The Right Choice For Him // Not Everything Is Black And White

As told to Roizy Baum

“Menachem, how many people are fully supported so they can sit and learn like you are? You have to be crazy to give it up! I can list a bunch of your friends who wish they were in your shoes. Please try to stay in kollel. Try to stay at least for one more year. You’ll see how much you will gain.”

If I thought that until now my mother-in-law was relentlessly haranguing my husband about his decision to leave kollel, that pales in the face of her latest campaign. This is her third call today.

My husband had just stepped into the house after a long day, when his dear mother called to chew off his ears. To my good fortune, my mother-in-law’s voice is thunderously loud, which forces me to be an active listener to her cajoling, pleading and ultimately veiled threats. All of which I can repeat word for word, as she’s been at it since she first learned my husband was toying with the idea of going to work.
I watch as my husband, ever the respectful son, listens tensely, pacing our tiny kitchen, coiling his tzitzis around his index finger tighter and tighter, until my mother-in-law finally(!) lets him go. I was in the midst of preparing a salad for supper when she called. As her monologue progresses, I work my knife in a frenzy, aggravation fueling me. The vegetables are so finely diced at this point that their origin is barely recognizable.

Ever since my husband and I decided, after endless deliberations, after weighing and consulting with gedolim, that our time in Eretz Yisrael was over, my mother-in-law sprang into action. My husband’s innocent statement, “We’re thinking of remaining there after Sukkos,” when questioned regarding our return ticket, spawned a torrent of guilt-inducing observations that haven’t let up since.

For my mother-in-law, that she and my father-in-law have been supporting their son, a serious learner, in Eretz Yisrael is an achievement she is exceptionally proud of. It is her badge of honor, to be displayed like the lavish antique chandeliers and costly paintings in her extravagant home. She enjoys showcasing her son as a “serious learner who is shteiging away in Eretz Yisrael with my generous financial support.”

And now it’s all being pulled out from under her.

Throughout my husband’s life, his mother attempted to mold him—to fit a size 10 foot into a size 9 shoe. And now, for the first time, he isn’t acquiescing
My husband is a wonderful baal middos, smart and fun. Yes, he loves to learn. He derives great pleasure from learning. But he wasn’t granted the zitz fleish others have gotten in generous doses. A full day of learning was never easy for him. As much as I would also have wanted the walls of the beis midrash to continue embracing him full-time, as much as I inhale the air of Eretz Yisrael like an oxygen-deprived patient, as much as I always envisioned my partner in life as a future gadol hador, I am a tad more realistic than his mother.

My husband will do very well, thank you very much. But it’s going to be as a balebos who is serious about his learning and not as a yungerman learning in kollel full-time.
I don’t mean to disparage my mother-in-law in any way. She is a wonderful, generous and giving mother, and I admire her tremendously. She was always home for her kids with a warm meal ready, going out of her way to ensure their happiness.

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