The Talmud cites the verse that speaks of God as the One “Who dwells among them even in their impurity.” Rav Tzadok of Lublin explains that we are still called “the portion of Hashem” even if we are mired in shmutz and defilement. Each of us is, by nature, always and forever connected to Hashem.
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So how should a parent react when he or she feels betrayed, hurt, and frustrated by the behavior of his or her off–the-derech child? God Himself has shown us how: with love and acceptance.
Even as a child descends to the most shameful muck, you must love him, just as God loves us no matter how far we fall.
God shows absolute and unconditional love and acceptance, even in the midst of our greatest defilement, a defilement that led to the churban and our exile. Didn’t God descend to the 49th and lowest level of defilement to salvage us from Mitzrayim? Where would we be now if God had simply abandoned us because He didn’t want to be seen in such muck?
If God can do it, shouldn’t we? Has any off-the-derech child done worse than our forefathers? If God accompanied His children in the depths of their despair during the generations of galus, shouldn’t we walk that extra mile for the sake of our children?
But how to take the first step?
That first step is so simple – and so hard. It requires us to ask why our child has fallen. The reason the question is so hard is that we have to be fully prepared to hear the answer. And there is an answer to the question. Do not think for a moment that one day a child wakes up and thinks, “Shabbos is no longer beautiful.” Your wonderful child does not simple conclude that “treif is better than kosher.”
Something happened to push him or her off the derech.
And do not be satisfied with mumbled generalities or shrugs of the shoulder. There is a reason. Find it. It requires a trauma to transform a good, caring child filled with Yiddishkeit into a stranger wandering the streets.
This transformation was not a choice; it was thrust upon the child. When a young person rebels in this way, it is because his or her neshamah is in pain. What might the trauma be? Too often it is betrayal or abuse on the part of a trusted and respected adult.
Impossible, you think? If you believe such abuse could never happen “in my community,” seek out the wisdom of Rabbi Moshe Bak (Innocent Heart at 888-506-7162) or Mrs. Ruchama Clapman of MASK (718-758-0400) or reach out to Avi Fishoff (TwistedParenting@gmail.com) and learn not only that such abuse is possible but, in many cases, probable.
And learn from them that there is a way to get your child back.
Your child has not turned away from you and Torah “just because.” There is a reason for his or her pain. Find out what it is so that healing can begin. Do not push your child away, which serves only to deepen the pain.
Our off-the-derech children need our love and understanding, not our retribution.
Think: If your child suffered, God forbid, from cancer, would you allow your own shame or frustration to keep you from doing everything in your power to help your child? Of course not. In the same manner, do not allow shame or frustration to keep you from helping your off-the-derech child.
The road back is paved with love, understanding, hugs, and honest communication. The Krule Rebbe explains, “If someone slips on an icy road and breaks a leg, he needs months of physical therapy until he can walk again…. Why is this boy different? He has been broken, shattered. It will take months and months, often even longer, until he can walk on his own two feet again.”
About the Author: Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran serves as OU Kosher’s vice president of Communications and Marketing.
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