Part Two: For the Baal Tshuvah Son or Daughter
How Do I Live With My Parents?
You are becoming frum. You are moving along in what you know is the right direction. Suddenly, your parents’ attitude has changed. You know you’re the same person. Don’t they realize that?
The very first thing to realize is that your parents might just be a little confused, and very scared. There are a lot of cults out there, some of them even claim to be Jewish. How are your parents to know that you haven’t joined a cult?
If your parents express that concern, give them a copy of my article «Is Judaism a Cult?» (See the link to it below.)
The next thing to do is give your parents your Rabbi’s phone number. You do have a Rabbi, right?
If not, get one immediately. Every Jew needs a Rabbi. If you are a woman or girl, you should probably also get close with your Rabbi’s wife, the Rebbetzin. (It doesn’t have to be your Rabbi’s wife. It’s usually okay to get the legal rulings of one Rabbi and get the emotional support etc. from another Rebbetzin. Just make sure they are accepted by the Orthodox community.)
Your Rabbi can help explain things to your parent that you may not be able to explain. Besides, your parents might also be more willing to accept the word of an adult.
Never forget that your parents have feelings too. It sounds trite, I know, but believe me, it’s easy to forget. It is also wrong for you to insist that someone change his life to accommodate your feelings, no matter how close you are to that person. You cannot and should not expect your parents to become religious on your account. And never should you forget that your parents are also having difficulty adjusting to the changes taking place in your life.
The Torah teaches us, «Honor your father and mother, I am Hashem.» The Torah means, «Honor your father and mother, but above all, I am Hashem.» One is required to honor and obey one’s parents in all things, except when they command one to transgress the Torah.
This does not mean that by so doing they lose that status. If your parents tell you to transgress the Torah, you must find a polite and respectful way to tell them that you cannot follow their wishes in that matter. You are still required to honor them, and to continue to obey them in any matter that does not contradict the Torah.
For example, if your father or mother asks you, on the Sabbath, to mow the lawn, tell them that you will do it at the first opportunity after the Sabbath ends. And then do it — as soon as you are able. If your father or mother asks you do something that does not violate the Torah, the Torah requires you to do it.
Family harmony is of paramount importance. The Torah desires peace for all of us. War is only waged as a matter of necessity. Peace is the preferred option. And the best path towards peace is silence. The Talmud teaches that the world continues to exist only because of those who keep silent during arguments.
A baal tshuvah should not try to make his family frum. That will result only in family strife and alienation. If you desire your family to become frum, don’t shove it at them. Rather, let your trust in Hashem fill you so much that it overflows around you, like a cup that overflows and spills its wine into the saucer beneath it.
It is possible to find a way to live together.
Do not impose Kashrus on your family. Get your own pot and pan, a few dishes (or use paper or plastic), a tablecloth, and find a way around the problem. Read a book called Keeping Kosher in a Non-Kosher World, by Rabbi Eliezer Wolff. (The title is a bit misleading, and is really about keeping kosher in a non-kosher home.) See the link to a good bookseller, below. And as always, ask your Rabbi for guidance.
It is best that you go to a frum family for Shabbos meals. In the first place, observing Shabbos needs a Shabbos environment. Keeping Shabbos at home when your family is going through their regular routine can be trying on both them and you. And let’s be honest: your one-man or one-woman Shabbos zemiros (songs and hymns) might be beautiful and moving, but they are unlikely to sway your family towards Judaism. Besides, at this stage of your life you should be at the absorbing end, learning whatever you can, and soaking up the proper atmosphere so that you can later, when you have your own home, imbue it with that Torah flame.
The title of this article is «Sudden Changes,» but it is most healthy to keep the changes gradual. Don’t expect to assume everything at once. It is impossible, and it is unhealthy. You can’t go from zero to one-eighty in sixty seconds. I say this only to you, not your parents, because in all probability, even when you make a change gradually your parents will think it was too sudden and too fast. Remember, they can’t see what’s going on in your head, and they probably don’t want to hear about «all that religious stuff» anymore.
There is an excellent book, called After the Return, by Mordechai Becher and Moshe Newman, published by Feldheim. It is a practical guide for the newly observant, it is very well written, and it gives all the Talmudic and Halachic sources. (See below for a link to my favorite Jewish bookstore.)
Above all, keep in touch with your Rabbi. That is of the utmost importance in Judaism. He will guide you in your growth, and he will advise you concerning your study program.
My article: Is Judaism a Cult?
Tiferes Stam Judaica and Booksellers (Tell them I sent you.)
Project Genesis’ Teen Classes web page. A good place to learn about Judaism and what’s going on today in the Jewish world.