Reply to the Previous Article on Marriage
Q: I was extremely saddened to read your last article, Rabbi. I am a 29 year old single man. I have made every effort possible, both practical and spiritual, in order to find a partner. I feel that an article like yours discredits and demeans the importance of my fruitless efforts. It’s very easy to tell people "get married by the age of 24″. The underlying assumption behind such a ruling is that finding a partner is child’s play. In reality, it’s more like kriyat Yam Suf (the splitting of the Reed Sea). As it is, I already drench my pillow every night with tears. And I do not think I am alone in this feeling.
A: Indeed, there are times when a person does not merit finding a partner, but nevertheless, the validity of marrying by age 24 should not be weakened because of such situations.
The proper attitude towards this issue can be learned from Ben Azzai, who himself never married nor had children, and yet explicitly taught that anyone who does not engage in puru u’revuru (procreation) is considered as if "he sheds blood and diminishes the Divine Image. They (the Sages) said to Ben ‘Azzai: Some preach well and act well, others act well but do not preach well; you, however, preach well but do not act well!
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed
17 - At What Age Should One Marry in Our Times
18 - Light the Hanukah Candles Together
19 - Torah Guidelines for National Security
Ben ‘Azzai replied: What can I do, seeing that my soul is in love with the Torah? The world can be carried on by others" (Yevamot 63b). Thus, although Ben Azzai felt he himself was ah’nuce (beyond one’s control) because, being so engrossed in his Torah study, he felt he would not be able to provide the proper attention to a wife – still, under no circumstances did he want people to diminish the importance of the mitzvah puru u’revuru because of him.
In a similar fashion, it is proper for single people who have not yet found a partner to encourage others to marry when young, so they do not reach a later stage in life when it is harder to get married. On the contrary – by encouraging others, they will merit establishing their own homes quickly, with love and joy.
Reply to the Heter to Postpone Marriage until the Age of 24
I further wrote that although the instruction of Chazal was to marry by the age of twenty, since we have found that our Sages and later Jewish law arbiters (Maharshal, Chida) have written that b’sha’at ha’dachak (under pressing circumstances) marriage can be postponed, but no later than the age of twenty-four – this should be the instruction l’chatchilla (from the outset) for our times.
This is because the very determination of the age of eighteen for marriage was to give young men sufficient time to prepare for a wedding by means of learning Torah and obtaining a profession (Kiddushin 29b; Sotah 44a), and nowadays, when preparations take longer – this period of time should be extended until the age of twenty-four.
I added that today, any religious leader who instructs young men to get married before the age of twenty "decrees a life of poverty on the majority of their followers, and prevents them from participating in yishuv olam (development of the world), using the talents God endowed them. And besides that, many of them tend to deny the great Torah mitzvah of serving in the army to protect the People and the Land."
On this I received a number of replies, one of which summarized all of them in short: "The honorable Rabbi wrote: ‘Those who obligate young men to get married before the age of twenty, decree a life of poverty on the majority of their followers’. Rabbi, all my life my rabbis have taught me that the one who decrees a life of poverty or wealth is HaKodesh Boruchu, because parnasa (livelihood) comes only from Him, yitbarach (blessed be He). One gets the impression that the honorable Rabbi ignores this."
Response Concerning the Importance of Work and Making a Living
Unfortunately, either you did not understand what you learned, or all of your life you have learned from rabbis who distort the words of the Torah. For indeed we find in the Torah that a person must make an effort to earn a living as common sense requires, and above and beyond this, comes God’s blessing. As it is said about those who fulfill the commandment of tithing: "God your Lord will then bless you in everything that you do" (Deuteronomy 14:29).
Our Sages explained: "But lest it be thought that God’s blessing comes to a man who sits in idleness? The verse ends with the injunction ‘in everything that you do" (Tanna D’bei Eliyahu 15). In other words, even a person who works and gives tithes will not merit blessing if he does not continue to work, for only then will God bless him and the work of his hands. We have also found that our forefathers worked diligently – as shepherds and well-diggers, in order to add blessing to the world.
Our forefather Yaakov was praised for his diligent work, as it is written: "Twenty years I worked for you! All that time, your sheep and goats never lost their young…I never brought you an animal that had been attacked…by day I was consumed by the scorching heat and at night by the frost, when sleep was snatched from my eyes (working diligently to guard the sheep)… If the God of my father’s – the God of Abraham and the Dread of Isaac – had not been with me, you would have sent me away empty-handed! But God saw my plight and the work of my hands. Last night, He rendered judgment!" (Genesis 31:38-42).
Our Sages said: "Work is cherished even more than zechut Avot (merit of the forefathers), becausezechut Avot rescued [Yaakov’s] possessions, while work rescued [his] life" (Genesis Rabbah, ibid). In other words, one’s very existence is dependent on his diligence at work; any blessings above and beyond are dependent on spiritual merits, in the sense of derech eretz kadma l’Torah (proper behavior precedes the Torah).
And thus Rambam (Maimonides) wrote: "The way of sensible men is that first, one should establish an occupation by which he can support himself. Then, he should purchase a house to live in and then, marry a wife…
In contrast, a fool begins by marrying a wife. Then, if he can find the means, he purchases a house. Finally, towards the end of his life, he will search about for a trade or support himself from charity" (Hilchot De’ot 5:11).
The Mistaken Belief
According to what you claim you learned from your rabbis, a person does not need to learn a trade in order to support himself before getting married, because God will provide. And likewise, one doesn’t need to rush a gravely ill person to the hospital, because health comes from God, and one doesn’t need to enlist in the army, because security comes from God. All of this contradicts the Torah, which commands us to rescue the sick and enlist in the milchemet mitzvah of saving Israel from her enemies.
And so wrote Rabbi Joseph Albo in Sefer Ha’Ikarim: "Behold, it has been explained that the blessing of God comes with hishtadlut (making an effort). As the poet King David said, ‘Unless Hashem protects a city, sentries do no good’, but if Hashem protects a city – the sentries are befitting, for along with guard duty and human efforts, Divine help will come, but not without it. Therefore, it is worthy for a man to make an attempt in all things that can be obtained by his own efforts, after realizing that endeavors are useful in all circumstances and in all actions, as we have explained" (Sefer Ha’Ikarim 4:6).
The Argument Regarding Over-Early Marriages
Q: With all due respect, Rabbi … in what you have said, do you take responsibility for all the over-early marriages, for all the young adults who will get married to young, and then get divorced? Did you ever check the percentage of young people who divorce because they got married too young?
A: First, getting married before the age of twenty-four is not over-early. Second, experience shows that marriage at the appropriate age, namely, before the age of twenty-four, endures longer and provides more pleasure and joy to the couple. The reason for this is that as years go by, habits become increasingly fixed, and it is harder for spouses to be flexible and adapt to each other. Also, the intense love of young adults makes it easier for them to unite in complete harmony.
The Accompaniment of Parents
Nevertheless, the earlier young adults get married, the more parents need to be involved in consultation and guidance for their children. Due to the growing significance of the values of independence and free choice in modern society, some parents feel that it is not their duty to intervene in their children decisions.
Indeed, the value of freedom is extremely important, and is the manifestation of God’s image in man; the Exodus from Egypt was intended to reveal this. However, freedom is primarily designed to enable a person to choose their own unique path, and not in order to fall and stumble in the potholes of life. Therefore, it is a mitzvah for parents to help their children marry, both by means of advice, and also through financial assistance (Kiddushin 29a; 30b).
Nonetheless, the decision rests with the bride and groom, and children are not obligated to listen to their parents on this important subject (R’ma, Y.D. 240:25). But from the fact that children are not obligated to obey their parents, this does not mean that parents should not get involved at all. On the contrary, it is a mitzvah for them to instruct their children and advise them.
And children are obligated to listen seriously to their parents advice, both from the mitzvah of kibud av v’em (honoring parents), and out of common sense which necessitates listening to people who have experience, know them from the day they were born, and wish to help.
In most cases, after the expected initial unpleasantness, young people are happy to share their deliberations with their parents, and are very grateful for their participation in the consultation and guidance.
According to Sephardic Custom, Can Children Light Candles with a Bracha?
Q: The Sephardic minhag (custom) is that only the head of the household lights the Chanukah candles, but occasionally children are also eager to light a menorah. According to the Sephardic minhag, can they light candles? And are they allowed to recite a bracha (blessing) over the lighting?
A: Children are permitted to light their own candles, provided they light them in another place, so that it is evident how many candles are lit each day. As far as the blessing is concerned, the prevalent custom according to later day Sephardic poskim (Jewish law arbiters), children should not recite a blessing when lighting, because they fulfill the mitzvah through their father’s lighting.
However, our teacher and guide, the Rishon L’Tzion, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu ztz"l instructed that children up to the age of Bar Mitzvah were permitted to light candles with a blessing, and it is not considered a bracha she’ayna tzericha (an unwarranted blessing) because this is how they are educated in the mitzvah.
And in the opinion of Rabbi Shalom Mesas ztz"l, a boy over the age of Bar Mitzvah can have the kavana (intention) not to fulfill his obligation in the mitzvah through his father’s lighting, and light with a bracha(Yalkut Shemesh, O.C. 192).
Should One Wait for a Delayed Spouse?
Q: What should one do when either a husband or wife cannot return home from work before tzeit ha’chochavim (nightfall)? Is it better for whoever is at home to light candles at nightfall (17:00), or to wait for the other spouse to come home?
A: Seemingly, according to the strict halakha, it is better for whoever is at home to light candles at nightfall, and thus fulfill the other spouse’s duty. In practice, however, for various reasons, in most cases it is best to wait until the other spouse comes home, provided they light before nine in the evening (21:00), and refrain from achilat keva (eating a meal) beforehand. Only in a case where a spouse has a place to hear the lighting of the candles, and the delay is a one-time occurrence, is it preferable for the spouse at home to light the candles on time (Peninei Halakha: Z’manim 13:7).
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.