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Toxic Influences
Rebbetzin Feige

Toxic Influences

My husband's friend is poisoning our relationship. What should we do?


Dear Rebbetzin

My wonderful husband and I have been married for just short of a year. My husband and I grew observant together when we started dating and we have many non-religious friends. One of his friends has been "interfering" in our relationship and has been the cause of a number of arguments. This friend will make comments that are clearly intended to put doubt into my mind about the trustworthiness of my husband, or that allude to my husband's "wild," non-observant past. Last night he declared that he had a photo of my husband in a "compromising position" from the weekend before when a group of "the boys" went out. He refused to tell me what the photo was of but whispered something to my husband. This made me incredibly uncomfortable. I suspect that he finds this type of behavior funny, but neither my husband nor I know how to deal with it. How should we deal with this non-observant friend?

Kind regards

My dear reader,

Your concerns are justified. The direction in life that you have chosen requires a positive and supportive environment. In an effort to promote a person's spiritual growth and well being, our sages enjoin us from reminding the individual of his past mistakes and the behaviors that he is now trying to put behind him. Taking steps forward in a culture whose values are antithetical to the commitment you have made is difficult enough without added detracting comments hurled at you from your husband's friend.

The nature of growth is never a straight path upwards. There are always vulnerable moments. The past constantly beckons, trying to lure us back to an existence that doesn't require as much responsibility and discipline. We are confronted daily by forces bent on sabotaging our efforts. These forces operate both internally, such as voices that second guess our resolve, and externally, in the form of the media, which broadcasts toxic messages wherever we turn.

Maintaining one's integrity becomes a precarious balancing act. Oftentimes, we take a few steps forward and invariably there will be some backsliding. These reversals may disappoint and dishearten us. Realizing that reaching the summit of a mountain includes slippage will prevent these disappointments from turning into despair. King Solomon in Proverbs explains, "Seven times will the righteous fall and rise again." The definition of a righteous person is not one who has never suffered defeat. Quite the contrary, it is the one, who, despite his perceived fallen state, will pull himself up, regroup and begin the upward climb again.

Your husband's friend has violated boundaries, both on a personal and ideological level.

Having said that, to maximize a successful journey, you need to surround yourself with positive energy -- people who are likewise growth oriented, or at the very least are supportive of your commitment. The life you are building, my dear reader, from what you describe, is in its infancy stage. This phase is extremely sensitive, both in terms of your marriage and your religious journey. Infancy is a very fragile passage and requires a healthy and nurturing environment. Your husband's friend has crossed the line and violated boundaries, both on a personal and ideological level. Regardless of whether this breach is expressed in jest or a more serious tone, it is most insensitive and reprehensible on his part to tamper with that which is sacred in your life.

I would suggest that you and your husband address the issue by confronting him and explaining that you do not find his comments funny or entertaining. Let him know that the current context of your life, neither a marriage relationship, nor a religious commitment, are frivolous subjects. Make it clear that the friendship can only continue if these areas will be respected by him. He must know that comments of this nature will not be tolerated.


I have an affinity for people and rarely take personal affront. But on one occasion I was quite dismayed by what someone considered fair game for inquiry and conversation. A person I had just met seemed to have no compunction about asking me, when I was in an expectant mode, how many children I planned to have, and having heard that I have a large family, inquired if I was aware that birth control exists. It wasn't a mean-spirited question and I didn't take it personally, it merely amazed me that it didn't occur to them that there might be something private about my procreative plans.

Imagine if I had walked up to any of the people who had asked me these questions and inquired as to how much money they had in the bank. They would have been horrified and would certainly have considered it a breach of their privacy. We have, as a culture, lost our sensitivity and appreciation for the value of privacy. Witness the talk shows where the over-sharing borders on the obscene.

There is another issue. The Torah mandates criteria for what is acceptable in what we say. It cautions us to pause and think before we speak, to assess whether what we are planning to say serves a purpose, whether it will heal or hurt. Entertaining and humorous comments must not be made at the expense of others. From a Jewish perspective, speech is sacred and there are rules that circumscribe its use and help us distinguish between prohibited and permissible speech.

Smog Alert

Dear reader, we would like to delude ourselves into thinking that we can stand our ground and maintain our standards, regardless of the noxious influences that surround us. Reality proves otherwise. The context of our lives is critical in determining who we are. "Show me your friends, and I'll tell you who you are" is a wise and relevant adage. We are affected by the energy, lifestyle, values, and standards of our surroundings.

We are affected by the energy, lifestyle, values, and standards of our surroundings.

We are, to a great extent, a product of our environment. There are countless examples, even among the greatest of people, who lost much of their spiritual gains when they left the space that was spiritually intact. The one exception to this rule in the Torah is Joseph, who is extolled precisely because of his unique ability to transcend his environment. Joseph, referred to as "Joseph the righteous," was torn away from his father's home at a young age and spent 22 years living alone in Egypt, which at the time was the most decadent of societies. Joseph was able to muster the super-human strength to withstand overwhelming temptations and maintain his integrity. It is for this reason that the blessing we bestow upon our children is that they be like the children of Joseph, "like Menasha and Ephraim." They grew up isolated in a cesspool of immorality and, despite their surroundings, remained uncompromised.

The rest of us dare not take such risks. We need to be vigilant and steer clear of negative influences wherever possible, placing ourselves in a space where we can breathe spiritually clean and healthy air.

Dear reader, find a circle and community of people who march to the beat of your exalted Drummer and may God bless you, your marriage, and your journey.

January 31, 2009

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Visitor Comments: 13

(13) channah, December 12, 2010 1:20 AM

are there surroundings where they are subject to seculiar influence?

Hi, My children went to bais Yaakove schoold, my son didn't survive in yeshiva . all his friends are seculiar. I am afraid whenever I mention that my kids need frum friends, people always say i am putting down my community. The people are nice, but most don't keep kosher or shabbat. we don't have tv. however my kids whath movies. I feel a knot in my stomach when my children want seculiar songs and movies and clothes. The people I talk to about this always tell me it is the home that matters. I believe it is true until a certain age then peers mean more. My older kids alway tell me how bad the religious kids are and I am a nuerotic mother who are hurting my kids. I don't want them exposed to all this stuff. My family always says I am to uptight and obsessed with hasidim as I beliie v e they have done a good job of protecting their kids . Thanks for your article

(12) Anonymous, July 1, 2009 3:45 AM

Toxic Friends

Some people don't understand what boundaries are for their own personal reasons.It seems quite selfish when someone is considering your ability to reach your goals that you have.In actuality it is none of their business, and I mean that.Ifeel like I have a deeper sense of friendship and kinship with other people.It also seems perplexing that I have heard comments of similar nature regarding racial issues.I really try to stay away from these type of people iespecially after I have pointed it out, and they continue making dejectory comments and/or they continue to get worse.

(11) Allie, February 10, 2009 3:22 PM

Observance Not the Issue?

From the information given in Rachel's letter, it doesn't sound to me like the problem is observance v. non-observance. Plenty of non-observant Jews (or non-Jews) can be supportive of this couple's choice to become observant, as well as their marriage. The problem, in my view, is that the husband's "friend" doesn't respect his friend's MARRIAGE and is seeking to be a disruptive force within it. Perhaps he's jealous or feels like he's lost a friend. Perhaps he doesn't like Rachel. Whatever the source of his issues, he is directly attacking his friend's MARRIAGE, which should be enough for Rachel's husband to let his friend know he has a choice: Stop trying to sabotage the marriage, or the friendship ends. Real friend's don't mess w/ a person's family. Period. Ultimately, however, Rachel's husband needs to "man up" enough to defend the sanctity of that marriage.

(10) Anonymous, February 4, 2009 12:44 PM

Toxic friends who need good examples

Yes, we are cautioned to protect ourselves from others who may cause harm however, we also know that we have a duty to set an example and work to improve the world. Like so many things we learn, there are seeming contradictions almost everywhere. Instead of ostracizing a friend or acquaintance that makes us uncomfortable, should we not make an effort to help them to move up the ladder of spiritual growth? Too often many of us are quick to say, ‘you’re wrong and I take personal offense to that’ when we could just as easily say ‘I hear what you are saying and there are good reasons why many of us choose to do otherwise and life all boils down to the choices we make.’ Everyone has free will and everyone is faced with challenges every day that give them an opportunity to perform a mitzvah or not. Perhaps the difficult friend or acquaintance is a mitzvah waiting to happen.

(9) Arielle, February 3, 2009 11:58 AM

Excise the Tumor.

I believe Rachel is going to have to find a gentle, or else extreme, way to cut her family loose from this "toxic" guy. My brother, when he became a ba'al teshuva, learned the very painful lesson that he really could not remain friends with many of his former, secular friends. They may not have been necessarily "bad" people (although he DID find out that a long-time "friend" was, in actuality, a complete anti-Semite!), but many of these people just don't have the capacity to understand and respect the observant Jews' way of living. Many such people will actually feel incredibly threatened at their old friend's new heightened sense of morality, and, in MY OWN EXPERIENCE, ACTIVELY WORK TO DEGRADE THE SPIRITUAL BELIEFS AND PRACTICE OF THE NEWLY RELIGIOUS FRIEND. These types of people, whom I will repeat, are NOT necessarily "evil," are, however, a terribly destructive force to one's emuna and observance of mizvot! Either completely cut them off (if they are especially contradictory to your Yiddishkeit), or else, gradually, gently, see them less and less. This does NOT apply to ALL pre-Ba'al Teshuva, secular friends, but in my and my friends' experiences, MOST.

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