How Did You Adjust to the Structure of Observant Living?

Torah Observance is very structured in terms of our day, our week, how we dress, how we eat.

Did you find this structure confining at first?

How long did it take you to adapt to all the structure?

Do you think BTs are more often the type of people who embrace structure?

15 comments on “How Did You Adjust to the Structure of Observant Living?

  1. I have no regrets; I am comfortable that I am doing my best & the rest is up to HKBH. It’s still difficult b/c you never know for sure where your hishtadlut ends.

  2. To Always a BT #13: Keep in mind the following story: A poor Jew is trudging along the road with a very heavy pack on his back. A wagon driver, passing by on the road with an empty wagon, takes pity and stops and tells him, “Get in. Free. No charge. We’re going on the same road anyway.” The poor fellow is incredibly grateful and with a sigh of relief he climbs into the wagon. A few miles later, the wagon driver looks backward and notices that his solitary passenger still has the heavy pack strapped to his back. The wagon driver exclaims in surprise, “Reb Yid, why don’t you take off your pack? Relax, put your burden down in the wagon.” The poor Jew replies: “You were so kind to take me in your wagon, how can I trouble you to carry my heavy pack also?” The wagon driver starts to guffaw. “My friend, my wagon is already carrying you AND your burden!”

    What’s the “nimshol” of this story? G-d is the wagon driver! He is already carrying us and all of our burdens. So take off your heavy weight, unbuckle your pack and put it down on the floor of the wagon. Do what you have to do, and trust in G-d that everything will turn out all right.

  3. My husband does bedtime every night; it’s a huge help (homework is not his thing). I help my high school daughter with math homework (mostly) every night, but my younger one does fine on her own. At a certain point in the evening, I “check out” & my kids know once I do that, I’m done for the day.

    As for chesed girls, my own BY girl does chesed 1st @ home THEN for other families. BH, in general my family is VERY good about pitching in.

    My “me” time is the down time I have during the day. Even when I’m doing paperwork @ home, I listen to shiurim & it’s nice & quiet. Without that respite every day, I think I’d go nuts. It’s the days that I’m out or on the phone all day that are frustrating; I have nothing tangible to show for it.

    Although I am often physically tired, it’s the emotional fatigue & the awesome responsibilities I have for keeping my mother alive & my family healthy. It all weighs heavy on my mind.

  4. To Always a BT #11: It is extremely difficult to care for an elderly sick parent while still responsible for a young child. Is there any way that frum high school girls doing their “Chesed hours” might possibly be able to help you out at home so that you can get a few hours of respite from caregiving duties? Having a couple of hours a week for “you” time as opposed to “everyone else” time might make a big difference in how you feel both physically and emotionally. Also, could your husband possibly do one night a week of homework and bedtime with your daughter, allowing you three hours of freedom? Maybe there are resources out there which you can tap into to help with the burden.

  5. I’m perhaps a bit younger and had my last child at 40–she’s in elementary school now. I fit the classic profile the “sandwich generation”, caring for young children and a elderly mother at the same time. Because I have kids in high school, college & married also, I am constantly having to switch gears. By the end of the day, I am emotionally drained. It’s difficult for me to have adequate time for anyone, let alone for myself. Beyond BT is my “therapy”.

    I imagine that when I’m a little less needed, I will go back to work for my husband and hopefully do a better job of taking care of myself, both physically & spiritually. There are so many things that fascinate me; I’d love to learn photography, gardening, improve my Ivrit, etc. and go to the many shiurim and events available in my (large) city. I’d also love to get involved with Hachnassas Kallah & Bikur Cholim–I feel I have acquired skills along the way that can help make a difference in our community.

    The friends I have that are my age are all empty nesters. I cannot imagine anything other than relief from the demanding schedule I keep. They tell me I’ll feel otherwise, but I’ll be much older than they were at that point. Although they say it gets lonely, I notice they are enjoying alone time with their husbands and adapt quite nicely to the freedom from carpools, homework etc.

  6. Hi ChanaLeah,

    I did just that today since my office was closed due to the snow. I visted my mom-in-law @ the rehab center by walking 25 minutes both ways (my car was snowed in), and the busses were not running very well. I plan to do this again on Shabbos!


  7. Ellen, might I suggest regular visits to the lonely elderly Jewish people in a local nursing home?

  8. I think that the biggest structure in most people’s lives, not just frum Jews but also the entire world, is the time spent each week working in some type of occupation to pay the bills. Adjusting to a full-time work structure is something nearly everyone has to do with their lives; everything else in one’s life sort of gets squeezed around the edges of working time. You’ve probably heard about the famous analogy of the empty glass jar that gets filled first with large rocks, then smaller stones, then pebbles, then gravel, then sand, then water. Well, one’s parnasa is the large rocks in the jar.

    Within that structure of full-time work frum Jews have to create another structure for time off for Shabbos and Yom Tov observance. This is sort of like pouring the small stones into the jar after the large rocks.

    Men arrange their “set times” for Torah learning and run to grab a minyan for davening. Women juggle the responsibilities of running a home and caring for a family along with their Jewish observances. So we have significantly less “free time” than the rest of the world, which is probably a positive rather than a negative. They have too much empty space left in the jar after filling it with rocks, while we pour in the stones and the gravel and the sand to wisely use our few minutes of spare time found here and there within the structure.

  9. Chazal emphasize in more than one instance that the Torah was not given to angels. That means that all of us, except for the Gdolei UTzadikei HaDor have to deal with how we use our spare time. However, our jobs are to maximize the use of our free time in a constructive manner.

    I think that if one views becoming a BT as a countercultural type of activity, one may be surprised by all of the structure that a Torah observant life entails on a 24/7 basis. I think that there are numeropus ways to make the adjustment, as opposed to writing books wuith footnotes with lots of Mareh Mkomos that don’t really help a person with his or her problems in integrating into the FFB world.

  10. To Ellen #5: I’m pretty much in the same age bracket and life situation as you are (i.e. fiftysomething with grown children and young grandchildren). I agree with you about diminishing structure. I find it amazing that my life is no longer ruled by the schedules of the school year. Yeshiva calendars are no longer taped to my refrigerator.

    I remember that Sunday morning in late June 2004 after my youngest son had completed eighth grade. I suddenly realized that this was the first Sunday in fifteen years that I didn’t need to carpool one or more of my boys to their elementary Yeshiva.

  11. How many of us take seriously the requirement of not wasting time?

    Given the amount of time many of us spend on the internet, apparently not enough of us. I have a zillion more critical things to take care of right now, and what am I doing…? This isn’t a jab at this blog, in fact, you do us a service, Mark, by giving us an opportunity to explore the issues that can help us grow, but go tell that to my boss:)

    As a person with ADHD, I suspect that the structure of a Torah life was part of the draw for me (although I wasn’t aware of it then). Rabbis taught us back then that instead of losing freedom, we are gaining it by virtue of not being inundated with an infinite amount of choices in an increasingly confusing, hefker world. No question I found this to be true.

    Ironically, it’s with the diminishing structure in my life, with the kids having moved on with theirs, that is leaving me with perhaps too much time to think and question, instead of just doing as we do. Your thread of “Is the Torah True Life Appropriate for Every Jew?” touched some of the issues that I’m going through now. I wonder if any of the other older BT’s are going through this and if so, what they are doing about it besides spending much of their down time by the “einichlach” (grandchildren), another thing that we “do”, atleast the “vaiblich”(Yiddishe wives) amongst us.

  12. It’s important to develop an understanding of the structure so it doesn’t appear arbitrary.

  13. Some structure is always needed, and the gradual approach certainly is the conventional wisdom given at the beginning of the journey.

    How about when we’re past the basics and we don’t heed the Torahs instructions regarding structuring our life?

    How many of us take seriously the requirement of not wasting time?

  14. Judy (and all others out there),

    Being brought up with certain “pieces” of being Frum, I, for the most part, was somewhat FFB, but starting around 1989, my “adjustment” was a little bit at a time. As an example, I used to daven a little bit in the morning, then it started by going to Shul on Shabbos, then during the week, and so on. Shabbos, overall for me, was always about resting…and of course learning as I got more Frum.

    The adjustment really should be gradual, not “all or nothing”.

    Kol tov,

  15. The world out there is just too hefker, anything goes. Animals have no restrictions on themselves. A human being has enough willpower to say, “I can’t eat this. I can’t do this. It’s wrong.” It’s not just structure, it’s also having a conscience.

    I love Friday night. The week … ends. S L E E P. There is this demarcation between the work week and Shabbos. I read in a magazine about a totally nonreligious Jewish woman who wound up going to bars and drinking every Friday night because she couldn’t figure out any other way to “end the week.”

    To give people a chance to “stop the world and get off” or to look at it another way, to have a little vacation island, like going off to Tahiti (not the real place, but the mythical idea of getting away from modern civilization) without actually leaving home, letting the phone and the TV go silent for a day … wonderful.

    If you don’t make Havdala in your life between kodesh and chol, kosher and treife, asur and mutar, then everything is just mixed up together and meaningless. Sort of like a kindergartner pouring all the different colors of paint together in one big bowl and getting an ugly greenish-gray glop.

    Without structure, life is unfocused chaos. Think of the unemployed or newly retired who suddenly don’t have that 9 to 5 routine. People literally don’t know what to do with themselves. Kids also need a sense of structure. Summer camps know they can’t just let kids play all day, there have to be structured activities, otherwise the counselors get a chorus of, “I’m bored.”

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