How Baalei Teshuvah Can Contribute to the Chareidi World

Here’s an article from a few years ago titled, How Baalei Teshuvah Can Contribute to the Chareidi World, by HaRav Yehuda Greenwald.

Here are some excerpts:

The truth is that every intelligent avreich who was ever closely acquainted with a baal teshuvah, someone not embarrassed by being a baal teshuvah and who does not try to copy others, will find to his surprise that the baal teshuvah is a gold mine of good qualities and possesses spectacular tools for avodas Hashem. The big surprise is that those baalei teshuvah who do not hide their lack of knowledge and their confusion, and dare to ask all the questions that bother them and even “demand” help from avreichim in their Torah studies, are immeasurably respected.

After building up this relationship, a new, mutual relationship begins, with each side contributing its part and strengthening the other.

You ask what baalei teshuvah can contribute to the chareidi world?

Baalei teshuvah bring valuable assets with them to the chareidi world, which is a blessing in itself. We do not need to do fantastic things. Strengthening ourselves in avodas Hashem, in studying Torah, in tefillah and fulfilling mitzvos, if we do it with absolute seriousness and genuine enthusiasm without any compromises, will make a dynamic impression on the public and strengthen Klal Yisroel.

A devoted and eminent rav, one of those who work with baalei teshuvah, said that he attends the seminars and deals with baalei teshuvah in order to strengthen himself.

Further down in the article, the author relates:

This is one of the significant duties of baalei teshuvah. As people say, “A guest sees all one’s faults.” We have come to a new world and find out that not all that people do or are accustomed to do befits a person who observes Torah and mitzvos. Since we are new to the chareidi world we cannot tolerate such impropriety and complain about it. This vital duty of being a Chushim ben Dan is ours.

The Torah values criticism, and a parsha in the Torah tells us about Yisro’s criticism. Moshe’s father-in-law met Klal Yisroel in the desert. We were a nation for whom miracles were performed and who had received the Torah, a generation of spiritual giants, the Generation of the Desert, the Generation of Knowledge.

The author concludes:

We have cited some minor anecdotes where the criticism and initiation of baalei teshuvah were a blessing. The truth is that we encounter daily small incidents in which we, the Chushim ben Dan, who are not used to certain conditions and ways of behavior, jump like someone bitten by a snake, while others who have become accustomed do not see anything seriously wrong. This is our opportunity to be helpful to Klal Yisroel.

Without much fanfare, modestly, without verbal violence or show of force, we should point out what should not be done, and we should repair breaches in Yiddishkeit, initiate projects, shiurim or shmuessim, and utilize the freshness and vitality that characterize baalei teshuvah, so we can add to and benefit Klal Yisroel.

9 comments on “How Baalei Teshuvah Can Contribute to the Chareidi World

  1. Who wants to hang around people who are “surprised” to find that you are a decent human being?

  2. If we each do the best we can do, our example will show BT’s in their proper light, which will lead open-minded observers to reassess their stereotypes.

    Of course (WARNING!–ATTEMPTED HUMOR TO FOLLOW!), if we get impatient, there is the other way, to mount a multimedia onslaught to highlight our greatness to the skeptical masses. Examples could include:
    1. BT vignettes on kosher candy bar wrappers and Cholov Yisrael milk cartons
    2. BT interviews on frum radio shows
    3. BT presentations at Yeshivos and Beis Yaakovs
    3. BT factoids in the frum print media
    4. Free distribution of slickly produced BT promotional videos (a day in the life of…)
    5. Orthodox organizations to proclaim BT Appreciation Day (Week, Month…)
    6. BT projects to beautify Borough Park, etc.

  3. Once my husband and I attended a fundraising dinner for a kiruv organization. There we heard an introduction of the guest of honor that went something like: Yaakov Ploni looks like anyone else in his community. His wife is an eyshes chayil involved in chesed, his children go to the right schools. But Yaakov has a secret…15 years ago, Yaakov met Rabbi Ploni at location ploni, and began a journey of transformation..and so on. Yaakov’s deep dark secret is that he didn’t grow up religious. He got up to testify and thank said kiruv organization for showing him the light. My husband and I giggled with discomfort at the unintentionally sordid tone of that introduction.

    We are active in outreach in different circles than this organization, and we were unaccustomed to the viewpoint that being a BT is something shameful. But that viewpoint is out there. I want to applaud rabbis who try to counter that approach (like the author of this article), not bemoan the attitude itself. Yes, it’s out there. It’s natural that it would occur in a community that, for better or worse, encourages strength through conformity. We can cry ‘discrimination’ or we can make our voices heard and make a positive contribution to our communities.

    Maybe it’s easy for me to say because I’m not charedi, but I don’t see the point of endlessly pointing out that people have negative assumptions about BTs (and converts). That seems to go without saying. Now what do we do about it?

  4. I’m sure it wasn’t meant this way, but I feel that this article is condescending. It’s like saying, “some of my best friends are black” as a defense against racism.

    Also, the fact the author had to work so hard to make his point indicates that he felt he had to counter the opposite sentiment among his intended audience.

  5. Just as a quick side-note, as a far flung FFB and born again BT with a dash of rum and a shot of tequilah ,marinating in a shattered rose colored martini glass half full or actually filled to the brim and keep refilling with a salty rim and a wedge of lime ….many of my religious inspirations and aspirations have been generated by persons of well grounded BT origin whether it be awesome people i’ve met along the way or personal sidetracking /secular experiences that have enhanced my 7.1 megapixel appreciation for the big pic -hashem and his awesome creations (including flowers) …and the general laws and prohibitions …..and maintaining the exuberance of wide eyed wonder and avoiding the stale ,trite and hum drum trap, the jaded (no relation) so often snap on .When one is running the other way and trying not to trip & never look back at the same time, the fact that really smart people with prestigious postions and perfect lives are doin a 360 and embracing the same religion some r trying to run away from ….this phenomenon in and of itself stops one in their muddy tracks and forces them to reasses and ascertain as to whether or not they are indeed up to their knees in mud and r missing out on something or not seeing what others r discovering or not contemplating the all encompassing and all knowing g-d and the torah …..or maybe just need a whole new sparkly glittery perspective .

  6. I found this article to be a bit limiting in its approach. Surely, there are many, many more ways in which BTs can contribute to “charedi” society. Though I do agree that BTs are often more sensitive (rightfully so) to issues within frum society that “just ain’t right”.

  7. The article brings down the Shmuess as follows:

    “HaRav Chaim Shmuelevitz zt’l asks: Why did no other of Yaakov’s children ask what Chushim asked, “Until Naftoli returns from Egypt my grandfather will be disgraced?” Why did the Shevotim allow Yaakov Ovinu to be left in such shame? The answer is that “they were in the midst of arguing with Esav and with every argument they thought they would win. Meanwhile, although Yaakov lay in disgrace, they became accustomed to this condition. Man’s nature is that he gets accustomed to the worst possible conditions. Chushim the son of Dan was hard of hearing and unaware of the argument being waged between them and Esav. He suddenly saw the distressful condition of `my grandfather being disgraced.’ His reaction was `taking a stick and hitting Esav on the head and killing him.’ Chushim, who suddenly saw what was happening, could not endure it and ended the matter without delay” (Sichos Mussar, 5731, 106).”

    But please visit the link to read the whole article.

  8. “This vital duty of being a Chushim ben Dan is ours.”

    To clarify; this is an allusion to a classic, famous Musar Shmuess by Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz zt”l “Tardemas HaHergel-the slumber that routine induces”. The title says it all.

    Chushim ben Dan was deaf. He was the only one present at Ya’akov Aveenu’s funeral that reacted appropriately because, due to his disability, he hadn’t grown accustomed to tolerating Uncle Eisov’s outrageous demands and behavior. The moral of the shmuess is that sometimes lack of familiarity breeds clarity.

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