Thursday, January 18, 2018


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Bo
3 Shevat 5778/January 19, 2018

As I was leaving shul one morning recently, a fellow asked if he could speak to me for a moment. He began my asking me if I am an FFB or a BT? For those unfamiliar with the lingo - FFB means “Frum From Birth” while BT means a Ba’al Teshuva.
I have never been asked that question before. It reminded me of an anecdote I read: A young man once came to the Gerrer Rebbe, the Bais Yisroel, to receive the Rebbe’s blessing. When the rebbe asked him where he was learning, he replied that he was learning in Ohr Samaich (a famous Yeshiva for ba’alei teshuva). Then he quickly added, “but I’m not a ba’al teshuva!” The rebbe looked at him and replied, “why not?!”
We refer to those who were brought up irreligious and have made the incredible decision to revolutionize their lives, as ba’alei teshuva.
It’s a title we seem to reserve for those who have given up the lifestyle they were raised with, to adapt a life of Torah and commitment to Hashem.
But the truth is that it’s our mandate and responsibility to all become ba’alei teshuva. We all are charged with constantly seeking to improve ourselves and to work on our negative character traits.
After a moment’s thought, I replied to him that I would like to think that I am both. I was b’h privileged to have been raised in a spiritually nurturing environment where Torah, mitzvos, and Halacha observance were the priority. In that sense, I am indeed an FFB. Yet, I would like to think that I am also a Ba’al Teshuva, in the sense that I try to be honest with myself and confront some of my (ed. - many) deficiencies and character flaws, and work to improve them. Perhaps, those close to me will argue that I’m not yet a “BT”, but I hope and aspire to be one day.
Truthfully, even according to the prevalent definition of a BT, as someone irreligious who has adapted a religious life, we have a lot to learn from them.
Rabbi Uri Zohar was an iconic Israeli television personality with all the endemic glitz and glamour. After years in show biz, he left that way of life completely, and has become a known talmid chochom and inspiration for many.
He once quipped that if someone offered him a million dollars to not put on tefillin for just one day, it would not even be a challenge for him. He wouldn’t even have an internal struggle to overcome. He had lived in “that world” and knew firsthand that what appeared to be so appealing, was empty and completely unfulfilling. All the money in the world can’t provide the meaning and feeling of connection that one can have from donning tefillin on any given morning.
So many of the incredible ba’alei teshuva I have met, share similar sentiments and experiences. When I marvel at how much they gave up becoming religious, they say that if I knew how they felt before they became religious, I wouldn’t be so impressed. They say things like it was all fun and exciting, until it all seems to come crashing down, and you feel like your life is meaningless and is not going anywhere...”
So they jump into a life of commitment to Torah and can’t get enough of it. It’s so fulfilling and purposeful!
The tragedy is that many of us who are FFBs, fail to see what these incredible BTs have discovered. We fail to recognize the passionate and emotional connection that our way of life affords is. We were privileged to have been brought up with and it’s what all of our neighbors and friends do too. Tragically, our observance is the same way it was when we were children and we never seek to deepen it.
If only we could harness the energy and perspective of those BTs and view Torah from their perspective. The truth is that we can. But we have to stop being observant out of habit and rote.
There are so many inspirational personalities and speakers in our communities who are BTs. It seems obvious why that is. We need to look at the gift of our heritage, laws, and traditions with a fresh perspective. True, it’s something we must keep. But our goal is that it becomes something we want to keep, and that comes from recognizing its beauty and depth!
The questioner in shul that morning may have thought he was asking me a simple question - whether I was a FFB or a BT, but it definitely got me thinking. I hope one day to truly be a BT, in more ways than one.
After he asked me about myself, he continued that he himself is a BT, and has a question.
I hope to share his question and my response, next week.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

              R’ Dani and Chani Staum