Family, Parent & Child:
  Laws, Issues and Relationships
The Healthy Family Unit - Instrument For Service of G-d
















When a Jewish home is truly functioning well and healthily, its energies are not drained away by internal troubles, while all of the practical needs and responsibilities of life are satisfactorily taken care of. Energies are available for progressively greater and greater levels of avodas Hashem (service of G-d), without this being at the expense of family members. The healthy and Torah-dik home can become a center for Torah and mitzva projects.

The first chapter of Pirkei Avos says that your house should be for the congregating of Torah instruction, and a center of lovingkindness, especially to the poor. Madrich LeChasonim [Guide To Grooms] writes that love of Torah and of Jews should fill the air of your home. Rabbi Tzadok HaCohen writes that a Jew is commanded in three loves: for G-d, for Torah and for Jews. To love one or two can lead to perversion. When you love all three, you have balance and completeness in all your loves. Within any of your actions, there must never be any contradiction between any of these three loves. The Zohar says that the Jew, the Torah and G-d are all one. By setting up your home for the dissemination of Torah and lovingkindness to Jews, as expressions of your devotion to G-d, you promote a sweet and loving atmosphere for your marriage and family.

An elderly lady once emotionally said to me that she was a guest for shaboses in a home which "has so much love." What is striking about this story is that the lady, who was in her late seventies at the time, had not been raised observantly. Because of the enormous love in this particular family, she was influenced by it and became frum at this advanced age. The wife helped the lady acquire a shaitl [wig] to cover her hair. The children called her "bubbi [grandma]" as if she was part of the family. She had difficulty walking on her pain-ridden old feet, so two of the teenage daughters always walked her all the way home every time she came for regular shabos and yom tov meals. I myself saw this family's love transform this woman into a practicing Jew. I knew this woman before and after she started covering her hair and keeping shabos and koshruss. Because of the family's clear and apparent love-atmosphere, this family was a kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d).

Kindness is giving what a recipient wants, and doing it in the nicest possible way; the other person's materialism is your spirituality (Rabbi Yisroel Salanter). Kindness - whether with your spouse, children or the community at large - must be done with a cheerful and respectful attitude. The same way that you would like to be loved, respected and given to unconditionally, so does the next person.

Rabainu Bachya wrote that one's eternal reward for a mitzva is determined ENTIRELY by the quality of the internal intentions and feelings that one does it with. It is not enough to do mitzvos mechanically.

The Prophet Mica (6:8) says, "He [G-d] told you what is good and what He requires of you; do justice, love kindness and walk modestly with your G-d." You have to DO justice. You don't have to love paying the next guy $35 for something you broke. Just DO it. When it comes to kindness, you must do it with LOVE. To merely do, to just go through the motions, won't do! You must give your heart, warmth, concern, understanding, sincerity, zeal, and your smile. Yalkut (# 522, to Hoshea 6:6) says that acts of kindness that Jews do for each other are precious to G-d. And EVERYTHING must be done with modesty and humility.

I must stress that the first priorities are your spouse, children and home. If responsibilities to these are all essentially in order, then, by all means spread out into meaningful community service and kindnesses, according to your resources and abilities. But not so as to neglect your first priorities: peace, security and satisfaction in your family. Laws of priorities are very complex. Take practical questions to an orthodox rabbi.



A virtuous poor man had a virtuous wife. He had to hire himself out to work in a field. Once, while he was ploughing, he encountered Eliyahu HaNovi [Elijah the prophet] in the guise of a beggar, who told him, "You have six years of wealth to your credit. When do you want them, now or at the end of your life?"

The man replied, "You are playing the fortune teller in the hope that I will give you charity. I have nothing to give you so go on your way." Eliyahu came back a second time and a third. Since he insisted so much, the man said that he would have to consult with his wife before he could reply. He came to her and, after telling her the story, he asked her advice. She said to ask that the six years of plenty be sent immediately. He went back and gave his reply. He was immediately told, "Go home, for the plenty has already come."

Just then, his children were playing and found in the dirt a treasure sufficient to maintain them for six years. They told their mother and when their father returned home, she told him the good news. He thanked Hashem and felt happy and satisfied.

His virtuous wife said, "Since Hashem has pitied us and given us enough money for six years, it behooves us to do acts of kindness during this time. Perhaps He will add to this amount from His treasury." She told her youngest son to write every day any sum which was given for a mitzva.

Six years later, Eliyahu returned and said, "The time has come to take away what you have." The man said, "When I took it, it was only after consulting my wife. When I give it back, I have to consult with her, so let me talk with her first." When she heard her husband's news, she said, "Go and tell him, 'If you have found people who are more fit than we are, take the money which you entrusted to us." When Hashem heard this reply and noted their many kind deeds, He blessed them with much more (Yalkut Shimoni Ruth).

About a century ago in Europe, a wealthy Jewish man owned a huge palacial home which had a plush white carpet. As one who loved mitzvos, he invited guests to generously bestow hospitality upon them them.

One time, a poor man came to the door. He was disheveled and filthy. Nevertheless the kind, wealthy man invited him in to eat.

The host had not noticed that guest's boots were filthy. The guest trampled on the clean white carpet, leaving a trail of muddy footprints. What did the good-hearted host do? He ordered that the carpet be immediately pulled up and discarded, so that if ever a poor or dirty guest came for hospitality, the guest would never coming to be hurt or shamed for damaging the carpet.

Scripture urges, "Chase after chesed and tzadaka (active lovingkindness and generous charity; Proverbs 21:21)." It is not enough for the Jew to be kind or charitable when the opportunity comes to him or her. The Jew may not withhold any property, capability or power that one has. It is the Jew's job to pursue, if not create, opportunities to do meaningful, significant and profuse kindness and charity with every possible resource - money, talent, intellect, abilities, etc. (Maharal, Nesivos Olam). Let's see how Jewish individuals, couples and families can bring this to fruition.

In a healthy marriage, the couple can often undertake significant kindness projects with no significant shortchanging of the family's needs and no contradiction to the family's basic normal routine. To the extent that circumstances allow, encourage each other to do acts and projects of kindness and community service. If there are kindness-related subjects to talk about, this is good for the marriage relationship and for conversation at the table. If there aren't community projects or kindness groups, a husband might consider encouraging his wife to form one. This can take on many forms, depending on the community, the needs, and the resources and personalities available. The Jewish people are not merely a nation. We are all descendants of Avraham, Yitzchok and Yakov. WE ARE ALL COUSINS! WE ARE ALL FAMILY! Doing mitzvos for fellow Jew means doing good for extended family! One is hard put to find anything more constructive or fulfilling.



Some examples of woman-driven projects that have been successfully done (doing a lot of good for the communities and marriages involved) include such all-volunteer mitzva projects as:

* bikur cholim (visiting and caring for the needs of the sick in an organized and ongoing way - in private homes, nursing homes and hospitals) - one group has busses that leave every morning Sunday-Friday on a set schedule from Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn for all the major hospitals in Manhattan (New York City) to visit Jewish patients (even strangers) bringing

* kosher food,

* shabos and holiday provisions and

* cheerful encouragement

(the busses return in the afternoon to get the women home in time to receive their children upon return from yeshiva); another group runs blood drives every two months (because blood can be healthily donated every 8 weeks) so that the local hospital can have a specific donation account of clean blood for the needs of the vicinity of the Jewish community; in a family in my neighborhood, the woman and her teenage daughter go to the local hospital on a regular schedule to visit Jewish patients and the mother also visits sick, elderly individuals (strangers) in their home or nearby hospitals, bringing food that she cooks and an hour of company for these immobilized people.

* neshei ahavas chesed - organized practical kindness. This group of dedicated women collects used furniture and household property and, on a waiting list basis, provides a selection of free furniture and other needed articles to newlywed and impoverished Jews, including immigrants from Russia, Iran and Israel, and to poor local families. Another division rents wedding gowns and items that allow making a "budget wedding" (e.g. artificial flowers) all at "break even" cost (borrower has to launder a wedding gown before returning it). They have a health care division which avails wheelchairs, crutches, rides to doctors, etc. Different volunteers are responsible for each division, so that each runs efficiently. They seek donations of money and property. They publish a Jewish calendar each year which they distribute around the neighborhood to remind community members all year to donate money, used clothing, furniture, medical goods, etc.

* gemilus chesed - interest-free loan society for financial troubles and emergencies, or relief for the unemployed. Money is raised and loans are provided. Generally, there is an application. A co-signer or two might be required. Some do a small-scale credit check or require personal reference(s). Sometimes an upper limit is established for the amount of a loan e.g. three hundred, one thousand, two thousand, five thousand dollars. When loans are approved, the administrator collects head checks (e.g. fifty or a hundred dollars each) dated to be payable once per month, starting in a month or two, for as many months as it takes to pay the loan. The administrator may have all checks kept in a file, dated on a uniform date (e.g. the first, 15th or last of the month) to simplify the bookkeeping and the deposit function, or may offer a range of date-options (I know one loan society that offers the options of the 1st, 8th, 15th or 23rd - they are willing to deposit on four occasions per month, to optimize the helpfulness of the loans). One shul has a loan society which gives the loan, to simply be paid back in full after a year. Some societies are flexible to truly accommodate the needs of the borrowers. The point, remember, is practical kindness.

* the "vaad (gathering)" - a support group for some self-improvement purpose. Two examples of relatively successful mitzva-vaad gatherings center around "lashon hora (the serious yet common sin of defaming speech)" or "midos (character development)." The groups offer feedback and share ideas. A group of same-gender people gets together regularly, e.g. once a week at a set time. If their goal is to work on lashon hora, the group will learn the many laws of prohibited speech (slander, gossip, talebearing, revealing secrets, etc.) and work on strategies for eliminating prohibited speech (e.g. everyone takes a couple hour shift every week during which they don't talk about people, working to find benefit of the doubt and exonerating circumstances if another person speaks about people, working on disbelieving or terminating conversations in which others speak about people). If the goal is midos (character traits), the group will study midos: good midos to practice and build, and bad ones to conquer and eliminate. Another variation is getting together to say Tehillim for people who are seriously ill or in serious trouble (e.g. for a person who is kidnapped, missing or in jail in a despotic country).

* impromptu kindnesses. When an elderly, impoverished neighbor - a Russian with no known family - passed away, one woman (on her own and all on the same day) organized a minyan and funeral, obtained a burial site, and raised the necessary money, to give a Jew a prompt and honorable funeral, as required by Torah law. Another woman provides a meal a day every day for an incapacitated and unemployable neighbor. Another woman delivers food packages on Fridays and the days before a Yom Tov to poor families in her neighborhood. I know at least two women (in separate communities) who each arrange a Torah lecture series for neighborhood women in each one's livingroom every shabos afternoon (during the winter, one arranges to have lecturers speak Friday evenings, when evenings come early - for the majority of the year, the lecturers come in the afternoon). I know of these because I was a guest lecturer in both series.



Men can also be involved in noble projects of all kinds. One dedicated man annually arranges the well-known all-day Tisha B'Av lecture program each summer and the winter-vacation week-long learning program each December in Flatbush, Brooklyn.

There is a neighborhood in which the existing mikva was being used beyond its capacity. Another man in Flatbush was the catalyst for the construction of another mikva there (i.e. buying a lot and building an entire building!). He recruited fundraising volunteers, offered his business office facilities to design and send mailings, generated community involvement and support, organized a dinner, and personally administered the project for years.

A group of men in Boro Park, Brooklyn organizes meals provided at a recurrent Torah learning event, to attract Jews to learning Torah regularly.

A friend of mine visited Israel in the mid 1990's. One of his stops was at a school that gives free Torah education to approximately 1,000 Russian teenage boys. At one of the prayer services he saw that half of the boys did not own Tefillin. Upon his return to Brooklyn, he started an organization on his own to raise funds to buy 500 sets of kosher Tefillin (which cost a few hundred dollars per set) for the Russian boys who couldn't afford them. One of his methods is to meet with yeshiva deans to arrange involvement of the fathers of bar-mitzva age boys. When the fathers buy new Tefillin for their sons, they buy a second pair for one of the boys in the Israeli school. If the fathers can't afford to buy an extra set of Tefillin, they agree to reduce the expense of the bar-mitzva reception by the amount of the cost of Tefillin - and, thereby contribute the Tefillin for a Russian boy!

Reb Chayim of Brisk had an open house. He considered it to be the property of Hashem. At any time, any number of people could be found eating or sleeping over, freely coming in and out as if the home were theirs. Two stories give particular insight to what a master of lovingkindness he was.

A young woman in Reb Chayim's area was in love with a local man and wanted desperately to marry him. He took advantage of her, falsely promising he would marry her. After she had been abandoned, she turned out to be pregnant. She had no relatives to turn to, no way of earning a livelihood and was disgraced to the point of agony. She knocked on Reb Chayim's door, crying and desperate for help. The rov was not home and the rebitzen answered the door and asked the girl what she wanted. She reported to the rebitzen what happened and, crying, explained that she was in desperate need of help. The rebitzen became furious at her, called her prostitute and told her harshly to get lost.

When Reb Chayim came home, he saw his wife muttering about something which evidently had the rebitzen annoyed. He asked her what it was and she explained how this lowly woman came to the door and had the nerve to expect them to get involved in her filth.

The rov became upset with her. "You mean she was crying, alone and in desperate trouble and you threw her out? Go all over town, do whatever you have to do. Find that girl and apologize to her with all your heart and bring her back to this house now."

The wife found the young woman in town and promptly brought her back to the house as her husband said to. The rov kindheartedly brought the woman into his household through the pregnancy and kept mother and baby in his house until the child was two years old.

A guest came to eat at the rov's table and clumsily spilled wine, which badly stained the tablecloth. Reb Chayim promptly tilted the table and said, "The leg of this table is broken. One simply can't avoid constant spilling." This way, the guest's feelings were not hurt and his dignity was undiminished.



Couples can work together on kindness projects. The Torah tells us that Avraham and Sara left for the land of Kanaan. They took "the souls which they made in Charan (Genesis 12:5)." What is they meaning of "the souls which they made?"

Rashi explains that Avraham converted the men and Sora converted the women. When one brings a person "under the wings of the divine presence," when one spiritually elevates another Jew, the Torah counts it as if one "made" that person. Therefore, teaching Torah to one's fellow Jew is reckoned as creating the beneficiary (Sanhedrin 99b). This is a chesed of infinite proportions because one's Torah and soul are eternal.

Any Jewish man or woman who knows more Torah than some other man or woman is able to bestow the enormous chesed of teaching Torah, especially to someone who is off the Torah path or who is exposed to spiritual vulnerability in his life. Jewish husbands and wives can accomplish enormous chesed by teaching or sponsoring Torah classes at any and all levels. They can also open their home for classes and for outreach (kiruv) activities. As individuals or as couples (depending on individual circumstances), they can be today's Avraham and/or Sara who can "make souls" of today's Jewish men and women, who can create the "Torah potential" in other Jews.

People need help with both spiritual and material needs (Ahavas Chesed). In a similar vein, Rabbi Yisrael Salanter said, "Most people are concerned about their materialism and the next person's spirituality. It should be the other way around. The Jew is obligated to be concerned with one's own spirituality and the next person's material well-being. The next person's spirituality is your material needs. The next person's material needs are your spirituality." We see from Ahavas Chesed and Rabbi Yisrael that the Torah wants balance.

One couple has organized a board consisting of volunteer community members (many of whom participate also as couples) which manages - operating basically like a big corporation (just more informally and out of each volunteer's home) - eleven kindness activities:

a. visiting, transporting, praying for and feeding the sick

b. free loan societies lending money, health care articles, used furniture, circumcision equipment, wedding & sheva bracha (wedding week) needs

c. hospitality for shabos, yom tov and travellers

d. matchmaking for singles

e. jobs (networking with prospective employers; resume assistance)

f. outreach to the unreligious (shabos and yom tov invitations, "adopt a family," tutoring)

g. tending to the dead (guarding the body till the funeral, tahara [purification procedure for the body], arranging a kosher funeral and the minyan in the homes of mourners)

h. crime patrols on neighborhood streets

i. child care (tutoring, shabos groups)

j. Torah classes, particularly for women

k. block coordinators.

These creative, dedicated and generous people do a lot of good. Do you wonder whether their spouses admire and love them for their mitzvos, projects and contributions? Do you wonder whether the children grow up better, receiving that good influence? Do you wonder whether constant practice of kindness and mercy to the community builds kindness and mercy towards one's spouse and children?

Getting out of oneself for the practical and meaningful good of others is one of the healthiest and most effective ways to take your thoughts away from your problems (in cases where there aren't deep underlying psychological problems or where you don't distract yourself from other compelling responsibilities).

To the extent that circumstances allow, do your communal work as modestly or secretively as possible. Your goal is contribution to Jews and service of G-d, not honor and glory. This is especially true of kindnesses of a charity nature wherein the recipients may feel embarrassment. As the verse quoted above says, "Walk modestly with your G-d [Mica 6:8]."



A mother of seven was diagnosed with a dangerous illness. For almost a year, she was in the hospital most of the time. Neighbors took her children in. Four families each took in one of the children. I know one Chasidic family, let's call them the Schwartzes, which alone took in three of the children and treated them like family. Before the mother became ill, the Schwartz family did not even know the family whose mother was ill! Their only "relationship" was that they were in the neighborhood a couple of blocks away and they heard of the need.

The Schwartzes referred to the 11, 10 and 8 year old children as "our cousins," to make them all feel comfortable and welcome. The visiting children were well behaved and were treated no less lovingly than the Schwartz's own children.

Another neighbor single-handedly raised $40,000 for this ill woman's enormous medical expenses. The sick woman's husband had to be with her almost continually. The husband's boss at work, also a pious chassid, kept the husband on full pay the whole time, even though he worked a few token hours a week and he was caring for his wife almost full-time.

The sick woman's father had a frail heart. After about a half year, the woman's condition had her in serious and visibly evident physical deterioration. Upon seeing his daughter one time, he was so aggrieved that he had a massive heart attack and died. As if the family didn't have enough "tzoris (trouble)," they now were sitting shiva (seven days of mourning) for the grandfather. Neighbors brought platters of food for the mourning family "like from a caterer," as one person put it.

The Schwartzes went out of their way to make the visiting children happy and to shield them from sorrow (their's mother's frightening critical condition and the loss of their grandfather gave them enough emotional burden). When the 10 year old boy wanted a plum, Mrs. Schwartz went to the fruit store with the boy and bought him a plum. When he wanted a bike, Mr. Schwartz took him to the store and bought him a bike. When the children wanted to go to the park, the husband drove them to a nearby park and a teenage Schwartz daughter supervised the playing. The Schwartz children made clear and effective effort to be pleasant, cheerful and friendly to the visiting children.

Because the Schwartzes were so kind and generous to the visiting children, they and the other children in this family wanted to visit the Schwartzes regularly. Even on occasions when the mother was a bit stronger, any possible grouping of three children from this family were invited to the Schwartzes for a shabos. When the mother needed to go away for a rest, three of the children stayed for a few weeks with the Schwartzes.

The Schwartzes are chasidic. The parents of the visiting children are not, so the pronunciation of the children's names was according to the non-chasidic custom they grew up with. As part of the Schwartz's overall demeanor of friendliness and respect, they pronounced the names of the children the way the children were used to. The Schwartzes paid attention to every possible detail to make their every chesed complete.

The children's grandmother, the widow of the man who passed away, was distraught at the loss of her husband. She was in despair and depression day after day. She stayed alone in her home and cried. Mrs. Schwartz started phoning her regularly, often three and four times a day, and, when the older woman was emotionally ready for it, Mrs. Schwartz started inviting her over to the house. She went around with Mrs. Schwartz on her daily rounds (shopping, etc.) during the week and she stayed over with the Schwartzes on shabosses. Mrs. Schwartz treated the older lady like a long-time family friend, keeping her company and keeping her occupied and happy. If the grandmother was ever reluctant about leaving her home, Mrs. Schwartz would say something like, "I need your opinion about what to buy," to help get her out and occupied.

The grandmother had one child who was as yet unmarried, a son who lived with her. When he was home, she had his company. During the day, the son worked, and in the evening the son went to shul for mincha and maariv (evening services). Mrs. Schwartz strove to keep company with the grandmother during daytime hours, but had to give her evenings to her husband and children. Another neighbor, a woman with eight children, made a point to take the grandmother for a walk or keep her company in the evenings when the grandmother's son was at the synagogue. This way, either the son, Mrs. Schwartz or the other neighbor always kept the distraught and brokenhearted grandmother company.

Aside from this, Mrs. Schwartz had a neighbor whose little boy had been diagnosed with cancer. When he was hospitalized, she ran to the hospital regularly. When he was home, she treated him like a "ben bayis (member of the household)." He could come over and visit all he wanted. She made him so comfortable and happy that he came two or three times most days. She gave him toys, rented a video player so he could watch tapes of their family simchas, made for him what he wanted to eat and she encouraged her little boy to play with him like a brother. For four years, she gave enormous time and energy to this little fellow. He, baruch Hashem, seems to be recovering and he remains a welcome part of the Schwartz family.

The Schwartzes are people who feel sad when they don't have guests on Shabos or Yom Tov. On weeks when it looks like the table will be bare of Shabos or Yom Tov guests, Mrs. Schwartz phones singles to actively invite them to come. Her calls are always cheerful, she speaks as if the guest is doing her family the favor by coming, she tells each that it would be a pleasure to have them, and she literally screams with enthusiastic joy when the person agrees to come ("yay!" "terrific!" "great - we're looking forward!"). When Mrs. Schwartz finds out that a guest likes a certain food, without taking away from the usual foods that her family likes, she will also cook or buy the item that the guest likes, to make the guest happy. The family is Yiddish-speaking, but if ever one of their guests is English-speaking, the entire family switches to all-English, out of respect and consideration for the guest. She tells each guest that they each add so much to the meal and that she appreciates their coming. She tells them to please come again and she tells them with clear and heartfelt sincerity, "Don't just say you're coming again. Please do. Really." Mr. Schwartz tells people that it is a privilege to have the person for a guest. Members of the family, including the teenage children, tell the guest that they enjoyed the company. They manage to find something to give the visiter a sincere compliment about. I remember Mrs. Schwartz once saying that a young woman who came lit the Yom Tov candles "eidl" (with beautiful devotion to the mitzva). I remember a teenage daughter telling a guest that she got a lot from his d'var Torah.

When the lady who was ill passed away, one of the seven children was so heartbroken and pained, he couldn't go back into his house. The Schwartzes bought a bunk bed, moved the boy in with their similar-age son, and has been living in the Schwartz home as if he were a member of the family for the several years since. The boy's father and several of the other children are at the Schwartz's table for at least one of the meals almost every shabos and yom tov.

All of the Schwartzes did every last thing with a smile, with enthusiasm and with love. I know the "Schwartzes" and I saw all this myself.

Feivel was single and living alone. At one time he had a good job, but he came upon very hard times. He lost his job and was out of work for a lengthy period. Nothing worked out. He had been friendly for several years with his neighbor, Rabbi Feinberg, who found out that Feivel had come upon very hard times. Feivel was not the type of fellow who liked to be a taker or a shnorrer (mooch). So the Feinberg family hit upon a strategy to help Feivel in a way that would be nice, thoughtful and effective.

"Feivel, my wife shops without making very precise measure of what the house needs. More often than not, we have far too much. You would be doing US a big chesed if you would come over to us for dinner. We always have so much. It's a shame to waste. The children love your company." One day led to another. Every time, members of the family told Feivel that he is doing them a favor and they loved having him. "There's so much, we can't eat it all." They invited him for supper several days a week on a steady scheduled basis. If on any occasion he couldn't come, he had to call the Feinbergs. If he wouldn't call, Feivel's visit was normal and expected several evenings a week. They often sent him home with leftovers, groceries and bread. They always told him, with utmost sincerity, "It would go to waste anyway. You're doing us a big chesed. Please take it as a favor to us." Feivel always felt comfortable and welcome, and the entire Feinberg family was always uniformly kind, cheerful and considerate.


Nachman and his wife were hospitable and frequently had guests. His entire family was gracious, warm and sweet in the treatment of their guests. They always sought to make their guests feel happy, important and close to the family. He would tell guests that they are such good friends, they add so much to his meal, they should come again, and the like. But Nachman was not content to only have guests himself or to limit his kindness to his own capabilities. He understood King Solomon's words (Proverbs 21:21), "Chase charity and kindness."

Many of Nachman's guests were single. When a new guest came to his home, Nachman got to know the person somewhat and he got a sense of the person as an individual. At Nachman's shul, there was a large "oilam (congregation)." Nachman would tell fellow mispallellim (congregants) to actively phone single guests and invite them for shabos. He would choose people who he felt the single would get along nicely with. He would give them the single person's name and phone number. They would introduce themselves, say they were referred by Nachman and invite the single for a shabos meal. This way, lonely single people would start receiving a string of phone calls from Nachman's friends and neighbors and develop a network of families in the area to go to for shabos and to get to know. Kindness isn't enough until you chase it.



Keep in mind, that if you increase activity, population or traffic in your home or apartment, your activities might impose on others, make noise or otherwise disturb or inconvenience neighbors. Will people park in their driveway without permission? Will people trespass or cause damage to a neighbor's lawn? Will added footsteps make noise or vibration that will go through your floor and annoy the people in the apartment below yours, or keep your own children from sleeping or from doing their homework? If neighbors are non-Jews, will any activity, as seen or understood by the non-Jews, be a chillul Hashem? Be sensitive to the impact your activities have on all other people who stand to be affected by them. As Pirkei Avos instructs, measure the loss against the gain so that your gain does not disappear due to the loss.

Always remember that there is no mitzva that comes through a sin. The act remains a sin [Suka 30b]. Make sure there is never any sin-aspect in any of your holy enterprises, so that it is pure mitzva and service of G-d. If you ever have questions, bring them to a rov for Torah instruction.

When you're involved in communal giving and kindness, you see marital trivialities for what they are. You don't have time for something that's truly unimportant - and you don't wish to allocate finite energies to nonsense, when there is so much good work to be done. You leave your marriage-related and family-related energies for what really matters. As Pirkei Avos (chapter two) teaches, "Torah together with productive activity keeps away sin." You practice being good to everybody, which should mean that you can stack up thousands or millions of mitzvos over a lifetime; and which should also mean that you learn, more and more all the time, how to be good to your spouse and family. And, doing good in ways that address real needs and feelings, is one of the most meaningful and fulfilling things that you can do with your life.

However, the first priority must always be your family. One should only extend out to the community, to projects outside of the home, when all of the needs of and all of the responsibilities to the home and its members are amply taken care of.

For example, you're a zealous husband and your wife is basically good-natured. You know it's a huge mitzva to have guests for shabos or guests who are traveling through your area. You would like guests every shabos. However, this is achieved through your wife's hard work, which she may often gladly agree to. Each and every shabos, before you bring in a flood of guests, you must take into account her overall work load, the condition she is in, her feelings. Does junior have a communicable disease? Maybe this week has to be a no-go. It's no mitzva to drown your wife or to give your guest diphtheria.

I know one couple that used to be exceptionally hospitable. A stressful change in their lives came about. Thereafter, having guests was straining, if not harming, their marriage. They were instructed by their rav to stop having guests. Their first "kindness priorities" were to their shalom bayis (marital peace, to each other) and their children. This had to continue for a good few years, until the situation cleared up.

I know a family that was very liberal about bringing guests. They had many every guests shabos and, often, people stayed for days or months when they needed a place. One time, a guest proved to be a bad influence on the children. The father decided that he had to protect the spiritual well-being of his family and he did more screening before he would bring in guests who he doesn't know. If he suspected the integrity or stability of the person, he learned to say "no," for the sake of his family. Incidentally, this family still has 5, 10 and 20 guests on a shabos or yom tov, still is willing to mekarev or mechazek (have guests who are not strongly observant - as long as they are "normal") and still occasionally has people staying over when they need a place to stay for a few days. The commitment to chesed is undiminished - but the list of recipients has been include his own family.

One more example. You know that it is a big mitzva to learn Torah. It is a sin to waste the precious and limited time of earthly life on secular trivialities. You only have one life for the accumulation of an eternity's-worth of Torah and mitzvos. Your wife needs to talk to you or she needs your help. Don't refuse. Giving concern and time to your wife when she needs you IS HOLINESS. Don't neglect or avoid her. You may never hurt her - even if passively! You must pursue peace with her - even if you don't see the need for the new chotchka (knick-knack or house decoration) for the house that she is crying for! It is a mitzva to help any Jew with a need or burden which (s)he can't handle alone. How much moreso for your "nearest 'n dearest?"

A menahel (spiritual director) of a Torah education institution in Brooklyn said of such people who quietly do substantive, generous and amazing mitzvos, "You never know who a Jew really is." We have some real gems out there. The Bible says it very nicely [as if speaking to G-d], "Who is like Your people Israel, a nation unique on earth? (1 Chronicles 17:21)."

I'll sum this section up with another statement from the Bible, which is in the habit of saying things very nicely. "The world will be built by active lovingkindness (Psalms 89:3)."



When your marriage is basically solid and healthy, examine how you can act on the fact that an important and often overlooked means of solidifying a marriage is taking on constructive community projects. By admiring your partner's worthy efforts or by sharing in worthy joint efforts together, you deepen love for each other, and fulfillment in your marriage, by creating a larger base of common goals and/or accomplishments. As you succeed at any given level, you can graduate to a next level. You create a Torah and kindness atmosphere for your home and family. If conducted warmly and intelligently, this can be instilled into children and grandchildren and probably go on for generations.

This is applicable only if your marriage is basically strong and stable, and your overall family life is essentially functional and healthy. Your home is your first priority, but, when it is solid and peaceful, the Torah says to be unselfish and to be involved in the needs of the Jewish community.

You can literally take part in building and strengthening your community. You progressively grow out of yourself when you are seriously and dedicatedly involved in other people and in meritorious outside causes. This is enormously healthy and valuable for yourself and for your marriage (if your personality is basically healthy and sound, in the first place). You gain enormous personal satisfaction and self-esteem when you see a yeshiva, mikva, shul, hatzala (emergency medical aid) facility, free-loan fund or "good cause society" go up before your eyes - knowing that you and/or your spouse were instrumental in its coming into existence and/or being funded. This has "ripple effect" that spills over on your marriage: elevating, stabilizing and deepening it.

As much as this is true for activities centered outside of your home, this is even more the case for activities in which your home itself is used and is intrinsic to the purpose, such as sponsoring Torah lectures, having shabos or holiday guests eat and sleep over, making gatherings for singles (to find a mate, or for you to get to know the singles so that you can make reasonable matches) or gatherings for fund-raising on behalf of charitable institutions and causes, kindnesses for the poor or disabled, bringing unreligious Jews closer to Torah, or addressing any human need.

These are all undertakings of extreme responsibility, whether in your home or outside in the community. Once you start, you must remain consistent, unchanging and reliable for the causes, activities, contributions, commitments and achievements involved. It will be good practice for steadfast, persevering faithfulness to the responsibilities to your marriage!

Your marriage must be sufficiently strong to withstand the added pressures and demands that projects bring. Without the marriage being in good order to start with, these projects, as noble as they may be, can damage or even end a shaky marriage (consult your orthodox rabbi for individual instruction). You'll just find more excuses to criticize, abuse and condemn your spouse. They'll just be "holier excuses." You can bring a marriage from "ground level" to "six feet under."

If there are problems in the marriage, work on them in detail and with diligence. YOUR MARRIAGE IS THE FIRST AND FOREMOST PRIORITY. This is your "project." This is the responsibility to which you must be unchangingly faithful - establishing resolution, stability, harmony, good-will, mutual faith and compatibility.

If you have a HEALTHY BASE to start with in your marriage, and you BOTH prioritize unchanging faithfulness to your spouse and children BEFORE you start any other out-of-family responsibilities to which you will also have to be unchangingly faithful, then you have here a means to take your marriage from the "ground floor" up to the "stratosphere"...and do a lot of good for the world (in your home and out in the community) in the process.

Decide how to measure how much of a load you can effectively take on. Perhaps ask your rabbi. Perhaps formulate increments that you can take on, gradually taking a level on, "absorbing" that level, and progressively and gradually adding levels, if one big project is too much to start with.

If you can't sponsor a lecture every week, start once a month. If you can't build a new mikvah first, start by sponsoring a group that gets together regularly with a rabbi for studying and reinforcing Jewish Family Purity (marital) laws (with separate men & women groups).

You can organize an ongoing support group for people who want to work, for example, on:

* loshon hora (eliminating prohibited derogatory speech against other people),

* midos (character refinement) or

* shalom bayis (marriage success).

The group can meet regularly in your home or the location can rotate among the homes of several participants.

If you can't raise money for a yeshiva, collect used furniture from donors who are throwing things out, so that you can give them to impoverished or immigrant newlyweds. If you can't build a shul, help keep one clean or start a free-loan society for its community. Or, if there is no outlet for service in the shul, recruit a squad of volunteers to care for your community's sick and elderly. I have a saying:

"Don't be stifled, be creative!"