Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Parents of a Baal Teshuva

I often praise the Baal Teshuva for much the same reason I praise the Ger (convert). I see them as choosing the difficult lifestyle of an observant Jew because of the truth they find in Judaism.

Indeed Chazal tell us that in the place where a Baal Teshuva stands, even the most righteous Jew cannot stand. The Klei Yakar comments on last week’s Parsha (Tzav) and makes reference to that. He explains why the Torah considers the Korban Chatos among the holiest of sacrificial offerings - Kodesh Kodashim. (A Korban Chatas is an animal sacrifice required as penance during Temple era for unintentionally violating a Lav SheYesh Bo Kores -a severe negative commandment.)

Voluntary offerings given by even the greatest Tzadik are Kodshim Kalim - not as holy as this sin offering. God loves and values a Baal Teshuva who has sinned and does Teshuva more than He does a Tzadik who never sinned. God places great value on a sincere penitent who repents out of love - and therefore God turns all of his past sin into merit. Something that a complete Tzadik can never achieve.

The trek a Baal Teshuva need take has many pitfalls that test their sincerity and commitment. One of the most common problems encountered is with parents who do not understand and in some cases reject them for doing this.

Even though many parents do accept their children’s new lifestyle and in some cases become more observant themselves often that is not the case. Sometimes there is severe resistance and even complete rejection – cutting off any relationship with their newly observant child.

Bearing this in mind I am troubled by a post on Beyond Teshuva entitled: Why Are BTs Willing to Blow Up Familial Relationships? Here it is in its entirety:

Based on some recent posts and comments on BT Martyrdom, it seems that many BTs get tremendous spiritual pleasure from blowing up familial relationships.

What are the reasons for this willingness to cut oneself off from their families with these acts?

a) They feel it’s comparable to giving up your life, which when appropriate is the ultimate Kiddush Hashem.

b) Their Rebbeim tell them it’s the right course of action and they rarely enter a question and answer dialog with their Rebbeim to probe/understand the reasoning behind a ruling.

c) Many families explicitly or implicitly reject a BTs life choices causing pain, which sets the stage for the act of familial martyrdom.

d) Other reasons

Reason c) is understandable. It is one thing to react to rejection by one’s family by severing the relationship to it. And that explains reason a).

But the implication of reason b) is something that surprises and troubles me. It is in fact counter to what – in my view - is right and proper in the eyes of God. And more importantly it actively contradicts one of the most important Mitzvos in the Torah – written in stone (in the Ten Commandments): Kibud Av V’Em – honoring one’s father and mother.

This is wrong and any Rav that works in outreach should know that. My impression has always been that Baalei Teshuva are encouraged to maintain close ties with the family. I think that is largely the case.

That any Rav encourages the opposite smacks of cultism. I would be wary of such rabbis and advise that if at any time they encourage you to blow up a family relationship – you should run as far and as fast as you can away from them. And if they have a following - to report him to the authorities. This is not Mesirah. It in fact may be saving lives.

Kibud Av V’Em is a hard Mitzvah sometimes. While it is true that following Halacha over-rides a parent who tells you not to follow Halacha - this does not absolve anyone of the requirement to honor their parents. Blowing up the relationship is certainly not the way to fulfill that requirement. One may distance themselves if necessary but one may not completely cut them off in my view. The lines of communication should always remain open.

If trying to maintain a relationship fails and it is the parent that blows it up - that is another matter. If they completely reject having anything to do with you because you are now religious, then it’s not your fault and there is probably nothing you can do about it. But as long as there is any connection with a parent - all measures must be taken not to alienate them even further - as long as you do not violate Halacha in the process.