Teshuva – The Challenge of Recreating Oneself

By Rabbi Dovid Gottleib

Teshuva is the greatest creative challenge a person will ever face: the challenge of recreating oneself. A person’s whole past – talents, training, experience, successes and failures – provides the materials from which his new identity will be forged. He does not turn his back on his past, but organizes it to fulfill its potential in a new way. It is a denial of Providence to regard any of his “unplanned” prior life as a loss. Everything which happened to him was planned so that he could fulfill his unique human potential and make his unique contribution (see Luzzatto’s Derech Hashem, Part II, Chapter 3). Later, he will see how his seemingly pointless past gave him the tools for his religious future.

One important benefit of becoming religious later in life, through a conscious mature decision, is a heightened sensitivity to those aspects of Torah life which tend to become rote for others. Often this sensitivity generates insights from which all can benefit. A father once told me that he was nervous about speaking in public to deliver a dvar Torah for the bris of his third son. But then he began to wonder: why didn’t speaking in front of Hashem Himself, cause him the same concern? He deduced that his prayer should be improved.

In my own case, working in kiruv (outreach) makes everything that I had previously learned relevant. It helps me communicate more effectively with people who are educated and talented, but who also want to be sure that Jewish society will understand and appreciate them. Even if one cannot see it at first, teshuvah is not so much a totally new beginning, as a redirected continuation leading to a new, higher goal.

Reprinted with Permission from http://www.dovidgottlieb.com/

8 comments on “Teshuva – The Challenge of Recreating Oneself

  1. what I meant by belonging was to underscore the importance of this dimension in the Teshuva process. In that sense, DK is on to something, as cynical as he may be. There ARE many culture shocks that typical BT’s have to deal with, and all too often the gung-ho kiruv folk overlook this as they shine up the display case of traditional Judaism. This is especially compounded for those who do the bulk of their Teshuva in E.Y. or even a different state, and kol sh’ken for those who don’t know from especially frum ancestors.

    Still, Ron and David are pointing the deeper issue at play. BEYOND the culture gap is this unbelievable reality that binds all Jews throughout time. I think R’ Gottlieb touched on it in the original article when he confessed how the “brotherhood” he found in his Torah learning made all the difference.

    Hence our challenge: How to sensitively ease the BT through these culture shocks while guiding him to find his particular learning groove.

  2. Of course it’s a culture – Judaism. And of course it ours.

    And of course our ancestors were observant Jews. That’s axiomatic, and it’s the height of intellectual dishonesty to suggest otherwise (or obfuscate by using politically loaded terms such as haredi). Otherwise we would be like the millions of Americans descended from the original Jewish settlers in mercantile towns along the East Coast who have no idea that they’re at least part Jewish.

  3. DK,

    Why do you make a blanket statement that “this is not your culture”? Perhaps the problem stems from your definition of judaism as nothing more than a culture. Eating knishes and reading yiddish papers, although not unenjoyable (I’m quite the knish fan myself when I’m not watching my carb intake) is not judaism.

    My uncle, my mother’s brother, just told me last week that his grand-parents, my maternal great-grandparents were hasidic (I never knew that, though I knew they were frum). Does that mean that MY culture is european hasidic, according to your definition?

  4. “Mere” teshuva is not enough. We need to belong.

    How can you ever “belong”? This is not your culture. And for many of us, our ancestors were not ever haredi.

    You can put a kitten in an oven, but that don’t make it a biscuit.

  5. I meant simply that there are many tasks to do and many people better suited to one or the other, so we can’t all have the same career path as Jews.

  6. Do you mean, Bob, that knowing one belongs to the Klal is enough? My impression is that in most cases, even among the more high powered BT’s, the needs for belonging are far more complex. R’ Gottlieb’s candidness says it all.

  7. Thanx for the link. Just went through this article in its entirity and found the following passage of particualr interest:

    “My prior secular training, while superb, was not ideal preparation for Talmud. Still, had I not crossed that threshold, there would have been a painful lack of self-respect in my Jewish identity. Today, all aspects of Jewish study provide endless challenge, insight and the satisfaction of being a competent member of the international brotherhood of lomdei Torah.”

    Hmm. His becoming a “competent member of the international brotherhood” of Talmudic scholars provided him with the ever-important element of inner worth which plagues many the typical BT.

    Such honest clarification is edifying. Brings up many questions for the ladies and non scholastic type among us, let alone those who have not managed to land a respectable teaching / mentoring position. “Mere” teshuva is not enough. We need to belong.

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