Torah Study on Shabbat and Childcare

Must parents of young children who spend a great deal of time with them on Shabbat also make every effort so the husband can learn six hours? * Those engaged in the mitzvah of raising children may be lenient in Torah study on Shabbat * Torah study on Shabbat receives its importance precisely when it stems from joy and relaxation * The main requirement to study Torah six hours on Shabbat is directed towards those who waste their time on Shabbat * The moment the family situation permits, one should return to learning six hours

When Raising Children is Time-demanding on Shabbat

Q: “Rabbi, you often write about the importance of studying Torah on Shabbat for at least six hours. My husband and I enjoy following your informative articles, and try to lead our lives according to your halachic decisions, however, this issue is difficult for us and I would appreciate it, Rabbi, if you could answer my question.

To date, we have been blessed with four adorable children. They are very young and close in age and therefore, presently, taking care of them requires a great deal of effort. There is also a lot to do around the house, and the children are not yet able to help. During the week my husband, like many men, goes to daven (pray) early every morning, and then to work. Occasionally in the evening he gets to see the children for a few minutes while they are still awake, and sometimes he returns after they are all asleep. He attends the ‘Daf Yomi’ class every evening, and also helps me with the housework. In effect, during the week he is virtually unable to spend time with the kids and I have to take care of them and most of the housework, in addition to my own work, which is more than a half-time job. Shabbat is the only time when my husband can leisurely spend time with our children, and even help take care of them and give me a little break – not to mention spending quality time together, which is also missing during the week.

Our children are still young, and as a result, spending time with them requires energy and patience; we learn with them the Torah portion and recite Tehilim (Psalms), however, I can learn with them for only about a half an hour at the most. I am already alone at home with the kids when my husband goes to pray, and occasionally, those can be very difficult times.

Perhaps other parents’ kids are more well-behaved or calmer, or maybe the parents are more apathetic and don’t keep an eye on their children as carefully as I do; perhaps some of their children are older and can help out, or maybe the wife is more heroic and energetic than myself. In any case, our situation is that I need a lot of help on Shabbat, and if my husband wants to please and help me, he can achieve no more than four or five hours of Torah study on Shabbat. After all, Rabbi, having a large family is also an important and sweet mitzvah, as you have written several times…

On account of the requirement to study six hours on Shabbat, we both come out frustrated. If my husband spends more time with the family – he is frustrated for only learning four hours; and if he can study for six hours – I’m frustrated that he has not helped me enough. We haven’t been able to find any solution to the problem, except to wait a few years until the children are older.”

“Ha’Osek Ba’Mitzvah”

A: Thank you very much for the letter – it is important to remind myself and the readers of the difficulties that you raised. Actually, in fact, regarding such situations our Sages said, “One who is occupied in carrying out one mitzvah is excused from the performance of another mitzvah within the same time span” [in Hebrew, ‘ha’osek ba’mitzvah patur min ha’mitzvah‘] (Sukkah 25a). Therefore, parents engaged in the precious mitzvah of raising the children and as a result are unable to properly fulfill the mitzvah of Torah study on Shabbat, can suffice with fewer hours of study, provided they learn the maximum amount of time possible, given their family situation.

Why not afflict oneself for the Sake of Learning?

Seemingly, one could argue that since such a situation does not fall under the category of ‘onus gamor’ (a situation in which a person has no control over), both the husband and wife should be obligated to afflict themselves so that the husband can study at least six hours, thus fulfilling our Sages statement that half of Shabbat should be devoted to Torah (Pesachim 68b). It could be further argued that even women themselves must make an effort to study Torah on Shabbat despite all the difficulties, seeing as this is the duty of the day, as our Sages said: “Shabbat day and Festivals were given to us for the sole purpose of engaging in Torah study” (Yerushalmi, Shabbat 15:3).

Not only that, but in the book ‘Ben Ish Hai’ it is written: “The Kabbalists, of blessed memory, wrote that one hour of Torah study on Shabbat is equal to a thousand hours of Torah study during the week” (introduction to the Torah portion ‘Shemot’).

Even before answering, I will add another question: If a person had been told that tomorrow the price of a certain share on the stock market was about to go up a thousand times, in other words, if he were to buy a share for a hundred shekels today he could sell it for a hundred thousand shekels tomorrow evening, he would run and sell all of his possessions – his house, car, and all his belongings – his furniture, clothing, shoes, and even the laces on his shoes! With barely a shirt on his back, he would run with all the money he amassed and buy that stock, because the following evening he would be extremely wealthy, and able to buy as many mansions, cars, and furniture as he wished. The whole lot, a thousand times more.

If so, why shouldn’t one make a heroic effort to learn Torah for a full twenty-four hours on Shabbat? Isn’t it a shame to waste time on meals and sleep when every hour of study is worth a thousand times more?

Torah Study Stemming from Pleasure and Relaxation

The answer is that an hour of Torah study on Shabbat is worth a thousand times more specifically because it occurs together with pleasure, relaxation, and family enjoyment. That’s why it is so valuable, and that’s why it is ‘may’ain olam ha’ba’ (a taste of the World to Come); a world in which the soul and body unite in harmony, similar to the ideal world which will exist after ‘Techiyat Ha’Maytim’ (the Resurrection of the Dead). And therefore our Sages instructed: “Divide it (Shabbat): Devote half to God, and half to yourselves” (Pesachim 68b).

But if a person cuts back on his eating and sleeping in order to engage in learning Torah, he will not merit the virtue of study on Shabbat. And thus, the Talmud relates that when Rabbi Zeira saw yeshiva students studying arduously on Shabbat, at the expense of ‘oneg Shabbat’, he would say to them: “I beg of you – do not profane it” – i.e., do not profane the Shabbat by neglecting its delights and good cheer [‘oneg‘] (Shabbat 119a).

Consequently, it is clear that when our Sages said: “The Shabbat is to be given over completely to Torah” (Tanna De’be Eliyahu Rabbah 1), the intention was that time spent in eating and sleeping, given that they add joy and vitality to Torah study, are considered as time related to Torah, and therefore, together with them, the Shabbat is given over completely to Torah.

The Flexibility Required in Observance of the Mitzvah

Thus, the main point of Torah study on Shabbat is that it should stem from ‘oneg‘ and relaxation of the meals and rest, and from joy and peace between husband and wife; study from which the entire family gains pleasure, and from which blessing and light is drawn into the six working- days.

Therefore, during the years when the effort required to raise children is particularly great, to the point where, in effect, a husband cannot maintain proper study without causing sorrow to his wife, there is a need to compromise and consider how many hours he can learn without harming the joy of life.

The requirement of Torah study on Shabbat is directed at people who waste their time in vain on the holy Shabbat with small talk, reading newspapers, and excessive eating. However, parents merited with raising young children who need supervision and care, and cannot manage without the husband curtailing his Torah study, may do so l’chatchila (in the first place) – until the children grow up and are able to care of themselves, and even help take care of younger siblings and house chores.

One Must Be Vigilant

Nevertheless, one must be vigilant and when the time comes that the children have grown up, hasten his fulfilment of the mitzvah to study Torah on Shabbat in its entirety. Our Sages said that in the wake of the twenty-two years that Yaacov spent in Lavan’s house and did not honor his parents, he was punished through the abandonment of his son Yosef for twenty-two years. Seemingly, one could ask: After all, Yaacov went to Haran on the command of his parents to take a wife! Why was he punished for it? However, Yaacov spent only twenty years with Lavan, but on the way back to Eretz Yisrael, he delayed two years more than he should have. Since he did not hasten to return to his parents, it is considered as if during the previous twenty years he did not want to honor his parents.

By the same token, one who is unable to study Torah properly because his family situation does not allow it, must be very careful that when the burden of child-care decreases, he must return to observe the mitzvah of Torah study on Shabbat properly. And if one is careless and does not fulfill the mitzvah, in retrospect, it will become clear that not only because of his desire to please his wife did he reduce his study, but also because he himself preferred to slack-off from Torah study.

(On another occasion, I will explain that there is a mitzvah to study Torah on Shabbat for women as well, however their mitzvah is not as fixed and binding as it is for men).

Don’t Be Upset

I received a follow-up question:

“Rabbi, thank you very much for the detailed answer, but I’m still confused: Maybe I really don’t need my husband’s help on Shabbat? It could be that I’m spoiled, and in truth, I could be stronger and allow him to learn six hours as he would like to?

A: Indeed, there are women who are able to bear a greater burden, and others who are so happy with their husband’s learning that even though it imposes a heavy burden on them, they accept it with joy, so their husbands can increase their learning. Nevertheless, if in practice it causes you grief instead of satisfaction, you and your husband must be flexible, and devote fewer hours to study.

However, it could be that the more you delve into the importance of Torah study, the stronger you will be. And perhaps the matter is dependent on your husband – that he should learn in a more complete and deeper way, so that you will also feel the joy, light, and blessing of his learning. In any event, everybody has their own ordeals, and ‘lefum tzara agra’ (according to the pain, is the reward). As long as we are not talking about excessive indulgence, but rather a situation where the burden of childcare truly is as great as you described, you can ask your husband to help more in order to fulfill the mitzvah of ‘oneg Shabbat’, in Torah and the in the meals, as appropriate to your current situation.

In the meantime, you and your husband should not be saddened by this, but take enjoyment in the enormous mitzvah of raising children. And thanks to this great mitzvah, you will be worthy throughout the years to constantly increase your Torah study with great pleasure and contentment, and merit to complete all the missing hours twice over, until a ripe old age.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting and informative article by Rabbi Melamed can be found at:

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