Editor’s Note: Rebbetzin Jungreis, a”h, is no longer with us in a physical sense, but her message is eternal and The Jewish Press will continue to present the columns that for more than half a century have inspired countless readers around the world.
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Last week we featured a letter from a young woman who found herself caught in a web of indecision – “to marry or not to marry.” Her conflict stemmed from the fact that while she is observant, the young man she is dating is marginal in his commitment. He promises that after they are married he will change and become more committed to a Torah lifestyle. But she wonders if she can trust that promise.
The following is my response.
I’ve been involved in outreach for over 50 years and, Baruch Hashem, I have seen so many Jews who were once totally divorced from their heritage become committed bnei and n’shei Torah. And this is not a new phenomenon. We have had examples of such rebirth throughout our history. Some of our greatest people were ba’alei teshuvah.
But those individuals all arrived at a place in their lives where they were ready to sincerely commit to a life of Torah and yiras Shamayim (fear of Heaven). Please do not take umbrage if I question your statement that “In every other way, we are totally connected.” What other way is there?
I realize this may be a difficult message, and you might not wish to hear it. Should you argue that you are willing to take your chances with a spouse who enters the marriage without having already made a commitment to a life of Torah, know that you are embarking on a potentially disastrous course that can have painful consequences – not only for you but for future generations as well.
The Torah way of life is not just customs and traditions that can be adopted or discarded at will. Torah is our covenant with G-d, our raison d’etre, our very breath, our very life, and if we abandon it, our very survival is at risk.
To be shomer Shabbos doesn’t only mean refraining from travel or work on Saturday. It’s bringing Shabbos into your home, into your life. Kashrus doesn’t only mean avoiding certain restaurants or abstaining from certain meats or fish. It’s living with a whole set of disciplines through which what you eat becomes yet another way of connecting with G-d and attaining sanctity.
Mikveh is not just immersing yourself in a pool of water; it’s an act that invests the husband/wife relationship with holiness. We bring children into the world not so that they can attend Ivy League schools and become successful achievers, but rather that they become builders of Torah who transform the world with Hashem’s Word.
If the young man you’re dating is sincere, he has to demonstrate his commitment now, beginning with regular and intensive Torah study. If he doesn’t study, there will nothing to inspire him to observance. It’s all too easy to say “I’ll do it later, after we’re married.” But my experience has proven that people who put things off until tomorrow hardly ever deliver.
This of course holds true in all areas. So, for example, if someone has a short fuse and promises to control his temper after marriage, don’t trust him. The magic word is now. He has to demonstrate his ability to control his temper now.
You have some leverage during the courting period, but after marriage things usually go downhill. Yes, people can change. The desire to do so must, however, spring from their own hearts, not from a spouse who imposes it upon them.
In a home where shalom bayis – peaceful harmony – reigns, husband and wife have something more to connect them than merely having a good time together. For a marriage that is lasting, for a marriage in which love prevails, husband and wife must have a spiritual connection, and that appears to be lacking in your relationship.
Moreover, a woman loves a man she can respect. But how can she respect him if his life contradicts everything she cherishes and holds dear?
The questions you and every young woman should ask when considering a marriage partner are “Do I respect his values and his goals?” and, most important, “What sort of father will he be to our children?”
Once you become a mother, your children become the focus of your life, and if your husband cannot be a role model, it will destroy you and your children. If children are to be nurtured in a healthy environment, father and mother must speak with one voice. The damage conflicting messages can inflict on innocent souls is inestimable. In my work I have seen too many such casualties, too many weeping women who lamented to me, “I made a mistake; I thought if I loved him, I could change him.”
I understand you want to get married. I appreciate that it was difficult for you to see your younger siblings going under the chuppah and your friends wheeling baby carriages, but to embark on a marriage that likely will result in disappointment and pain is not a solution.
In conclusion, then, tell the man you love that you believe he’s being sincere when he promises to change. But the issues that separate the two of you are life questions and therefore you cannot rely on abstract promises. Let him demonstrate now that he is living a Torah life.
You are more than welcome to come to Hineni with him and we will be happy to set both of you up in a Torah learning program. We will work with him and accommodate him, but it must happen now. And if he gives teeth to his words and demonstrates his sincerity with a genuine commitment to and observance of mitzvot, I am certain your parents and all of us will be happy to wish you a full-hearted mazel tov.
Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis