The Unsung Victories of the Ba’al Teshuva

David on the Lake

The guest speaker was the world famous Ba’al Teshuvah Moshe (Mark) Wahrburg. Moshe’s story was so inspiring it never failed to fill halls and shuls with enthralled audiences. He had reached the pinnacle of fame and success in Hollywood and lived a life of debauchery and excess. And then he threw it all away after discovering his heritage, eventually becoming fully Orthodox.

The men and women in the audience were taken in by the drama and ultimate glorious ending.

A group of angels were congregating at the window, unseen. They were staring at the man in the last seat of the second row.

He was a very unspectacular looking middle aged fellow dozing off. Yet, the angels were staring at him and whispering in awe. He was a somewhat successful accountant whose biography for the most part mirrored 90% of the rest of the room.

But what no one could possibly know, and if they would know they would most likely look at him with disgust and disdain, was how he had in the past done some pretty immoral things and had somehow pulled himself away and quietly done true teshuva. In fact he himself cringes when he thinks of his past actions.

There’s no glamour in that Teshuva. No one will come hear his sordid tale. And he himself has no clue of his heroics and that is precisely what makes it so lofty…

Yet here was a group of angels quivering in his shadow..because angels..they see a different world.

11 comments on “The Unsung Victories of the Ba’al Teshuva

  1. Your plaint is a common one, Naftali. Almost all of it have experienced it. There seems to be very little sensitivity to the line between personal and non-personal inquiry in certain segments of the frum community.

    Of course, as I have said somewhere here before, people do want to know you better, and they are often trying to place you into a familiar context. If they succeed by finding a common vein, then, unlike two gentiles who, all things being equal, have almost no chance of having anything in common, it is possible to find a way to connect with you more intimately by identifying a shared neighborhood, rebbi, rov, or even relative — even if the inquirer and you are separated by decades of age or continents of experience.

    Unfortunately, again, because so many of us have such scant answers to these interrogations, perhaps more is lost than would be gained by this process.

    People should be more sensitive, but you should at least understand that most of them are not trying to make you feel bad. There’s something, too, perhaps, about not feeling that the general state of your past is something that should, even if revealed less than eagerly, should be a source of humiliation. Remember that the classic baal teshuva of the gemara was not a “tinnok she-nishba” as most authorities consider “BT”‘s such as most readers of this blog to be, but rather was someone raised with exposure to Torah and mitzos who sinned and then repented. Such a person’s past could indeed be embarrassing. In contrast, there is no reason to be embarrassed about being, instead of frum from birth, “frum by choice.”

  2. Halachah forbids reminding a Baal Teshuvah of his previous misdeeds. I believe that we need to be more careful with that.

    It seems that EVERY time I meet an Orthodox Jew who I never met before, the first question he asks me is: “Which yeshivah did you go to?”

    This has caused me years of distress, and I wish they would stop doing it.

    I wish that Orthodox Jews would stop asking so many personal questions about my:
    chinuch, education, age, yichus, minhagim, living relatives, and parnassah and everything. These questions are asked even when there is no logical reason for the questioner to know the information.

    Bilaam noticed that the Jewish people respected each other’s privacy by positioning their tents so they would not look into each other’s tents. We must learn from this.

  3. עולם הפוך ראיתי – עליונים למטה ותחתונים למעלה (I saw an upside-down world [in Heaven]: those above are bellow and those bellow are above). Beautiful essay.

    David, I’d love to hear your story.

  4. I think that’s a made up name that is infelicitously close to that of an actual Hollywood actor who is not Jewish. I also think the part about the angels may be based on facts that could be difficult to confirm, journalistically speaking!

  5. I remember joking at a BBT shabbaton that I wasn’t going to tell the story about how I became a BT since it was boring; no one wants to hear about how I was struck by lightning and fell into the Grand Canyon!

  6. Beautiful. We have been effected by the Western world’s focus on publicity. BT are truly heroic for no other reason than they have overcome great challenges to return to Torah.

  7. Do you mean Mark Wahlberg (L, not R)? He’s the only name I can think of in hollywood who fits, but I can find no references to him as ba’al teshuva.

    I can’t find any references to a Mark WahRburg at all!

  8. Ideally, we improve for reasons having nothing to do with publicity. There are times, though, when publicity does help, on balance, by letting other people know what is possible.

Comments are closed.