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Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Feeling like an ATM for your spouse?

Rosh Hashanah 6

Today’s Life Yomi has been dedicated by Greg Pesin in memory of Rabbi Meir Baal HaNess ztz”l, whose yortzeit is today.  May you be blessed with all the miracles you seek in life! 

Prior to starting full-time in the rabbinate, I worked as a financial advisor in New York City.  Closing a deal was a three-step process.

First, there were the cold calls.  Once you’d established contact with a potential client, second step was to have an initial meeting where you would pitch the concept.  Step three was to meet with them and discuss their financial portfolio in full.

In setting up the third meeting, I learned that you always have to ask the question of whether it would be with the client alone or if their spouse would be there.  Many men in particular, did not want their wives to know the extent of their financial situation, for better or for worse.

King Solomon writes in Proverbs: “If you do not have money to pay, why must your bed be taken from beneath you?”

Rabbi Yochanan (some say it was Rabbi Elazar) taught the meaning of this verse:  “A man’s wife only dies if he is asked for money back and he does not have it.”

The Talmud contrasts owing money to other people with owing offerings to the Temple.  The Torah states: “If you promise [an offering] to Hashem your G-d, do not be late to pay, for Hashem your G-d will surely demand it from you and you will bear the sin.”

Says the Talmud: When you owe money to G-d, only you bear the sin, but when you owe money to other people, your spouse is part of the equation.

What does the Talmud mean when it says that one’s spouse dies if you do not pay back money you owe?

One of the primary causes of divorce is financial stress.  Sometimes the main breadwinner in the household is unable to adequately provide for his/her family, leading to the breakdown of the marriage.

If you desire a successful marriage, you must maintain a completely open relationship on all matters, including finances.  Some “men,” says the Talmud, will sink into debt – debts that they cannot repay – in order to keep their “wives” at a certain level of lifestyle.  Many wives don’t even know about their husbands’ financial woes until it’s too late.  And then they just pack up and leave.

And of course in our day and age, it’s very often the other way around.  The wife is the major breadwinner while her husband is studying, parenting or simply earning less.  The Talmud’s message goes both ways.

 If you don’t have an open and honest relationship with your spouse about your finances, in the words of King Solomon “your bed will be taken from beneath you” – your marriage will die.  The Talmud doesn’t mean literally that your spouse will die; but as your spouse, s/he will die.  S/he will no longer be your spouse. 

Even if the marriage appears to survive, is it possible to maintain a façade to one’s spouse that everything is okay with them spending money freely, while you are stressing out about paying back your debts?   Your marriage will only be alive and real if you are completely open with your spouse.  What’s the point of one spouse struggling and stressing out while the other is enjoying life with no holding back?  If they share their true financial situation with one another, they can work together to maintain the family finances at a reasonable level and share the burden of their situation.

The exception to this, says the Talmud, is perhaps when one owes money to G-d.  Owing money to the Almighty is not as stressful because He can forgive one’s debts.  If you get in over your head with your commitment to G-d, He will forgive you if you can’t afford to pay on time.  And so the Talmud suggests that when it comes to your personal relationship with the Almighty “[only] you shall bear the sin” – it is between you and Him.  You needn’t share all the details of your spiritual obligations with your spouse.  

Certainly – as Tosfos suggests from another tractate of the Talmud – sharing the most intimate details of your spiritual relationship with your spouse is the ideal – being completely open and honest with your spouse about all matters is important for your spiritual growth.  But if you are not ready to do so yet, that will not destroy your marriage.  Keeping finances secret from one another will. 

Before you got married, they probably read the traditional tenaim (conditions) before the two mothers broke a plate.  At that point, you made the following commitment:
“They shall not run away nor conceal from each other anything with regard to their possessions, rather they should equally share authority over their possessions, in peace and tranquility, as is the way of those who are children of the Torah and who are in awe of G-d.”

Being a child of the Torah and having awe of G-d means being honest and open with your spouse.  Share your entire self with him/her.   You will both live happily ever after!

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