Posted on | June 26, 2006 | By Avrahom-Moishe Erlenwein | 27 Comments
The sun-bathing, snorkeling and scuba diving of Teshuvah
The lifelong process and stages of Teshuvah can be compared to sun-bathing, snorkeling and scuba diving:
Sunbathing is a relaxing way to spoil oneself under the warm embrace of the sun. Tension melts away, you can get a good tan and show off your good looks….
However, as anyone who’s “laid out” before knows – sun-bathing isn’t all that it’s cracked-up to be:
It gets hot after a while and if you aren’t careful – instead of a “golden tone” – you’ll be “peeling” away after a nice, red and stinging sunburn! So, what’s the solution? Cool off by the water of course!
At the beach you have a few ways to enjoy the water – you can frolic while kicking your feet in the water, splashing around or taking a stroll where the waves meet the sand along the edge of the shore.
Another alternative is to go snorkeling. With goggles, fins and a snorkel – you can be refreshed by the ocean blue and yet be marveled by peeking into the wondrous, underwater world of sea life.
With the wonders you just viewed, you may be inspired to go scuba diving. As a scuba diver – you are no longer a spectator to the sea world but a participant. The beach and its lifestyle are literally different worlds as you experience the freedom of being completely ensconced within the ocean. There’s so much to explore – coral reefs, underwater caverns, swimming through schools of fish, brilliant and vibrantly colored sea anemone, etc.
Deeper and deeper beneath the ocean you are drawn – it’s only with reluctance and a waning oxygen supply that you realize you have to go back to the surface. However, you eagerly anticipate your next venture and exploration to where the ocean can take you!
Sunbathing, snorkeling and scuba diving are the stages that the Teshuvah process offers us:
Sunbathing is an analogy for the complete immersion in the secular world – its powerful magnetism for self-gratification and self-orientation. While many seem to enjoy a “golden tan” – like prolonged exposure to the sun over many years, even without getting sunburned – eventually one finds out all too late the spiritual health risk and damage of such a materiality for the sake of materiality lifestyle. Others get an unintended and scorching sunburn – financial, health, midlife or some other crisis that sends a person seeking the water:
A Torah life – as Torah is likened to water……
“Frolicking, splashing, strolling around the waters” edge is the initial exploration of a Torah lifestyle – maybe its going to a few classes, listening to a few tapes, going to a seminar or committing a short time period to a Yeshivah or seminary program. The point is – the person is still trying to reconcile a Torah life with the secular world.
“Snorkeling” is actually living a Torah lifestyle but there’s one catch:
While one maybe “wet” i.e. be immersed in and living a Torah lifestyle – one remains stagnant and on a single plateau – and therefore ultimately, just “a spectator”. Just as one who snorkels can only travel horizontally along with only a superficial immersion into the water – so too does such a person remain in their Torah lifestyle – technically frum, but no growth, no depth, no exploration and perhaps even an attachment/conflict with the secular world.
This is a critical point in the teshuvah process – one can stay here and “plateau out” or worse – gradually slide backwards. It is here that the BT must ask himself:
“I did decide to become a baal Teshuvah, didn’t I?”
If so, the secular world is not our home, our base, our point of orientation – a true Torah lifestyle of continual growth is. That perspective will allow us to become a “scuba diver”:
“Scuba diving” is a level not only for Baalei Teshuvah, but for FFB’s as well. Just as a BT can “plateau out” so can a FFB become what Rabbi Ezriel Tauber describes as “FFH – Frum From Habit”.
To be totally immersed in a Torah lifestyle IS another world – its beauty becoming more and more breath taking the deeper one goes……
However, even a scuba diver must go back to shore – and so do we – with a longing and anticipation to return to the ocean’s depths. Most importantly – not to live as a sun-bather, frolicker or one who snorkels – but to share our underwater adventures and awe with all whom we come into contact – to encourage them to join us as the Rambam states:
“[During the Era of the Redemption -] The whole Earth will be filled with knowledge of G-d as the ocean covers the world.”.