I think one of the fundamental challenges or complaints of baalei teshuva is that there is no bright line that defines what is “enough.” And there isn’t.
When we stumble, or as the case may be when we stride purposefully, through the Teshuva Portal, we are encouraged every step of the way to the effect that “any” increase in our interest, knowledge, commitment and observance is good. Not just good — great.
Then when we’re solidly inside we come to understand the difference between being a dilettante about this business and making a real, whole commitment to it. And those of us who are still reading this “got” that, too.
But little by little it dawns on us that there’s no “enough.” And herein lies the criticism of kiruv from the Modern Orthodox point of view. It may not be a very powerful criticism, but there is some resonance to it. Yes, it is a point of view about compromise, but — don’t most of us, all of us, ultimately compromise at some point? Do we have to be all in knots about the fact that we do?
On the other hand compromise is not much of a goal. And it has its own internal wicked logic: You never know when compromise is “enough,” either.
I have written often here about how fascinated I am by the lives of the great men of Judaism of the last century. The more I read — again, especially in the newer, denser biographies that have come out in the last five or so years — the more amazed I am at just how great a person can make himself.
I am inspired. And yes, I am also somewhat discouraged each time I put these books down. Yes, we’re all very special in our special way. But the distance between me and these special, special people is approximately infinity.
No, they can’t tell you at the Teshuva Portal that there’s really no end to how much the Torah eventually asks you to ask of yourself. If they did, a lot of us would never walk through, and we would be cheating ourselves of that challenge. It is a good challenge, a proper one, a wholesome one.
It is a hard one. No one told me how hard it would be. And how it would, contrary to everything I expected early on, actually get harder, not easier.
That’s a hard truth. I’m living it, because it is the truth. But, hard it is.