Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Question & Answer With Rebbetzin Yehudis Golshevsky - The Next Mitzva

(Painting by L. Kotliarker)

Below is an excerpt from an e-mail that I received from a reader named Deborah who asked me to help her find someone to answer a question about starting to wear a sheitel.

Deborah asks:

I have been married now for 16 years and my husband and are only now starting to become more observant. I have been toying with the idea of wearing a sheitel even though we are not yet completely Shomer Shabbos. Would it be okay if I start off wearing a sheitel part of the time as a way to transition myself to wear it full time (as I have done with wearing tznius clothing)? Do you have any advice for me as I slowly wade into the deeper waters in observing the law of covering my hair?

Rebbetzin Yehudis Golshevsky answers:

Dear Deborah,

First of all, I want to wish you continued growth and pleasure in your adventure of expanding your Torah observance. May Hashem bless all your efforts.

You ask if it's okay to gradually work into the observance of the mitzvah of covering your hair, and as far as I can tell, there isn't any difference between the need to take your commitments one step at a time in this mitzvah and any other. In general, spiritual growth (like all real growth) is a gradual process and as you continue to make further commitments, they become easier to maintain. Of course, one must take internal inventory to watch out for complacence (which is another word for stagnation), but barring that pitfall, slow and steady is the way to go.

Be very happy with every bit of good, every moment that you do manage to observe the law to its fullest, and that will give you strength to continue on your journey. This is the path we learned from Rebbe Nachman: focus on the power of good points, and you'll grow into more of them.

I just want to share a story from Rav Godlevsky of Bnei Brak on this subject, because I really love it.

He had a student who was a budding baal teshuvah at the earlier stages of growth. The young man was starting to observe Shabbos, but was still a little shaky. One Shabbos, a group of friends came over and really worked on him to convince him to go to the beach with them. After a lot of pressure, he conceded.

He got into the car with his friends and headed to the beach, where they proceeded to hang out, and eventually they went to go and buy some soft drinks. After buying his cola, the budding baal teshuvah stopped and made a very clear and thoughtful blessing before taking a drink.

His friends couldn't help themselves, and started to rib him mercilessly.

"Oh, what a tzaddik!' "Nice berachah--on the soda you paid for on Shabbos, at the beach, which you got to by car!" And so on.

He answered, "What do I care? I fell and came with you after you pressured me. It was hard for me. But making this berachah is easy--so why shouldn't I do it?" This is what he learned from Rav Godlevsky, who is a real Breslover. No act of sin cancels out a mitzvah, and no mitzvah compensates for a sin. Hashem is not a tyrant--you are responsible for what you don't do, but never let a negative act impinge on your willingness to "chap arein" (take advantage) of an opportunity to do a mitzvah if you can.

This young man kept on his path and grew into a ben Torah.

And I'm sure that you and your husband will also grow into all that you can be if you will follow the same advice.


At March 24, 2009 at 10:58:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A beautiful answer - yayashar koach!

At March 25, 2009 at 12:19:00 PM EDT, Blogger tea mad hatter said...

its interesting to me that most Balei Teshuva are drawn to symbols and trappings as a first step. personaly i believe that its more important to start from the inside, and work your way out (the Kotsker in me talking). sort out the ikar before the tofel

At March 25, 2009 at 1:57:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

tea mad hatter, I'm not sure what is supposed to be "trappings" here--covering hair is a mitzvah and there's not too much "outside" about it because it often cuts to a woman's vanity and is quite challenging. If you mean, why hair covering before full Shemiras Shabbos, who but the questioner knows? Is there some magical hierarchy of mitzvos that baalei teshuvah are meant to start with, when they are starting from scratch? I don't know about Kotzk, but I do know from working with many baalei teshuvah that you start with what you can, that it is unpredictable what a person will feel inspired to adopt first, and that it's unwise to focus on the inconsistencies baalei teshuvah live with until they become more accustomed to an observant life.

At March 26, 2009 at 6:11:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

About 15 years ago when we were becoming observant (still driving to shul, but already keeping kosher and I dressed tznius except for head covering) I asked the rebbetzin if it was ok to cover my hair since I wasn't completely observant. She emphatically said yes, because it would facilitate us becoming shomer shabbos even sooner. I didn't quite understand how that would work, but I started covering my hair and shortly thereafter I did indeed become fully observant, B"H.

At March 29, 2009 at 4:50:00 PM EDT, Blogger tea mad hatter said...

Yehudis - whatever works is good!

just an observation on my part on general human behaviour.uniforms seem to be the first thing to go up.

my point is- wouldnt it make sense to start off with some more essential mitvos (like shomer shabbos) before the black pants, white shirts, sheitls (its a trapping as much as a mitzvah) and skirts?

sure snius is a mitzvah, but so is smiras haloshan etc etc. i think the emphisis should be on internal refinement first. let the external reflect the internal when you are finaly there.

to me judiasm is a quest for truth and connection to Hashem. so why start it on the footing of inconsistencies.

a mench who doesnt wear a kippah, is still a mench. but a menuvel in a kappota is not kidding anyone.

(p.s. i wouldnt be very good at kiruv, my hat is off to you for the degree of understanding, compassion and patience needed.)

At March 29, 2009 at 5:13:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We do have a klal: Hachitzoniyus m'oreres es hapnimiyus. External behaviors have an impact (for the good, and also for the bad) on our internal state. For a baal teshuvah, sometimes it's more important than one thinks to start changing external things while the internal takes its time catching up. External changes like modest dress, head covering, yarmulka, tzitzis, are all ways in which the person begins to self-identify Jewishly. This is a mark of very deep change, and I don't think it's superficial at all. It's just part of the process.
When you work with baalei teshuvah, you will meet the girl who is careful about Shabbos who might still have a non-Jewish boyfriend, or a guy who goes to the mikveh every Erev Shabbos but who still doesn't wear tzitzis. You find all types, taking on all kinds of mitzvos, in no discernable order, and I don't believe that there's anything wrong with that as long as the movement is forward.
Again, tea mad hatter, it's important to realize that if you wait for the external to catch up with the internal, the internal might just never get anywhere.
I once heard a story second hand about Rav Weinberger, shlit"a. And anyone from Eish Kodesh should correct me on the details if they're wrong.
He was once at the mikveh Erev Shabbos and there was a guy there who was wearing all white, very spiritual, very into his tevilah. When he came out to dress, Rabbi Weinberger noticed that he wasn't wearing tzitzis. He approached the man and asked him why not.
The man replied very beatifically, "I believe in feeling the light in the mitzvos; as I grow and learn, I feel this light and then I take on the mitzvah. Tzitzis is such a holy mitzvah, I am not yet there..."
Rabbi Weinberger waited a beat and said, "Idiot! Go out and get yourself a pair of tzitzis!"
It's a mitzvah. Just do it.

At March 31, 2009 at 6:54:00 PM EDT, Blogger tea mad hatter said...

Yehudis - right, got your point. let me stir a little more- how about tichel and bikini combo?? what would you say?

At April 1, 2009 at 5:20:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now you're just pressing for the fun of it. Generally speaking, people have their own sense of how far an inconsistency can go.

At April 2, 2009 at 11:41:00 AM EDT, Blogger tea mad hatter said...

hehe :) your right


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