Why baalei teshuva need to hustle

What crazy people turn their whole lives upside down and around and become religious? Oh yeah, us baalei teshuva. We have an inner strength to do this, to stop and push for something so different to what we once knew and grew up with. It takes real guts. The core of a baal teshuva is to go beyond the status quo, beyond anything you thought was possible with your own determination and actions.

Then, the story starts. When people are becoming observant of their Jewish birthright (i.e. being baalei teshuva) they have to let go a little. The biggest change is often the realization that you are not the be-all and end-all. Hashem is above, and around, and always there, and guess what? He created the world and enables every second, so He sure knows what’s best, even for you. When you realize this, we transform into our more humble selves. It’s what’s called becoming ‘bitul’ (poorly translated as ‘nullified’). You grow in the sense that it’s not all up to you, there’s also a bigger plan and you’re just a piece of the puzzle. This can be so empowering, to know that it’s not all up to you. You can breathe and just be the best you can be.

Unfortunately, we sometimes use beautiful ideas unintentionally for our own ends. Sometimes we forget that being open to Hashem’s leadership does not mean giving up our own ability to lead, to build, to hustle. So often I see young baalei teshuva using the idea of bitul to empower their laziness or be an excuse for evading their own responsibility and living with determination. What better way to evade the pursuit than to say there’s an ultimate plan anyway. Weather in shidduchim or in what we choose to do in our lives, we can so easily step back and become inactive or just choose the easier road.

And then comes stage 2 in a baal teshuva’s growth. The necessary stage of ‘balancing out’ which unfortunately not everyone goes through. It’s the second teshuva when you realize that life is still in your hands. You still determine your choices. You are the one who has to live with your choices and you are the one who builds your future. You realize at some point that to be truly bitul to a greater power should only empower you. If it doesn’t, if you find yourself giving away your power of self-determination, you have missed something along the way. In our capacity to mimic Hashem’s ways we are the ultimate creatures of self-determination. Our choices create us, just as much as they create a relationship with Hashem. We are co-creators. To let go of this responsibility to hustle is akin to letting go of being in Hashem’s image.

So, dear baaltei teshuva, don’t let becoming religious stop you from your aspirations or dreams. Don’t let becoming religious give you the sense that someone else can decide for you. You can always ask for advice from Rabbis and ask Hashem for his revealed guidance, but you should never let go of your inner hustle. Go for it. Drive your dreams forward, do what it takes, push the boundaries, become a creator of yourself and the world, and in that way, be a true Godly reflection. God hustles. You should too.

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