Rabbi Ron Eisenman
Being a rav of a shul with many members who grew up in secular American culture has its unique privileges. I’m humbled to help navigate my congregants’ involvement with family members who are “not-yet-frum,” and not at all embarrassed to mention that I’m the only rav around who receives as many halachic queries regarding Thanksgiving as I receive before Pesach.
I’m not talking about the obligation or possible prohibition of eating turkey; frankly, that question is “easy as pumpkin pie” in comparison. I am discussing people and their feelings.
Every Thanksgiving I’m overwhelmed by people grappling with: “To go or not to go; that is the question!” I’m asked about the appropriateness of the baal teshuvah family socializing with non-frum (or even non-Jewish) relatives who would be offended if they were a no-show at Seudas Thanksgiving.
Each case is unique and must be judged with great sensitivity. At times I must advise the baal teshuvah family to “stand their ground” and graciously, yet resolutely, absent themselves from the event. The exposing of small children to various influences at odds with the Torah is a serious and precarious danger.
Often, however, my advice is the opposite.
Last year, when Dov Ber (formerly Marvin) Dubinsky (name changed) approached me and asked about Thanksgiving, I immediately sensed that something was awry.
“My brother invited me to his home for Thanksgiving. Obviously, there is no sh’eilah, right? I should say no, correct?”
“Will the food be kosher?”
“Oh yes, my brother keeps kosher and will even buy take-out and use paper dishes if we want.”
“Does your brother’s family spend time by the television or discussing inappropriate topics that you don’t want your family exposed to?”
“No, actually my brother has no television and is a quiet, serious man who would allow me to lead the conversation.”
“Then why not go?”
“What do you mean, ‘Why not go?’ He’s not frum, he doesn’t keep Shabbos. How can I let my children into the house of a mechallel Shabbos?”
My epiphany was crystal clear: I was witnessing an acute outbreak of BHS — Blame Hashem Syndrome. This dreaded condition is a psychosomatic disorder that causes individuals to conveniently blame Hashem for their actions, which in reality have nothing to do with Him. In actuality, their actions or inactions are solely based on their own personality deficiencies and have no connection to G-d.
I knew from past conversations why Dov Ber did not want to go to his brother — and it had nothing to do with Hashem or with Thanksgiving.
His brother, although secular, worked hard and became a successful physician. Dov Ber, while frum, never worked hard, never finished college, and is often indebted to his brother for financially assisting him in making ends meet.
His not wanting to go had nothing to do with his brother not being frum; it had to do with his being jealous of his brother. Dov Ber was using Hashem as an excuse for his own personal insecurities.
I have observed many individuals who suffer from BHS. I know a couple whose BHS manifests itself as an excuse for never visiting their in-laws even though they are totally frum. And there are sufferers of BHS who exhibit the terrible trait of rage, yet BHS allows them to validate their behavior by claiming they are “angry — for Hashem’s kavod.”
Unfortunately, BHS has reached pandemic proportions in some sectors of our community.
Without hesitation and without any doubt, I declared that Dov Ber must go to his brother and eat turkey with him; indeed, I ruled it to be a true seudas mitzvah. (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 685)