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Take The Long View on Life Cycle Events

10/28/2015 11:34:12 AM

Oct28

It’s been a long time since I wrote about spending on Simchas. The issue was raised again in a recent article suggesting a correlation between spending money on weddings and divorce rates.  “Francis and Mialon surveyed more than 3,000 people — all of whom have been married just once — and found that across income levels the more you dish out on the Big Day, the shorter the marriage.”

This is a jarring finding and it begs the question; why?

One suggestion in the article is that “post-wedding debt stokes marital tensions.” This is a very reasonable point.

I think the second answer offered in the article is even better and applies to not only weddings but to Bar and Bat Mitzvahs as well. (It is also important to note the financial pressure of Bar/Bat MItzvahs as well)

Instead of focusing on the future, “the wedding has become the highlight rather than the beginning of something.”

I often see this when families planning Bar / Bat Mitzvahs for their children. I am not only talking about the focus on the party. It goes without saying that too much concentration is put on the party. There is also too much attention put on the other expected responsibilities of the celebrants. Learning to read Torah and lead services are often viewed as preparation for a one off event instead as training entry into full community participation.

The difference between these two approaches is not only expressed in attitude, but also in expectations. The truth is, while it is very nice when a Bar Mitzvah boy reads the entire parsha he can learn to read torah by learning three or four aliyot. More time can be spent on Torah study, gaining knowledge and a love of Torah that can last a lifetime. Of course, if a boy really takes to Torah reading then spending more time on that may be appropriate.

The same is true for girls. For many girls, learning to read Torah is an inspiring and empowering  experience and learning to lead a piece of davening can inspire renewed commitment to davening, but it doesn’t always. If it does not, then we must wonder if time would be better spent on other things.  Perhaps focus on Torah study can be more empowering and enable girls to develop long lasting skills and strengthening her association with Torah.

For some, Torah study may also not kindle long term Jewish commitment. Maybe social action / chessed will ignite the spark of long term engagement with Judaism. Participation is ongoing chessed activities (I do not like the term “chessed project” as it evokes the very type of short involvement that is the problem with Bar/Bat Mitzvah training to begin with) can provide real insight into the importance of chessed and why each extra hand makes a real difference in the lives of recipients. Chessed projects as well, must be viewed as an entry point to ongoing commitment, not as a task to be completed. Choose them carefully.

 

The overspending and skewed perspective may be a function of a misunderstanding of the purpose of lifecycle events in general. Weddings and Bar/Bat MItzvahs are launching pads to something lasting and meaningful. In and of themselves, they really do not have much importance. As we plan, let’s keep our eye on the prize  - lasting loving marriages and meaningful engagement with our tradition long after the DJ has packed up.

Wed, May 22 2019 17 Iyyar 5779