Last week I shared a letter from a young man who is learning Torah while his wife supports the family. She is an attorney, and while she doesn’t receive a huge salary they do manage to get by without having to rely on parental support. The young man’s father helped them buy a small house and they are able to pay their mortgage.
His parents consider themselves traditional Jews. The mother lights candles. The father makes Kiddush. They attend synagogue, mostly for social reasons. They are philanthropic, active in organizations, and regard themselves as good Jews. Their son’s turn to strict Orthodoxy and his learning Torah full time have become bones of contention between them.
The wife’s parents are totally divorced from Judaism. Their home is not kosher. When the couple visits them they bring their own food, plates and cutlery. There are tensions there as well.
The young man, worried about the influence the grandparents are having on his children, asked me whether he should break off the relationships or keep it limited to phone calls and e-mails. Here is my response.
My dear friend,
Ours is an age of ba’alei teshuvah. We see many young people returning to Torah observance, studying in yeshivas and raising their children in the spirit of true Yiddishkeit. In past generations it was parents who taught their children but now children often are the teachers of their parents, and that can be a very sensitive situation. This is especially true in families where the parents see themselves as religious. The conflict between “yeshivish” children and traditional parents can often be as tense as the divide between ba’alei teshuvah and secular parents.
But while the conflict can be bitter if handled improperly, the potential for positive ramifications is there. Sons and daughters can inspire their parents to commit to a more meaningful Torah life. There are no easy solutions but when children meticulously adhere to the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents, they can lower the temperature and conflict can eventually turn into nachas.
When your parents come to visit, do you rush to the door and welcome them with a loving heart? Do you stand up in their honor? Do you ask your father to sit at the head of the table? Do you make a fuss over your mother?
When they leave, do you walk them to the door or the car? Do you thank them for coming? That is the Torah way and when your parents see you speaking and conducting yourself with such derech eretz, their entire attitude will change.
We have a Yiddish saying: “The way the non-Jewish world goes, so the Jewish world goes.” Tragically, our frum communities have been infected by some of the craziness, decadence and chutzpah of our secular culture. So concepts like standing up in honor of parents and speaking to them with reverence are not only sadly missing but are ridiculed. But we are meant to live by the commandments of G-d, and honoring our parents is right up there.
Having said all this, let’s consider your particular situation. You’ve just had an uncomfortable scene. Your mother and father have hurled all kinds of criticism at you. Everything is up for discussion – your full time learning, the manner in which you raise your children, your wife’s working – and there you are, bearing the brunt of it. What are you to do? How are you to respond?
If you follow society’s ways, you will slash back with angry words and before you know it an inferno will be raging in the house. But if you follow the Torah your response could be something like, “Mom, Dad please forgive me. I would never wish to hurt you or criticize you.”
And should they still respond angrily and label you a religious fanatic, let it go. Don’t make it worse. Bite your tongue and remain silent. Allow temperatures to cool. I know this is easier said than done but if you weigh the consequences you will realize you have everything to gain by staying silent and everything to lose through acrimony.
Teach your children to relate to your parents with love. “Bubbie and Zaidie are here, come quickly. Let’s go greet them.” Grandparents are unable to resist the grandchildren; their sweet hugs and kisses can melt even a stone.
Tell your parents that you and your wife have tremendous hakaros hatov for their generosity, that you will be forever grateful to them for enabling you to have a house.
Unfortunately, many young couples have the attitude that everything is coming to them. The Torah Jew has to know he has nothing coming to him. He must appreciate every kindness that is rendered, including the kindness of parents and grandparents. It is relatively easy to say “thank you” to strangers but to express the same to your father and mother seems to be more difficult for most of us.
As for your total commitment to Torah, explain to them that you and your wife made a joint decision on this and, Baruch Hashem, you’ve been able to manage. Tell them that if at any time you have to reassess your situation, you will. In the interim, all you ask of them is their blessing. If they give you that, it would bring you the greatest joy – you would cherish this gift from them and keep it in your heart.
You asked if you should break off relations with both sets of parents. My answer to you is an emphatic “NO.” Instead of contemplating breaking off, contemplate coming even closer; if you do so and cling to that goal with the greatest tenacity, it will become a reality, b’ezrat Hashem.
Never give up!