By Naomi Cohen
Editorial of the Yud Beis Tammuz issue of Nshei Chabad Newsletter
We human beings long to connect. Like magnets, we are pulled towards one another. We all want to move beyond “me” and “you” and be part of “us.” We bond with each other in different ways. One significant way that we bond is by finding similarities between us and building on those similarities.
The issues can be trivial. You’re hungry? Me too! The hot weather is making you tired? Me too. You like tuna with scallions and mustard? Oh, I love it.
The issues can be more serious. You want to move so the kids can go to a Lubavitch school? Hmmm, that never occurred to me as an option, but yes, that would be amazing. You want to settle in Israel when you retire? Come to think of it, that’s always been my dream too.
Often, we do not articulate what we are doing, we just go along with what someone else is doing, and it feels comfortable and right to us. “In our family, we always eat potato kugel before Shabbos, and we usually nibble up the whole kugel.” Or, “My friends love to have a melaveh malkah on Motzoei Shabbos and we stay up so late that we’re all zombies on Sunday.”
A young woman strays from the standards of tznius with which she was raised. One day, her mother who was always so careful with her dress starts to leave the house in sandals, no stockings. Why? She isn’t sure herself. But suddenly this just makes sense. Subconsciously, she is earnestly striving to hold on to the family feeling, the sameness she always had with her daughter. So she meets her daughter halfway.
The effect this has on the rest of the family is far-reaching. Gradually, inevitably, what used to be unthinkable becomes a viable option. Even Mom is getting with the program.
According to the American Cancer Society, “When non-smokers are exposed to second-hand smoke it is called involuntary smoking or passive smoking. Non-smokers who breathe in second-hand smoke take in nicotine and toxic chemicals by the same route smokers do…”
And, like secondhand smoke, when one child in a family does something it can affect the lives of the entire family, even when the siblings are adults.
When young people become baalei teshuvah, then their parents slowly begin living more Jewish lives. Often it starts as an attempt to accommodate the young people and then it continues as a way for the family to maintain its identity as a unit, as an “us.”
You can hear them say, “We used to not care about it but now that our kids keep a strictly kosher home, we do too.” Or: “I used to bowl on Friday nights, but since my daughter got me to light Shabbos candles with her, we stay home and have a meal together instead.”
Sadly, in our current age, there are many fine families suffering the pain of one of their own becoming less frum. We do not feel comfortable with how far the child has strayed, and so we attempt to lessen the distance by aligning ourselves to the new reality, by maneuvering our behavior as needed so that we are still a strong “us.”
There was a family that would, for many years, in a relaxed fashion, learn Chitas and Rambam together. The seforim would be spread over the table, and learning would be intermingled with schmoozing. Then, a son left the fold. He is not learning any more. The seforim have disappeared; there are no more nightly learning sessions. Instead, the conversation around the table focuses on politics and current events. Because then at least we’re still doing something together.
It isn’t only families that have this dynamic. It applies to any group of friends, or even co-workers in a business or institution. We have this need to still feel like a cohesive unit so we meet others halfway in whatever they are doing even when the behavior doesn’t really fit who we are. If we squint hard, it looks kind of okay, maybe.
Hey, Naomi, you’re saying, you might be right about this but why bring it up if you don’t have a solution?
Because, to quote Hayom Yom of 16 Sivan, “…the crucial first step is to identify the location of the illness… Most urgent of all … is that the patient make himself aware of two things: a) to know that he is ill and desire most fervently to be cured of this malady; b) to know that he can be cured, with hope and absolute trust that, with G-d’s help, he will indeed be cured of his sickness.”
According to the Rebbe the first step to improving things, the step which cannot be overlooked, is to be aware that there is something to improve.
So… are you inhaling secondhand smoke?