If I had read the TESHUVA book of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz more than a decade ago, maybe my life would have taken a different turn. Instead, I abandoned my Teshuva attempt and joining the haredi world. The truth is that I haven’t totally abandoned everything but wouldn’t call myself super frum.
Teshuva is the Hebrew expression for “Repentance”. It has it’s root in the word LASHUV – to return. A Ba’al Teshuva is a Jew deciding to leave his secular lifestyle and turning more to religion. This, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that, all of the sudden, a former secular Jew is going over the edge and becoming entirely haredi or even Mea Shearim. Doing Teshuva has many faces and for some Jews, Teshuva means keeping kosher and Shabbat.
Let us assume that there is a secular Jew deciding to change his life and become a bit more religious. Including Shabbat and kosher food. How does he know what to do ? He usually goes to Shiurim in an Orthodox community and listens to the teachings of a Rabbi. Here he learns Halachot and anything connected in order to keep Shabbat and Kashrut properly.
Rabbi Steinsaltz stresses that his book “is not intended as a call to Teshuva, nor is it an attempt to convince anyone to take the path. Rather, it is addressed to those who are already considering Teshuva”. I find the book very realistic and the author lists quite a few unexpected difficulties a Ba’al Teshuva is going to face.
For instance, the environment. How is the Ba’al Teshuva going to behave towards his parents, friends, co – workers, etc ? Especially when his parents don’t keep kosher. In addition to that, there are many people trying to bash a Ba’al Teshuva and even make fun of him. It is unbelievable but there are actually many Gentiles bashing Jewish Ba’alei Teshuva.
People who have no deeper understanding about a Teshuva process think that someone has to be frum within weeks. This, of course, doesn’t work because the process is a long and difficult one. With all kinds of ups and downs. If someone, no matter if Jew or Gentile, sees you doing something wrong, they immediately remind in one way or the other that you are supposed to be religious now. Some do this in a very rude manner.
Other Jews show you respect because they admire you. It reminds them that they as well should take a little Teshuva into consideration but don’t know how to start.
One of the most important things a Ba’al Teshuva has to learn is dealing with criticism and opinions from people who seem to know everything better. If a Gentile criticizes your Teshuva, ignore him because he will never be able to understand. Nevertheless, does this mean that you should also ignore a Jewish opinion ? Well, it depends on who is giving you rebuke. You should concentrate on your main goal and be happy with what you are doing. Don’t let it happen that other drag you down or make you feel guilty.
I know Ba’alei Teshuva who thought that they are so terribly frum that they broke up with their secular parents. This is not a good idea and no serious Rabbi would ever advise you to do so. Instead, you and your parents should compromise.
Don’t push yourself but take your time. If you do everything too fast you may give up after a while. No one is perfect and G – d never created us in order to be perfect. And, keep in mind, even all those very frum Jews have to do Teshuva on a daily basis because we are all human and make mistakes.