So many people starting out in becoming practicing Jews ask this question, “How do I become a baal teshuva?”
In effect, we are asking “how do I do this?”, “what’s the process for becoming more observant?”, “what are the steps?”.
I remember thinking when i was starting out converts seem to have it much easier. There’s a curriculum they need to follow and learn to be able to pass some tests and become Jewish. There’s a structure given to them.
Unfortunately, there’s no such ‘plan of attack’ for Jews who just want to grow and become more of themselves, connect and live up to their ‘Jewishness’. I myself looked for this structure, someone to tell me what I should take on next. At the very start this advice may be hard to find because really it should come from someone who knows both you and the Jewish laws – someone who can guide you in this – and at the very start of the journey we might not always have someone like this in our lives, especially if we were very far removed from community life beforehand.
At the same time, we are quite fortunate in being able to take on what we can cope with at the speed we can cope with. At the start of becoming more observant this is often the more important aspect. Not taking on too much too quickly will keep your growth more personal, real and committed in the long term. You don’t want to have ‘burn out’.
Obviously, wherever possible, you should get guidance from a Rabbi or Rebbetzin who you feel comfortable with (I.e. not from me!). All I can share is my experience and that of what other baalei teshuva have shared with me.
Basically, there’s four principles (that I know of):
1. Take things on slowly (you have a whole life time of growing, which doesn’t stop at any point in time – growth in Judaism is always a journey); and
2. Take on the things that are easy for you as well as slowly challenge yourself on the things that you may find harder.
3. I’m sure you’ve heard this before “Judaism is not all or nothing”, so be proud of what you have achieved so far. Never forget to thank yourself and Hashem for the journey so far. Many don’t even get to where you are now.
4. It’s not a race! Try not to feel like “I’m never going to catch up and be like XYZ”. Do as much as you can. Hashem doesn’t compare you to others.
So, enjoy the journey and may it be a smooth and meaningful one!