Your Family Must Come First

The N’shei Oldies Collection: An article written by Rabbi JJ Hecht two weeks before his passing examines the priorities in our lives and what to do when they must be realigned.

By Rabbi Jacob J. Hecht a”h
From the N’shei Chabad Newsletter, Tishrei 5751 / September 1990

The other day I had a phone call from a member of this community, who was very upset. She asked to bring to my attention a problem that has been brewing for a long time and that no one seems to pay heed to or speak out on. 

She felt that this was a source of many, many family breakups and divorces and the cause for quite a few families moving out of Crown heights to other communities. 

The problem was as follows: Is it fair that a husband should leave his wife with a house full of kids (without any outside help) and walk out at the most crucial hours when a woman needs her husband’s assistance most, and decides that he either (1) has to go to a shiur, (2) must attend a farbrengen, or (3) needs to daven with a minyan, etc. 

To be more specific: is it right for a man to pick himself up and leave the house to attend “a religious function” when supper hour comes and the wife is busy serving and cleaning up; preparing the children for the evening and for the next morning to go to school; to help them with their homework; to bathe them or see to it that they get bathed — and in many instances, the woman also works part or full-time in order to help make ends meet. 

The problem becomes even more complicated when a Shabbos or a Yom Tov sets in. The wife works very hard all week cooking, baking, washing, cleaning, shopping, etc. and then thank G-d, finally, Shabbos comes, she gets an opportunity to sit down and relax a bit — but, all the kids are home, running around, fighting (as kids usually do), making her crazy and not letting her rest for a minute. 

Is it fair or proper for the husband to leave, even for “a religious function”, or for that matter, to go to sleep ‘because he worked hard all week and he needed the rest”? 

After hearing this problem subsequently from more than one woman who evidently was on the brink of a nervous breakdown, or was ready to “throw in the towel” and break up the marriage because of the lack of consideration and sensitivity shown by the husband, I decided that I must speak out on this subject — although I am sure that this will make me very unpopular among some Chassidim. 

I have thought about this problem a great deal. I pondered over it and delved into the various aspects and decided that the time has come to clarify some of our priorities in this community. 

Interestingly enough, while I was dictating this article to my assistant, she asked me, “Rabbi, weren’t you and your Rebetzin at one point in a similar situation? How did you handle it? As far as we know you were practically at every farbrengen of the previous Rebbe, z”l and this Rebbe, shlita, as well — and you, thank G-d, have a very large family. How did the Rebetzin cope?”

My answer to her was that perhaps I was fortunate to be in somewhat of a unique position. First of all, I had a great mother-in-law who was always there to help and to take some of the kids out of the house. My father-in-law, G-d bless him, is a very devoted father and grandfather, and whenever he had a spare moment he, too, pitched in and helped with the children. 

The most important feature was that my wife, G-d bless her, realizing the position that I held as the Rabbi of one of the largest and most prestigious synagogues in America as well as the important position I held in the world of Lubavitch, often found herself having to cope with a problem and solve it in her own way without involving me. 

I was committed to so many different community and governmental problems and responsibilities, she realized it would be unfair to me, to my organization, to the many thousands of people I serve if I were to be burdened with the household daily affairs as well. 

Now, if any of my readers are in a similar situation, then there is no issue. However, for those who unfortunately don’t find themselves in such a setting, they must be prepared to make adjustments and to list a set of priorities. 

In my personal opinion (I am not G-d nor Moses and everyone has a right to disagree with me), husband and wife should sit down together and make compromises whereby both sides will be happy. 

In simple language, this means that not all men and not all women are similar and that there are those with stronger personalities and characters who have the ability to handle problems more easily. By the same token, there are those who physically cannot handle “the load” and therefore must be dealt with on an entirely different basis. 

First and foremost comes wife and children. Wives have a perfect right to expect their husbands to help them with the kids and the other household chores. The husbands, on the other hand, have their responsibilities to daven and to learn and to advance in the study of Torah and personal perfection. However, this cannot be done at the expense of the wife and the children

The way to solve this is either to have a shiur early in the morning before the kids are awake, or late in the evening after they have already been put to bed.

As far as the Rebbe’s farbrengen goes, if the wife feels that she cannot cope with the kids that day or she is not up to it for some other reason, then the husband should sacrifice going to farbrengen and take care of the house and kids and give the wife the rest and moral support which she needs in order to keep going.

I feel confident that the Rebbe himself would tell the individual to help his wife and children and give up a farbrengen rather than have a sick woman on his hands or a divorce, G-d forbid. 

Nowadays, with all the technology available, it is very easy to get either a printed transcript of the farbrengen, or a tape. In fact, if the farbrengen takes place during the week, then even a video may be obtained and in many cases, you see and hear a lot more and better than if you had been there in person. 

In summation, to the husbands: Don’t use religion or the Rebbe or a farbrengen as a copout for not helping your wife and kids. 

To the wives: Be honest with yourself and if it is possible for you to cope with the problems without involving your husband and give him an opportunity to improve himself so that he becomes a better husband, a better father and a better Chassid, then don’t take advantage of him — permit him to go to a shiur or farbrengen —for, ultimately, you and your children will be the beneficiaries. 

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