Label Lam – Reflections on Main Problems for Baale’ Teshuva

I’m concerned that someone might be left with the false impression that I think that the biggest problem facing Balale’ Teshuva is that we most often don’t get the punch lines for Yiddish jokes. It’s a little deeper than that. I can remember as a Yeshiva student singing with the other guys on Friday Night over and over again the refrain, “Libi Libi U’ B’sari” and not knowing what the words meant and imagining they mean, “Leiby (that’s me) I’m sorry!” I never told a soul about it! I just laughed and sometimes cried with those silly thoughts. Till today when my boys sing this same Zemer, even though I know what the words mean, I still occasionally flash back and chuckle quietly in a place no one would ever know. Silly! Huh? When the more than occasional speaker would shout out the words, “Yiras Shemaim”, I thought about it whimsically, “A Year in Shemaim” and still do!

The real matter is, it took more than years and loads of effort to install some images to flash when the words, “Yiras Shemaim” are used. There was no such thing in my or many of our youth experience. We grew up with Saturday Night Live. Nothing was sacred! Even images of Chessed or Gevurah fail to register or conjure healthy images. I suppose in the affirmative sense there is an inherent lack of Shimush…real life exposure to living Torah action and actors to color in the many intangibles that are woven between the words of books, stuff that could never be gotten or recovered from books alone. So many of us, I suppose have had to work harder than usual to fill in whatever we certainly missed. Even if we catch up, 1) It leaves us with a sinking sense of insecurity as we enter marriage and raise families of are own….2) We are in a position that we have to keep on consciously trying to prop up those ideas, ideals and images…there is no default mode or automatic pilot which may be good, because the drive has to always be there. On the other hand there is little margin of error and the edge is always there to be crossed. The worst should be not getting jokes or misunderstanding holy phrases but other stuff still stalks us all of our days and it either drives us to become great or crazy.

A friend of mine, at the Bris of his oldest son, some 20 years ago, turned over the tape in the middle of the speeches he was recording for posterity and accidentally pressed the play button and not the record and suddenly; The Allman Brothers or the Grateful Dead started to play and he recovered quickly and quipped, “That’s the old recording!” He proceeded to tape over it! There’s a lot of old tape there and it’s hard to erase it all. I’m resigned to the notion that I will always know more commercial jingles than Mishnayos and Sport Stats than Halachos. No matter how much we do learn that clutter stays. That one of the big challenges facing BT’s …As the poet sang… “I am leaving I am leaving but the fighter still remains oy oy oy…”

Am I the only one?

11 comments on “Label Lam – Reflections on Main Problems for Baale’ Teshuva

  1. Listen to almost any tape by Rabbi David Orlofsky (Ohr Somayach – Jerusalem) and hear the amazing use he makes of the secular world’s narishkeit (sp?). A chain saw can be used for both good and bad and so can what passes for culture in the 21st century.

  2. My husband came to the table with an interesting minhag in regards to waiting between meat and milk. Grown-ups wait 6 hours. Children 6 and under wait their age. (A 4 yr old would only wait 4 hours, a 1 yr old only an hour, et al) Although if we base it on Bar/bas mitzvah, maybe half their age would be more appropriate? At any rate, it takes into account that a small child has a)no concept of time and b)a smaller belly and a smaller wait between “meals.” 6 hrs is still a long time for anyone, especially a 6 yr old, but it’s easier on the younger children. And it helps them develop that sense of time, even without TV!

  3. Sholom –

    Tell your daughter she’ll need to help those 6 kids with THEIR homework!

    But seriously, in case it makes you feel any better, FFB parents often can’t agree on ages for various stages of chinuch and observance either. It’s like any other aspect of parenting. My kids are expected to do at home what they have learned in school.

    I once had a (single, FFB) friend insist that my 4 or 5 YO child wash before hamotzei. – And who are you to decide that for me? My FFB husband says until bar/bas mitzvah, the obligation of chinuch, as Miriam says, is to expose them and make it “the thing to do”, not punish them when they balk.

    He insists children under BM don’t need to wait x hours from meat to milk, just “something, maybe an hour?”. This still drives me nuts. On the other hand, the German minhag of 3 hours seems to be based on “the next meal”, so there’s intellectual consistency somewhere. At what age do kids pay attention to the time anyway? Especially w/o TV.

  4. And more in line with the original post, I do feel my lack of background sometimes, like a ghost hovering over me. I shied away from toiveling keilim for years, convinced that I would somehow “do it wrong” or get the brocho wrong, or somehow unintentionally invalidate it. I still make my husband do it whenever possible, although I’ve never been able to explain why, because I know my reasoning is irrational.

    It’s like we’re all part of a huge Broadway production, and some people have been studying the script for years, and I was handed mine yesterday. I have the lines memorized (I’m a quick study) but I don’t really know them the same way the others do.

  5. Tell her that maybe he’ll be in Kollel and she’ll have to support the family (including those 6 kids)!

    No, really, as in everything, Parenting is a balancing act.

    And as a mother of 7 and a BT myself, I can only offer you my answers to your questions. They may not be yours. But anyway: Don’t make your children bensch, etc. Encourage, but don’t force, or they’ll run like mad! I let my two year old wash, but don’t make him. My 4 and 6 yr olds get “reminded” to bensch but aren’t expected to say the whole thing… they stop after the first brocho unless it’s Shabbos. My 7 and 8yr olds are sent back (with a smile) to the table if they leave without bensching, and they do both say the whole thing. I encourage (initial) brochos on food but don’t get mad if they “forget,” after all, I forget all the time. I too am a “work in progress.”

    I treat davening the same way. They see me davening, and are invited to do so as well. Using a real siddur is a big treat for the ones who can’t read yet. And the older ones will do it if they think it is their idea. Going to shul is a big treat, not an obligation. At some point we say to them, if you don’t come and sit nicely and daven, if all you do at shul is play, well, then you can do that at home just as well.

    But if I try to force them, they realize it is something they can use against me. (I have good kids, but they do throw tantrums now and then.) Don’t take it personally… they hurt themselves and their relationship with Gd if they don’t daven, not you. You only want them to because you love them and it is your job to help them learn, (Repeat that several times a day if necessary.)

    About bedtime prayers, well, they’re written in the siddur. Can you read Hebrew? Can your kids? Sit down and read them together. You’ll both learn them. Littles only say Shema and maybe HaMalach HaGoel anyway, the brocha of HaMapil comes later.

    My husband is an FFB, but that doesn’t mean all this stuff is any more obvious to him either. It’s like with anything you want your kids to love. Acentuate the positive, and approach it with a big smile. If you love, oh, fishing, then you’re going to be excited about taking your kid fishing and teaching him how to do it, and he’ll catch your excitement and learn to love it as well, even if only because you do. Treat religion the same way, and you’ll be fine.

  6. I want to highlight Kressel’s comment: “I agree with you about the lack of shimush being a problem, particularly with raising kids.”

    At what age do you: make them bentch after a meal; make sure they daven at shul; daven at home; etc etc. How can I teach them the prayers before bedtime when I don’t know them either? How do I convince my daughter that learning is important when: “it’s for boys, and, besides, I’m going to have six children and my husband will work”?

    And etc etc etc

  7. I’m involved in kiruv. I doubt very highly if my past Rosh Kollel would be able to communicate as comfortably with the secular people that I come into contact with. While years in Yehisva Kollel and chinuch are a big part of who I am, I try to make good use of all the other stuff. (Of course, I always explain that some of my references are very very ancient. Just today, in the middle of a shiur, one of the people asked me about a movie that I never heard of. I reminded him that if it came out past 1978, it’s out of my radar screen.) That learning group has told me that they respect the fact that I stopped going to see movies decades ago, but they also appreciate that I have some idea of what they’re talking about.

  8. I think this “clutter” is something that, along with other things from our past, is something that has to be transformed to kedusha. That which is transformable, I mean. The rest we can hopefully treat as we would a tayva for something not kedusha and handle it appropriately.

    But you’re right: the clutter is suffocating at worst and exhasperating at best. Acknowledging that it is a part of me, those commerical jingles and useless trivia, and taking whatever knowledge and how I might have gained as a person from those experiences, has helped a lot in the pain that comes with it when I first became religious.

    I hope this concept of transformation makes sense.

  9. BS”D

    LOL to the tape story, and it’s such a fitting analogy, too!

    I agree with you about the lack of shimush being a problem, particularly with raising kids. It’s one thing to teach yourself how to keep halacha, but quite another to raise kids with it while lacking the models of frum parents. There are many Shabbos mornings in which I’ve slept in and didn’t get my kids to daaven. It makes me feel guilty, but then I think, when I was a kid, I had Saturday morning cartoons! I know I should be giving my kids Shabbos and not Saturday, but wow, is it work! Not only do I have to fight my own yetzer hara, I have to fight theirs, too.

    Thanks for the divrei Torah, DL. They’re very inspiring.

  10. I’m not so sure its a matter of erasing it all or just the inconsistent things (though I do wish there was a button I can press to delete those pesky commercial jingles).

    My brother-in-law who is in kiruv in South America laments the fact that he prepares for weeks to give a lecture and the only thing people often remember is the joke or funny story that he opens with. That bris story is classic and I hope we all concentrate on the meat and don’t loose the forest for the trees ot the hashkafah for the Allman Bros. Maybe we should switch this post to the “Day the Music Revived-Part II”.

    A firend who is a ger once told me that she felt like she wasted the first 40 years of her life on sheker. The Rav told her that it took the Bnai Yisrael 40 years of wandering in the desert before they reached eretz yisrael. They had to get through the desert to gain the Holy Land. We BTs had to get through our past in order to be where we are now, and not all of our past is sheker, mind you.

    One of the speakers at the Life After Teshuvah conference, I forget which one, said “If G-d wanted you to be born in to a frum family in Boro Park, he could have done it.” G-d doesn’t make mistakes, each of us were born where we were physically and spiritually for a reason. The continuing journey to where we are and where we are going is not simply a means to the end. Rather it is a learning experience to be incorporated.

    The Bais HaLevi speaks about there being two types of hodadh-thanks. The first is, after going through a difficult time, we thank G-d that he brought us through it, but we’re not appreciateive of having to have gone through that difficult time. The second and loftier way is that not only do we thank G-d that he brought us to through the difficult time but we realize the importance of having gone through it to staet with. (Beis HaLevi on Parshas Beshalach – Az Yahir)

    We as BTs have to realize, appreciate and grow from our past struggles.

  11. It’s either exhilerating or exhausting! I, too, have often thought it’s like living among speakers of a different language: how many years does it take before you have to translate things from your former language to the new one? I guess we’ll never entirely stop thinking in secular-speak. But, of course, there’s our hope–our children.

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  1. […] It would also be helpful if you could tell 2 friends, so they could tell 2 friends, so they could tell 2 friends… so that we can connect with and provide benefit to as many people as possible. Rabbi Lam talked about commercial jingles in our heads and I’m curious how many people remember where the “tell 2 friends” meme comes from. […]