‘Without the baal teshuva accepting his role, his unique gift and insight, these things cannot happen”

There’s a distinctly unfortunate reality of the orthodox world today: it largely has no effect on the secular world. It is too insulated, even the supposedly more open versions of it, to truly spread its truth to the world in an unbounded way.

This is not to berate the orthodox world, G-d forbid. Like the issue with art, this has nothing to do with them being unholy and everything to do with centuries of being oppressed at the hands of brutal governments, of doing whatever it took to stay religious in a brutal world, of putting Judaism above all else, and thus cutting off from the value of the secular world.

Baalei teshuva are some of the few people who can help bridge this gap. This was, in fact, a big part of the reason for that revolutionary attitude we all had when we started off: we were aware of our ability to bring G-d into a largely G-dless world.

But then something happened: we started conforming. We tried to fit into the orthodox world. We didn’t want to be different, and we often believed the rabbis’ spoken or unspoken implication that the world we came from had no value, and that we had to give everything up to truly be religious.

And so we did. So many of us did, almost all of us. Whether we are aware of it or not, I would argue that most of us have fallen into that trap in some ways. I say this because I see the effect: we have not brought that revolution into the outside world. Not even close.

Why make that connection? Because when we conform too much to the orthodox world, we take on their flaws as well as their strengths. We are like the sponge that absorbs everything, as described in Pirkei Avos, instead of the sieve.

And so we also adopt the insular nature of the orthodox world. We adopt the suspicion of the secular world. And we get so comfortable, as the orthodox world is, just living in our bubbles of reality, that we have forgotten that we once wanted to do a real revolution, not just the one that makes us feel good when we sit together in a farbrengen or a shiur and tell ourselves we’ve accomplished just because we’re frum.

There should be movies about Rashi, tzitsis should be sold in Wal-Mart (Y-Love said this to me once when I interviewed him and I will never forget that vision), and businesses that somehow find a way to bring G-d into every day life.

Without the baal teshuva accepting his role, his unique gift and insight, these things cannot happen. The secular world will stay the way it is, and so will the orthodox (in that they will only change with the people who have grown up in them and decided to themselves become “reborn” with unique insights).

Elad Nehorai, “Baal Teshuva World: Wake Up”, Hevria (11 December 2014) [http://hevria.com/elad/baal-teshuva-world-wake/]