When the woman in California appeared in front of her mother with her head covered, she asked a basic question: “How is it, Mom, that you can respect someone dressed in Muslim, Hindu or Christian [nun or priest] garb and yet vehemently object to a Jew in chassidic clothing, or a Jewish man wearing tzitzis and a yarmulke, or a Jewish woman dressed in an Orthodox manner?”
The mother gave a perfunctory response along the lines of “that’s our society.” But the real reason for the different reaction is that the sight of a traditionally dressed Muslim or Hindu does not remind the Jew of his abandonment of Torah. But even a glimpse of a traditionally dressed Jew touches a deep chord of guilty recognition.
The young woman who wrote the letter overcame her problem, and her experiences should serve as a lesson for all of us. Even under the most trying of circumstances she and her husband retained a warm relationship with their parents. The ties between them were never cut. And when she took that big leap and covered her hair – a “no-no” in her mother’s eyes – she continued to speak to her mother respectfully and lovingly. Calmly she explained everything to her parents, and that made all difference – so much so that when on another occasion she expressed some doubts to her mother about her appearance, her mother actually encouraged her, assuring her she looked lovely in her new head covering.
Ba’alei teshuvah need to learn from her experience: When embarking on a path of Torah you must be very careful with the feelings of your parents. You must remember that they have never been in the Torah world. And by embracing this new lifestyle you are, at least to their minds, pointing an accusatory finger at them.
It’s no different from parenting. When you criticize your child and impart rules and regulations, you must do so in a loving but uncompromising manner. If a child rebels and does not accept your instructions, you do not throw him out, nor do you sever the relationship. To the contrary, you try to relate to that child in a loving manner. If he does not respect your beliefs, you wait for the time that he will. Patience and perseverance are a must, but you dare not falter in your convictions. You must remain a role model that your child may one day emulate.
We are living in the days before the coming of Mashiach, and it is written that at that time the “children will bring back the parents.” That phenomenon is unfolding before our eyes. So ba’alei teshuvah must take the initiative in inviting their parents to journey with them on their new path; they must hold the hands of their moms and dads and be spiritual parents to their parents.
Ba’alei teshuvah often bring their parents to my Thursday night Torah class – and for many of those parents it is the very first shiur they’ve ever attended. What a magnificent thing it is to see the generations uniting through the words and teachings of Hashem.