Can a BT Earn the Right to Coast?

Hi

I’m frum for about 16 years and I have a close friend who’s been frum for about the same amount of time. We’re both married with families. My friend worked very hard on his Yiddishkeit for many years, but in the last 2 years he has noticeably declined in devotion to his learning and his seriousness about davening. I asked him about it and he told me that after all the years of applying pressure on himself to advance further he decided that he had made enough progress and he thinks Hashem will be happy with him because of the struggles he’s endured to become frum and raise a frum family.

Is it possible that his assessment is not so crazy and he’s earned his right to coast?

If he’s making a mistake how can inspire him to return to the path he was formerly on? The for-the-kids argument didn’t work because he argued that they’ll do fine because his wife does a great job with them.

-Akiva

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From the Comments

This post could have been written by me as well.

For the past two years, after 15 years of observance, I feel less connected with my daily practices than before and have been frankly-coasting. Not with belief and not with ahavas Yisrael or most day-to-day observance, G-d forbid, but with the entire lifestyle. I don’t feel compelled to learn or to run to shul 3 times a day anymore. I feel I have bought into a bill of goods that really no longer moves me spiritually as it once did nor do I find it particually appealing. And the Rabbinic answer always seems to be more more and even more perfunctory observance. This absolutely manifests itself with Sleichot in my opinion (which I find detrimental to my attempt to do t’shuva) and the inability of leadership to address people like me on an intellectually honest level. And I find most of the outreach programs intellectually dishonest.

I can trace this to the general complacency in shul as a whole (so its not just me); my observation that Judaism is being measured by hat size not by spirit size; the pull away from the middle that every single American Jewish community is experiencing; and last but not least, the inability to come to grips with the financial strain tuition and kehilla have placed on me. Frankly, I am a little sorry I went down this road – not that I would turn back – but I got much more than I bargained for when I had no kids.

I am not an indulgent person, I just wanted Shabbat and shul in my life many years ago and to level the playing field for my children to marry Jews. I seem to have gotten a lot more baggage than that.

-Chaim

30 comments on “Can a BT Earn the Right to Coast?

  1. Having worked hard for something, perhaps your friend is happy with the results and he wants to simply live for a while. He has built a new house, now he wants some time to enjoy it. If he reaches the point where he takes the house for granted, he no longer sees it or appreciates it, then it’s time for a new project that will engage him again.

    We are always changing our orbit around G-d. I think anyone who has taken on observance knows the feeling of being “too close” and needing to “draw back” a bit to reach equilibrium. Most of us also know the pain of being “too far” and the need to “draw near”. Sometimes we have periods of tremendous growth and we jump into a closer orbit around G-d. At that point, we may feel that things are exactly right for a while. Maybe this is the location of your friend.

    Fortunately for all of us, the adventure of being alive presents us with ongoing spiritual challenges whether we want them or not. Right now, your friend might be in perfect balance with his closeness to G-d but something will upset the balance. We change and life changes us. Hopefully, you friend will realize, at that point, that it is time to work and grow again.

    If your friend has reached the “right” level for him in terms of prayer and study, perhaps you should offer him other opportunities that might appeal such as mentoring someone for work, doing chesed, teaching another BT, helping a child in the community. There are many ways to grow.

    Personally, I try to always be growing in some area. Sometimes, the area is very small — better focus on one bracha per day, greeting more people with a cheerful face. If I am not growing in some way, I feel stuck and unhappy. I am not my best self.

    But not everyone is wired this way. I know many people who don’t appear to be working on anything in particular who are really great, loving, inspired, happy Jews. What is enough for your friend may not be enough for you. Be there for your friend, but don’t measure him. The suit that fits him may not fit you.

  2. Dear Chaim and all the kind people who read this lines:
    I am, in fact, also a BT, and’ve been arround for something like 18 years, and I’ve also been struggling with that kind of difficulties in my personal service to Hashem, and I say personal, because in the whole picture you almost wouldn’t notice. But let me please ask a question before I offer any answers. ¿Couldn’t it be that you’re just 16 years older and you see the world on other terms than wat you did 16 years ago? ¿maybe you should find a new way to connect with your spirituality (i.e. avodat Hashem), one that should be propper for your new way of thinking and seeing th world and to your “new age”?

    I would call that an urgent need for “Hitchadshus”, renewing.

    Good Luck!!

  3. I think Zach Kessin is right on the mark. If Chaim says to his friend: ” ‘Hey you OK’ ”, you seem off your game. If he wants talk he will, if not not.” he most likely would wonder what Chaim meant by that. So whether he’s OK with it or not, he will respond in some way that would add up to either he does not want to discuss it or he does. There certainly must be reasons that he’s turned off, I could think of quite a few reasons for myself. So rather than throw the baby out with the bath water, I’m trying to find different routes to get closer to Hashem. But then, I’m a woman. I’m wondering if there are any other women who are struggling or are feeling let down by the community and rebbeim who are afraid to address the downslide that even FFB’s are experiencing because it isn’t politically correct in our “moving further and further to the right” world. I understand the need for an honest approach. It seems we are expected to swallow everything whole, which I believe may create increasing doubt, at least in my case. Not about Hashem, but about what seems like man-made rules of His expectations of us. I wonder where women are holding on this issue.

  4. Chaim,

    I went through a similar period recently (lasted for about 3 years). One way I got through it all was by bringing interesting things to read to shul, things to broaden my perspectives not only on judaism, but areas of secular knowledge that I could connect to in the hopes of regenerating a feeling of ahavas hashem. Also, you mentioned shabbat and children — definitely spiritual areas that can be used to help … e.g., do things to increase oneg shabbos (physically and intellectually) and invest energy into building warm relationships with your children, and to try to understand the importance of that as a spiritual endeavor. Go ahead and indulge in both. And you don’t need the baggage of what passes for frumkeit in the kehilla – so get rid of it. For me, I just had to come to terms with the fact that my version of Torah Judaism (emphasis on midos and bein adam l’chavero, earning a parnossa, not being constantly machmir) was basically a different religion than what is practiced and espoused by the masses. So be it.

  5. David, You’re right, the way I phrased it 2,3,4 are ways of dealing with the pressure to achieve constant growth on the long-term. The underlying assumption is that if it is feasible we all want to grow.

    I think DY makes a great point that in reality we’re all constantly choosing some gliding/coasting strategy, sometimes with an upward projection and sometimes with a downward projection.

    In fact Hashem even structured the Jewish year around changing levels and expectations of growth.

    Chaim, I think there are many people who fit the pattern you describe. But like you, we also know ultimately Torah is true and we move onwards amidst pain and sacrifices. We should all be zocher to fully experience the joy and reward of efforts.

  6. chaim – you are very honest.

    i’m wondering – ever think that your own coasting, and what you see around you, is something that every single jew has to deal with? we make choices…

    if you are feeling uninspired, go get re-inspired. maybe your venue doesn’t speak to you any more. that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth rearranging or replacing…no one will tell you that you must move on. but if you’re complaining of malaise, and are troubled by the default coast – you can get on it, if you want to. Hashem has a whole big world out there and if you want to get fresh inspiration, you will find it.

    hatzlacha

  7. Chaim-R Berel Wein frequently says that Torah Judaism is wonderful despite the fact that many of the things that Torah observant Jews think, say and do make him very upset.

  8. The pressure for constant growth can be difficult, there seems to be four options:

    1) Deal with the pressure, after all that’s what life in this world is about

    2) Lower the bar and go for lower levels of growth until the pressure is manageable

    3) Try to remain in a holding/coasting pattern

    4) Drop your observance level until you can cope with the pressure of observance

    In the short term, do you (readers and commentors) feel that any of the options can be viable depending on the situation?

    Very thoughtful list of options. There are all viable options, in my opinion, at various times and stages of a person’s life.

    For the long term, do you (readers and commentors) feel that any of the options are viable?

    The Vilna Gaon said: We are here in this world to perfect our character, and if not, why do we need life? Open any mussar or chassidus sefer, and you’ll find a myriad of quotes from Chazal and Tanach that option 1) is the ideal. Chizuk. Constant growth.

    The way to deal with the long term is to focus on your goals and targets, and manage the pressure with the other options as the need arises.

    As a matter of fact, Mark, aren’t options 2 – 4 ways of dealing with the pressure to achieve constant growth on the long-term?

  9. We need to differentiate between coasting borne of resentment and coasting born of exhaustion/the cyclical nature of growth.

    While the latter can be reversed with compassion and patience the former needs to address and resolve the causes of the resentment.

    Rav Hutner z”l taught that the mitzvah of krias sh’ma i.e. “accepting the yoke of the kingdom of heaven” is none other than a “siluk taarumos k’lapei maa’lah”= “relinquishing of all gripes against G-d”.

    IMO this is why so many kiruv organizations place a great emphasis on adressing Theodicy. As long as one is convinced that they are among the “good people” that “bad things” are happening to, it’s really hard to muster any enthusiasm for Torah and Avodah.

  10. This post could have been written by me as well.

    For the past two years, after 15 years of observance, I feel less connected with my daily practices than before and have been frankly-coasting. Not with belief and not with ahavas Yisrael or most day-to-day observance, G-d forbid, but with the entire lifestyle. I don’t feel compelled to learn or to run to shul 3 times a day anymore. I feel I have bought into a bill of goods that really no longer moves me spiritually as it once did nor do I find it particually appealing. And the Rabbinic answer always seems to be more more and even more perfunctory observance. This absolutely manifests itself with Sleichot in my opinion (which I find detrimental to my attempt to do t’shuva) and the inability of leadership to address people like me on an intellectually honest level. And I find most of the outreach programs intellectually dishonest.

    I can trace this to the general complacency in shul as a whole (so its not just me); my observation that Judaism is being measured by hat size not by spirit size; the pull away from the middle that every single American Jewish community is experiencing; and last but not least, the inability to come to grips with the financial strain tuition and kehilla have placed on me. Frankly, I am a little sorry I went down this road – not that I would turn back – but I got much more than I bargained for when I had no kids.

    I am not an indulgent person, I just wanted Shabbat and shul in my life many years ago and to level the playing field for my children to marry Jews. I seem to have gotten a lot more baggage than that.

  11. We need to consider

    – Levels of growth. People should aspire to reach the higher levels they are capable of, but some goals may have to be much longer range than others.

    – Rates of growth. Allowances have to be made for what individuals can handle. Growth in any one area may be sporadic, but a person should always be looking for ways to improve now.

    – Somehow, inertia has to be overcome. A short phase of no progress can lead to a longer or endless phase of no progress, or it can lead to renewed progress. We all need some help to avoid rationalizing whatever we want to do or not do.

  12. The pressure for constant growth can be difficult, there seems to be four options:

    1) Deal with the pressure, after all that’s what life in this world is about

    2) Lower the bar and go for lower levels of growth until the pressure is manageable

    3) Try to remain in a holding/coasting pattern

    4) Drop your observance level until you can cope with the pressure of observance

    In the short term, do you (readers and commentors) feel that any of the options can be viable depending on the situation?

    For the long term, do you (readers and commentors) feel that any of the options are viable?

  13. Also,

    Gershon Seif said, “Maybe he’s in the process of adjusting his time priorities or hashkafic outlook for all sorts of reasons. Would that mean he has hashkafic problems?”

    Going by Akiva’s account, his friend believes he has made “enough progress”. I suppose there’s some nuanced way to reinterpret this, but, on its face, it looks like a problem. Had he said “enough progress in a particular area, ______”, that would have been a whole other thing, since that would suggest that his friend is now addressing another area of greater concern, and not simply going on vacation.

  14. Yes, we all have our ups and downs. But I detect in Akiva’s friend some wrong focus that has given him a “burned out” feeling. Who in this blog can know what the real cause was? Regardless, the root cause has to be addressed and he may need appropriate help to do it. Two years is a long time.

  15. I can think of some very healthy and normal reasons for a 2-year period of “coasting” by a BT:

    – a welcome shift from external focus (am I doing all this stuff correctly? Am I keeping up?) to the internal work of integrating all this new stuff.

    – a need to focus on family and children, which is particularly challenging for BTs who are raising larger families than they grew up in.

    – a focus on deeper issues that may have been the impetus for teshuva, and now can be opened up and dealt with in the supportive environment of frum life and community.

    – a healthy reappraisal of the Chumra-based haredi culture, and a decision that one wants to adopt another lifestyle option within Torah.

  16. I’m not sure how to advise here but I will pick up a bit on the point about constant intensity. Rav Pinkus often talks about how we are not supposed to measue ourselves by the “high points” of a yom tov, for example, but by the Monday morning brocha on our cup of coffee. Of course, we need the “bomb” (as Rav Prinkus calls it) of a Shavous to energize our learning but life isn’t about constant intensity. Rav Pinkus paraphrases the Brisker Rav stating that “when it boils, it evaporates”, meaning we can’t always be “on fire”.

  17. I think that the post is an excellent reminder of a very important statement of Chazal-the Torah was not given to angels, but rather to people who are subject to emotional stresses and the concomittant ups and downs of everyday life.

  18. A few thoughts, see if I can sort them out.

    Very often the BT’s approach to Judaism/avodat Hashem has an intense-ness which crosses over to tenseness. BT’s can be like coiled springs in a way that FFB’s seldom are. Of course, there are positive aspects to this, but it’s understandable for someone to want to “coast” a bit. Perhaps, psychically, it’s healthy.

    Personally, there are vistas in avodat Hashem that were not on my map even a year ago. Outer lights (makifim) perpetually become prini (integrated/inner), yielding new, higher level makifim. But, there is a certain BT intensity that I can take only in very short installments, else I start getting a headache.

    If the person in question is someone who takes seeking truth and refining oneself seriously, the “coasting” will be subsumed in the larger picture of self-tikun and advancement. In other words, it won’t last. The proper approach for you depends a lot on the personalities involved as well as the dynamics of the relationship. But, it’s very likely that your nudging will just get on his nerves and even hinder the overall process. I do suspect that a show of concern would probably not be genuine, to be honest, or beneficial IF the “fuel” for the concern, the drive and thrust, is his avodat Hashem. Probably better to concentrate on your own emunah and avodat Hashem. Of course, if he seems distraught it’s a different story.

  19. been on the decline for 2 years. That’s no longer some spiritual down days or a few steps back.

    Perhaps…but then again where is the shiur for the troughs explicated?

  20. This World is meant for toil. The Next World is where the reward (if we’re deserving) comes for us. If you’re done trying, you’re already dead.

    Rabbi Schwartz – Akiva said that his friend has been on the decline for 2 years. That’s no longer some spiritual down days or a few steps back.

    Agree with Bob Miller that there’s a lack of basic hashkafa.

    Akiva – There could very well be mitigating factors but that doesn’t dismiss being on the wrong side of the spiritual escalator for 2 years. Try to engage your friend in a deeper conversation to see what’s really going on. Start learning mussar with him. But do something!

  21. This is a great post. I can say, base on my own struggles, that there are time when I’ve felt that coasting is an optimal road to travel. Those time are usually after feeling that I need an injection or outside stimuli to further my own growth and simply not find what I think I need. In the end, for me, the true push to continue growning comes from within (which puts the responsiblity on me).

    I think, as previous comments state, that simply letting Akiva’s friend know that he has someone to talk to, if needed, is a good reaction.

  22. While living human beings are not static their lifes are never one uninterrupted upward growth curve. Life, if not a precipitous roller coaster, certainly has its ups and downs.

    To avoid the dreaded “plateuing” smugness on the one hand and hopelessness OTOH must be avoided at all costs. But we need to have rachmonus on ourselves, and on one another, when in the throes of y’mai sinah = spiritual down days/periods (see beginning of Alei Shur).

    Self-delusion or self-awareness deficits are also among the major causes of non-growth. IMO the notion that we never take steps down/backwards on the stairway to heaven is among the most basic of self-delusions and krum hashqofos.

  23. I agree with DY. And Bob Miller – I’m surprised at your comment. Your comments always seem so balanced. In this case I feel you’re too quick to judge without knowing what’s really going on. Maybe he’s going through a hard time for some reason that can’t be shared. Maybe he’s in the process of adjusting his time priorities or hashkafic outlook for all sorts of reasons. Would that mean he has hashkafic problems? Well for those whose way to spend time he’s now reconsidering, I suppose it would be, which is why this fella won’t open up to his friend – all he’ll get is mussar and “fixing”. Not every change is a up or down. Sometimes it’s sideways. For those who only understand up and down, this is not easy to explain to and often counterproductive.

  24. i’m wondering if FFB’s ever get the right to slacken off, either. probably no one does. yet there are times in people’s lives that they need to pace themselves and may slow down and this is not bad.
    to me the difference between this being a problem or just a normal part of a self-directed individual’s pulse-taking is whether or not he really thinks that’s it. if he really thinks he’s done, has arrived and can stay exactly as he is now, or not, is the question. this is a big issue. because there is no “staying like this” – one either goes forward or backwards.
    of course, he may not be comfortable discussing this with you, either, and may feel that you were taking him to task, which put up his defenses. so his answer may not even reflect the way he really feels or expresses what he really intends to do with himself.
    maybe he feels like he just needs a break right now.

  25. It appears that some essentials of hashkafah are lacking. Without those, maintaining one’s Jewish practices, much less strengthening them, becomes difficult. Someone your friend really respects can possibly straighten out his skewed thinking, but only if your friend is open to discussion.

  26. nice post, Avi. Particualrly liked your mental heirarchy of “Resistance, Must, Want and Beyond”. Fits nicely with many other Torah paradigms for Spiritual development.

    Akiva – I would second Gershon about being careful how and IF to probe your friend’s recent shift. He certainly has the “right”, little r, as long as he’s still within Halacha. Perhaps it’s an opportunity for YOU to show him real empathy and perhaps model a little.

    If it becomes a “Right”, big r, however, that would be a different story.

  27. Maybe there’s something else going on that you don’t know about. If you’re very close with him maybe he’ll open up and talk about it. If you’re not, or if you are but he doesn’t want to discuss any further, give him some space. Not everything has to become everyone else’s affair.

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