I have a feeling that some will read this and their reaction will be “mai k’mashma lan?” As in, “Why is he wasting perfectly good kilobytes on the patently obvious?” But to me, the thoughts contained here were not so self-apparent and I have found them very important. Se even if there are a only few readers who can identify, I feel it is worth sharing this.
Financial pressure is a major part of frum family life. It is quite common for FFBs and BTs alike to solicit and / or receive help from family. I am now, Baruch Hashem, frum for 22 years. Just this year, I have made it my biggest priority to wean myself of familial help. And moving in that direction has already had an enormous positive effect.
There is maamar Chazal somewhere (sorry, I don’t have the makor handy) that states that once a person accepts a gift from another, he is “kanui lo l’olam”; the one who accepts the gift is permanently “acquired” by the giver. It can be extremely unhealthful to have a sense of dependence toward someone that is lukewarm, or worse, toward your values. Even when family is %100 behind the decision to become observant, there are very good reasons to decline offers of help.
Until a few years ago, there was simply no way that I could cover my tuition obligations without a major change in life circumstances. We would have needed either my wife going to work full time, with young children still at home, or myself working at least 1.5 full time jobs. I realize there are many who do such things. But we knew that it was really beyond our kochos. I happen to be blessed with a close relative who is both naturally giving and fantastically wealthy. They are also not frum and fairly secure and confident in their present lifestyle which comes across in various ways. We relied on them heavily.
But a few years ago, I found a better paying job. We re-did all the math, and were extremely gratified to find (at least on paper) that we could just barely cover our expenses without coming on to help from relatives. So we davened for Siyata D’shmaya and set hour minds to the task. Our heat is turned way down from where it was. Our food choices have become greatly simplified but still healthful. And we have taken on small parnassa-expanded opportunities. It feels fantastic. If a m’shulach approaches me and I give him a dollar, I no longer suffer from confusion over whose dollar it is that I am giving away. (As in, maybe I should save this dollar and ask my relative for a dollar less next fall.)
I feel so much better about my interactions with my relative. There had always been a nagging undertone in my thoughts that I was devaluing Torah observance in their eyes. “Yes, I am frum and pious, but we both know that I am only able to pull it off on your back.”
My learning has also improved, since there is a greater sense of my time belonging to me.
And one extremely gratifying aspect of all this, is that our kids have completely bought into it in a very positive way. They eat A LOT of popcorn. But they do not feel deprived. Quite the opposite, I would say that the their kibbud av v’eim has improved. This is because, they respect parents that have principles and that are financially organized and self disciplined. But much more than all of that, a truly frugal person is forced to say “no” with conviction. And kids need lots of “nos” in order to grow up emotionally healthful and respecting their parents.
I had been told in my days in yeshiva, that it was a big z’chus for non-frum relatives to allow them the pay for your tuition. This was a classic case of mis-applied-ffb-bt-hyper-religious-gobbly-gook. First, build yourself. Then worry about saving the world. And then worry about saving your family. The biggest z’cus for them is to see frum Jews living in a way that will cause them to respect frum Jews. And you might be the only example they have.
So while I am not advocating starvation, it is well worth it to do whatever you can to assert your financial independence.