Making Sure the Slow Path Remains a Path

Reading this great advice from Friedman’s Get Deeper Into Torah Without Going Off The Deep End raises the question that perhaps at some point we no longer have our sight on a goal and we’re basically content with where we are holding despite the fact that we have much room to grow in our Torah and mitzvot observance.

There is the intellectual and emotional commitment to a life of Torah. There is also the practical realignment of a thousand details in your daily life. Your commitment may happen in months or even in an hour. The nitty-gritty rearrangements of how you live should be grown into gradually over several years. It is enough to know you are heading towards total observance. Don’t lose sight of your goal, but pace yourself as you travel towards it. This pacing varies from person to person. If mitzvot are becoming a guilty burden, you have gone forward too fast. If you are depressed, cranky, or anxious about your religious life, or just unbelievably unenthusiastic, you have probably taken on too much too quickly.

A possible suggestion:

Women: just growing into kashrus, growing into Shabbos observance, continuing to learn, dressing more or less modestly, and finding your way around the prayers may be more than enough the first two years.

Men: Just growing into kashrus, growing into Shabbos observance, putting on tefillin, praying three times a day, and daily learning may be more than enough for the first two years. It’s not necessary to pressure yourself now to say all the prayers in the
prayerbook, to dress and speak like a tenth-generation Ben or Bat Torah, to learn every Rashi in Tanach, to become the school expert in checking bugs in vegetables, to study until midnight, to be especially stringent about which kosher labels you accept, to say psalms every day, etc. etc. It’s true that you should eventually create as rich a religious life for yourself as you can, but DON’T take it on all in one year.

11 comments on “Making Sure the Slow Path Remains a Path

  1. I am not baal teshuva, I am not FFB, nor am I Orthodox in my stripes, but I am newly Jewish and there are many things that I took from this post and the linked article that I can use for myself as I become more observant.

    So, I just wanted to say thank you.


  2. Shades of Gray:

    I think you make an excellent point when you say that the essay is adjuring people to “go slow”. Yet, the excerpt is making an important point about the tweaking of, the personalization of and the potential pitfalls of losing track of growth within the “go slow” approach.

    This is a good point, highlighted by the other examples that you gave, in general. Keeping your eyes on the prize and constantly re-evaluating your direction is critical.

  3. Tesyaa, unfortunately I think part of the problem is that our Ahavas Yisroel is sorely lacking. Bullying and taunting are still part of what frum children have to face even in those yeshivos that brag about their “emphasis on good midos.” FFB kids fear that any imperfection in their parents, whether it’s saying Kiddush slowly or being fat, will be a source of their being shamed by other kids. Later on, those FFB kids grow up into FFB young adults who are so to speak competing with each other to get into the “best” seminaries and batei medrashim and to get redd for the “best” shidduchim. Sometimes even apartments in desirable areas won’t get rented out to people whose level of observance is “not like us.” There is a lot of pressure to conform to a community’s standards. This is not all bad: for example, some abusive spouses restrain themselves when considering what their neighbors will say about them.

  4. If I recall correctly, Friedman’s little booklet was written for either newly observant, who were either getting ready to go to Yeshiva/Seminary or those who recently started studying at a Yeshiva/Seminary. The advice he offers is geared towards that type of a person.

    Tesyaa, may I suggest you check out this older post of mine:

    The comments might interest you.
    Regarding this post, I think it’s safe to bet that most Rabbis and people involved in Jewish outreach and education would agree that for most people, it’s not best to jump into the pool without learning how to swim. Some can jump and figure it out, but most need swimming lessons.

  5. There can be a difference between “Orthodox Judaism” and “Social Mores of Orthodox People Where We Live”. The latter can sometimes violate the former, especially if the people feel frum enough not to consult with Rabbonim about important matters.

  6. Tesyaa, good points. There are levels of acceptance, but if you reach the bar as I described above you’ll generally be accepted.

    I’ll will agree that it won’t be as easy or as complete as in more modern communities. You asked why people would chose lower levels of acceptance. And I think the answer I gave in terms of setting a higher bar for Torah and mitzvos still stands.

  7. Mark, if they are usually accepted, why so many posts about angst for their children’s shidduchim, and for their children’s acceptance? Why do they fear being shunned if they admit they have non-frum relatives? Why the post/comment recently where someone was embarrassed that her father said kiddush slowly?

    (How can someone fear rejection over saying kiddush slowly? If I decided to move to Portugal today, my spoken Portuguese might also be slow and halting, even if, after a few years, I was totally in tune with Portuguese culture.)

  8. Some BTs choose to live in right-wing communities because they like where the bar is set in terms of learning Torah and performance of mitzvos. When BTs in these communities reach/approach the bar, they are usually accepted.

    I would like to point out the obvious fact that right-wing communities are not monolithic.

    Just curious, when you say right wing, which of these communities do you include LWMO(Left Wing Modern), RWMO(Right Wing Modern), LWUO(Left Wing Ultra) , RWUO (Right Wing Ultra)?

  9. Of course, this is excellent advice. However, I think the reason many people don’t act in accordance with this advice is an understandable desire for ACCEPTANCE in the frum world. If I look this way, if I study more, if I am an expert in bugs, surely THEN I will fit in with the frum world, and I will be accepted.

    Unfortunately, in many communities BTs will NEVER be fully accepted into the FFB world, so whether they take it fast or slow, the push for acceptance is for nought.

    Why would BTs choose to live in right-wing communities that will never accept them, when there are other communities that will accept them unconditionally?

  10. “Reading this great advice from Friedman’s Get Deeper Into Torah Without Going Off The Deep End raises the question that perhaps at some point we’re no longer have our sight on a goal…”

    This point is clear in the essay quoted, but, interestingly, the esaay on the whole is emphasizing the opposite aspect, “go slow”.

    There is a similar need for balance regarding quoting other encouraging statements, for example R. Hutner’s letter(see first link below) regarding, “ Seven times does the righteous one fall and get up”, or “inside not like outside”(see second link).

    R. Shafran writes of the balance, in the context of R. Hutner’s letter, as follows:

    “The struggles – even the failures – are inherent elements of what can, with determination and perseverance, become an ultimate victory… Still, it’s a balancing act. The knowledge, after the fact, that falling isn’t forever cannot permit us to treat sin lightly. “

    Regarding “tocho k’barao’, R. Shafran writes:

    “And yet, the “insides like outsides” ideal clearly remains the ultimate goal, not only for scholars but for us all…The only excuse for not being there is that we’re trying to get there. “

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