Several weeks ago, on Shabbos, my 6 year old son said, “Abba, I’m bored. What did you do for fun when you were my age on Shabbos”? I wasn’t sure what to say.
To answer my son truthfully, when I was 6 years old, I had no clue what Shabbos was. I wasn’t exposed to a true Shabbos until I attended an NCSY shabbaton in 8th grade. My son’s question made me think back to what it was like for me when I started my Teshuva journey. Like everyone, I had challenges and struggles along the way towards my current level of observance. I started keeping Shabbos right before I entered 11th grade. As the only frum teenager in my city, I kept Shabbos pretty much by myself until I graduated high school and went on to yeshiva.
My son’s question really got to me. If he associated Shabbos with being bored, then in some way, I felt it was a reflection on my own personal level of yiddishkeit. Had my life as a frum Jew become mundane? My wife and I have given our children what we hope is a nurturing home full of Torah and Mitzvos. We want our kids to have positive memories of growing up frum, not the opposite. This is one of those things that I, as a BT, feared…becoming like “everyone else” whose Mitzvah observance is on cruse control.
To properly answer my son, I had to think back to why I became frum and how excited I was for any exposure to Torah-true Judaism. I’ve spent close to 19 years of my life as a Baal Teshuva. My child’s innocent question reminded me of my accomplishments in Mitzvah observance and limud Torah. I reflected on where I came from, what I had learned, the ups and the downs, and why I chose a frum lifestyle.
Even more importantly, though, I thought about where I needed to be going. With several years of learning in Yeshiva behind me, I could probably help him with homework for a few more years, but then what? What happens when my son knows Hebrew, Chumash, and Mishna better than myself? These questions alone have motivated me to learn more Torah regularly. I continuously look for opportunities to grow and people to learn from. I have a long way to go in my Avodas Hashem.
How fitting that my son’s conversation with me took place a few weeks before Shavous, the holiday when we celebrate receiving the Torah. It’s kind of the “Baal Teshuva Yom Tov”. In a way we are much like our spiritual grandfathers and grandmothers who left Egypt. It wasn’t an easy journey for them, or for us, towards ultimately accepting the Torah. And the best part of Shavous is that Hashem gives us an opportunity to accept his precious Torah once again.
In the end I simply told my son, “I grew up without knowing how special Shabbos really is to Hashem. You are very lucky to go to a great day school, where you will learn Torah for many years. Baruch Hashem, you have friends to play with, parks to play in, and a family who loves spending every Shabbos with you. You are so fortunate to have a Shabbos Kodesh every week. Let’s both try to remember that”.