How can we show our daughter support while inwardly siding with her husband?
Our daughter is married to a fine ben Torah, baruch Hashem, and for the past five years, he has been learning very well in kollel. Much as we want to, we cannot provide sufficient support, and my daughter works many hours a day to keep her family afloat.
Recently, my son-in-law announced that he is leaving kollel to go to work. He is doing so solely out of his sincere interest in our daughter’s happiness and well-being — he wants her to be able to spend more time at home with the children. This makes our daughter feel incredibly guilty; she feels like her husband is making the wrong choice and that it is her fault. She has turned to us for support, hoping we can talk our son-in-law out of it. The problem is, we secretly agree with our son-in-law — we believe he is making the right decision. How can we show our daughter support while inwardly siding with her husband?
Ashreichem, Yisrael! What a beautiful question, and what a splendid display of Klal Yisrael’s deep and powerful desire to fulfill Hashem’s will in this world.
Your daughter wants to continue supporting her husband in his learning, in spite of the hardships. Your son-in-law wants to go to work to lighten the burden for his wife. And you are torn because you want to do the right thing, and it is confusing.
The essential question is a personal one. The zechus of the mitzvah of limud Torah is, of course, talmud Torah k’neged kulam. But let’s take a step back to try to understand the context we’re operating in. First, we’ll look at how your daughter likely views the question.
I have a friend who is a Knessiah Gedolah expert. He related to me that at one of the early meetings in Europe, the Imrei Emes solicited his contemporaries’ opinions as to which single individual had most influenced the Torah world over the previous century. Several names were offered, but the Imrei Emes carried the day with his answer: Sarah Schenirer. If not for her introducing Jewish girls to the Torah world, all would have been lost.
Something my rebbi, Rav Wolbe ztz”l, shared with us gives an idea what the historical stakes were. He said that many think the reason the “alter Mirrers” did not get married until age 50 or 60 was their diligence and commitment to Torah learning. But in those days, the reality was that there were just very few girls willing to marry talmidei chachamim.
Today, baruch Hashem, the vast majority of frum Bais Yaakov girls recognize the zechus of helping to support their husbands’ Torah learning on whatever level and for however long they can. Your daughter seems to fall into this category.
Now let’s consider the question from the viewpoint of your son-in-law. The gedolim of last generation took a very nontraditional and even radical step by making kollel an option for everyone. At a meeting in Rav Shach’s home in the early 90s, he told us that the Ponevezher Rav arrived at this decision — overriding the opinion of Rav Shmuel Rozovsky, who thought kollel should be reserved only for elite young men who would grow into leaders. The Ponevezher Rav’s reasoning was that after the terrible churban in Europe, we needed to rebuild the Torah world before we could rebuild general frum society. This opinion was echoed by the other gedolim of that era, and so the world of kollelim came to be.
In our generation, the Torah world is thriving. However, we face a surrounding world that is increasingly antithetical to Torah life. In this context, young people who leave the beis medrash before having immersed themselves fully in learning for many years are having a very hard time continuing their commitment, much less their spiritual growth. As a result, Torah leaders in our day support continued learning for anyone who wants to stay in kollel after he gets married. Hence, each year we are faced with hundreds of couples dealing with questions similar to that of your daughter and her husband.
Every couple has to find a suitable balance between the man’s responsibility to support his wife, as clearly stated in the kesubah, and their desire to continue upholding the ultimate mitzvah and beauty of learning Torah. They need to consider how changes will affect their relationships, their children, and the atmosphere of their home. For some, it is simply scary to leave the comfort of the familiar; others are motivated by a real desire to just keep learning Torah.
Your daughter and her husband are adults in every way. When she turns to you for help, it is because she is hoping you will take “her side.” But before you even give thought to “your side” of the picture, you need to consider if it is your place to get involved and take a side. You might suggest that she ask her husband to go with her to his rebbi, and maybe a discussion with him will help them figure things out.
If your son-in-law did not approach you about this issue, you should not raise it with him. We would not want him to feel judged or looked down upon for his decision. He might feel slighted that his wife is asking for your help, which could cause unnecessary discomfort.
One thing is absolutely clear: A husband and wife must understand each other and work together. There may be times when the husband feels that his focus in learning is not strong enough to justify his wife’s willingness to sacrifice. Not everyone is capable of learning for years on end without experiencing either burnout or a need to branch out into other activities. Still others may want to provide for themselves and their families in ways they cannot while they are learning.
All of these options are reasonable, and each spouse needs to sense where the other is holding. If a woman wants her husband to continue but he feels he cannot, it can become a difficult situation if her disappointment creates unhealthy pressure. If a man wants to continue learning but his wife is stressed, it is obviously necessary to work things out. When two healthy, intelligent people are both content with the situation, it takes someone with very broad shoulders to interfere with that aspiration.
Even when we are asked for our opinion as parents, we should make sure we offer it with sensitivity. Certainly, if the children have not asked and have been married for five years, the only input we should offer is to encourage an open, honest dialogue between the couple, and perhaps involvement of a mutually respected third party to help navigate this very complex and important decision.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 979)
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