Passing It On When You Were Almost Passed Over

This post first appeared on A Simple Jew’s site

Pesach definitely is special to me. It has always been kind of a “self-made Yuntif” for me. From the very earliest time that I was becoming religious, I was always in charge of kashering my parents house and leading the sedorim, and I did not have the opportunity to go to other frum families for Pesach.

One funny story very early in the process for me (before I was shomer Shabbos or really shomer much of anything), in a fit of newbie Baal Teshuva zealotry, I decided a few hours before Pesach came in, in the afternoon of Erev Pesach (after the Isur of Chometz has already taken effect) that I would clean out my parents house as best I could. As part of this effort, I started to go through my parents’ pantry to get rid of any obvious chametz. The problem was that I really had no idea what chametz actually was. So for help, I called up one of the Shomer Shabbos ladies in the neighborhood, and asked some very important Pesach sheilos, like “Is oatmeal considered Chametz?” and “Does everything have to have a Kosher L’Pesach kosher supervision symbol on it?!” Poor lady and my poor parents!

While I went to halacha shiurim before Pesach and learned the halachos in in many books like the annual Bloomenkrantz guide (yes, there’s a 2008 edition) and Rav Eider’s sefer on hilchos Pesach, I never actually got to observe any mainstream frum families observing Pesach and the sedorim. As things stabalized and my parents happily let me kasher their house for Pesach, I used various haggadahs to help create a theme for each year’s seder like Rav Avraham Dov Kahn’s The Chosen Nation Haggadah, or Rav Yaakov Moshe Charlap’s Mei Marom Hagaddah (He was the Talmid Muvhak of Rav Kook).

However, since I never had a real example of a frum seder to base myself on, there was always a certain amount of “winging it.” One example of this is the minhag of wearing a kittel at the seder. Since I never saw anyone doing this since I really never saw anyone other than myself leading a seder, it didn’t occur to me that I should be doing this. I had read that some have this minhag, but I just assumed that this did not apply to me. However, after hearing a couple of friends mention that they were wearing a kittel at the seder, I decided to ask my rebbe if I should be doing that. His response was “Of course!” (Remember, he was speaking to me, and this does not mean that this guidance would necessarily apply to everyone.) I didn’t know it was so obvious, but it brought home the more general point that as a BT/Ger, I lack elements of the mesorah, the “תורת אמיך.”

But I think that, as I heard from my rebbe in YU, Rav Aharon Kahn, Hashem would never leave those who lack a real mesorah, through no fault of their own, completely without all benefits of that mesorah. Therefore, he said that it is his belief that whatever level of benefit “FFBs” get from growing up with the mesorah of frumkeit from an early age, will somehow be given by Siyata Dishmaya, Divine help, to the BT or Ger.

This principal is especially relevant to Pesach, with its theme of transmitting our mesorah to our children. The biggest mitzvah of the seder night, specifically, is “V’higadeta l’vincha,” telling over Yetziyas Mitzrayim to your children. It is a difficult challenge to pass on the mesorah of our emunah to our children, especially for people who didn’t grow up with that emunah. But with Hashem’s help and some preperation ahead of time, we will be zocheh to bring down down our mesorah into our and our children’s lives!

8 comments on “Passing It On When You Were Almost Passed Over

  1. Ron; It is amazing that that the Baal Kitzur Shulhan Aruch starts out his rules of Shabbos by saying all Bnei Yisrael ALL know hilchos Shabbos so he will comment only on the tricky bits. This generation may know next to nothing. So this topic clearly hits a very live nerve. IMHO, we are the generation referred to in the last perek of SOTAH. Skoach to the late Rav Raphael Eisenberg for pointing this out to me and NU? to the Ribbono Shel Olam!

  2. OK Dix. I am clear now about how you meant the word “Emunah.”

    You should be clear, however, that I consider the kind of Emunah that you are perhaps, though not intentionally, damning with faint praise, a very very big deal.

    It is far easier to eat the Chazon Ish’s shiur of shmura matzah than to have true Emunah — that ol’ “five-finger clarity” belief-that-is-really-knowledge — that Hashem really exists… really takes a hand in our affairs… really cares about our broken-hearted prayers to Him.

    As I meant to suggest in my comments to the “no extended family at the Seder” post, it is too too easy not to learn about this Emunah from our non-religious loved ones, while we run around being all mehadrin and stuff.

    I’m not chas v’sholom suggesting not to be mehadrin (min ha-mehadrin, even!). But that fundamental relationship to Hashem can get lost in the chrein when the overwhelming experience of halachic, modern-day, big- ken- ayin – hora- family, pushing-chatzos sedarim bulldozes its way into the dining room. And we may all be surprised how much we can learn about that if we will probe the perhaps relatively inarticulate, or unarticulated, people around us who will not “make Pesach right” this year, but whose lives and loves and losses, uttered or otherwise, to their Creator could well shed light on our own understanding of the cries of our ancestors as they suffered under the yoke of Pharaoh.

  3. Ron,

    It sounds like you misread what I meant by “Emunah.” It sounds like you read it to basicly mean a belief in G-d. Emunah means much more than that, which your second paragraph acknowledged.

    You started off by pointing out that many non-observant families believe in G-d. That is of course true. The *vast majority* believe in the existance of G-d. That was only the smallest part of what I was referring to when I was discussing passing on our Emunah to our children at the Seder. And that greater level of Emunah means not only believing in G-d, but it also means believing that He gave us the Torah, that it’s the best gift we could ever get, that Hashem guides every detail of our lives today just as he guided the events of Yetzias Mitzrayim and it means knowing how to be conscious of these ideas in daily life (the biggest avodah of all!).

    You acknowledged this fact that belief in Hashem’s existance alone does not equal everything we mean when we say “Emunah” in your second paragraph. And I think this answers your question on my post as well. The wide-ranging concept of Emunah includes many aspects which we Baalei Teshuva were not brought up with, and this is what I was referring to in the short line in my post that I think your comment was in responset to.

    Heidi referred to this as well when she pointed out that there are many aspects of Emunah that go beyond what we were brought up with.

    Tizku l’mitzvos and have a Chag Kasher v’Sameach!

    -Dixie Yid

  4. When I think about how I was raised, I do agree with Ron that my parents always raised me to believe in a higher power. So, the idea of there being a God was totally normal to me.

    However, some aspects of emunah I did need to cultivate myself. For example… when I am stressed or overwhelmed about about a particular mitzvah, my parent’s logic would be… “Well I dont believe God would want you to suffer, so just dont do it” On my own I had to develop more than just a “fair weather” relationship with God.

  5. I am grateful for that, but I think it is more common than is suggested here. Many people who simply have had no religious education believe deeply in God and in “Judaism.” Some people who are also not observant but did have some sort of Jewish education also have this, sometimes in profound quantities. While I am not saying that you could eat in their kitchens — at all — I am saying that we make a mistake on many levels when we presume that belief in the Hashem of the Torah is the same as belief in Torah MiSinai per se and in the Oral Torah and the authority of the Sages and so on… and even that someone who has all these things will still be able to put it all together and act on them and be counted among the observant.

    I have argued with top people in major kiruv organizations who believe that if you “prove” that God exists or that someone “really” believes in him, you have also “proved” that they should wait six hours between meat and dairy and check your suits for shatnez. Belief in Hashem, even in the “God of Judaism” does not logically lead to religious commitment unless you follow it there yourself, with whatever help one can get in the process, and some people in outreach do not get this. It is also a mistake not to consider how you can learn simple faith in Hashem from people, pre-, post- or “other” regarding observance.

    This is a topic I have of course adverted to before.

  6. Ron,

    B”H that you had parents who brought you up with Emunah. Although I don’t think that’s the case with most coloquial “Baalei Teshuva,” it is a hugebracha for you and others who were brought up that way. So that even though you may not have been brought up observant, you already had huge building blocks in place. Ashrecha v’tov lach!

    -Dixie Yid

  7. Ron, if you think emunah or belief in Hashem is a yes/no question, then you’re right. If however you measure belief as indicated by how ones actions reflect that belief, then you might view it as a continuum. I would then say it is accurate that our emunah is largely self-developed.

  8. Actually I think a lot of people who became BT’s had parents who did have emunah, as is the case with my parents. Many such people just are or were not observant Jews but they certainly believe in Hashem, and often much more.

    It would be a big mistake to assume that these are the same thing. In either direction.

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