should be known by both spouses so that there is never a hint of distrust or skepticism. Critics will say that there are some things that spouses should not know. I once had a client who told me he did not tell his wife about any of his financial dealings. “She knows what she needs to know, anything more will scare her.” I question the cliche, “what one does not know can’t hurt them”; sometimes, when a secret is revealed, the pain can be beyond measure.
As long as a sense of distrust exists in a marriage, the marriage is doomed to turmoil. Marriage must be the one place in life where we feel that we can trust another person with all of our heart. The moment that the trust between spouses has been violated is the moment the red flag is raised. Most successful marriages are transparent marriages. Transparency is needed in all areas in order that trust can be preserved and love will intensify over time.
As the world continues to evolve and we meet new and old friends through social media, let us always have before us the image of our most important friend and work to preserve that friendship each and every day.