A baal teshuva is a term often used to refer to Orthodox Jews who did not grow up religiously observant and became religious later on in life. Literally, it means "master of return"; returning to who we really are, on an essential level. In my opinion, we are all baal teshuvas no matter whether born religious or not; always struggling to stay both inspired and committed— an arduous task indeed. And this is our story.
Here's a tale not often told.
Or perhaps, more honestly, a tale rarely told all the way through.
We've got the disenchanted on one side— the jaded, the skeptical— and the inspired glowers on the other, both championing their cause, both stomping their feet on the ground and insisting they are right.
But, like any truthful portrayal of humanity, the masses that choose to play by the game and live by the rules live in the middle, perspiring, shuffling, rising and falling.
You may hear their stories of triumph, but not always their moments of confusion, of fluctuation, when they find themselves on the left, then the middle, and finally right again. Only to oscillate once more.
A life of continual return. Never quite there, never having made it, at least for long.
For these Jewish souls, there is one common thread— when the going gets tough, they remain in the fight.
Heaving themselves off the couch to daven (again) (for the third time), steadfast to their promised weekly learning schedule (it's getting boring), opening up that Sefer, forcing concentration, reaching deeper, trying to mean it, trying to feel it, trying to think…
Wearing the kippah. Slipping on the knee length skirt. Playing the part. Going through the motions. Again.
Until they break through.
It's not the glamorous life, not always. But then again, neither is exercise. In the end, in the middle, in those moments of triumphs, in those feelings of connection and intimacy and understanding, for them, it's all worth it. Not that they live for those moments; they live for the relationship. In it for the long haul, knowing that their souls are one, that this is their destiny.
You may call them Orthodox, but I just call them committed.
Turning their eyes to the Oral Law, they bow their heads and know that, long ago, their Ketubah was signed, and they will put in the effort no matter what.
Glamorous or not. Despite, despite…
Despite the horror of horrors, not "feeling it". There, the Baal Teshuva stands. In that place beyond and within reason, in that realm of commitment. Finding his place and identity in the very mental and emotional exercise that wears his bones and ultimately, tones his own muscles to push him through.
Some might not tell the complexities of their tale because of shame, not wanting to taint the minds of those already turned against their ways, who don't understand. Who don't want to understand. Or to avoid discouraging others from embarking on the difficult journey. Or just not to focus on it. To focus on that which they love, that which they understand. That which they hold within themselves. To keep on pushing through. To keep sane.
On the street they may look one way, but they may talk another. One can never know the continuous battle that goes on within their minds and their hearts, wholeheartedly committed on one hand, wrestling, entangled on the other. The nature of their condition.
There are no victory parades for them, or movies cataloguing their latest subtle triumphs. Like any real relationship, there is no fanfare. The only thing ostensibly discernible for certain is their commitment.
For the reward of their journey is found within.
There, the Baal Teshuva stands.