Dear concerned wife,
As you know, the answers on Akshiva are usually very inclusive and caring, so please forgive me if my tone is a bit different this time. Perhaps it’s the general mood during the Nine Days before Tisha b’Av, and maybe it’s because I feel that sometimes we need a bit of a shake-up to see things in the right light. I say ‘we’ because what I am writing to you is exactly what I tell myself, when I do this.
What do I mean by “this”? I am referring to doing someone else’s avodat Hashem. None of us would ever impose on a stranger, to do his avodat Hashem, but when the other is someone close to us – a husband, son or brother – then for some reason we have a feeling that this is allowed, and that we even must manage the other person’s spirituality. After all, we are truly concerned about his olam haba, and in some cases what is at stake is our shared olam haba, like in the famous story of Rabbi Arye Levin ztz”l, who said to a doctor, “My wife’s leg is hurting us.” From that perspective, we start to involve ourselves in the personal life of the person close to us, to allow ourselves to interfere with his choices, to be disturbed, saddened, disappointed, critical, ashamed, preachy, persuasive, conniving, and all the other practices that we women know how to do. When we step into that territory, motivated of course by our perceived obligation to safeguard the Jewish home that is so precious to us, we often lose our perspective and judge minor infractions like major ones, but let’s set that aside and talk about the instances when something really serious is going on, and not the getting up at 9:00 a.m.
As someone who was raised and educated in the Beit Yaakov school system, I remember many talks about the power of women’s wisdom, about the role of the woman in building her home, and the tremendous spiritual responsibility resting on her shoulders in the shared work of bringing the shechina into the Jewish home. In this context, I envision mainly the depiction of the good Jewish wife ‘doing’ what her husband wants, with the word ‘doing’ meaning that she creates, shapes and guides her husband’s will, and even when he doesn’t want, or doesn’t know that he wants, she even knows that very well for him.
Did you notice how this good Jewish wife switched from being a woman who is attentive to her husband’s will and respects him, to a woman who takes over and manages him?
That woman is me. You. All of us are liable to fall into this mold for the sake of being a good Jewish wife.
So let’s stop for a moment. Let’s stop at the boundary in front of us. This boundary was put there by the Creater of the Universe, who gave every Jew the choice between life and death, between good and bad, between getting up late to daven, or not davening at all.
Your husband’s choices are completely not your responsibility or within your authority, but your choices are. The choice to get up early on Shabbat and play with your children is your choice, and I admire you for that (I will remember you this coming Shabbat when I feel like rolling over in bed, closing my eyes and shutting out what is happening around me). Your husband’s choices are: if, when and how to daven, what to say to his wife, and what to the hosts.
On the most practical level, I suggest that you simply stop paying attention to when your husband gets up. If for that you need to unlearn your natural tendency to look at the clock, you can cover all the clocks in your house.
And what about not waking him up even once, even if the price for that will be that he gets up after noon, and misses the latest time for saying Shema and even Shacharit with the minyan that starts the latest? Perhaps the first few times he will take advantage of the situation, or will wonder why his “reminder” suddenly quit, and maybe he will discover the option of an alarm clock. In any event, he will certainly discover that he is an independent person, an adult who can choose (in cases like this, my grandfather used to ask, “Is he past Bar Mitzva age?”)
You can share your decision with him in advance, but not as a gesture of punishment or despair, but rather as a sincere apology. “You know, I was thinking that you are actually the one responsible for your spiritual world, and I have no permission to freedom to interfere with your decisions. So I trust you, and whatever you choose is 100% your choice.” I believe that if he really pleads with you to help him get up in time, you won’t refuse, but we are apparently not there yet.
What about you children?
Your children will learn a wonderful lesson in human dignity, in personal responsibility, in exercising free will, in accepting the other as a complete package, despite certain weaknesses he may have. True, they won’t grow up with a false presentation of their father as the gadol hador, who gets up to daven at sunrise, even before they get up, but instead they will learn to love and truly accept their spouses (who will likely also have some weakness or other). Your children will receive a wonderful lesson in humility and emuna, when they see how their mother is happy with what she has and does not chase after great achievements, with constant expectations and disappointments.
And what about your feelings? What of your discomfort that your husband doesn’t…
Just a minute, doesn’t what?
Doesn’t meet the spiritual standards that the seminary or society set?
Doesn’t meet your expectations from your husband?
Is not spiritual enough for a woman of your stature?
In that context, I put my full trust in Hashem, who gave you precisely what is suited to you.
Just as Hashem left your husband space to work on his middot and spiritual challenges – He also left you room to build your self.
It’s possible that your husband’s failings are visible and measurable, while yours are inside and are more subtle. It’s easier to assign a poor grade to a person who doesn’t get up on time for davening, than to evaluate the midda of lack of respect, of the anger and judgmental feelings that his behavior arouses in us.
In any event, if this is the man whom Hashem designated for you, there is no doubt that he is the most suitable and fitting person, in Hashem’s eyes and hopefully also in your eyes.
This is the answer to your question, “How can we keep up our good life together when things about him bother me all the time?” When things about the other bother us, that’s the time to stop living in the other’s arena of choice.
Instead of trying to influence him (“influence”! what an evasive and deceptive word.. the truth is that we want to change him, no less), let’s influence ourselves.
If, in the end, his getting-up habits change – all to the good, but what is certain is that our judgmental habits will change, and that will lead us to a better life. I have a feeling that the building of the Beit Hamikdash is waiting for the spread of ahavat chinam of the type that you and your children are invited to practice, and not the love of davening on time.
I wish you and me, among all the good Jewish wives, that we do our husband’s will in the simplest, deepest sense of the word. May we be proud of our dear ones, no matter what their choices. May we learn to believe with total emuna that our spouse is the most perfect one for us.
May we joyfully accept our loved one’s strengths, and lovingly accept their weakness (these are not tribulations, but still…), and may we raise our children on a foundation of genuine respect for the other’s arena of choice.