By Baila Sebrow

 

Question

I had been dating a guy — let’s call him Baruch — for about four months before the quarantine. In the last few weeks before we had to social distance, he seemed to be “veering from the derech” a little. When we started dating, he used to go to minyan every day, three times a day; he also learned every day. He started to miss minyan every now and then and didn’t learn quite as often, and there didn’t seem to be any good reason for this.

Now that we can’t see each other due to the coronavirus, I fear that this behavior is leading to something much worse. I want to point it out to him, but I don’t want to bring it up because he tends to get defensive and has a bit of a temper. To make matters worse, we can’t speak in person, which makes it harder to communicate. I really love him and I see a real future for us, but not if this decline continues. Should I confront him?

Response

For technical purposes, we need to first identify and establish the term “off-the-derech, or as you refer to it “veering from the derech.” When somebody is said to have gone off the derech, that reference is made concerning a person who has abandoned the ritualistic way of life required in an Orthodox Jew. In most cases, such an individual will not only physically leave the frum community, but, more importantly, he or she leaves behind all the halachic obligations of Torah MiSinai. There are also circumstances where he or she might still remain living in the same place but has abandoned all aspects of religiosity. That, my friend, is the true definition of “off the derech.” When a woman complains that a man she is dating is “veering from the derech,” to me that would mean that he is inching towards not being frum anymore.

Since we are on the subject about classifying terms, what does the term “frum Jew” mean to you? Here is what defines being a frum Jew according to halachah. In a nutshell, it means bringing Hashem closer to you. How is that accomplished? Ah! That is where it gets challenging. To some people it could mean swaying back and forth while davening with a minyan three times a day, never missing a shiur, wearing tzitzis out, adhering to the strictest kashrus standards, and, of course, the levush. What is missing in this depiction is the most important element: lovingkindness towards his fellow man. If that is lacking, his entire frumkeit becomes nothing more than fluff and may also turn others off.

Yes, it is important to daven with a minyan three times a day, learn Torah, and praise Hashem, but if frum Jews were ever taught a lesson that concern for human life takes precedence over a minyan and learning with a chavrusa, it is here and now. Ever since the laws of social distancing have gone into effect, minyanim have been banned — not just by medical providers, but by rabbanim, too. Why? Because practicing social distancing will not just protect an individual from contracting COVID-19 but will reduce the chances of transmitting the disease to others. Our Torah dictates that a man can miss minyan and shiur for months if it means preserving the life of his fellow man.

One of your issues with Baruch is that even before social distancing he started to miss minyan and stopped learning as often you would like. According to you, there was no reason for it. How do you know that there is no reason for it? If he did slack off, how does that label him as a man who veered off the derech? Did Baruch stop eating kosher food? Was he mechallel Shabbos? If your answer to my last two questions is no, then my answer to you is that your issue with Baruch is not that he is veering off the derech but that Baruch might be in a different place than you hashkafically.

It could be that he knew that you are more “to the right” than he is, and since he wanted to date you anyway, he made the effort to do what you expected of him. When he became more comfortable with you and the relationship that you share together, he felt he could relax in those areas and perhaps assumed you would be O.K. with it. Or maybe Baruch finally realized that he cannot pretend to be someone he is not, and he decided that he would show you his true colors regarding his level of frumkeit. However, I will not rule out that there is also the chance that he suddenly changed, too. If that is the case, then regardless of what you say, there is a reason for it, and a reasonable explanation should most definitely be taken into account.

In healthy relationships, a dating couple should feel comfortable enough to have a straightforward conversation about something that is on either person’s mind. Yet, you feel that you cannot do that because, according to what you say, he gets defensive and has a bit of a temper. Do you know that for a fact, or are you being presumptuous? Have you ever brought up a topic that he did not like, and he acted unusually defensive? Have you ever seen Baruch lose his cool?

If you are certain that Baruch has a temper, then even if he never misses davening with a minyan and learns from morning till night, run away from him as fast as you can and never look back. There is no way to have a normal relationship with a person who has a temper. Such people are typically always angry at something. On a good day, the slightest irritation or annoyance gets blown out of proportion. Life with such an individual will be like walking on eggshells. The slightest extra pressure on a raw egg will crack the shell, and the egg will run amuck. If Baruch indeed has a temper, then you could expect a life with him to be unsettling most of the time.

Now that I took your complaints apart, I will bring this all together for you. Unless you are leaving out significant facts, from what you are telling me, I am not convinced that Baruch is going off the derech. If you are concerned that he might be, then without appearing accusatory or confronting him (as you put it), which will automatically place him on the defensive and is something you should never do to any person, express your concerns to him. You must do that even if you cannot see him in person. Ask him your questions either by phone, FaceTime, or Zoom. I will caution you strongly never to discuss any important issue that requires clarification by text or email. Most of the time, you lose vital information by expressing too much or too little emotion when you type your feelings. There is also the issue that since it is impossible to accurately distinguish tone, one of you can potentially misinterpret what the other meant or said. I will add that if this could wait until the ban on social distancing is lifted, then that would be optimal. It sounds to me that there is too much doubt going on in your mind to have this linger much longer.

If you are too scared to have that conversation due to Baruch’s reaction, then I am sorry to say that you have nothing with this guy. Your relationship is about as real as a fairytale. That brings me to your declaration of love for Baruch.

What does “love” mean to you? Are you exhilarated when you are with him, can’t stop staring at him, and does your heart race? You might be highly infatuated with him. You might also love the person you built up in your head. That person in your imagination may not be Baruch. If you reread what you wrote to me, you will see that there is likely incompatibility and unresolved conflict. Love is accepting the person for who he is, for better or worse. Being in love with somebody is giving that person the benefit of the doubt while being supportive of his decision. Healthy love means never having to fear articulating what is on your mind. Open, honest, and safe communication is the backbone of a healthy relationship. I do not feel that you have that with Baruch.

Your relationship with Baruch is salvageable if you can both fix the poor communication issues. A relationship cannot work without communication. Those who enjoy successful, healthy relationships are people who, even though they may have a difference of opinion, at the end of the day are always on the same page.

Baila Sebrow is president of Neshoma Advocates, communications and recruitment liaison for Sovri-Beth Israel, executive director of Teach Our Children, and a shadchanis and shidduch consultant. She can be reached at Bsebrow@aol.com. Questions and comments for the Dating Forum can be submitted to 5townsforum@gmail.com.

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