Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Where is inreach?

"There is no inreach", tells me a FFB person. I was chatting about text-based learning, about my visceral desire to grow. "At the end of the day, I don't want sources, I want to read about emunah. Before you complain, ask, did you get everything there is to get from inspirational classes?"

This remark devastates me. This is lashon hara, evil speech, and no amount of classes on Shmirat HaLashon will explain how deeply such words wound. There is no inreach. I do not connect to spiritual classes. I have gone to women's talks for years and I liken them to cotton candy: sweet, inflated, empty calories. I leave them and I hunger for more, all the while regretting the time wasted away. When I learn a text in depth, when I grapple with it. when I have to work my brain cells, make connections, look words up, that's when I get the satisfaction of learning Torah.

The SEED boys are in town for the past week. My boys have been going to shul to learn with them. On erev Tisha BeAv my 11 yo came back beaming after learning for hours. He has started his bar mitzvah parsha prep. This brought tears to my eyes: in six years of homeschooling, this is FIRST TIME that someone who is not his parent and who is not getting paid, learned with him what he wanted to learn. I did not think it will be like that. I thought there will be people (rabbis? fathers? bachirim? older gentlemen?) who would hear of our homeschooling journey, see that we are baalei teshuva, see that we do not have skills, just see an interested kid, and help him out. He came home glowing. The boy who was learning with him did not care that he has anxiety, that he might not have skills of a 6th grader, that he was rejected by two schools... He was here to learn with the boys and here was a boy, ready to learn.

On Tisha BeAv proper, I encountered this statement from Gemara:

It was apropos for our situation: please learn with me! Please make time. Please find energy. Please do it as a chesed. Please get me to the level where I can learn on my own. It is taught as one of the causes of the Destruction. Yet I have not seen anyone talk about it. Perhaps it is painful to wonder what is to become of all the baalei teshuva, the ones who know just enough to be observant on the outside, yet do not get the life-sustaining gift of in-depth learning.

In Lech lecha, when Avram goes to Canaan, he brings with him "all the souls that they made in Haran". A classic interpretation of those souls is all the people whom Avram taught about G-d. Yet this is the only mention that we have of them. Where are they? Presumably, they did not stick around. Maybe, just maybe, despite Avram's efforts at hospitality, he was really holding out for his biological son. Maybe there was no inreach, and the believers slowly, yet inevitably, left.

What is to become of the baal teshuva movement? What is to become of all those who do not have an established network of relatives and rebbeim to plug into? What is to become of those who thirst for more, yet are so misunderstood by those enjoying the privileges of being "on the inside"? What is there to tell that just because you have been frum for years, there is still no family to have you over for a Pesach seder? That all divrei Torah at that seder are on you (and your husband who is working overtime so he can have Seder off)? I know that plenty of those who have come to Orthodox Judaism on their own are afraid to admit the gulf of ignorance beyond browsing halachot on Aish or emailing rabbis at OU. They read English side of the siddur, hoping that nobody notices. They read the Hebrew side, but it might as well be in Chinese. They put their kids in school, hoping that someone out there will teach them and they will be able to do more. Those parents still cannot review Chumash with their kids, let alone Gemara.

We talk and talk about how Torah learning is important. Well, let's learn some Torah. And if you are able to teach, let's teach some Torah lishma.


  1. Interesting thoughts... In my experience, large baal teshuva communities do have some framework for technical skills-based growth for baalei teshuva -- both in Passaic (where we live now), in Atlanta (where we used to live) and I've heard of similar things in Brooklyn and Baltimore. These programs, at least in my experience, do open up the world of learning quite well for the baal teshuva, certainly on the level where they can review the gemara kids are doing in school until the advanced stages.

    However, such programs are geared towards adults, not for kids.

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