They live among us and are relatively invisible. They have children who have no one to take them to shul. They have no one to take them to father & son learning programs. Rarely do they get a Shabbos meal invitation. Their social lives are awkward at best.
They bear an almost unbearable burden. Most are financially insecure and have their hands full just making it through the week. Often they experience such legal strains and financial stress that the strongest among would buckle under the pressure.
Who are they? They are the divorced women who live in our communities — a group whose numbers are growing dramatically.
What does halacha say about these women and their plight? The psukim in the Torah tell us about orphans, widows and converts. But what about the growing number of divorcees? And if, in fact, the answer is that
we should devote more resources to this invisible group
A few years ago, one such woman approached a number of Gedolim in Eretz Yisroel about the plight of divorcees an obtained a remarkable letter. Because there was a slight factual miscommunication in the recipient of the letter — it was never published — until now. The three Gedolim? Rav Aron Leib Shteinman Shlita, Rav Chaim Kanievsky Shlita, and l’havdil — Rav Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz zt”l. The letter is translated below:
To the Honorable Organization..
We have heard of the remarkable acts of chessed that you do with widows, rachmana litzlan, in a most befitting manner. Now you approach with a question in regard to divorced women:
Do they have the same a similar halachic status in regard to Tzedaka and in the manner in which to deal with them on an equal basis?
Our opinion is that the circumstances and situations are equal in their importance.
May the Holy One Blessed Be He enable you to continue in your blessed handiwork.
One who signs with wishes of blessing,
[Rav] Michel Yehudah Lefkowitz, Bnei Brak 5769 [zt”l]
We too join with what has been mentioned above,
[Rav] A.L. Shteinman
[Rav] Chaim Kanievsky
A FAMOUS PASUK WHOSE MEANING FEW UNDERSTAND
There is a pretty famous verse in the Torah whose true meaning has eluded the vast majority of people — Zeh Kaili v’Anveihu. Most people only understand it to mean that when it comes to items involving a Mitzvah, we should spend to buy the fancier and better one.
We see from the Gemorah in (Shabbos 133b) an entirely different explanation of it. Rav Yitzchok Isaac Sherr zatzal explains (Leket Sichos Mussar p.76) that the pasuk of “Zeh Kaili v’Anveihu” teaches us the obligation of feeling and understanding that the performance of Chessed brings us closer to Hashem.
This is on account of the Gemorah’s understanding of the word “Anvehu” to mean “Ani v’hu — I and Him.” The meaning of this Pasuk is therefore, “This is my G-d, and I shall bind myself to Him. I know that I can accomplish this binding through the notion of performing acts of Chessed.” The consequences of this particular Pasuk are an obligation of thought: It is something that we must think — Chessed binds us to Hashem — Ani VeHu.
The existence of this group of people then, provides us with an opportunity similar to that of a shul. What is one of the main purposes of davening? It is to form a close bond with Hashem. Chessed does the same thing, and according to this Gemorah in Shabbos — it is a halachic obligation of thought to realize this.
MAKE THEM FEEL AS A PERSON AND NOT CHESSED
One very important point that we must have in mind is that it is the greatest chessed for chessed not to be done as if it is chessed. All people have what to contribute, in conversation and in social activity. Our obligation is to realize that everyone is created B’Tzelem Elokim in the image of Hashem and that there is depth to who they are as people. Their social contribution, their thoughts and opinions matter and they are enjoyable company.
There was a famous bakery owner in Williamsburg. Mr. Gelb, who not only gave needy people Challah and cake for Shabbos and Yom Tov, but also gave them change so that their self-esteem would remain intact. An even higher level that can sometimes be achieved is to actually render any assistance in such a manner that even we do not detect or perceive it as chessed per se.
So, practically, what does this mean? We can help in two ways. Boruch Hashem one of our askanim, Rabbi Dovid Greenblatt has created an excellent organization called, “Sister to Sister.” This organization is a remarkable way in which one can lend assistance to this invisible group.
A second way, however, is to seek out members of this invisible group and actively help them. Boruch Hashem, some of these divorcees have an ex that cares enough about his children to provide for them even more than the court-mandated child support. Others often get a pittance and some not even at all.
We must also not forget that divorced men, as well, need to be welcomed in our homes and need emotional support and assistance. Often men are perceived as the evil ones when, in fact, they too have suffered enormously. Whatever happened in a marriage is not our concern. Ahavas Yiroel and Chessed must be applied to all parties — these Mitzvos are gender neutral.
When helping them, it should, of course, be done in the most tznius manner as possible, and with the contributions of both the husband and wife. There are many ways to do this. It should also be done in a manner where they do not feel that you are doing it as a chessed.
– Learn with the child
– Notice kids in shul
– Offer to take the children out with yours on an outing
– Help keep up with the homework
– Shabbos invitations – realize that often their families cannot take them back
– Extend invitations earlier rather than later
– Occasional financial help or a gift
– Offer to babysit once a month
– Ask if they need anything at Costco
– Offer to build them a Sukkah — or to use yours
– Ask in general, “Is there anything specific I can do for you?”
– Just call to say hello
– Share your husband’s flowers with her
– Get to know their favorite food items and that of their children
– Suggest shidduchim when possible and appropriate
– Suggest shidduchim for their children
– Help them deal with fixing the house
– Help them deal with fixing their car
– Help them deal with the IRS
– Help them in general negotiations
– Help them ensure that their kids have friends
– Sheitels — look out for a new one for them.
– Avoid avoiding them
– Don’t be judgmental
– Don’t stigmatize
– Don’t say things in a pitying way
– Be sensitive to call them back
– Avoid saying insensitive things or asking insensitive questions
The posuk in Micha (6:8) states, “..What does Hashem require of you? Merely to do justice and love Chessed..” The idea is that we must foster and develop a love of Chessed. Rav Sherr explains that there are three elements to this love:
1] To love doing acts of Chessed ourselves.
2] To love and appreciate a situation where Chessed is being performed by others — either for another or for others.
3] To love the existence of opportunities for Chessed in the world.
The Chofetz Chaim writes (Ahavas Chessed 2:1) that not only must one love Chessed but one must stick to this character trait and always go beyond the measure of what is required. He give the analogy of a parent. A loving parent gives more food and clothing than the child requires, so too must we do likewise in sticking to the Midah of Chessed.
The dramatic rise in divorces provides us all with an unprecedented opportunity for chessed. These opportunities should be done, when possible, with the utmost consideration and thought for their self-esteem and self-perception. These are the sons and daughters of Avrohom Avinu, Yitzchok Avinu, and Yaakov Avinu, and should be treated in lie with their stature.