Thursday, October 22, 2015

When religion gets in the way of relationships

“Rabbi, my daughter is becoming too religious for me.” “My friend is so frum he won’t come on my stag”. “Rabbi, should I move to Golders Green?” Move out from my un-kosher family home?”

While these challenges are as old as the outreach movement, these concerns should not be taken lightly. And are still being asked today.
Can the Torah shed light on this?

While Chabad can boast as the pioneering outreach movement of the modern era. Abraham was doing a similar task in ancient Babylon.

When G-d asks him to leave his homeland indeed “Abram took his wife and his nephew Lot.. and the souls that they had made, the followers that had accepted monotheism[1]”

At one point however, Abraham must bid farewell to Lot[2]: “please separate from me: If you go left then I will go right, and if you go right then I will go left.”

“Lot moves toward Sodom, and Abraham dwelled in Canaan”.

Not long later, a war breaks out and Lot is taken captive. “(Abraham) armed, and his 318 attendants, and set out in pursuit[3]”.

The sages[4] are intrigued by this story, R Yehudah and R Nechemah debate Abraham’s attitude toward his nephew.

R Yehuda suggests that G-d was displeased, and charged Abraham: “To everyone he clings, bringing them close to G-d, but to his own kinsman he sends him away? And to Sodom, where he will only decline further spiritually”.

R Nechemia says the reverse. G-d was angry that Lot was tagging along on the journey, despite Abraham being told to ‘leave his family[5]’ he was schlepping Lot with him.

Is R Yehuda suggesting Abraham gave up on Lot?

Is R Nechemia recommending leaving family where they are?

Certainly not, indeed when the kings kidnap Lot, his family and possessions, uncle Abraham, 75 years old, risks his very life and the life of his men to save the family. And prophetically he saw that the Messiah (King David) would descend from Lot[6].

What message might these two great Rabbi be teaching us?

One of the biggest challenges facing individuals[7], who have taken on the journey of more religious practice, is their relationships with friends and family from their ‘previous life’. And vice versa.

R’ Nechemia is reminding us that journeys are important and sacred, friends or family should not dissuade you from perusing a more meaningful Jewish experience. However, he is stimulating us with a more important thought: You cannot schlepp them along. It is a personal journey of your own. They have theirs. Respect for each other, yes, judging each other; expectations of each other, no.

R Yehudah however challenges us: what kind of a journey are you on that you are alienating your own friends and family?

You should be an inspiration and role model of what it means to be a mench, more masterful at relationships then you were before. If you can cling to strangers in Hendon, you should certainly be able to cling to friends and family in St John’s Wood.

Most importantly everyone must remember: family, is family, whether they are on the journey with us or not, and family only looks out for the best and will always be there to protect each other from harm.

Lech Lecha, journey on and be blessed.

[1] Genesis, 12, 5 Rashi Ibid
[2] Genesis 13 5-11
[3] Genesis 14, 14-16
[4] Midrash Rabba 41, 8 (Rashi, Eitz Yosef)
[5] The call of the Torah, (Munk p168)
[6] Zohar 44b.
[7] Baal teshuvah Survival Guide, Lakin (part 3, parents and siblings).

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