Amidst a discussion about the frequency in which a man must be intimate with his wife, the Gemara in Ketubot 62b introduces a scenario that seems relevant to modern marital issues. Recalling my previous post, the required amount in which a man is required to satisfy his wife depends on his occupation. A sailor, who leaves home on long voyages must be with his wife once every six months, as opposed to a common worker, who is prescribed a biweekly trip into the bedroom (once a week if he commutes to a different locale). Rabbah bar Rav Chanan poses the case of a donkey driver (חמר) (required to be intimate once a week) who wants to change his profession and become a camel driver (גמל) (required to be intimate with his wife only once a month). While a camel driver makes significantly more money than a donkey driver, the change in profession would cause the husband to be away from his wife for more extended periods of time. This situation would decrease the frequency of conjugal cohabitation that she is used to. So, asks Rabbah bar Rav Chanan, what should the husband do?
Chris Rock, one of my favorite comedians, actually answers this question in one of his standup routines. He generalizes in his typical vulgar yet comically astute way, that "men cannot go backwards sexually, while women cannot go backwards in lifestyle." In an illustration similar to an aggadic tale, Rock instructs his female audience to consider the following in their lives: "Remember the first time you dated a guy with a car? You were leaving the club, your girlfriends got on the bus . . . and you were like 'I'm getting in this warm-@&& car.'" From that moment on, Rock says, you will never date another guy unless he has a car (This is a much cleaned up account of the story he tells). Women, according to Rock, are reluctant, or flat out unable to, tone down their lifestyles once they have become accustomed to luxuries. It is men, he goes on to point out, that cannot go backwards in their habits of sexuality.
Abaye (ca. 278 C.E. – 338 C.E.), a Babylonian sage, understands the desires of women differently than Rock. In Abaye's view, women value תִּיפְלוּת (tiflut)–– a word that Rashi describes as the act of a man being intimate with his wife––over material goods. He surmises that:
רוצה אשה בקב ותיפלות מעשרה קבין ופרישות
A women would prefer one kav (an implied measure of material wealth) and intimacy over ten kabin and being separated from their husbands.
Accordingly, women can not go backwards intimately. A man should avoid changing his profession to one that will keep him away from his wife, even if he would make more money.
So who's right, Chris Rock or Abayye? It seems to me that אלו ואלו דברי אמת, both words have truth to them. Whenever there are two things that appear to contradict each other, the Gemara make sure to explain how לא קשיא, there is no contradiction. Here too, it seems, לא קשיא, there is no contradiction. Chris Rock's comical observations possess truth, but lack depth. In speaking to the יצר הרע, the evil inclinations within us, he makes us laugh. The יצר הרע for women is the material world, whereas for men it is sexuality. Rock's comedy speaks to our thoughts, but not the way we act, or at least not the way that we ought to act.
Abaye, to the contrary, speaks words of wisdom. He directs his comment at our יצר טוב, our good inclinations. True and sustainable happiness in his view comes not with wealth, but with intimacy. A woman might be entertained by money, but she is only satisfied fully with the love and attention of her husband.