Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Helping Yourself through Helping Others

As I’ve written in the past here, when I was in my late teens, sparked by some personal things that happened, I had a crisis of faith. That is the proper term for it right? I grew up in a religious home an Orthodox, Baal Teshuvah Chabad home. For some sad reason my father never carried over his initial “it” feeling for how he came to be religious into his parenting lifestyle. There were no lengthy explanations for why we do certain things. No reminiscing about how when he wasn’t Frum he took this or that for granted. No love, or passion for things he lectured his children on every day. Reading what I’m writing now, it’s actually even sadder than I realized.

On the other hand my mother, also a Baal Teshuvah, did bring that passion for religion into the home, she didn’t have all the knowledge that my father had, so it would not have been as easy for her to do the “explaining” but I definitely developed my own passion for life and for being religious from her.

Part of what happens sometimes in a large orthodox family, where there are chores aplenty and school busses coming and going. Where there are always late classes, tons of Hebrew and English homework to do. There is little time for logic, explanations, general conversations of why we do the things we do. In the best of situations the parents and the teachers combine to give you just enough to sustain your need till your old enough to delve further into it. In the worst of situations you’re just along for the ride. What happens when you just go with the flow is that when you get older and your not being watched over as much. Where your old enough to start doing and thinking on our own, when the already know it all attitude has developed in your teen years, you start asking yourself the biggest question of all. Why am I doing this? Without proper conditioning as a child, some people just don't bother to answer that "why."

I have many friends that grew up frum and never had the crisis of faith I did. Now, I don’t know that for sure, maybe some of them weren’t brave enough to face it but they did remain frum. I think the reason is because they were in situations where there parents did go the extra mile to nurture their spiritual growth. You can’t just give a plant air or sun, it needs water too. In order for the plant to grow just right and survive, in needs all the elements.

It’s ironic, to think that a man who came from a place so far removed from religion, and who went on such a long and harsh road to return, didn't instill the passion that drove him there in the first place in his children. Because he didn’t do that, many of my siblings aren’t religious today. What can I tell you; with some people bad parenting is just bad parenting, religion aside. Thank g-d for my mother.

I think to understand what I went through myself, and to better understand my own journey, its good to read my smaller less intimate posts leading up to this. This post for example will demonstrate how my love for doing “smaller mitzvahs” eventually powered the engine that lead me back. I think I felt guilty about some of the bigger mitzvahs I wasn’t careful about or didn’t understand the reasons behind, or never felt that passion for them. Since I didn’t feel so into those bigger things, I went out of my way to do the “easier” little things. Helping someone out in a jam for me was a simple and logical “mitzvah.”

Jumping forward many years to college, I “hung” around the Chabad house on campus a lot. Since I was well versed in being frum, (just not understanding why I would want to be) there were always things I could help out with there. I ended up being like an assistant rabbi. It must have been odd, there I was a regular guy, not dressed in any formal rabbinic gear. No beard, no hat, just some jeans, a baseball cap and a sweatshirt. Talking about major issues, like the woman’s role in Judaism. Did Moses really exist? How do you know? Isn’t it easier to “rest” on Shabbos by going to a nice quiet restaurant Friday night and a movie afterwards? What does turning on a light switch have to do with it? But for whatever reasons we connected, and those were some amazing and inspiring conversations.

Of course I believed everything I was explaining to them, I just hadn’t always believed IN THEM. In one case, a student who I became friends with at the Chabad on Campus, came to me and asked me to teach him to read Hebrew. He was 21 years old, and never had any connection with religion. No Bar Mitzvah, no Hebrew School, No Jewish friends, he knew he was Jewish, but that was it. I agreed, we were both serious football junkies, so we had these Sunday football and Hebrew Classes. That was the first of many such classes with not just him, but other students as well (sans the football lol.) Months later when he was reading out of a Hebrew Siddur, I had this warm feeling in my gut. I felt like I had done something good. I was happy with myself. It was through those types of feelings that I eventually discovered that “it” feeling I always speak about. Through those “little” things.

I’ll write more another time. I’m kinda cutting this post off in the middle. There is more to this story, and I hope to find the time it deserves to write about it in the future. For now, thanks for reading.


A Simple Jew said...

I look forward to continue reading your story. Thanks for writing it, Chaim!

Jack Steiner said...

Chaim that was very interesting.

Unknown said...


It's interesting how so many go through similar experiences... you've captured the feelings perfectly.

Stacey said...

This was interesting, Chaim. I am curious, though. Did you ever ask your father directly about his experiences?

Chaim said...

I know his story, I know his history, it's the passion that he had in the first place that was missing in his parenting style. It's as if he went from passionate baal teshuvah to grump, old school, old Europe shtetl do it because your father did it and his father did it mentality.

Chaim said...

Simple, Jack, Ezzie & Stacey .. Thanks for your comments!

Dindel said...

I wanted to share some mental notes on what you were writing. I was reading what you wrote and it sparked a few thoughts in me about how I grew up and things I personally experienced. I had some very similar experiences.

On the other hand I did thankfully was very close to my mother and connect with her (who also had very little knowledge of her own as a bal tchuva.)But she always urged me to learn told me to things and do them as they feel to me. If I don’t connect to something and she didn’t have an explanation herself. (very often she had no answer) She would tell me to look in to it and do my own research. That’s where I connected and how I learned.

I realized somewhere along the line that I was my own bal tchuvah. And if I wanted to know something I was going to have to open a book and figure it out myself. Cause the System and my home had unfortunately never taught me why I want to do it. Just that I should and there will be consequences if I don’t.

It is unfortunate.
But hey that’s life.

Today I don’t call my self religious. I say I’m “mostly frum”. That’s enough for me. And every day I learn just a little bit more. :)

Chaim said...

thanks for your comment Dindel. Well said.

Anonymous said...

It's nice to get to know you better, Chaim. :)

torontopearl said...

Chaim, great sensitivity came through in your words. I look forward to reading/learning more about your personal experiences.

Shoshana said...

Very nicely written - can't wait to read the rest.

Chaim said...

Mirty - I'm glad to share.

Pearl - coming from a writer like you, that makes your words even more special.

Shoshana - thanks.

I really should write more, keep it going while its there, I'll sit with my thought tomorrow so what comes out.

Batya said...

My story is so different.