You are a Baal Teshuva

Guest post by Elad Nehorai

You are a baal teshuva.

I know, I know.  You think you are Ms. Hardcore Off the Derech with that tattoo you got on your ankle.  Mr. Freakin’ Frum with that school in Lakewood you went to.  Too cool for school.

Even Rabbi Baal Teshuva refuses to acknowledge his teshuva-ness.  Instead, he claims to just be a plain old “frummie”, as they say.  He long ago cut those dreads off, put on a black hat and started insulting the democrats at every opportunity.

But, as much as he and all you other folks would love to deny it, the thing we gotta realize is that we are all baal teshuvas.  Not in the classic sense, sure.  But in the hozer b’tshuva sense,  all returning, always returning,  whether we like it or not.

I know, I know, I’m just a naïve little baal teshuva, and not enough time to let the weight of the world, the state of the frum society, the Haredi “unshakable” control over the Israeli government, the scandals, to effect me, to bring me down.

But for once, maybe we should realize that the ones who actually are proud to call themselves baal teshuvas have a little something to teach the Jewish world, and the world at large.

We can teach them lessons like ‘We will never be perfect,’ or  ‘There is no such thing as being a frummie.’  Frum/religious/fry/orthodox are all gross, disgusting labels.  If anything, they usually denote a sort of stagnancy,  a decision to stop, to be satisfied with life.  Nothing is more toxic to a person, especially a Jew.

By being proud to be Baal Teshuvas, we can teach them lessons like,  ‘Our lives are fresh, new, beautiful things from moment to moment.’  To someone just introduced to Judaism, this is an easy thing to see.  When he prays, he’s flying.  Why do you think his float so high off the ground when he says kedushah?  Why do you think he’s so ridiculous when he tries to follow the halachas he doesn’t even know?  Why do you think they practically touch the ground during Borchu?  Because to them, what they are experiencing is a real, a true, a fresh moment.  If only we all were like that.

There is a myth, a sad, distorted view, that we have some way of knowing if someone is “close” or someone is “far”.  Often, it hardly even involves anything even resembling Judaism.  Do you talk during prayer?  You must be close.  Do you say mammish after every other word?  You must be close.


The Jews are growing up.  We’re coming to realize that to be a Jew doesn’t not always mean to wear black and white.  It does not have to mean that once you can play Jewish geography like a champ that you’ve “made it.”  It doesn’t have to mean that because someone is “off the derech” they are screw-ups; who knows, maybe they have some valid points.

So.  To be a Jew means to be a baal teshuva,  a chozer b’tshuva,  to be someone who is running to G-d at full gallop, with their whole heart, full of joy and confidence. It means realizing that the point of the world isn’t to rest on our laurels and mock others, but to take a deep breath and to plunge to the depths of our own hearts.  Deep within, deep, deep down.

Until we reach the point where we actually deserve to be called baal teshuvas.

Elad Nehorai writes the To Light a Spark blog on  He also recently started a personal blog called Pop that looks at pop culture, and the world in general, from a chassidic perspective.