When I first saw the word Baal Teshuva in a book it had a comforting feeling about it. I felt like someone understood me, that I wasn’t alone, and that something special was possibly happening all over the world with people like me turning back to Judaism. I had begun studying on my own without the aid of a kiruv professional, outreach center or even a local sensitive rabbi to guide me. I read through a copy of the Bible in English, found some English translations of tractates of the Talmud, and started to adopt observances and attitudes that I found compelling. When I finally saw that I was not alone, it lifted my sights a bit.
Later, I found out that the term Baal Teshuva is somewhat of a misnomer. I was more technically in the category of a “tinok shenishbah” a child captured by non-Jews. I wasn’t really captured, just merely brought up in a non-observant household. But the Hebrew term applies nonetheless, and it has halachic ramifications. Now the truth is I don’t really want to go around being called a captured baby, even if that’s my halachic status, but Baal Teshuva (master of return) is a term designated for someone who was observant and went away from observance and then came back. So that doesn’t really apply to me.
Maybe I should be called a “late starter” or a “late bloomer”? They just don’t ring true. Alas, I am without a group or a category once again.
On a separate note, one thing puzzles me which is the question of when and if someone stops being a newcomer to Judaism and starts being just a regular old run of the mill frum guy. I mean after all, my son is an FFB at 13 but I’ve been keeping mitzvos and learning Torah longer than him. Is he just a Jew but I’ve got the title BT? Something funny going on there. I guess I can’t be an FFB, but am I still a BT?
In Yeshiva I remember a guy saying, don’t go to the “So and so Yeshiva”. “Why not?” I asked. “Because you’ll always be a baal teshuva if you go there.” I don’t quite know what he meant, but it didn’t sound good. Some people I know would learn the right Yiddish phrases, the perfect hat tilt, maybe even a lisp and pretend to be an FFB. We all want to fit in with Klal Yisroel, but is that the way, with superficials?
Fitting in is more about a sense of belonging, and oftentimes labels can get in the way.
At a certain point the labels become meaningless.
Ana avda dekudsha brich hu, I am a servant of the Holy One, and that’s really all that matters. Isn’t it?