By Rabbi Benzion Kokis
In the interaction between a ba’al t’shuva and his family, very often the religious issues, in and of themselves, aren’t the source of the difficulties. Rather, the family’s perception that for the ba’al t’shuva, all that matters are the religious issues, and their impact on family and friends is irrelevant- that is painful.
This is why the communicating that there is in fact a certain level of conflict and turmoil is so vital. The awareness that my commitment to Torah and Halacha are complicating the lives of people whom I love and care about, can make such a tremendous difference in how these situations are received. The “sigh” has to be expressed.
But one may be moved to respond….Just a minute! Does this mean that a ba’al t’shuva should be apologetic about his commitment?! Isn’t this a lack of respect for the fact that Torah is true, and it’s my family, albeit through no fault of their own, who have deviated from the way Jews lived throughout the ages? And you want me to feel like I’m doing something wrong??!!
This is where finesse is crucial. Granted, on one level, the demands of Halacha, such as the requirements of kashrus, are absolutes. The weight of truth, and the historic devotion of the Jewish people over the centuries to Torah, are all on the side of the ba’al t’shuva. Yet, in terms of family dynamics, he is the one who changed the rules! Every family unit has an unspoken “contract”, an expectation of how its members relate to each other. On a human and personal level, the level of trust within the family unit, the contract has been changed. The ba’al t’shuva is the “belligerent”, because in terms of the relationship, he has changed the terms of the family unit and “caused” the “complications”.
What impact does this have? Are we saying that this affects the requirements of the Halacha?
What this does mean is that a responsibility lies on the ba’al t’shuva to anticipate potential problems, and make every attempt to minimize their impact. For instance, there could be creative ways to satisfy the demands of kashrus without compromising, in a manner that will be less of an issue for his family. He should sit down with a Rabbi and describe the challenges that he will face, and find out what he can do to accommodate the demands of the situation .
Furthermore, the more his family has to make adjustments to accommodate his new requirements, the more he has to express his love and appreciation to his family! After all, they are, in their own way, being moser nefesh to allow him to be religious. If, on the contrary, he seems to take their adjustments for granted, and conveys an attitude that since he’s living in an authentic Jewish way, it behooves them to adjust to him, this will definitely leave a sour taste with his family.
Even in situations where accommodation turns out to be impossible, despite the efforts that were put in, the fact that the ba’al teshuva made the attempt still expresses to the family that their feelings are important to him. Very often, this can neutralize much of the pain and hurt that would otherwise occur.