If the husband is a baal middos but not a
masmid, how could a wife help him become one? You
write, "But if the wife really builds up and respects the
value of her husband's learning, she might be successful in
helping a baal midos become a masmid." Can you
give specific concrete examples of how one could acheive
this? Also where you write, "If he has potential and the wife
helps him to keep growing, he will be successful." How can a
wife help him grow?
I know a wife who has tried subtle encouragement, small
efforts, and has almost never disturbed him during his
learning time but it doesn't seem to work in real life. I
think such an article would answer many women who are
wondering the same thing. Again, thank you for your previous
article. It was 'on the mark' and very true.
I read that Reb. Eliashav used to get up at 4 am to make her
husband coffee and that Rabbi Dessler's (Michtav
M'Eliyahu) stepmother used to make special little cakes
for their Friday night all-night mishmar, but these
were small acts of encouragement for men who were already
steeped in learning and 'turned on' as they say. Can you
address how to start from the ground up. If your husband is
not "turned on" how do you "turn him on"?
Please notice that I used the word `might' when I wrote, " .
. . if the wife really builds up and respects the value of
her husband's learning, she might be successful in helping a
baal middos become a masmid."
It is true; with G-d-given feminine intuition, the woman can
encourage her husband. But pushing someone to change can only
backfire. Men's nature is that they need to feel that they
are in charge, they are the man of the house. They don't
appreciate coming home to be criticized.
You have to love your husband for who he is — with his
virtues and shortcomings. It's not worth getting married on
the condition that you'll make him change. Someone only
changes if he wants to . . .
Once he sees something is really important to you, if he is a
caring person, he will surely want to please you if he can.
But don't keep your expectations high. He might try hard but
not get to what you want. Forgive him, he is a human being .
. . Obviously I'm talking about a basically healthy
relationship where there is communication and respect!
I remember something I wanted my husband to do. I tried the
direct approach — pointing it out to him often —
and wasn't successful. Then I decided praise. I said: "You
really don't have to; but if you do, I would appreciate it so
much. I would be very thankful. It would be really above and
beyond your duty, an act of greatness . . . " (Sense of
humor goes a long way and if used with good sense, it can
lighten up the situation). It made him feel so appreciated
that he actually did what I asked. Slowly, with more and more
encouragement he actually got used to doing that without
being reminded. It became a joke between us whenever I have a
request. And it works . . .
I was recently at a workshop on parenting. The mothers
received a list of over fifty compliments, some of them quite
creative. We were supposed to practice complimenting our kids
and report back on the next session. One mother said that she
practiced also on her husband. Not only did he feel
appreciated, but it also helped remind her of how many areas
Whatever you do to encourage him to learn should be done with
wisdom in a roundabout way, and not as criticism. But make
sure to compliment him often. It has to be sincere. Point out
specifically what he did do, what quality was brought out by
his action. And show him how happy you are when he learns.
Compliment his Divrei Torah. Empathize if he shares how
difficult it is for him to learn. Point out his successes.
That will help him build on the attitude "yes, I can do it"
rather then feeling like a failure.
Rov Don Segal said in the name of Rav Chatzkel Levenstein
that in this generation we have the best of all generations.
We are so low that any small act we do is greatness. At the
same time, since we are so low, even if nothing comes out of
our actions, this is not held against us. Remember this rule:
"In this generation every small act is greatness!"
By some, diligence is more natural. By others, they have to
struggle so much against their yetzer hara to open a
sefer, and by the time they do so, the struggle is
equally great to keep it open and concentrate. For the
learning that he is able to do, the reward is great. Give him
credit for going against his nature and succeeding to
overcome the distractions. And with time perhaps, he might be
so encouraged with the success that learning will become
easier for him.
Many righteous ladies take on the roles of their husbands'
mashgichim. In their opinion, their husband's
spirituality is below what is expected.
First of all, demands have to be realistic. You can't live
his life. His shortcomings are his, not yours. Your job is to
facilitate his growth. Be by his side, be his life companion.
By being warm, kind, taking care of things for him, giving
encouragement, etc. you'll be doing what you're supposed to
do . . .
Not Good Enough
A successful boy married a girl from a family of well known
gedolim, dayonim and rabbonim. She often criticized
him that he wasn't enough of a lamdon or masmid
etc. The wife felt he wasn't great enough for her. She
pressured him so much that he stopped learning altogether.
The couple eventually got divorced. But that's not the end.
Her parents and grandparents were divorced for the same
The husband can be the most honored person in the outside
world, but if his wife is not happy with him, that hinders
his self esteem. The acts of encouragement you quote on the
question are only good if done without hints of criticism.
For if you intend to be nice by preparing snacks,
volunteering to do the errands, not interrupting, etc. but
deep down the message is of resentment, you won't accomplish
I know of another couple whose wife asked for a divorce
because the husband wanted to start working part of the day.
Basically she lost respect for him. Her love for him was
conditional on learning three sessions a day. Her message was
— you're not doing what I want, you're not good enough
for me . . . If he was advised by daas Torah that in
the present situation he should start working, she should
have accepted it . . .
If there are problems that the couple can't work out alone,
ask for advice. A Rov or Rebbetzen can be very insightful.
However, in other instances to seek a professional counselor
is inevitable. It can save marriages that are pretty much at
a loss . . . Don't hesitate to ask for help. Someone from
the outside with wisdom and life experience can be more
objective then the person going through the
Someone told me that a kalla was told before marriage
that the chosson was an exceptional masmid. She
was so excited. She was really looking forward to having such
a husband. Right after marriage he proved to be the opposite.
Day after day, he slept late, missed minyan, rested a
lot during the day and hardly spent time in the Beis Medrash.
Despite her disappointment, she controlled herself and didn't
say anything. Finally after the first month of marriage he
explained, "I really appreciate your understanding. I've been
under tremendous pressure. I felt that if I wouldn't take it
easy for a month I would get ill. Now that I renewed my
energies I can get back to being a serious masmid . .
. " From then on he went back to the rigid learning schedule
as before the wedding.
The same Rebbetzen told me a similar story. Another husband,
an outstanding Torah scholar once took a break from learning
for six weeks due to headaches. The wife knew her husband was
not one to exaggerate. She didn't criticize him. Eventually
he told her that by pushing himself so much, he feared that
like the Chofetz Chaim, he would be forbidden by doctors to
learn for a year. So he thought it was better to take a
shorter break before the condition would became more serious.
At the end of that period he was able to resume his regular
When all's said and done, you should not underestimate the
value of prayer! As I wrote in a previous article, it's the
best hishtadlus one can do, and the most direct
connection to The One Who is really in charge!
Rebitzen Travis is married to a Rosh Kollel and author of
seforim, Rav Daniel Travis. She has many years of experience
and success in helping people through shidduchim. Any
comments, questions and stories can be sent to:
firstname.lastname@example.org or at (02) 656-3111