A frum-from-birth writer responds to The Baal Teshuva Manifesto:
It takes a whole lot of clarity to find YOURSELF and be able to quantify and articulate WHO you are and WHAT you need to be doing.
While Rivka Levy describes the specific challenges that BTs face, these struggles are actually universal points of contention, inherent to living and striving for growth in this olam hasheker (false world). The existence of a single (or a multi-tiered hierarchy of) specific cultural/social/communal norm that necessitates squeezing into a this-is-THE-only-way-to-Yiddishkeit-box, is falsehood numero uno!
Behind every black jacket is a colorful personality and behind every ombre-tinted wig is a multifaceted individual. The notion of fitting-into-THE-box-as-our-unifying-factor, defies that very goal! Those who have comfortably conformed to walk-the-walk and talk-the-talk at the cost of burying their true selves, are actually opting out of unification.
This type of complacency—when people trade their G-d given techunos hanefesh and life circumstances for “herd camouflage”—actually distances them from Hashem. The specific challenges that each Yiddishe neshoma grapples with, including our fight for identity, individuality, and connection is what unites us as Am Yisroel.
No matter where you find yourself on the ideological spectrum, there will always be that call to conform. And if you are a thinking individual, there is a very real danger of finding yourself “caught between two worlds, and not really belonging.”
The antidote is forging a connection to Hashem, to his Torah and to His ideals.
Belonging to Hashem’s camp, wherever you may be, precludes pandering to anyone else. Yet it allows you to respect and embrace your fellow Jew, while acknowledging your unique tafkid (job and path in life).
The concept of digging deeper to find ourselves and our inherent worth is hinted at in the words, “lamah tishal l’shmi?” The Yetzer Hara lurks in kehilla and community-made boxes. Designed to stimulate spiritual growth, they also have the power to curb deep thinking. It is our job to remain loyal to The Torah’s Truth, while respectfully skirting “the mold.”
“The profound understanding of the yetzer hara (evil inclination) was revealed to Yaakov by the angel of Eisav when the two wrestled at the Yabok river crossing. After overpowering the Angel, Yaakov asked him, ‘hagida na shimecha—Please tell me your name.” He replied, ‘lamah zeh tishal l’shmi—why do you ask for my name?’ (Berieshis 32:30)” English Sichos Musar (Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz)
When Yaakov Avinu asks the Angel his name, he is asking him: What is your essence? What is your power? The Angel answers by saying “Lamah zeh tishal lishmi? Why do you ask my name?” That IS his name. The “name” of the yetzer hara is: Don’t ask about me, don’t think about me. Don’t figure out what your name is. Just live your life without thinking – that is the koach (power) of the yetzer hara!
Rivka wrote that,
“FFBs are serving God in a different way, and they have a different job to do in the world.”
Yes, each individual Jew serves G-d in a different way. We each have a different job to do in the world. There is no lump sum when it comes to avodas Hashem. Each Jew has to look deep into himself, realize his own hidden potential, and embrace his G-d given path in life. And we, as neighbors, family and friends can respect the varying paths to gadlus.
So if I may, I will rewrite Rivka’s manifesto, to include all Jews (not chas v’shalom to downplay the tremendous challenges that a secular background presents to the “growing” Jew) but because I think it succinctly describes the challenges that we face as a nation in galus.
Jewish Manifesto with a call to truth:
Dear Jewish brother and sister, please just be your real self, warts n’all!
Rivka hit the nail on the head. This is the ultimate call to truth! Be your real self, while seeking and living the truth!
Focus your intentions inward. Celebrate the tzelem Elokim that ignites your soul. God made you THE WAY YOU ARE for a very important reason, because you have a job to do in the world, and a part to play in the forthcoming redemption. (We all have our deficiencies—real or imagined—backgrounds, characteristics, family dynamics, G-d given realities etc.) God wants all of His children to be redeemed.
By being yourself, you are connecting the different sections of the Jewish community.
You are a unifier.
You are creating Kiddush Hashem every time you bring God down into the decisions and thoughts and actions that are uniquely yours.
Every time you manage to connect back to God, you make Him so very happy.
And you are doing the job that God created you to do.
So continue on!
And don’t feel bad that you don’t perfectly fit the mold.
You (each and every individual Jew) have a different role to play in the world, and when you start to accept that, and to really embrace it, you will feel so much happier and content.
And so will your kids. (How true this is for all of us!)
To conclude, let me quote another talented writer on Sasson:
“The smooth sailing soul and the struggling soul are not necessarily so evenly divided between FFB and BT. Most of us are complex beings that have both programs running at the same time. Every Jew has to forge his own unique connection with Hashem Yisborach! For Hashem, in His Kindness, gave each of us the opportunity to serve Him b’chol m’odecha.”