By Aliza BasMenachem
Is traveling and having interesting experiences before marriage really the best part of your life?
Rabbi Shea Hecht‘s article of February 22, 2016, entitled “Listen to Me, Get Married Young,” presents a variety of ideas on marriage and sums it up with this question, “So, if you are a girl of 19 or a boy of 21, why miss out on sharing the best time of your life with your better half?”
This question is the solution to a problem mentioned earlier in the article.
When young men tell Rabbi Shea they are not ready to get married, and he asks them why, he often gets the answer that they want to travel and have interesting experiences with friends before getting married. Rabbi Shea then counters that the experiences will be more valuable when shared with your life’s partner.
Let me get a little personal here. When I became aware of Torah and embraced Halacha and Chassidus, my family was confused about what was going on with me. Transitioning from a secular life to embracing Chabad was more of an unknown phenomenon in those days. In fact, dangerous cults were prevalent back then.
When I became engaged to marry a young man from Hadar HaTorah – that’s when the pressure started to try to get me back to the lifestyle I had known before. So I wrote to the Rebbe saying I had made a mistake and gave the Rebbe some logical points about why I needed to break off my engagement.
The Rebbe did not ignore me. He answered. But he did not answer my well thought out, logical arguments. He told me that “when two Jews build a home together according to Torah, the Shechina dwells in their home. What bigger thrill can there be than this?”
I did not get to keep the written answer. The secretary, Rabbi Binyomin Klein showed it to me. It was in Yiddish. Except for one word. I saw, in the Rebbe’s handwriting, the word “thrill,” written in English.
I had not told the Rebbe that I was looking to travel and have interesting experiences. I had not indicated I needed a thrill in my life. So why did the Rebbe answer me about a thrill? Because the Rebbe knows and the Rebbe did not deny that having thrills is part of life. He was saying that having thrills is part of life. And you can get them through building a home according to Torah.
Before I got married – i.e. before I was Torah observant – I did a lot of interesting traveling. I do not think it is a good way to prepare for marriage. It is more likely to strengthen the Yetzer Hara and make partnership more difficult. (And I hesitate to think it is a good idea to start a marriage by traveling. There are too many potential complications.)
For me, building a Jewish home has turned out to be more thrilling than discovering Machu Picchu (which has been Americanized since I was there), or riding on the front of a fisherman’s boat as it travels down the Rio Dulce in Belize, or even sitting in the Scotch Club in London, sharing a table with Peter, Paul and Mary, and with Paul McCartney and Jane Asher two tables over.
I am not saying that if you marry young, life will be easy. The early years of marriage are seriously challenging. But they can be rewarding – and also be exciting – when you discover the wonders of your wife and children, and as you learn about dimensions of your own character which you never knew before – as you strive to build your home, your way. And even after you are married – you can still travel. Even with kids.
It is common nowadays to consult with professionals who give advice about parenting. I discovered an alternative. A book entitled, “The Secrets of Happy Families”, by Bruce Feiler. The author did his research by speaking to the smartest people he knows and avoiding professionals.
“My goal was to put together a playbook for happy families,” the introduction reads. I am not surprised that Yiddishkeit incorporates many of the topics in this book. But being reminded of them and learning to apply them in our families helps us to appreciate what we have, so we can enjoy the precious moments when the children are young.
From the comments following Rabbi Shea’s article, I got the impression that youth who are hesitating to get married, are envisioning life in Crown Heights. I think it’s tough in Crown Heights. Years ago there were not many options, unless a young couple wanted to go on Shlichus. It seems to me there are more options these days. Growing communities in numerous locations, centered around a Chabad house, where life is not as stressful as in Brooklyn.
I encourage young people to take their passion for adventure and excitement and learn to apply it in their stage of life – whatever that stage is. There is no doubt that building a home has problems and obstacles. Even heartbreak. It is how we deal with those hardships that develops our character and deepens our relationships. Part of the thrill of life is the result of hard work, and part is the fun things we do along the way.
The best time of your life is not filled with superficial perks. The Rebbe did not tell me that seeking thrills was incorrect. He said that the greatest thrill is building a home where the Shechina dwells.
Allow me to clarify the Rebbe’s words by saying that whereas other thrills give you a high that will inevitably be followed by a low – the thrill of building a Jewish home – even with the challenges – comes with the satisfaction, sense of purpose and fulfillment that grows, and blossoms, and is awesome.