Without the Branch, There’s no Fruit

I became an observant Jewess about 3 years ago, when I was 17. Today, I have a wonderful schedule and I love my life and learning – I’m studying to be an optometrist in the morning, and in the late afternoon I attend classes at a Jewish Women’s Seminar. But, I have a fly in my ointment – my parents.

My parents are lovely people, but their world is still at the level of 9 to 5 followed by dinner and popcorn in front of the television. Although they respect me, they embarrass me all the time. I’ve told my father a million times that he can’t shake hands with my girlfriends, but everytime I bring one home he sticks his hand right out. I’ve tried to explain to my mother the severity of slander and idle gossip, but she says everything about everybody. Even worse, all this gives me a nasty guilt trip; after listening to lectures from the best Torah teachers one could wish for, I come home to two people who only seem to be interested in what’s for dinner and what’s on TV. It’s hard for me to respect them, and that’s a big test, since I’ll be living at home at least for another two years or until Hashem sends me my intended (please make a blessing for me). Please give me some advice on how to accept my situation with emuna. Thank you for being there, Rabbi. With sincere appreciation, Karen from New Jersey

Dear Karen,

First of all, I’m glad that you’re still at home; the advantages of your sanctity far outweigh the peripheral aggravation you have from little details at home. Please forgive me, but I must take exception with the “fly in the ointment” metaphor. Maybe your mama isn’t a Lakewood rebbetzin and your dad isn’t a Rosh Yeshiva with a Homburg on his head, but I’m sure that they’re wonderful people to merit a daughter that’s devoting her life to Hashem. Remember, they are simply the products of their environment, much like babies that grew up in captivity. They never cast away Yiddishkeit, for they never had it. There’s a lot of headway to give them the benefit of the doubt.

You can influence them best by being a kind, considerate, understanding and loving daughter. Please don’t preach and don’t look down on them. Concentrate on your own soul-searching and self-improvement. The more you show compassion for your parents, the more Hashem will have compassion on you – that means you’ll find you bashert (intended) with considerable less hassle.

You don’t have to respect your parents’ lifestyle, but Halacha requires you to give them absolute respect. Since this is the month of Shvat, let me explain in terms of a fruit tree: Fruit can’t develop on its own; it must grow on a branch. You, as a baalas tshuva with a bright future, are the aromatic fruit. Your parents though, are the branch you grow on. One doesn’t eat the branch, but without it, there’s no fruit. Don’t forget that, and you’ll be fine – I’m glad you wrote. May Hashem send you your true soulmate in the nearest future, amen.

Blessings always, LB

This article was originally posted on Rabbi Brody’s site.

3 comments on “Without the Branch, There’s no Fruit

  1. Shaking hands really isn’t intimate touch in the secular world, and it isn’t as much of a big deal as some people make it out to be. A casual shake or a polite refusal, and you’re done. Either way, it shouldn’t be Karen’s job to police her parents, I absolutely agree with that.

    So, what she can do is to warn her female friends that her parents aren’t frum, and that her father will probably offer his hand to shake. Then they can make the choice many frum women have to in this world… ignore his hand and risk offending him (not recommended), shake to avoid offending him, or politely explain that you don’t shake hands with men, smile, and go on with your life.

    Karen’s parents probably aren’t interested in changing themselves to fit her new life, and they shouldn’t be expected to. If that leads to a bit of embarrassment, well, that’s only to be expected, unless she can change her perspective. To them, she’s the one who’s turned “crazy.” To expect them to suddenly act frum in front of her friends is really unreasonable.

    Karen, becoming frum while still living with your non-frum parents is really truly commendable. I tried and failed (we flared up over Shabbos, mainly little things like the lights in the fridge and bathroom) and didn’t manage to become fully observant until I left home.

    We get along wonderfully now, and they can let me be frum and I can let them be not frum… although they do make allowances for us, especially because of the children. But I had to live elsewhere for that… as their unmarried child living in their house, they insisted on making the rules. I won’t say they were wrong to do so, because they weren’t really. It was their house, and if my observances infringed on their comfort level, then that became a problem for them and ultimately for me.

  2. I like Rabbi Brody’s answer. I would add (more forcefully, as I think this was alluded to) that the questioner shouldn’t chastise her parents for gossiping or shaking hands. If she said it once, they heard it the first time. I have learned the hard way that being the “Jewish police” in my family just creates barriers in relationships and reflects negatively on Orthodoxy. Good old-fashioned kibud av, however, never goes out of style.

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