A Helpful Eitzah for BTs

It is now time to turn to some of the means that a BT may use in order to survive and, perhaps, benefit from the buffetings described in last week’s posting. Our path towards the Ribbono shel Olam is always fraught with challenges but it is never devoid of the corresponding tools to address them.

At the outset it must be said, and I know that this smacks of being a cliché, that everything we confront in life requires the spiritual fortification of Torah study and mitzvah practice. It is the supra-natural efficacy of Hashem’s Will which enables our study of a difficult blatt gemora, or a passionate davening to soothe our souls and give us the combination of clarity and strength that only the Divine tavlin can provide. Often I have found and, you’d think we all would have understood this by now, that moments of sadness, hesitancy, loneliness, defeatism and all the other weapons in the yetzer’s hora’s arsenal are inevitably scattered by working through a difficult Tosafos or a TaZ.

Now, on to the matters at hand. The following is personal and anyone reading this who has achieved success via a strategy opposite to that soon to be suggested, well, more power to you! I think, as a wide ranging general principal, that many BT’s (maybe some FFBs too?) may need to do some derachim-combining. In other words, we may need take bits and pieces of the various paths in avodas Hashem and combine them to produce our individual mix. Yes, I know the other point of view, the famous Yiddish saying to the effect that “A calf who nurses from two cows gets sick.” There is truth to this and certainly the easier path, at least at first, is to say, I have one leader, one yeshiva or chasidus, or mesorah and that’s all I need. I don’t require a veritable Justice League (Justice Society? Are any of us that old?) to lead me. One rebbi, one G-d and one path.

For those who feel this way, I repeat, that’s great. But I caution you and advise others to be careful. You may find the insight, wisdom, warmth, passion and internal kindness of Chasidim, for example to your liking but sooner or later you will encounter, say, an attitude to the non – Jew, or an approach to economic responsibility (individual and communal) that may well not be easily swallowed. One may find the Shabbos and Yom Tov as taught in Chasidic works and actually practiced in some of the communities, most compelling, but the endless infighting and resentments amongst and within the groups (and, may we say it, at times encouraged or, at least, tolerated by leadership) to be an ongoing source of pain and doubt. One may find the passionate mesiras nefesh for Torah, the devotion to musar and avodas ha-middos of the yeshiva world to be veritable balm for our souls but find its approach to the totality of the created world, mankind, knowledge, beauty and experience (and, again, insufficient economic stewardship) to be lacking something for us, as BTs.

Again, and this is surely getting redundant, if all is OK and the community you are in is a perfect fit and all’s well with the world, well, as they used to say when I was a lad, that’s “boss.”

However, if it isn’t then consider the need to inject, some salt and pepper from, say, the German Orthodox model, as taught by Rav Hirsch or Rav Hildesheimer to your more traditional brew. Or perhaps inject some traditionalism into your Hirschianimsm. These are, obviously just examples but may illustrate our point. If someone says to you that Slabodka and, Vorki don’t mix, this may be true for them but not for you. In essence this is the chiddush of Reb Sharga Feivel in Torah Vodaas and of Rav Hutner in Chaim Berlin that the contemporary condition is such that may need to replenish our souls from assorted wellsprings.

Enough for now. There are yet many areas of the original posting that need to be explored and we haven’t even touched on the current topic of parents. So before I go let us just note, that for a BT, as much as and, perhaps, more than other folks, the give and take of respect and love with parents is wondrous and needs always be cherished and maintained.

To be continued . . .

Rabbi Mayer Schiller

10 comments on “A Helpful Eitzah for BTs

  1. I think i agree with the general theme of this piece. But what happened to the book titles we were promised?

  2. I agrree with the basic thrust of this post. However, I think finding a makov kavua is actually more important to the baal t’shuvah then it is to the ffb. One can move from chasidus to mussar to machshava but one should sit still while doing so, as much as possible. If an ffb moves around physically, he can still count on a strong showing of his family at his child’s bar mitzvah, or to be m’nachem avel him (lo aleinu). For the bt, his shul community can become something of a family that he can share life events with.

  3. One of the varied “fountains” I have drunk from is Rabbi Ezriel Tauber, whom I helped write books for. He has a great moshel on this topic. He said you have to look at a Derech as an aircraft carrier. It brings you to a certain point. But at that point you have to be able to fly off the deck on your own.

    Is it primarily a result of weakness, being corrupted by our secular upbringing, that tends to make it hard for us to one derech or is it a result of strength, that we come ready-made with a certain sense of healthy independence?

    Or is it neither and maybe just a function of today’s Jewish world having not yet developed a single derech fit for people coming from non-observant backgrounds?

    Whatever the case, Rabbi Tauber’s moshel would imply that we learn from each derech we find attractive — we go with it as far as we can go with it — then, when the time is right, we fly. Maybe we fly to another aircraft carrier and let it transport us a distance… but from there we fly too.

  4. “Be a Jack of All trades and a master of one”. For more on “heavenly mentors” refer to the following comments from the 12.17 post Intellectual and Spiritual Dimensions of non-confromity: 1-4,6,8

  5. Mark,
    Ecactly what do they put in those fountains that everyone from YCC is drinking from?

  6. On her tape on Goals, Rebbetzin Heller also mentions that she is not a big fan of getting caught up in your Derech. A Derech is a path to get closer to Hashem and not an end in itself. She does mention that she thinks she is going against the conventional wisdom on this point.

    I’m wondering out loud if a mixed Derech is not the norm for BTs with the possible exception of those who stayed in one Yeshiva for many years.

    We try to avoid the hashkafic battles between Modern, Yeshivish and Chassidim. On our bookshelves we have R’ Aryeh Kaplan, R’ Akiva Tatz, R’ Zelig Pliskin, R’ Soleveitchik and the more traditional Art Scroll. And many of us try to learn from wherever it is taught.

    Luckily my Rav, Rabbi Welcher from Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim encourages drinking from the various fountains of Torah and for that I am very grateful.

  7. What Rabbi Schiller is saying about a mixed derech makes sense and is the path I have been following. The question of a Rav has been more difficult for me. I have yet to find one Rav who is accessible and who I would be able to dialog with enough to be able to always do what he suggests. What I have been doing is twofold:
    1. Speak to several rabbi’s about whatever is on my mind.
    2. Realize that I (along with my wife) have to own my/our decisions. It is not acceptable just to ask a Rav what to do and then do it. If you don’t agree, you need to be able to discuss the issue long and in depth until I/we/you either change my/our/your mind or the Rabbi clairifies/modifies/changes his advice. This doesn’t mean not seeking out rabbinical advice, but rather it means taking responsibility for the decisions I/we/you make.

  8. Yes, Max, but I imagine that a BT would find him/herself more “lost” in such a situation than someone who has grown up in a frum environment and who may be more familiar with talmidei chachamim besides the role model in question.

  9. I enjoyed R. Schiller’s post. Alterbentzion, you don’t think that your question applies to BTs only? It is a universal question, relevant to any Jew interested in spiritual growth.

  10. Another issue which some ba’alei teshuva may face is the fallability of their chosen role models. Chazal recommended finding a rebbe who is like a mal’ach; what does one do if one discovers that one’s rebbe isn’t? How is the ba’al teshuva to know whether or not that role model is leading him or her in the right direction, if other talmidei chachamim recommend a different way of going about things?

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