14 November 2006

Kibbud Av v'Em and the Ba'alat T'shuvah

(I must be going crazy. I could have sworn I posted this, but I can't find it on my blog. So here it is (again?) for your reading pleasure.)

How does one reconcile the mitzvah of Kibbud Av v'Em, honouring your father and mother, with the realities of the newly observant? It's one of the many difficulties facing Ba'alei T'shuva, those who were not born to it choosing to live an observant Jewish life. I live far away from my family, and my journey to orthodoxy took place primarily in between visits, so I was able to ease my parents into the quirks of kashrut and Shabbat observance. The first visit post-"awakening" I was still eating in restaurants, kosher-style. I didn't eat any meat or shellfish, and stuck to pasta and vegetables. Then I graduated to cold vegetables (oh, how I grew to love that cold salad with plain oil dressing!). This last visit, I was full-on kosher. All food had to be brought into my parents' home, wrapped in so many layers of foil, I was half-expecting to hear signals from outer space.

My parents were so accomodating; I was gratefully stunned. I was prepared to defend keeping kosher, and to have to go out and buy my own food, but Mom and Dad had paper plates, plastic utensils, and bought all the food from the local kosher market. It wound up costing them a small fortune ("never have so few eaten so little for so much" was my father's assessment, although there was a ton of food), but they didn't complain. They even were relatively understanding about our Shabbat restrictions. Mom turned off the lights on us a few times, and Dad didn't quite get the "electricity" thing ("do you need me to unlock the door?"), but all in all, it was a wonderful, gratifying experience, thank G-d.

Until it came time to talk to my sister in Israel. The only time she is available is Saturday evening, Israel time, so Mom thought she'd call my sister during the day, New York time, and I'd get on the phone with her. I tried to explain that I couldn't talk on the phone on Shabbat, but it led to a rather subdued argument, where my mother used the "it's family" line. Due only to the fact that I have with G-d's help learned so much patience these past few years, I refused to give in to my urge to yell and scream, "you don't understand!" Fortunately, the whole situation was side-stepped by my sister's suggestion that Mom call on Sunday, when my sister had a few minutes free.

Then, my parents gave us the opportunity to come for another trip, which included a long overdue visit to my non-Jewish uncle, aunt and cousins. My husband and I started excitedly planning a menu, planning what food we would need to purchase for the trip to our relatives' non-kosher home, what pot and pan we would bring, and I started looking forward to seeing cousins I hadn't seen in years, and meeting their children.

Then came the zinger: my parents want to drive to the relatives' house during the day on Shabbat. I explained that we cannot do it. I explained that there are numerous problems with travelling for hours on Shabbat, not the least of which is being in a car. I offered alternatives - we could rent a car, and join them after Havdalah. We could go to my relatives' city on Friday and find someone to host us; we could make it work. My mother just insisted we "bend the rules" - after all, "it's family."

After much discussion with my husband, and many tears, and taking into account new jobs and our financial situation, we finally decided that it was too problematic to make this journey. As disappointed as I am, I can't fight with my mother. If I can't make her understand the moral code we live by, the Torah laws that we are obligated to, through reasonable conversation, yelling and getting angry won't help. I can only hope that someday she sees that our holding to these "rules" is not meant to annoy her; it's not us being obstinate. I can only hope that my offering reasoned explanations, not losing my temper and maintaining a respectful, honouring tone with my parents is enough for Kibbud Av v'Em.

When it comes to a choice between disappointing my parents or disappointing G-d, I'm not sure what choice I'm supposed to make. It feels more right to not disappoint G-d. Someday (please G-d it should be a long time from now) my parents will no longer be with me. I pray that G-d will always be with me. No matter how hard and painful it was, I believe that I made the right choice.


At 14/11/06 8:00 p.m., Anonymous Erin said...

I hope that your decision won't cause many family problems. FWIW, I feel like you're making the right decision to be respectful to G-d and observe Shabbat the way He wants. For your parents to ask you to "bend the rules for family" seems disrespectful of your beliefs. Regardless, I know it's difficult to be in that situation.

At 14/11/06 8:18 p.m., Anonymous jeanette1ca said...

I don't think there is a Right or Wrong to this type of decision. Either way has its consequences. When I converted, I tried to follow all the rules, but living with my sister made it a constant struggle. Each time I backed down made it more difficult to find a reason to maintain the next level. Now my Jewish observance is pretty much nill. That may have been the Right decision for me - peace in the house, etc., but it seems obvious, it is not what you want to happen in your life. Feel free to use my (bad) experience in explaining to your family why keeping each and every rule is important to you.

At 14/11/06 11:26 p.m., Blogger Lut C. said...

As an outsider, and an agnost at that, I can only say that I'm fascinated. Especially how you rhyme life in the modern world with age-old rules. At times, it must be very difficult.

At 15/11/06 2:27 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a tough choice. But ultimately I agree with you - putting you in a position of having to choose between faith and family shows a lack of understanding of faith. Religion doesn't come with an automatic "get-out" clause for family situations (although there are, of course, always complicated grey zones). In time, perhaps, your mother will come to understand.


At 15/11/06 8:35 p.m., Anonymous jeanette1ca said...

I was thinking again about this last night, and found myself mulling over the word "honor." Two things come to mind - the first Hebrew vs. English - how closely does our english word "honor" come to the actually meaning of the Hebrew "kibbud". And secondly, what do we actually mean by "honor?" Definitely not "only follow the rules when it is convenient for your parents." Maybe not "only follow the rules when it won't hurt your parent's feelings." Boy, that would have been a tough one, since EVERYTHING hurt my parents feelings. Surely not "always obey your parents" since we can easily think of examples where it would be necessary to disobey parents in order to obey G_D (think Mafia). So what exactly is this "honor/kibbud" word talking about?

Things that come to mind:
Listen to
Compassion for

At 16/11/06 4:56 p.m., Anonymous LC said...

{{{{{hugs}}}}} You should be VERY proud of yourself for having learned the patience to not scream and shout - eventually, that will (IY"H) be what your parents are left with; not that you wouldn't do it their way, but that you kept cool.

While I've BTDT with my own family, and I know how difficult and frustrting it can be, try to keep in the back of your head that they *don't* get it, and the fact that they were so accommodating about the food in their home was probably a major compromise in their minds - and then it was your turn.

But it is taught that the 10 Commandments are ordered as they are to teach us a lesson; honor your parents is *after* observing Shabbat, because they too are obligated to follow the halacha. (I'll bypass the whole 'they never learned and therefore aren't responsible the same way' thing)

Hang in there. It does (eventually!) get better if you just stand your ground nicely.


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