Latest update: November 22nd, 2012
A mother and father living in accord and harmony is one of the best presents that can be granted to a child. Yet what happens when G-d’s natural design of child rearing becomes stripped away from a family? What happens when the notion of enjoying quality time with both parents together becomes non-existent? I am of course referring to the ramifications of divorce. Divorce eradicates the stability of a traditional family unit and invites the inherent difficulties of single parenting.
Single parenting is the divorcee’s proverbial Mount Everest. It is a harrowing peak through which one is expected to perspire and blunder. The obstacles of single parenthood manifest themselves in almost every parent-child interaction. These obstacles range from the significantly personal to the mundane. A “significantly personal” dilemma might be the single parent’s responsibility to address his/her child’s emotional state in wake of the divorce, while a “mundane” dilemma might include awkward situations such as a single father needing to take his young daughter to the restroom. In almost all regards, single parenthood can be distinctly challenging and lonesome.
Yet, not only is the divorcee confronted with the hardships of single parenthood, but also with the solitary road that divorce often paves. The divorcee is faced with a sense of isolation as his or her spouse becomes more of a memory than a reality. The Torah explicitly conveys the drawbacks of loneliness when it states: “It is not good for man to be alone.” Interestingly, the aforementioned pasuk is the only instance when the Torah states what is considered “not good” for man. Why is that so? Why does the Torah feel it is essential to specify that loneliness is a state of being that man should strongly resist? It is simply because loneliness breeds emotional fatigue and frigidity, and subsequently these negative sentiments can create a deep chasm of despair and hopelessness. When people are lonely, it is quite simple for them to slip into that chasm – yet very difficult for them to climb out. There is little else in the world that is worse than the pain of being alone.
In addition, when loneliness crawls into a person’s life, it can make daily vicissitudes and life-changing struggles seem even more unbearable. An individual who is fortunate to have a caring spouse has a greater chance of smoothing over life’s cracked edges. Having a dedicated and loving partner by one’s side can assuage the various frustrations of life. There are scientific studies that record a patient’s chance for survival (from cancer and other serious illnesses) based upon his or her relationship with a partner (or lack thereof). The results of these studies portray that those who had a strong spousal relationship had a greater chance of healing, while those who did not have a strong spousal bond had a lesser chance. The burden of a divorcee’s financial and parental responsibilities, as well as his or her emotional needs, can be particularly despondent paths to traverse alone.
Furthermore, Orthodox divorcees have the added test of maintaining a sense of stability and joy during Shabbat and the holidays. These are opportune times to rekindle familial unity and happiness, yet what does a divorcee do when he or she is faced with the prospect of solitude instead of companionship? Moreover, lack of family bonding does not only create desolation for divorcees, but also for their children. Children from an observant divorced home may become saddened by the break in traditional religious practices that were once associated with family connection. For example, when a son is by his mother for Shabbat, he may sorely miss his father’s Kiddush or walk to the synagogue, and when a daughter is by her father for Shabbat she may yearn for the special moment when she lights candles with her mother. Although Shabbat and the holidays can be potentially exciting, they are usually tinged with a distinct sense of loss for divorcees and their children.
Now that the Orthodox community is more cognizant of divorcees’ travails, what can it do to ease their transition between marriage and separation? How can the community ameliorate the divorcee’s adversities and console his or her pain? First and foremost, the Orthodox community should endeavor to embrace divorced members with warmth. Unfortunately, a divorcee’s solitude is only intensified when the community subtly castigates him or her by passing judgment (whether consciously or unconsciously). Once the community is able to develop a more accepting mindset, then it can fully open its hearts and homes to divorced individuals. A divorcee will truly appreciate it when a family willingly invites him or her to partake in Shabbat meals and holiday festivities. The loneliness will be diminished, and a sense of belonging can enter the picture once again.
However, when families invite a divorcee for Shabbat, they should bear in mind that the invitation is not just about displaying one’s fancy dinnerware or culinary excellence. A Shabbat meal is more than just filling up a guest’s plate with heaps of kugel and cholent (although that is still very much appreciated). In reality, the meal symbolizes a chance for the divorcee to recharge his or her emotional batteries. It should provide feelings of genuine hospitality as well as emotional and spiritual rejuvenation.
The Torah also proves the point that hosting guests involves more than providing a repast. Shabbat is about creating an atmosphere of family, unity, and love. The Torah alludes to this particular message through a line in the Haggadah: “Ha lach mianya.” Have you ever pondered over that phrase? Why is it that we take a moment from our action-packed Seder to invite an anonymous underprivileged person who is unlikely to hear our invitation to begin with? Additionally, we have already performed the mitzvah of ma’ot chittim prior to the Seder, so why does the Haggadah still feel the need to emphasize our responsibility towards the impoverished?
It is because in spite of our mitzvah of ma’ot chittim, we still need to give to those who are less fortunate. An anonymous donation of matzah, wine, meat, and chicken can alleviate a needy person’s financial predicaments; but does it necessarily provide holiday festivity and social warmth? A meal on Shabbat should develop kinship, dignity, and inner tranquility. Have we given those blessings to the needy? On the night that we are considered to be kings and queens, we must acknowledge that every Jewish member has the right to feel part of the royal clan. The responsibility to welcome an impoverished person to one’s home is not just restricted to those who are financially impoverished. It extends to those who can be emotionally impoverished as well (such as singles and divorcees). Therefore, if a family enables a single guest to feel accepted, joyous, and temporarily diverted from his or her distress, then they have truly accomplished a benevolent feat.
A further gesture that the Jewish Orthodox community can offer to divorced individuals (who are single parents) is parenting support and guidance. A single parent can benefit greatly from another parent’s advice on child rearing. A family can also offer to babysit a divorcee’s child so that he or she can run errands, meet a friend, or go out on a date. One must keep in mind that a divorced parent does not have that – oft taken for granted – shoulder to lean on. He or she no longer has a spouse to confer over significant issues relating to children. Being a loyal backbone for a divorcee (whether it is providing parenting suggestions or offering to babysit) truly ameliorates the arduous journey of marital separation and single parenthood.
In summation, our community should resist closing its eyes to divorced individuals and their challenges. Parenting difficulties, heartache, and the community’s initial disapproval are several tribulations that divorced people must endure. As a community, we can minimize these challenges by offering divorcees gestures of kindness and warmth. Yes, providing financial assistance to divorced individuals is tremendously helpful and sincerely appreciated, yet the most precious gift is offering sincere empathy and acceptance.
These gifts will make an invaluable difference in the lives of divorcees and their children.
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