Kosher Movies: Always important to listen

Kosher Movies: Always important to listen

p12 arts&life Kosher MoviesBY RABBI HERBERT COHEN / AJT //

A friend of mine employed in a large non-profit organization will from time to time discuss – in an anonymous way – some of the challenges he is facing at work. His wife, who he loves dearly, always has a suggestion to fix the problem.

He has confided in me that this habit of hers frustrates him. All he wants is for his wife to listen as he unburdens himself from a thorny problem at the office; he does not want his wife to fix it. When his wife offers unsolicited advice, he takes it negatively as evidence that his wife does not think highly of his professional ability to solve the problem on his own.

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Such a communication problem is at the heart of a very touching family drama about alcoholism, “When a Man Loves a Woman.” It is the story of Alice Green, a school counselor who sadly has a serious drinking problem; married to airline pilot Michael, she is a loving wife but subject to unpredictable mood changes brought about by her secret and obsessive drinking.

Unfortunately, her life begins to fall apart dramatically when she slaps her daughter Jess in a rage and soon after shatters a shower door as she falls down in an unconscious stupor. Jess contacts Michael, who immediately returns home to care for his wife.

During the recuperation, Michael and Alice for the first time confront the reality of the latter’s alcoholism and subsequently conclude that Alice must get professional help. This decision to enter rehab means that she will be away from family for a significant length of time, leaving Michael in charge at home.

During her recovery, Alice finds new friends at the rehabilitation center who also are working through their alcohol problems. As she overcomes her alcohol dependency, Michael feels increasingly isolated and disconnected. In the past, he has always been a player in handling family matters, but now he is confused and ill-at-ease with his wife’s new found identity.

In desperation, Alice asks Michael to go with her to a marriage counselor and he agrees, but it is not a quick fix. This further illustrates one of the beauties of this film: its verisimilitude. Problems are not always resolved neatly, things take time, and spouses say hurtful things – even during the healing process and especially if they are emotionally fragile.

Michael loves his wife and wants to fix things; but Alice does not need a husband who “fixes” things and, by implication, considers his wife incompetent and unable to take care of her home and her children. Alice instead wants a husband who listens, who acknowledges her problems and who gives her the space and trust to solve her problems on her own.

A Judaic studies teacher once presented this lesson to me in a different way: He told me that man is born with two ears and one mouth to teach him that he should listen more than talk. Listening is an art, and it is a pillar of the Jewish faith.

For instance, when G-d tells the Jews to obey his law or suffer punishment, the Bible uses an unusual double-phrase of the Hebrew word for listen. Loosely translated, it means “if you will surely listen.”

The commentators point out that this double language means that one has to listen with great attention. Listening is not a casual activity; it means you have to engage your mind and heart and pay attention to what is being said.

This is the kind of listening that Michael eventually does in “When a Man Loves a Woman,” a deeply honest film that encourages husbands and wives to listen attentively to one another to maintain and fortify their marriage.

Rabbi Cohen, former principal of Yeshiva Atlanta, now resides in Beit Shemesh, Israel. Visit for more of his Torah-themed film reviews.


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