Finding Our True Selves

I think one of the biggest challenges for us Baalei Teshuva has to be how to take who I have been in my past, who I’ve been raised to be, who I’ve been taught to be, and transform that person into who my potential shomer mitzvot self can be.

But who is that person? I know that we can create only that which we can envision – but I don’t even know who she is! I don’t have the picture yet….We’ve grown up so long having one picture of ourselves and our reality, our present, who we are, who we can be; and now that we’ve gained the Torah perspective, seeing higher values, different role models to emulate, an altogether different future to work towards – the big question is how do we meld them, how do we integrate them – how can I morph this American 60’s humanity loving free spirited dancer into an Eved Hashem? To fit myself into the Eastern European model certainly doesn’t work for me – it feels like I’m not being true to myself on many different levels. Where are my role models to show me the way? I truly want to keep the mitzvas – fully and halachically – but I want to do it authentically – from who I really am.

So, what I’ve found is that it’s a process of introspection, attunement and integration…Who am I really? And how do I keep my compass aligned to Hashem and the Torah first, and then to what the voice of my spirit is saying second. Living halachically is Hashem’s general instruction for us all. We can hear His specific instructions for each of us only when we look at who we are, who He’s created us to be – what our skills, talents, desires and experiences are and then to figure out how to use them to serve Him. We are each of us so special and so precious to Hakadosh Baruch Hu, and we are each here to bring down a unique light. It is a sadness to me that sometimes we dim our creativity and our light in order to fit in and be “frum.” I think that the challenge is in rediscovering who we really are and serving Hashem from that full and true place. And that’s where the joy comes in – “Ivdu et Hashem b’simcha” – can only happen when we are aligned with our true selves and connected with Hashem and His Will.

B’hatzlacha to us all!

6 comments on “Finding Our True Selves

  1. Dear Yetta,

    I have been a BT for about 30 years now (wow!) and I am still working at balancing my desire for personal expression with my desire to “walk modestly with Hashem.” I think for some of us it’s a bigger challenge than for others – and that’s okay – we each have our individual playing fields – Hashem gives us each different kinds of challenges (read “harder mitzvas to do”) based on who we are, in order to provide us with vehicles through which we work out our individual truths (who am I, what do I value, what do I want in my life and who do I have the potential to become). It’s only through struggling with these issues that we make our lives and belief systems real. It’s all a process –a continual examining and sifting and re-examining of where we’re at, and where we want to go. It’s about living consciously.

    About the blue hair extension……it’s not my thing exactly – but I wore my blue jeans for years (the ones that I had embroidered up to the knees in flowers and butterflies), after having sewed them into a skirt….so I know part of what you’re struggling with. I think the issue is a combination of a few things: that we really like the things we like, both before teshuva and after – we like certain styles and particular colors, and we don’t want to give them up; and then sometimes we just need that continuity of saying – even only to ourselves – I’m still me, it’s okay – even though I keep Shabbes and only eat kosher now, I can still wear my funky stuff, I can still look like me. I’m still me underneath. And we’re also making the statement: I’m not a cookie cutter person either – I was created unique and unlike anyone else in the world. And maybe sometimes we’re still feeling an ambivalence about identifying with the shomer Shabbes culture, and we still have a desire to keep one foot in the other world.

    And then on the other hand, there’s Torah’s clear voice, urging us to value and emphasize our inner qualities – wearing things and speaking and acting in ways to draw attention to our inherent holiness and kedusha, rather than to other, more physical aspects of ourselves. And until we really deeply internalize these highest values (which can be a long process through time and struggle) we still feel the conflict of our different voices and desires.

    Anyway, don’t get discouraged, it’s all in the journey. We just need to walk as best we can, and He’s in charge of getting us there.


  2. This is exactly where I am right now. We (my husband and kids) have been shomer mitzvas for about 5 years now. I have so much to say that I really need to collect my thoughts on this. I have a blog that I use to air my frustrations and thoughts. This has helped me to find other people like myself to commiserate with. I look forward to reading your blog for answers and advice and just for meeting other people like me.

    Are any of you sheitel-wearing women putting blue hair extensions in your sheitels? Let me know. I love my blue hair, but still feel a bit guilty about it.

  3. BS”D

    Beautiful post. I don’t think we have to give up our creativity when we become frum. In fact, I think our creativity reaches a higher level. One of my favorite quotes in secular literature is from Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle: “Religion is the highest form of art.”

    But perhaps all this is easy for me to say. I’m a writer, not a dancer.

  4. This post struck home with me in so many ways. It took me quite a long time for me to grow out of the stage of “fitting in” with the community I chose for myself, instead of focusing on using my stregnths and things gained from my life in the secular world.

    Jacob, I agree with what you said about midot. I wish there was some way there can be increased awareness of this issue.

  5. I think Jacob’s comment is right on the mark. When so much is so new, it takes a long time to realize that there are distinctions between halachic requirements, customs, hashkafa attitudes, and personal attitudes.

    Until one gets there, everything can seem to be up for redefining. Not much of the person is left when you look at it that way.

    My suggestion is to pat yourself on the back first of all. You didn’t get this far from nowhere. Your history brought you to this point. Be grateful for whatever part of that history has taught you to ask good questions, be ready for change, be enthusiastic, and creative.

    If you can do that, you might just realize all along this journey, that you don’t have to throw out the very self that brought you to this point.

    If you were a free spirited dancer before, that might not fly witout adjustments made. But that free spirit was the force behind the current Jewish enthusiasm. And there’s room for dance in Judaism too, within the guidlines of modesty. Perhaps you might be able to bring dance into the frum community in a way that hasn’t been explored in a perfectly kosher way.

  6. Its very hard.
    The problem is that when you start becoming frum, because you were not raised in a Torah enviroment you start to question yourself alot more-when in reality there is nothing you can do about your past, just work on moving forward and start to make more sensible decesions.
    To answer a question above about the biggest challeneges- well it really depends on a person. Im a product of intermarriage so I have alot of internal conflicts (i think the goyish community i grew up in have better midot than some of the orthodox people i have encountered since being frum)

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