It seems that life’s most important messages come through making painful mistakes. We are commanded by G‑d to honor our parents—something I haven’t always done.
I’ve been writing as a journalist about my journey as a baal teshuvah for several years now, in both the Jewish and the secular media. I’ve enjoyed the recognition and the positive feedback from editors, friends, rabbis, and recently, from readers around the world. My pride likes seeing the delicately crafted words, reliving our journey in print and online. But I wasn’t as sensitive as I should have been to the people closest to us.
It seems that life’s most important messages come through making painful mistakesI like to say that my husband and I began this journey five years ago when we became more religiously observant, but that’s not really true. For me, it started at birth when I was given a beautiful Hebrew name. It was continued by my devoted parents who shlepped me thirty minutes each way to Sunday School and Hebrew School, then Confirmation and Senior Study. Their desire to instill in me a love of Judaism was evident in my beautiful bat mitzvah, as my mother pored over the details, the guest list, the candle-lighting ceremony, the menu. And then, as I stood under the flowered chuppah with my husband, my parents looked on with love after many months of careful planning, shopping and tears.
But I have painted a different picture the past few years. I wrote about the rituals and laws I didn’t learn, what I was denied rather than what I was given. For years my parents stood back, quietly reading my words about my seemingly noble journey towards a more meaningful, “religious” life.
But where was my head all this time? Why didn’t I sense their pain, the hurt I was causing by bragging about my new life? I got lost in the details, and while my intentions were good, some of my actions could have been different.
I am realizing now that this is a common mistake among many baalei teshuvah (“BTs”)—people who adopt the Torah lifestyle of past generations that may have dropped off along the way. In our zealousness to live a life devoted to Torah and G‑d, we may forget how important it is to simply treat people well, to be sensitive and loving.
I think most BTs would be surprised to learn how lenient rabbis will be when it comes to family harmony. I didn’t realize this when I would refuse to eat at our families’ homes. I wanted to do what I thought was right, but in hindsight, a bit more sensitivity and less self-righteousness could have gone a long way. There is an art to knowing how to work together for the sake of peace.
Judaism is about attention to detail—like keeping kosher, observing Shabbat, making challah and saying blessings. But those beautiful things don’t seem so wonderful if they aren’t done in an atmosphere of love. A smile instead of a correction. A thank-you instead of a “Why don’t you do things my way?”
I have written before about not judging others for doing more or less than me. The words may have sounded good at the time, but now I realize that I hadn’t really internalized them.
The words may have sounded good at the time, but now I realize that I hadn’t really internalized themSo here I am now, trying to right a wrong. Still enjoying the life I’ve built with my husband and children, still growing a little every day.
But with all the Torah knowledge we’ve gained over the years, the most important lesson I have learned, and continue to learn, is to honor my parents. I haven’t always done a very good job at it, but I’m working on it. I’m choosing my words with more care these days. Trying to smile more, and to just be a little nicer.
As we continue to move forward on this journey, we’ll make more of an effort to reach out to our families. To show appreciation for the love and devotion they showed, for the Jewish souls we were given.
I realize that it is my positive traits—my desire to search for meaning and truth, and to live a good life—that come from them. It is those things that make me the person that I am, and that have led to the life I am now living. It is my sincere hope that our lifestyle will make them proud, and that we may always honor them in the way that they deserve.