12 Kislev 5781 / Saturday, November 28, 2020 | Torah Reading: Vayeitzei
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The Black and White Sheep    

The Black and White Sheep

There's a subconscious reason why families revolt when a family member becomes religious: his/her actions highlight their unfulfilled spiritual obligations...


Dear Racheli,
Ever since I started making teshuva and being more religious, it's been a constant war in my family. They are always attacking me and telling me I'm ruining our lives. They complain that we can't do things like normal families do since I'm so picky and difficult. They go out of their way to make me feel like I'm doing something wrong, and when I try to explain things to them, it just backfires. And they HATE my Charedi way of dressing. Is there any way to resolve this?
Watch out, Joseph, the worms are flying out of the can you just opened!
This is certainly a loaded issue, as any baal teshuva knows. Well, first off let me congratulate you for taking a very brave and big step toward fulfilling your spiritual purpose in life. After spending 99% of your life living for emptiness, you have decided that your life should have a purpose that goes beyond yourself. Good for you! Now, as an observant Jew, you feel how rewarding this lifestyle really is.
Let's look at your situation from your family's point of view. Throughout your entire life, you were “one of them.” You acted the same, dressed the same, and ate the same as everyone else. Out of the blue, you have chosen to stop doing everything like they do things, and start distinguishing yourself from them. Not only do they not understand what possessed you to separate yourself from them, but they no longer see you as “one of them.” They probably look at you and see a ridiculous bearded penguin walking around, preaching holier-than-thou jibberish.
I hate to put it this way, but you have become somewhat of a traitor in their eyes. All they see is that for whatever reason, you have decided that your family's lifestyle is not for you; thus,  you want no part of it. To make matters worse, it is a natural conclusion that your family now feels like they are not good enough for you.
All of a sudden, you start holding yourself to a Higher standard; non-kosher restaurants don't meet your requirements anymore. Your mother's cooking, although delicious, is treif- and what Jewish mother wouldn't faint from such a comment, no matter how secular she is? They are hurt by your new life choices. After all, what's wrong with the way they're living? It's not like they're gangsters or drug dealers- or worse, politicians! They're just good people living a simple life, trying to set good examples for their children and so forth.
I think that there is also a more subconscious reason families revolt when one person becomes religious. Suddenly, your actions are highlighting the fact that they're not meeting their spiritual obligations. I think this is very subtle, and it could be that many families don't see this.
So the bottom line of the bad news is: you're a traitor who has been abducted and brainwashed by the black-and-white sheep cult, who gave up his promising life to go worship G-d in some outdated Shul. In other words, you've completely lost your mind.
Now for the good news. I'll let you in on a little secret: when people begin to make teshuva, two major things happen simultaneously. Thing one: you fall in love with Judaism, and have a fantastical, almost romantic vision of what your life will be like from this point on. You imagine meeting your beshert (soulmate) and having 15 kids in two years. You can just smell the heavenly aroma of your future wife's delicious challah and matzah ball soup as you return from Friday night services. In your mind, you'll never have another spiritual or physical problem ever again! Okay, maybe you're not as naïve as I was, but you get my point.
Thing two: Hashem sees our sincere intentions to get closer to Him, so He sends us obstacles along the way. Many new BT's fall into the victim trap, not understanding why He is making our lives more difficult and not vice versa. After all, aren't we trying to get closer to Hashem? Then why does He have to make it so hard??? There is a famous spiritual law that states: the greater the achievement, the higher the price. This applies across the board in every single area of our lives. Why should our connection to G-d be an exception? If anything, this is the one area in which we must pay the highest price, as there is no greater reward than  a close relationship with Him.
That being said, your family's sudden antagonistic attitude is part of Hashem's plan. It falls under the category of “thing two,” as I have just explained. Most of us, if we're on speaking terms or better with our families, actually care what they think of us. Maybe we'd rather not care, but alas, it comes with the territory. So, G-d tests us in this area to help us see how much we're willing to give up in order to have a stronger connection with Him. He lets the yetzer (evil inclination) come in and do a fancy sound and light show, complete with screams, threats, and flying objects to the head- all from our well-meaning family members. Isn't it amazing what love makes us do?
What you need to do, Joseph, is have a two-part plan. First, never respond to their temper tantrums. If they pound their fists on the floor and have a freakout attack because you refuse to celebrate their birthday dinners at “Jimmy John's House of Pork,” just stay silent or walk away. I know- way easier said than done. But who said this had to be easy? Don't every try to convince them that you know better, or they're doing it wrong, or whatever. It will always, always backfire. Just suck it up and shut up.
Second, let them see the positive (hopefully!) change that is happening within you. Let them feel your new sense of fulfillment and tranquility. Smile a lot and hum happy tunes- it'll drive them crazy! But seriously, just let your life do the talking. No need to actively defend or prove yourself.
Don't worry, Joseph. Eventually this rough patch will pass and your family will quietly acquiesce. It might take 80 years, but it will happen! And be proud of your penguin uniform- you're a soldier of Hashem!
* * *
Feel free to send Racheli your questions, particularly in the areas of marriage, dating, child-rearing and women's role; write her at racheli@breslev.co.il

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