By S. Friedman, Matzav.com
Historically speaking, we are living in a time where there is an abundance of yeshivos and Torah learning at levels that have never been reached. Ironically, we have also been living in a period of unparalleled affluence and comfortableness not seen
since the times when we had Malchei Yisroel. These two phenomena one would think were diametrically opposed extremes; a large percentage of our population learning full time for many years with no source of principal income on one hand, and enormous houses, fancy clothes, and extravagant simcha celebrations on the other. Yet these two worlds seem to not be exclusively mutual.
Traditionally, people associated with full time limud haTorah and teaching Torah were people who anticipated and accepted upon themselves a much simpler lifestyle, well below the standards of the rest of the community. That seems not to be the case anymore. As one class of society has increased their lavish lifestyles by leaps and bounds, the klei kodesh part of society seems to be trending in that direction as well, and not without consequences. A typical kollel couple used to be content living on a shoe string budget; small housing, beat up cars, hand me down clothing, no expensive trips, etc… Now, as more and more members of our kehillah are joining the ranks of full time kollel learning, they are not leaving behind the materialistic expectations of their youth. Bugaboo carriages, late model car leases, Sonia Rykiel clothing for their children, expensive vacations, etc… all for a family with no substantial source of income, except perhaps one: their parents.
There is a paternal instinct to provide for your children, and in our society this practice does not end when one’s child becomes a legal adult. We marry off our kids, and happily try to help them establish beautiful homes of their own. Parents don’t want to see their kids live in “substandard” conditions, and those with the wherewithal try to provide their married children with the material comfort that they expect them to have. This, I believe, is contradictory to what should be (and has been) the lifestyle of someone committed to Torah and avodas Hashem. By introducing these luxuries into the kollel lifestyle, we have created a peer pressure that did not exist previously. How often did your rebbeim get a new hat or your morahs a new sheitel? Now Ferragamo, Coach and Burberry have all became part of the kollel vernacular in many homes. This punctuation on materialism is not in line for people who have the intentions of striving to engage in unmitigated avodas hakodesh, and want to raise their children with the sense that Torah is the number one priority in life, and other things are not important.
Consequently, the higher lifestyles that seem to have become more and more common amongst kollel families causes many challenges besides the over emphasis of materialism. Firstly, if the wife is the breadwinner, then she has the pressure to come up with more money then possibly her job generates, which is often the case, especially if she was taught not to go to school of any sort. She may take up a side job from the house and in the end get run ragged and it is more difficult for her to be a loving wife and caring mother. Then come the well meaning parents who want to help, but they are also under immense pressure, and are in many cases not financially solvent enough to provide for a second family’s needs. Add to this the current financial crisis, and that gets manifested even more so.
Then there is the husband, who has accepted his current mission in life to be totally involved with his learning. Now he also has to deal with his friends taking their wives on vacations, their neighbor getting another sheitel etc… If and when he does embark on the road to make a parnasso, he has the added challenge of having to meet higher expectations than the salary of an entry level position can possibly meet.
All in all, there seems to be an aspect of mesiras nefesh missing; an integral ingredient in the makeup of a true yorei shomayim and ben Torah. I don’t believe that one has to chas v’sholom suffer in order to pull his weight as a yungerman, but sacrifices should be expected, and the standards should be understood by the collective kollel community and their families as well. It may be the “high life” in ruchniyus, but it should not be in gashmiyus too.