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Op-Ed: Who Are You to Judge?

A recently-divorced Crown Heights father takes his former Mashpia to task for his purported lack of guidance before his marriage fell apart, as well as his judgmental attitude afterwards, in this eye-opening op-ed submitted anonymously to CrownHeights.info.

The writer commends a different rabbi who is not the subject of the letter, Rabbi Yossi Jacobson, for bringing awareness and understanding to the issue of abusive marriages and divorce in the frum community in a public conference call, which can be listened to below:

by Anonymous

I would like to thank Rabbi Yossi Jacobson for speaking publicly about divorce. It is time for Lubavitch wake up to this growing unfortunate phenomenon in our community. It has become popular to blame the “divorce crisis” on the individuals involved. Beside for not always being true, this attitude has caused a lot of unnecessary agony with often tragic results.

People need to learn the appropriate methods of reacting to divorce. No matter who is at fault; don’t be the one who makes a bad situation even worse.

The following letter was written by me to my lifelong Mashpia following my recent divorce. It expresses the deep pain caused by someone who was honestly trying to help but only made things worse.

Dear Rabbi —

I’m not entirely sure why I’m writing this letter. Perhaps it is for my benefit and perhaps for yours. It will also prevent me from transgressing “Lo Sisna”.

I called you a few weeks ago to ask for help regarding a Shidduch and by default I told you that I got divorced. You decided that it was your place to tell me off for getting divorced. You also mentioned, that in the past, I always ignore your advice. This brings forth the question why do you try? In any case, it is true, I often ignore your advice and I will explain why.

I have a lot of respect for your intellectual capabilities. You are able to bring down very divine concepts into worldly words. For this reason I value listening to you speak because it helps me understand ideas I would otherwise fail to comprehend. On the other hand, I could not blind myself from noticing the limitations you have from connecting to the world of action “Asiyah Hagashmis”.

Here are a few actual experiences we shared. You could judge for yourself. In 10th grade your class was the first time I appreciated learning. I was a failing student before and after. Because I liked your class I was very happy to be there. Without proper investigation you decided that I was a very happy child.

At PTA you told my mother that I “must come from a happy home” since I was so happy. Do you even realize till today, that my mother was a victim of severe abuse by my father? He beat her on a regular basis in front of my eyes. My life outside of school was about as horrible as it could get. Had you actually bothered doing due diligence you may have been in a position to seriously help me. Instead you decided to jump to conclusions and were terribly wrong.

Could you imagine what a laughing stock you were after that PTA? In addition you were extremely offensive and hurtful to my mother and I. How could I ever respect your situational judgment after that?

In a later instance I left Yeshiva and went to work. During this time, I was invited to join your farbrengen with my former classmates. As soon as you walked in and saw me, you announced that the entire farbrengen would focus on getting me back to Yeshiva. You repeated over and over that my purpose in life was to be a shliach and therefore I “must” go back to yeshiva. You never bothered calling me, meeting me or asking me why I left. It felt like I was irrelevant to your crusade. You had a predetermined goal and could not care less, if it was right for me or not.

After a year of facing the real world, where I couldn’t be lazy and wake up whenever I want… I decided it would be wiser to go back to Yeshiva. Besides for “possibly” being a shliach in the future, it was the lazy way out. Yeshiva taught me that, as long as I learned for an hour or two a day, wear a hat and jacket and listened to my mashpia, I would lead a meaningful life.

Unfortunately that didn’t translate very well in reality. Ironically, you, the very person who preached that my life mission was shlichus, are now blaming me for not having a “financially viable career”. Could you imagine what a hypocrite you sound like to me?

When I went to get married, I was taught to date as little as possible. I was told to date just enough to ask “the right questions”. I believed it was wrong to focus on social/emotional connection and that it would magically develop over time.

After four dates that were more like job interviews; I was ready to propose. My mashpia at the time, was a very busy rabbi. He hardly gave me the time I needed to express myself. For some reason, when I was ready to propose, I could not get a hold of him. Not wanting to wait, I decided to consult with you.

As soon as I told you that I wanted to get married after four dates, you began yelling at me; “You can’t base a marriage on hormones”. I vividly remember the exact words you said. The problem was, there were no hormones. I wanted to marry her because she past my written test. Your absurd misjudgment of the situation reminded me how incompetent your are. If you actually tried to understand the REAL situation you were in a position to have prevented children from growing up with divorced parents. Instead you uncontrollably let out an emotional outburst and failed tremendously.

Just for the record, I eventually spoke with my mashpia at the time and he told me to ignore your advice for the said reason. Of course had he given me the time I needed he probably would have suggested I date a little more.

There are more examples where I saw your total ignorance to reality, but I think the point is made.

No one gets divorced with kids for no reason. It was the hardest decision I made in my life. The very fact that you failed to ask is more insulting that anything you said. If someone told you their father was killed in a car accident, would you lash out at what a reckless driver he was?

I’m sorry to say this but, your actions were totally reckless and irresponsible. In my opinion you should resign or be fired from any position you hold where you give real life advice. Stick to what you are good at, teaching tanya and chassidus. You are a very tangible danger to people who choose to follow your advise and I don’t say this lightly.

I doubt you will read to this point in the letter since you are probably busy self justifying yourself. But that is not my business, I did my part in writing, the affect is now in Hashem’s hands.

27 Comments

  • 1. no one special wrote:

    This letter is filled with sadness. If all the details are accurate, there must be sadness.
    When we live with secrets and keeping secrets is the policy for a community one can predict dysfunctional, anti-social, abusive and criminal behavior. One can expect that people, marriages and children will suffer.
    I wonder if anyone is strong enough to correct the problems that will never heal themselves.

    Reply
  • 2. whb wrote:

    #1 has a point.
    somehow people have to begin to learn to adapt new strategies which can lead some some other ending. It is so very very challenging and so very painful.
    that is why it is so important to try and find out how to be as wholesome as possible with our children, and if there are issues, to try and find healthy resolve.
    there are many people with psychological disorders too, which may not show up until the children are grown. I was urged by a very wise person, to be aware of the dangers, and to face the challenges,not to just let them be. Disorders make dysfunction and it will just continue…….
    its in the “best” of families. Sometimes more in the “best” of families, because they have the ability to hide it. Oy vevoy lanu.

    Reply
  • 3. Next step wrote:

    It’s impossible for me to judge here as I don’t know either parties. All I can offer is that you actively seek a competent mashpia who will give you honest feedback. It’s a two-way street and will also require you to be honest and accepting of your own faults and limitations. If you’re willing to work on yourself and are open to constructive criticism then I think you’ll be successful. What’s done is done and really not worth dwelling on anymore. Hatzlacha rabba.

    Reply
  • 4. Back in the day wrote:

    When I was in yeshiva the same dysfunction was a regular occurrence.
    Now I’m a Baal haabos with multiple children and a happy wife.
    I couldn’t understand why any of my friends would tell their maashpiim any personal information. Save your issues for a certified therapist. Not a judgmental freak that thinks he has the answer to everything.

    Reply
  • 5. I agree wrote:

    I agree with this author, and wish him the best on this difficult part in his life.
    Not every Chassidus teacher qualifies as a mashpiah. Before anyone gives a student or anyone who trusts you advice, they must really be honest with themselves if they really knows the full situation etc. It’s a huge responsibility.

    Reply
  • 6. Concerned wrote:

    When I got married the 1st time, I asked my Mashpee if I should marry her, and he said yes.
    When he later told my ex-wife we should get divorced, I mentioned to him how he told me to go ahead and marry her. Mashpia responded, “I never told you to marry her.”
    I was shocked at his lie.
    After divorce, I started dating again.
    I felt this system of reliance and trust in Mashpiim is false.
    I decided the next woman I go out with, I will not talk to a list of her references about her.
    If I have any questions, I will ask her myself. This woman became my wife, the most amazing and loving woman.
    I was taught in Yeshiva I need a mashpia for consultations. WRONG.
    Mashpia’s want your obedience and love the power or prestige.
    I hope you find a wonderful woman to marry.

    Reply
  • 7. Joe wrote:

    You need a different mashpia for different things. The notion that one person can answer questions on every area of life is preposterous.

    Reply
  • 8. let's be careful not harmful wrote:

    If person believes all stories about BAAL SHEM – he/she is wrong in 1 way … If person believes none – wrong other way … Same applies to listening to MASHPIA

    Reply
  • 9. Great Dane wrote:

    I, too, got terrible advice from a very Chassidishe, well meaning mashpia. Wonderful man, absolutely terrible advice regarding marriage. I was too young and naive, never having been in a relationship.

    Of course, that marriage ended in divorce and lots of ‘ogmas nefesh’. I’m now very happily married for many years. But I agree with lots of the commenters that a Chassidishe mashpia is good for teaching Chassidus, but a down to earth, practical mashpia may be better with helping guide a young person towards marriage.

    Reply
  • 10. Overreacting? wrote:

    How can you blame this teacher for not knowing your messed up home situation? You never told him anything, so how could he know?(Especially if you liked his class)

    Reply
  • 11. good luck in the future may u find happinesss again wrote:

    No words but hugs to anyone whos in pain from divorce

    Reply
  • 12. A word on mashpi'im wrote:

    “Aseh L’CHA Rav” means that the mekabel must work on finding the mashpia. Someone they know and respect, who is a rachaman, baishan, and Gomel chesed (as the Rebbe advises) – and most importantly – someone who understands the individual they intend to guide.

    Obviously no one other than a Rebbe is perfect, and therefore guidance must also be considered and weighed rationally. A mashpia is there to give you perspective, a hashkafa and to gear your thinking towards that of yiddishkeit and of chassidus.

    A mashpia – just like any teacher or even navi can be tested to gauge whether or not their advice is sound and reliable. Only then can they be relied upon for further guidance.

    Reply
  • 13. To #4 & #6 wrote:

    Just because you found the wrong Mashpia doesn’t make it a bad system. Just to because you ran into a bad business deal, doesn’t make business a flop. Just because you lost with your investment, doesn’t mean investing is good.

    Like anything, you have to do the right research and choose the right Mashpia for your self and do it right! having the right Mashpia and doing it right (one who doesn’t have the issues you mentioned, one who knows, understands and cares about you fully!) can be one of the best things a person can get for himself in this world. The Mashpia might not be a therapist for real life marriage issues, but he will send you to one and support you with it!

    Only Hatzlacha

    Reply
    • 14. Don't jump to conlusions wrote:

      Actually he most likely not send you to a real therapist, as he can deal with the issues himself and walk away feeling so accomplished, patting himself on the back for his “good” work.

  • 15. Divored too wrote:

    To the Writer of this letter,
    I feel your pain and if this letter is therapeutic for you, then I am pleased you have done it.
    But for your own good, go get some sound advice and help and move on. Grow from your traumatic past, blaming the world will not help.
    I wish you hatzlocha in all you do and may you find a partner that can help you heal and grow and accepts you with all your baggage and loves you no matter.

    Reply
  • 16. Mashpia wrote:

    I would aask a mashpia how to improve in my avoidas Hashem or something like that or how to solve a problem with a friend or so
    But to ask a mashpia if you should married someone?
    No way
    This is something so important that you have to be 100% sure and very happy to go ahead if not ,keep dating , take your time

    Reply
  • 17. Training and Qualifications wrote:

    Mashpia – noun, an untrained and unqualified person who freely gives you advice based on their own judgement and limited intelligence.

    Mooshpa – noun, a person who blindly makes life altering decisions based on the guidance of a Mashpia (see “Mashpia”).

    Reply
    • 18. Citizen Berel wrote:

      Who trained the first trainee? Bonus points for a base case to the recursion.

  • 19. confused wrote:

    a) why is he your mashpia if you’ve had issues with him since 10th grade?

    b) at what point does personal responsibility come in?

    Reply
  • 20. Dina Demalchusa Dina! wrote:

    We say three times a day, “Atah Chonen Leadom Das…Chaneinu Meitcha Chochmah, Binah, Vadas.” People, wake up! You were given intellect for a reason, use it. Asking a mashpia whether you should marry someone is at best pure laziness, if not outright stupid. Take control of your own life. Make proper decisions for yourself and your family. If you cannot decide on your own who you should marry, well, this might indicate you should not be getting married in the first place!

    Reply
  • 21. The system wrote:

    Maybe there should be classes for young men and women that discuss marriage ( before one is engaged).
    A mashpia isn’t the Rebbe, giving brachos for marriage but a guide in how one is doing with Torah, avodah, and gemilus chasadim.

    Reply
  • 22. Get or no Get? wrote:

    Never rely on any of these schmucks to give marital advise. One never knows what goes on in their own homes. Go to older members of your own Mishpacha whom have successful marriages + ask them. Torah says Hashem Hates divorce. Hashem is the only ONE that is Perfect HE has the right answers and will never leave you nor forsake you. Meditate on His HaDavar.

    Reply
  • 23. To #13 wrote:

    You write “Just because you found the wrong Mashpia doesn’t make it a bad system.”
    WRONG
    After terrible experience with 1st mashpia who told me to marry my ex-wife, I found a new 2nd Mashpia. I was offered a job to teach for at a cheder at an established chabad house. The Mashpia told me don’t take that job, take the teaching job at a new Maschist Cheder in Chicago. I asked Mashpia if the new Cheder was financially stable. He said for sure. Well, the Maschist Cheder retracted their financial commitment, and I was left without a shlichus, without a job, and without any assistance or even an apology from the 2nd Mashpia for his wrong advice. Oh yeah, exactly one year later, he did say 3 words, “I am sorry.”
    We don’t need Mashpias to guide us in shlichus, marriage, or general life. We need to rely on Hashem alone, not humans.

    Reply
  • 24. False Mashpia wrote:

    Not very clear:

    You write that this person is your “lifelong mashpia”.
    Yet when you were dating you had a different mashpia.

    With all these inconsistencies you were having from the 10th grade on – why did you continue using this person as a mashpia? (maybe coming from a family of abused parent one sort of “learns” to accept punishment?).

    I beg your pardon but maybe it is your fault that you continued going to a person who according to your description was hopelessly incapable of being a mashpia?

    And yes as one of the commentors wrote you need a therapist for all your problems.

    Reply
  • 25. The system is broken wrote:

    Yes personal responsibility comes into play, but when we are brought up to always ask before doing anything, how do you think anyone can ever make decisions on their own. The system coddles young men from adulthood until they are in fully thrusted into marriage and family. The idea is very daunting since many of us had no real life experience going into it, so of course the rabbis who’ve nurtured us and told us we always need to go to them for every little thing are our only real understanding and navigation system into life. The amount of bad advise I’ve been given by mashgiachs is insane. Especially when living in a small out of town community, it is more expected to abide and comply. The worst life choices I have ever made in life were advise given by rabbis.
    It took me a long time to grow up and make my own way in life.

    Reply
    • 26. Anonymous wrote:

      I don’t even know where to begin but will make two points.

      1) If a Mashpia in highschool didn’t pick up on a difficult family situation, how is that
      as you write:
      ” Could you imagine what a laughing stock you were after that PTA? In addition you were extremely offensive and hurtful to my mother and I. How could I ever respect your situational judgment after that?

      So, your mother and yourself were good at hiding it. Why is that offensive and hurtful that he said: “He must come from a happy home”?

      2) Someone recently commented how his Mashpia is undecisive in advising him about whether to pursue a Shidduch.

      I replied: Any Mashpia who can definitively tell you to marry or not to marry someone, is bad news. A mashpia’s job in such a situation is to help you objectively come to a good decision on your own and help you make sure you are making a decision based on your mind as opposed to your heart.

      You ask a Rebbe whether or not to marry someone.

      You do not ask a Mashpia whether or not to take a job. You can present ideas to your Mashpia and ask him or her to help you sort the pros and cons and objectively help you come to a decision.

      Would you ask a Mashpia if you should undergo surgery if so prescribed?

      A Mashpia is not a replacement to using your common sense. We must take responsibility for our decisions. It will be difficult to move when dragged down with others to blame.

  • 27. Confused by the renown of a mashpiah who nevertheless didn't do right by my situation wrote:

    It is extremely rare that a rebbetzin, rabbi, or rav will admit what the one rebbetzin admitted to her, that she is qualified to only give SPIRITUAL guidance and that a licensed professional is the one to give the rest of the guidance.

    There are mashpiim in Crown Heights who fall asleep while a spouse or couple is pouring out their hearts to them. I have personally experienced this.

    There are mashpiim in Crown Heights who are duped by an abusive spouse and having been won over, effectively join up with the abuser to subtly (and sometimes not so subtly!) ostracize the abused spouse!

    There are mashpiim in Crown Heights who very pompously act as if the really “get it” when they are 100% clueless. Halevai they “got it.” Then maybe they actually COULD help! Good intentions are not enough! It’s not enough to have “heard everything that’s out there”.

    It may or may not take a therapist’s secular training to recognize an abusive con man husband or con woman wife (a.k.a. narcissist or worse, borderline personality), but a person who puts themselves out there as a mashpiah has to humble him or herself and recognize their own personal limitations.

    I heard about a “life coach”in the frum world thinking that they were all that a sexual predator needed in order to overcome their illness! What chutzpah! Thank G-d that predator is getting the proper intensive help now.

    One husband’s mashpiah working with the couple wouldn’t admit having overlooked blatant abuse until the wife’s (female) mashpiah phoned the husband’s mashpiah and confronted him about it. The husband’s mashpiah was just too bowled over and had drunk the husband’s conning Kool Aid charm! What chutzpah!

    I just wish these self-appointed mashpiim would actually get off their high horses and realize their knowledge and training usually is more for the normal ups and downs of healthy marriages! When there is mamash sickness, conning, and abuse, they need to turn the couple loose to a truly qualified individual who can actually help them, not give advice that applies better to an already healthy relationship just going through a rough patch.

    Where is the humility and self-awareness in our mashpiim, rabbis, rebbetzins, and ravs????? Without that, their self-important disservice to spouses and their children is on the level of grave aveiros!

    Reply

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