We are bli ayin hara a large mishpacha of 11 children. My older children, the married and the single, are all chasidish in dress and practice. My sixth child is 16 and is different. He does not have beard or payos and does not dress chasidish. He is a gentle boy and has derech eretz to us. He knows we are disappointed in his ways, but he says, “That’s the way I am.” He has chosen to go to a yeshiva where he feels comfortable. In the house he observes Shabbos, but I can’t be sure of what he does outside.
There are five younger children. If we tolerate this son’s behavior, are we not showing approval, causing the younger one’s to copy him? What is our options?
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This is a very delicate situation. I can suggest only general principles, and I strongly advise that you consult someone who can give you regular, if not daily, guidance.
I don’t know what makes one child deviate from the family practice. Sometimes the child may be testing, “Do you really love me? Will you kick me out if I don’t comply?’ A child has a strong need to belong, and if he feels he cannot belong with the family because he is rejected, there is the possibility that he may find a group of off-the-derech youngsters who are looking for recruits and will welcome him, and then you’ve lost him.
It is said that someone complained to the Baal Shem Tov that his son was going off-the-derech, and the Baal Shem Tov said, “Show him great love. He needs it most.”
Insofar as your concern that showing him much love may be interpreted by the younger children that you approve of his ways, that is indeed worrisome. But, there are five older siblings with whom he can identify. Why should they identify with him rather than with the older siblings who are chasidish?
This situation puts a great responsibility on the older siblings to serve as models with whom he will prefer to identify. The Talmud says that the mitzvah ve’ahavta es Hashem means to behave in a way that will cause people to respect and love Hashem, and this is accomplished by speaking decently and transacting honestly (Yoma 86 ). People will not increase their love and respect for Hashem and Yiddishkeit by seeing frumkeit, but by seeing beautiful middos.
The older siblings have a great responsibility to develop exemplary middos, to avoid kaas (angry reactions), to avoid lashon hara, to be meticulously honest, to avoid carrying a grudge. In short, they should behave as is prescribed in Pirke Avos and Orchos Tzaddikim, and the parents should indicate how much they value these middos. This may possibly help turn the problem son back to the family practice, but at any rate, it will encourage the younger children to want to be like them.
On the other hand, when chasidish people do not have refined Torahdige middos, that may discourage others from being chasidish in dress and practice.
Again, these are generalities. Do find someone who can guide you with consistency. Inconsistent behavior, sometimes showing love and other times rejecting can be very confusing and detrimental.