What are the Factors for Teshuva Influencing Other Family Members?

I am perplexed: Sometimes one person in a family does Teshuva and the rest of the family remains uninterested, but sometimes one person’s road to Teshuva is a catalyst for the whole rest of the family. What’s the difference?

If anyone has any insights or stories to share on this issue, I’d be happy to hear them.


11 comments on “What are the Factors for Teshuva Influencing Other Family Members?

  1. Mark, you bring up an excellent counterpoint. I do believe the metaphor still works, though. If we truly follow “ivdu es Hashem b’simcha” then our enthusiasm for the many mitzvos we do will inevitably spill over the rim and become infectious for those around us, filling their cups as well. Of course, not everyone will respond.

    However, I have noticed that when someone asks me about a mitzvah or observes me performing one, if there is a smile on my face and that joyful light in my eyes, the words almost don’t matter. People just want that kind of happiness and fulfillment.

    That being said, I certainly agree that we need to put some effort into being a bit more overt about kiruv. With my family, though, I noticed that more progress was made (although very, very, VERY slowly) when I focused on refining myself more than outwardly teaching them. It is a lot like teaching children – they learn by example more than words.

  2. IMO, Albany Jew’s comment not only makes the most sense but is rooted in how Rambam defines Kiddush HaShem and Chillul HaShem.

  3. Inertia is a very powerful force. Just because one family member has found a way to overcome it doesn’t mean others will. This is so regardless of the BT’s inspirational qualities, the family’s degree of attachment, or any other factors cited above.

  4. I would think each case is an individual case that stands alone. Because in every instance, it’s about people making individual choices–to either follow one person’s lead or continue life as it was. I’m always confused when people ask me if my sister also converted to Judaism. I always ask, “Why would she?” She says, “I prefer celebrating Jewish holidays without the burden of being commanded to follow them.”

  5. Shoshana Chana, thanks for commenting and I applaud your focus on one’s own personal growth as fundamental to kiruv. However, I’m questioning the full/empty glass metaphor.

    The more I look into this matter, I think it’s important to identify which areas a Jew is already in sync with the Torah and build from there. At the same time we need to realize that our actions as Torah observant Jews fall significantly short of what the Torah requires.

    So the growth is necessary so we can fill our half-empty cups and at the same time encourage our friends and families to continue filling there half-full cups.

  6. I will share the response my rabbi, R’ Yaakov Rich of Congregation Toras Chaim in Dallas, gave me when I asked him about kiruv, as I believe it addresses your concern:

    It depends on what the definition of kiruv is.

    By way of a parable, let’s assume that the person doing the kiruv has a full cup of wine. The person needing the kiruv has an empty cup. There are two ways of getting the wine from the full cup in the empty cup. On one hand you could simply pour it from one cup to the other. This is certainly the most direct way. The problem is, however, that eventually the full cup also becomes an empty cup.

    The better way, which is not as direct, but has advantageous results for everyone involved, is to continue to fill up your own full cup so that it overflows. Allow the overflow to then fill up the other person’s empty cup.

    Many people make the mistake about kiruv and think that it is all about the other person’s growth. I.e.. that it is about teaching others, being involved with others, and sacrificing for others…constantly. That’s wrong. Both parties end up losing as eventually the giver becomes spiritually bankrupt, and the taker stops getting real value.

    The proper way to do kiruv is for the giver to be involved in personal growth, and I stress personal. Your own growth is analogous to filling up your own cup to overflowing. Allow the overflow from your own personal growth to be that which is absorbed by others.

    What can you do? You can work on reaching the full potential that Hashem created with you. As you learn and grow in Torah and mitzvos, then the righteous example of who you are and what you stand for will become the most powerful outreach tool there is, both for your family, and all those who are in you sphere of influence. Fill your cup to overflowing and teach by example.

  7. Baalei Teshuvah will NOT
    influence their families when:

    {1} The families members are not close to each other or the family as a whole is disfunctional.

    {2} The parents rebelled against Torah.

    {3} The Baal Teshuvah is very unsuccessful in parnassah or shiduchim or is known to be burdened with problems.

    {4} The brothers and sisters went to yeshivah for a few years, but they had very unpleasant experiences with yeshivah, and they would rather die than go back again.

    {5} The family members can see the problems created by the Torah lifestyle, but do not understand its importance or benefits.

    {6} The family members are very happy with their secular lives and/or are married to people who would never tolerate a Torah lifestyle.

    Unfortunately, I understand these matters intimately, because every one of them applies to me and my family members.

  8. For sure #s 3 and 4 came to mind for me as well. I would only add the the ability to explain the “why” of what the BT does also can influence family members, as explainations dispell any image of “blind faith” or “because the Rabbi said so”.

  9. I can think of four factors offhand:

    1) Where the family was holding before the BT did Teshuva.

    2) The relationship between the BT and the rest of the family before Teshuva.

    3) How the BT relates to the family after their individual Teshuva.

    4) How the BT presents and represents Torah to the family.

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