Guest Posting By A Talmid - FFBs: How To Be A BT
Often, one will see Baalei Teshuva (BT) performing mitzvos with much zeal and alacrity, and they actually seem to be really enjoying it. Many who are frum-from-birth (FFB) will be envious of this and, unfortunately, some fools will snicker and make some derogatory statement about BTs, as if it’s strange to enjoy doing a mitzvah. The reason is that they have a complex about themselves not performing mitzvos up to par, even though they were raised in observant homes. There are things that can help FFB's put some zeal into their service of Hashem, perhaps by mirroring BTs in some manner.
The following is based on the experiences of myself and others that I've spoken to. Not everything will work for everyone, but I think much of the following will be useful to many. If anyone has any further ideas please comment.
If I might suggest, perhaps one reason why BTs observe Yiddishkeit with such passion is because they receive some special Siyata D'Shmaya, since Hashem is so happy, so to speak, at these people returning to their Father in Heaven. But remember, teshuva does not belong exclusively to BTs. Everyone, even the greatest tzadik, can do teshuvah. There is always something that needs improvement. If FFBs do teshuva, by improving at least one little thing at a time and making a commitment to constantly try to improve, one step at a time, then perhaps FFBs can also acquire some special Siyata D'Shmaya. After all, who really thinks about teshuvah outside of the months of Elul and Tishrei.
If you don't know how to go about your own path of teshuva then beseech Hashem to guide you in your path of teshuva. One little thing at a time. Many people, if you look at them compared to a month a go, you will not see much change, but if you look at them compared to 5 years ago you see a different person. Compare them to 10 years ago and they might seem like they're from another planet. For many if they try to change too much at a time it becomes difficult and they give up. If you take a little step at a time you won't give up and before you know it you'll be a different person.
Ultimately, all is in the Hand of Hashem, so ask Hashem for help in performing and enjoying the Mitzvos properly. Also, talk to Hashem in your own words. Before you go into a business meeting, ask Hashem to put the right ideas and decisions into your head. Before buying a new car, house, etc., ask Hashem to guide you towards the right decision. And so on. If you ask Hashem for assistance in everything, you will feel a lot closer to Hashem.
For many FFBs, doing mitzvos and davening, turns them into robots. 3 prayers a day, a Yom Tov here, a Shabbos there and so on, as opposed to a BT, who is not used to all this. For him, it is fresh and exciting, as it should be for everyone. Many FFBs might remember the excitement of putting on Tefilin for the first time. How can we get excited about doing mitzvos and serving Hashem? As long as what we do is by rote, the mitzvos may seem boring. Don't get me wrong, no matter how we feel we have an obligation to do Hashem's command, but if we enjoy it, this will make it easier and we will be more careful to observe the mitzvos properly. This will bring a lot more "Nachas Ruach" to the Ribono Shel Olam. (Imagine how an earthly king would look at someone doing his commands with as little effort as possible, just enough to prevent himself from being executed by the king.)
We need to learn the Halachos, at least on a basic level to know what we are doing. Next, there are seforim that will make you look at davening, Yom Tov, Shabbos and other mitzvos in a whole new light. The best example of two such seforim is Yesod Veshoresh Ha’Avodah and Kav Hayosher (I used these as examples, because they are great seforim, written for people on all levels, and they are respected by Chasidim and Misnagdim, Ashkenazim and Sephardim. Kav Hayashar is available in English.) These seforim will actually help you enjoy the mitzvos. Yesod Veshoresh Ha’Avodah writes the kavanas one should have and says why we should be filled with joy by a particular mitzvah. Similarly, the Kav Hayashar will often times take esoteric teachings and bring it down to earth making it easy to understand. An example of this is how he explains the reason for many of the hidden “Sheimos” in the Megila. This will make you listen to the Megila in a whole new way.
For some an English sefer, might be the way to go. Also, different people enjoy different approaches. Many of the Sifrei Chassidus can give one a totally new outlook of Shabbos and Yom Tov. Perhaps the most famous is Bnei Yisaschor, which these days is often quoted by many non-Chassidic and Sephardic Rabbanim. In the sefer, he will take you through every moth of the year, with the most fascinating thoughts that are sure to change the way one looks at each season. One of the most important things, I believe, is to constantly read more seforim on davening, Yom Tov, etc. This reinforces the importance of all these.
A good way to get into the right frame of mind before a Yom Tov is to learn the relevant Gemara (at least parts of it), such as Tractate Megila before Purim. Of course, one needs to review the relevant halachos before each Yom Tov. I find that in the basic halacha I will find things that I don’t remember from the year before or that I’ve never seen before. All these are tools to enjoy Yom Tov. For many Yom Tov is a burden, but if you learn the halachos, and perhaps some Gemara and Seforim Hakedoshim (such as the seforim mentioned earlier) on the subject it will be a whole new Yom Tov. You will actually enjoy it. I hear saying how they are so happy that Yom Tov is over, because it’s so much trouble. On my own low level, I have come to love each Yom Tov and hate when it’s over. This came from learning what the Seforim Hakedoshim write on the Yom Tovim. They gather sources from Tanach, Gemara, Medrash, Kabalah, etc. and weave it all together into a beautiful tapestry that puts into one’s heart the essence of a Yom Tov.
The bottom line is that everyone on needs their Avodah "fresh". Some people can walk into Shachris, everyday, excited. But, for most of us we need something to help us get and keep up the excitement. We also need to improve our emunah, which the Seforim Hakedoshim speak about at length, because if internalize it, then it will obviously be eaisier to serve Hashem. These were a few thoughts I had on the subject. I think I have been at least mildly successful so far, because some people are looking at me in a funny way, since I’m trying to serve Hashem with zeal and alacrity. I think I feel a bit like a BT.
A Talmid's blog Zchus Avos Yogen Aleinu can be seen here