My husband refuses to loan my brother a down payment
husband and I are by no means wealthy, but fortunately, we’re able to make a solid parnassah and support our family. My husband is super-responsible financially and is careful to set up trust funds for the kids, make pension investments, etc.
I very much appreciate his careful approach to money and support him in all these decisions, and work to keep within our budget.
Recently, though, we came head-to-head in a sticky financial decision. My younger brother, whom I am very close to, approached us and asked for a loan to help him buy a house.
My brother is a rebbi, his wife is a speech therapist, and I know it took them a long time to even save up the down payment for this. Because his income is in a low bracket, he was looking for loans to supplement the mortgage they’d take, thus avoiding higher interest payments.
I was completely on board to help out my sibling, even though it’s a substantial sum, and lending it to him would mean we’d have less than usual to put into savings for the next while. However, my husband is far more cautious, and told me he wants to refuse. He feels that my brother’s plans to repay the loans weren’t completely sustainable, and we may run into a risk of him not being able to complete payments on time.
I was stunned. This is my brother! So what if he’d be a bit late in his checks? He wouldn’t leave us high and dry. And how could we not help family?
My husband’s attitude is exactly the opposite: Never mix finances and family. If anything goes wrong, we’d be the ones losing out, because you can’t demand money that family doesn’t have.
I feel confused and torn, caught between my husband and my brother. Should I listen to my husband? Flat-out refuse to help my brother? How do I navigate this?
Rabbi Avrohom Neuberger is the rav of Congregation Shaarei Tefillah of New Hempstead and the author of Sefer Chofetz Chaim Elucidated, a Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation project (ArtScroll\Mesorah)
Before discussing tactics as to how to get your husband to do what you want (a noble cause, no doubt), let’s discuss who is objectively right and wrong. After all, maybe… just maybe… he’s right (gasp).
I actually believe that you both may be somewhat right. Before offering one’s own ideas and intuition about any topic, we have to clarify whether halachah addresses the question. And in this case, it certainly does, in that Chazal interpret the verse of “Im kesef talveh es ami….” as a commandment to extend loans to those who need it.
The halachah of who must extend loans, to whom, how much, and under what circumstances, are laid out in the Chofetz Chaim’s classic work, Ahavas Chesed. He mentions there that in the order of priorities as to whom one should lend money, a relative actually precedes a non-relative.
However, the obligation to lend someone money means that one must sacrifice the usage of his money (that he’s not currently using) to allow someone else to make money by using that money. It doesn’t obligate one to sacrifice the principle, to give up the money entirely.
Sacrificing the money itself is called tzedakah, which has different guidelines. Hence, the obligation may not apply where there’s a real doubt whether the lender will default on the loan. On the other hand, this problem can be circumvented if the loan is secured with a lien on property or in another fashion.
Another factor that impacts upon this obligation to lend money is the wherewithal of the lender.
If, at this point, you’re quite confused as to the practical halachah, then I got you right where I want. We have to clarify the facts as much as possible, as to how much money we’re speaking about, whether the payment plan is realistic, how much money you have (though, if your husband has set up a trust, then you’re presumably doing quite well), and then you should go a rav to determine whether there’s a halachic requirement to extend the loan.
Now, assuming that halachah doesn’t mandate a loan, because your husband is correct that there is a good chance your brother will default on a loan, then this turns into a tzedakah case. After all, “dei machsoro” certainly includes decent shelter, and the man is a school rebbi…
So let us reorient our thinking.
How much money are you and your spouse willing to give your struggling brother as tzedakah to facilitate him buying a home? By identifying that number and referring to it as tzedakah, you’ll reduce your expectation as to what is considered decent (since you won’t expect repayment on that amount), and your husband will reduce his resistance. After all, he’s a generous person and gives tzedakah to all sorts of people. Why not family too? (In fact, tzedakah to a family member takes precedence.)
So, for example, say you’re willing to give your brother $100 a month for tzedakah for five years. The total will come to $6,000. Having determined that amount, there must be also some number that even your husband agrees that your brother can safely pay back, say $250 a month. So we have a formula. For a five-year loan, 250 x12 x 5= $15,000, plus the 6,000 for tzedakah equals a loan/gift of $21,000. Not bad. But I’m just throwing numbers around as an example. You have to make you own cheshbonos.
Having said all that, if your husband on principle (or principal) refuses to lend your brother money or help in any way, then don’t sacrifice your shalom bayis over this issue. Your primary objective is always to maintain a happy home for your family, and that has to be your priority.
Esther Gendelman MS, LPC, ACS is a licensed psychotherapist and approved clinical supervisor who has a passion for facilitating healthy relationships. She lives and works in Toms River, New Jersey and is available for speaking engagements.
I respect the way you begin this narrative. One barometer of wisdom is the ability to discern and recognize your husband’s good qualities even when it creates a conflict of interest. You maintain the ability to acknowledge and appreciate your husband’s strong sense of financial responsibility even as you deeply want to help your brother.
This isn’t an easy challenge. The very same quality you value so much in your husband is currently presenting as an obstacle to helping your sibling. Until now, this characteristic worked as an asset as you both shared the same priorities around money. Now there’s a question of values where you don’t see eye to eye.
Let’s establish a few important principles that will help us to navigate this terrain.
Dr. John M. Gottman, a world-renowned marital researcher, has found that 69 percent of conflicts aren’t solvable. In many cases, even after respectful conversation, two people will still disagree. There’s usually no one correct answer, there are just different ways of doing things; consider the concept of shivim panim laTorah.
Secondly, when there’s a disagreement, it’s not the content that creates a potential relationship rupture, but the meaning underneath it. In this situation, you might both agree to disagree on the surface. Your husband doesn’t want to mix business with family due to the possible negative consequences. And you want to use your money to help your brother because that’s what family does.
Now it gets tricky. What does it mean to you if you have a want or a need, and your husband prioritizes his principle over that want? What might it mean to him if, suddenly, after years of supporting his responsible approach to finances, now that your brother needs something, you no longer respect his judgment? How do you both usually reach decisions when you have different wants or needs? Underneath the surface is where painful feelings can develop.
One way to protect your relationship from this potential minefield is to have a rav whom you both respect and feel comfortable consulting. That way, the topic doesn’t become a conflict between you, as you both accept a Torah-based objective opinion. And it will be easier to explain your decision to your brother without causing him unnecessary pain.
Emotionally, you’ll both want to talk this through in a way that allows you to truly hear one another. Ask your husband what he’s really worried about. After he shares his initial concerns, ask him if there’s anything else that might be creating hesitancy on his part. Is there anything you can do to help alleviate any of his concerns? Reflect back to him, and make sure you understand and empathize with his concerns. He has worked very hard for your family. He wants to continue safeguarding your family’s interests.
Then, ask him if he could hear you out with an open heart. Tell him how close you are to your brother. Let him know how much you appreciate all he does for the family. Let him know it means so much to you that you have funds available to ease the strain of your brother’s loan.
Other questions that might help deepen your understanding of what influences eachother’s perspectives might include asking the following questions: What values about finances did both of you bring into your marriage? Does this topic trigger uncomfortable feelings or memories for either of you? What are the relationship dynamics between you and your husband’s family and between him and your family? Did he have any negative experiences where mixing business with family members created a machlokes? What do you both want and need from each other at this time?
Remember the most important part of your question isn’t the answer, but the process. When a couple agrees, it’s easier to coast along together in the same direction. A difference of opinion doesn’t have to harm shalom bayis. As a matter of fact, when we feel heard and understood, it can bring us closer, even if we have different approaches.
When you see situations differently, it’s an opportunity to grow together, become enriched by one another’s perspectives, learn from one another, demonstrate cognitive flexibility, and maintain respect and appreciation for each other’s good qualities. No one is perfect and every positive character trait has a mirror image that could use a good polish.
Rabbi Shmuli Margulies is chairman of Mesila, an international organization dedicated to strengthening the financial foundations of Jewish communities around the world through coaching services, workshops, and financial literacy curricula in educational institutions.
I read your dilemma with interest and empathy. After sharing your pain that your husband is unwilling to give your brother a sizable loan to help him finance the purchase of a house, you share: “I feel torn between my husband and my brother. Should I be pressuring my husband? How do I navigate this?”
As we see it, this question needs to be approached from three angles: the Torah, emotional, and financial perspectives. Although from my position at Mesila, I’m definitely qualified to address the financial viewpoint, I felt strongly that the first two aspects — certainly Torah, and also the emotional side — should be put on the table first.
The adam gadol I consulted about this question — mori v’rabi Reb Dovid Levy — was unequivocal in his response to the writer’s dilemma: “To pressure your husband in order to do chesed with your brother?! Definitely not. Chesed is a very chashuve mitzvah, but if it entails pressuring your husband, that isn’t what the Torah wants of you. To encourage is fine; but to pressure is out of the question.”
The therapist I spoke to — the same Reb Dovid Levy, a world-renowned therapist, dean of Pele Yoetz — prefaced by saying that every story has a world of dynamics behind it. The writer presented the problem as a conflict between her desire to help her brother and her husband’s chilly reluctance. But it isn’t that simple.
“It sounds to me,” Rav Dovid surmised, “that your husband harbors gentle criticism against your brother, leading to a degree of hidden animosity between them, aggravated perhaps by your taking your brother’s side against your husband.”
“Rather than pressuring your husband to act counter to what he believes and feels,” he continued, “it might be more effective for you to encourage your brother to cultivate a more positive relationship with your husband — perhaps, for example, by consulting with him on financial decisions and trying to take his advice. Once the relationship has been genuinely improved, your husband is likely to come forward of his own accord to help.”
So, from the aspect of Torah hashkafah, a wife shouldn’t pressure her husband into giving a loan. From the psychological standpoint, it’s unwise and ineffective to do so; it’s far better to set the groundwork for him to come to the desire on his own.
How about from a financial perspective? At Mesila, we assert that it is absolutely a mitzvah to help out others with a loan, but we emphasize that every loan entails a double sacrifice on the part of the lender: 1) Forgoing interim use of the money; and 2) Taking the risk of losing the money altogether, if the borrower cannot repay the sum. When dealing with family, the risk is compounded, firstly because the borrower normally feels less obligated to repay, and secondly, if things do not work out, the relationship may be jeopardized.
We therefore stress that one should only lend money that one can afford to lose. Much as you trust your relative and are certain that “he’ll never leave us in the lurch,” keep in mind that, when pressed to the wall, people unfortunately do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do.
But there is a solution: “Divide and conquer.” If you cannot handle both of the above-mentioned sacrifices entailed in giving a loan — and, the way it sounds from your letter, you aren’t wealthy enough to absorb the loss of not getting your money back — then suffice with the sacrifice of giving up use of the money for the interim and share the risk aspect with others. How so?
The risks of giving a loan can be substantially minimized by insisting on reliable guarantors. That is standard practice in banks and gemachim (although, in this case, a request for guarantors might be perceived as hurtful in itself).
Another excellent option is for the lender to deposit money in an established gemach and to encourage his relative to take the loan from the gemach, based on the lender’s recommendation. It’s important to note that she should specify with the gemach that they’re liable to return her money regardless of whether or not her brother honors his loan to the gemach. By entrusting the gemach as the third party, the same purpose is accomplished — helping the relative obtain the funds he needs — without endangering the money or family relations.
At the same time, if you sense that your relative is borrowing without restraint from numerous lenders, and has no solid plan for how he’ll repay his loans, it’s sometimes in his best interest to “close the tap.” This will force him to rethink his financial practices, or better yet, to seek guidance from a resource such as Mesila’s popular financial guide, Your Money and Your Life (see the chapter entitled “Loans: Not Always a Favor”).
May you reach the best decision — for yourself, your brother, and the harmony of your home.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 789)
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