It was just heartwarming. There was no other word to describe it. What was it? “It” was a letter sent anonymously to the Yated by a parent of a kollel couple. When I read it, I am not ashamed to say that I felt emotional. It wasn’t shocking. It wasn’t tear-jerking. The reason my reaction was emotional was because it was so normal. Unfortunately, today, the norm is often not normal.
Kollel Has Come a Long Way
We all know that the institution of kollel is one of the most blessed institutions in Klal Yisroel. When kollelim were established in America more than seventy years ago, first with Bais Medrash Elyon in Monsey, later with Bais Medrash Govoah in Lakewood, then spreading to more yeshivos and kehillos with time, it was seen as an elite institution for the most dedicated lomdei Torah to continue their learning and tremendous growth in Torah after their marriages.
In those days, the life of kollel couples entailed tremendous material privation. I remember speaking to Rabbi Nisson Wolpin, who told me that when he was in Bais Medrash Elyon, they ate sardines and peanut butter during the week. His family never thought of eating fleishiks during the week. Money wasn’t as plentiful in the frum community as it is today, and the idea of supporting a married couple in learning was foreign and, frankly, viewed as “un-American.”
Boruch Hashem, we have come a long way since then in many ways.
In those years, virtually everyone who married joined the workforce, with a tiny, miniscule elite becoming kollel yungeleit. Today, things are very different. Today, it is a given for most yeshiva graduates to marry and remain in kollel for some time – some longer, some shorter, but nearly everyone in the yeshivishe world and in large swaths of the chassidishe world begin married life in kollel.
This enables young families to build their married life on a solid Torah foundation that will hopefully remain the foundation upon which their family is built, even long after their kollel years have concluded.
The New Norm
This wonderful development, however, must be funded, and the primary funders in our time are parents. Most kollel yungeleit in America do not make enough money from their kollel stipend to even get close to paying their bills. Thus, over time, it became a given that a large percentage of young couples are supported by parents. Traditionally, parents of the girl bear the greater burden of support, but many couples are supported by the boy’s parents as well.
It has become so accepted that even middle class and those well below the middle class have no choice but to be moser nefesh to support their married children, because without that, it is difficult for a girl who wants to marry a true ben Torah to reach that hallowed goal that she has so been davening for for so long.
Therefore, most parents have been co-opted into supporting for a certain number of years, whether or not they like it and whether or not they can afford it.
I am not saying this in a critical way at all. A couple beginning their married life in kollel is not a luxury today. Rather, in the vast majority of cases, it is a necessity. (Full disclosure: Several of my own children are boruch Hashem learning in kollel and being supported by you reading this article 😊!)
That said, although I think that most parents deem it a tremendous zechus to support their children in kollel, that does not mean that it comes easy. Parents are working harder than ever, enduring stress levels that I think are far greater than the stress levels their own parents and grandparents lived with, and they are doing it, by and large, with a smile and an understanding that their hachzokas haTorah is building the Torah future of our nation. They are partners with Hashem in this hallowed endeavor.
When the Norm Becomes Taken for Granted
There are, however, times when I wonder. I wonder if this heroic, post-marriage support of children – often multiple children at once – is, like any chiddush that becomes the norm, taken for granted by today’s young people. “Of course, Totty and Mommy are going to support us in kollel after our chasunah. Isn’t that what every Totty and Mommy does?” The thought that support after marriage might be looked at in the same way as parents providing food and clothing for their unmarried children was a bit jarring to me. Anyone who understands anything about history – and economics – knows that this is a tremendous chiddush. A wonderful chiddush, but a chiddush nonetheless. That is why the letter, mentioned above, sent by the parents of a couple who was concluding their kollel years, elicited such emotion.
Let me quote the letter verbatim:
Dearest Totty and Mommy,
This letter is long overdue, but as we enter a new stage, there is no better time to express how deep our appreciation is for the financial help you gave us that allowed us to start our family on solid Torah ground.
Of course, what you do for us on every other level – emotional, practical as well – is not to go unmentioned, but we just want to focus on this point, because this is what we will have as the backbone even while being in the workforce. Thank you for being so generous. Thank you for being so gracious and never letting us feel bad for being on the receiving end. We hope we never took advantage or had an attitude of “magiah li.” Every month we felt a newfound appreciation for this gift of being able to be in kollel without the monetary stress. This should be a huge zechus for you and our family.
We hope iy”H to continue to bring you nachas and be the Torahdike people we want to be. We daven that the time will come when we will be able to pay it forward – for our own children to be able to learn, and maybe one day even help others to have this special zechus you enabled us to enjoy.
We love you!
The idea of this letter is not really remarkable. Actually, it should be obvious that a couple who has been supported by parents for a few years in kollel should express their hakoras hatov, and I am certain that virtually every couple does feel that way. Nevertheless, what is remarkable is the way this couple verbalized it in a letter, making the parents recognize the magnitude of what they did, the heroic nature of what it means to not relinquish responsibility for a child after marriage, which has been the traditional way for many centuries, but, on the contrary, to take on additional obligations all for the sake of Hashem and His Torah.
Yes, parents are heroes. Parents who are supporting their children in kollel are superheroes. Parents who are supporting multiple children in kollel are super-superheroes.
The very fact that this couple expressed their hakoras hatov and showed that they understood the sacrifice that parents make was so moving and refreshing.
A Real, Authentic Yiddishe Chasunah
A nice postscript to this is the fact that I received that letter in the morning, and that very night I attended the chasunah of a young couple. Now, I, like so many others, attend my fair share of chasunos, boruch Hashem. Unfortunately, I can never put down my “columnist hat,” and whenever I go to a chasunah, I look around and observe society. What can I say? Society evolves fairly quickly. Often, some of the norms at weddings concern me. The music – not necessarily the decibel level, but rather the ruach of the music – is often not music to my soul. The style dancing also doesn’t always appeal to me. There are times when I see a chosson being perfunctorily “yotzeh” dancing with his parents, grandparents and family members before running off to get into it with his friends. Yes, I know I should have an ayin tovah and I am working on it…
The night that I got this letter, I attended a chasunah that made me feel that it would be a privilege to support that chosson and kallah and all of their friends who are learning. It was a beautiful simcha. It was leibedig and simchadik. You felt such an electricity of simcha in the air. The dancing was lively and fervent, yet done with such a taam. You can have the greatest, most fun time while behaving, looking and acting like a Yid.
I thought to myself: Wow! Yirbu kemoseichem b’Yisroel. We all somehow put focus on what needs improvement – and we should – but at the same time we cannot forget that there are so many beautiful, wonderful, Toradike young people among us who are the future, the bright future of Klal Yisroel.
We can all say regarding the letter writer who expressed such remarkable “normal” feelings of hakoras hatov, and about that chasunah that was so besimcha, Yiddish and leibedig (two things that do not have to be and should not be contradictory): Yirbu kemoseichem b’Yisroel!