Question:

I'm a 34 year old Jewish woman who has just started keeping Shabbat. My non-observant but proudly Jewish mother constantly complains about that fact. Interestingly, I have never heard her complain about the fact that my brother converted to another religion and has married a non-Jewish woman. She justifies her odd behavior, explaining that my brother "can't be spoken to, so why bother?" But this still doesn't explain why it so irks her that I am trying to live as a better Jew. Any words of wisdom?

Answer:

Since I do not personally know your mother, it is impossible for me to give a definite explanation for her behavior. I can try, however, to offer some perspective which may shed some light on where she's coming from. But first let me assure you that this – family members disapproving of one of their own becoming more in touch with their Jewish heritage – is, unfortunately, quite common.

A person's natural instinct is geared to self preservation. This includes preserving one's ego and dignity.

By way of analogy: Two children are given chores to do, and one child does his chores properly while the other lazes around. Mom will rightfully be pleased with the first child and displeased with the second. In this case, it is only natural that the second child will make an attempt to discredit the achievements of his sibling. By doing so, he is attempting to remove the "sting" of his mother's displeasure—because his sibling didn't do a good job either. By putting them both in the same boat, his failures are not in the spotlight anymore.

Your brother "converted," but that does not threaten your mother's sense of "spiritual dignity." Yes, it somewhat highlights her failure as a Jewish parent, but she excuses herself by saying that "he could not be spoken to..."

On the other hand, when you started becoming observant and growing in your Judaism, this placed pressure on your mom. If what you are doing is correct, then it makes her look bad for not doing what's right. Her antagonism apparently demonstrates that she knows where the truth lies.

So she had two choices: either she can catch up with you, which would entail change and effort on her part, or she can discredit/discourage you and thereby not appear to be so bad. It seems that she chose the latter. With your patience and love, she will one day choose the former.

I hope this helps,

Rabbi Moshe Goldman for Chabad.org