Rabbi Shlomo Goldberg, Menahel, Yeshiva Ohr Eliyahu (LA) gave a 3 part series titled “You Used to be So Much Fun – Relating to Non-Religious Family and Friends”, at the Life After Teshuva conference in Passaic in 2001. More than 230 people attended the conference in Passaic, New Jersey, which was intended to provide ba’alei teshuvah families with lifecycle support — assistance in raising families, adolescent children, etc.
Here are some of the main points from part 1:
In his introduction, Rabbi Goldberg tells us that he’s not discussing halachic issues. And he is not going to talk about how to change our friends and relatives.
We have to look at what can we do to improve these relationships. What have we done to be part of the problem? We can’t talk our way out of problems that we might have behaved our way into.
Every organization is perfectly aligned to get the results that it is currently achieving. In other words if we keep doing what we’re doing, we will keep getting what we’re getting. If we want to get different results we have to do something different. We have to focus on what we can do, because that is the only thing in our control.
Rav Noach Orlowek said in the name of Rav Simcha Wasserman upon being the asked “What can I do to get my parents to understand me?”. Rav Wasserman replied “To get your parents to understand you, you have to try to understand them. As Shlomo Hamelech says “Just like when you see your reflection in a pool of a water, so to the heart of one person to another”.
Rav Shlomo Wolbe zt”l said Shlomo HaMelech uses a pond instead of a mirror, because to see your reflection in a pond, you have to take the action of leaning over. So too here, we have Torah, so we need to make the right moves. Don’t allow Torah to split a family apart.
How do we understand parents? In the second blessing of Shema in the morning we say “Place into our hearts, to understand, to know, to hear, to learn and to teach”. If we don’t understand and know, then we haven’t heard. First we have to know and understand – where are our parents coming from. After we know and understand, then we can hear. And when we reach the point of hearing then we can learn. After we have understood and known and heard and learned – only then when can teach.
The source of so many problems is that we became religious and we went right away into the teach mode. So to build a relationship, we must first listen and understand our parents.
Here is a summary of Part 2, but please take the time to listen to the audio file.
Rabbi Goldberg points out that we can’t hold non observant family members responsible for their sometimes adverse reaction to our Yiddishkeit because we are the ones who went “crazy”. Our parents raised us in a”normal” way and we did the “abnormal” thing. In addition, they raised us to be independent and it is difficult for them when we choose a path so different from theirs. A lot of what we do is a denial of the values that they tried to impart. And that is a hard thing to have thrown in your face on a daily basis. We are sending a constant subtle message that we are rejecting what they have done. From our parents’ point of view, we are kids at risk. We have to do all that we can to improve the situation.
People want to hear about things that will benefit them. If we want to build an understanding relationship the first thing is to show that they benefit because we are now religious. Show them what’s in it for them. Parents and friends see all the things that we can’t do – No more Saturday’s, no more restaurants,etc.. We have to show them that their life is better as a result of our Yiddishkeit. That means a focus on mitzvos between man and his fellow man. Leave religion out of most conversations. Rabbi Goldberg feels it is not our responsibility to Mekariv our parents. What we have to do is avoid creating a Chillul Hashem. Don’t drive them away.
There are a lot of things we can’t do, so we have to create a situation where we say yes as much as possible. A relationship is like a bank account and you have to make a lot of deposits, so when you make the withdrawals you are not overdrawn. Look for opportunities to make deposits. We often need a Rav to know when we can say yes. Rabbi Goldberg states there are surprising heterim, but you need a Rav. If your parents and relatives see that you do say yes whenever you can, then they will know that when you say no, it is because you have no other choice.
Family members sometimes feel that we get some holier than thou pleasure out of saying no. They need to know that we don’t enjoy having to say no to them, we wish we could say yes. Look to take every legimitate leniency, but consult a Rav to determine details. We have to know when to make an issue out of things and when we should let them go.