As a Baal Teshuva who discovered the “emes” about eight years ago, I am often asked by my FFB friends in my very FFB neighborhood to describe what inspired my wife and I to take the plunge and more specifically, what it feels like to lead a Torah observant life after so many years of living on the “other side.” After enlightening them with our story, which I must admit never seems that awe inspiring to me, I can almost always predict where the conversation will go from there. “You are so fortunate” is usually how the next sentence begins followed by something along the lines of “I can never feel what you feel” or “Having grown up this way we just do what we do because that is what we were taught.” On cue, I feebly attempt to describe the feelings I have when I daven, learn, celebrate Shabbosim or Yomim Tovim, or take our children to yeshiva. I use words like “inspired,” “true happiness” or “fills a void” yet in each instance I feel like I failed to appropriately and adequately capture the true essence of what it feels like to be a novice at Torah observance.
I am always struck by the irony of this exchange. After all, I would give anything to have been brought up frum from birth! The thought of never having to ask, “What page are we on” during davening or learning, or have my best friend translate a yeshivish colloquialism during the rabbi’s shiur would be shamayim on earth. Yet those who can easily answer these questions somehow envy my position, since I am able to feel something they simply cannot.
This past Shabbos I finally had the chance to help my friends experience the sensation I feel in regards to yiddishkeit. I will admit that it occurred, at first, inadvertently, but it played out like a charm…
Like many communities in the frum world, ours is passionate about food, and specifically, a tasty post-Shabbos morning davening kiddush. In the rare instance when our shul does not have a community simcha kiddush planned, a few of us rotate hosting a kiddush in our homes. What began as a few men getting together for chulent and a l’chaim has, baruch Hashem, blossomed.
One of my weaknesses, or perhaps it is a strength, is my appetite and passion for extremely spicy foods. So much so, in fact, that I dedicated almost an entire garden this summer to growing jalapeno and habanero peppers. Most are familiar with the green jalapeno and the punch it packs when added to salads, sauces, or served on top of nachos and cheese. Well the habanero is the stronger, meaner and much more intimidating “big brother” to the jalapeno. In fact the habanero packs 10 times the heat level of the garden variety jalapeno…with just a morsel of this pepper causing even the most experienced “hot foodie” to recoil. I have found that a tiny slice of habanero adds an incredible edible kick to a chulent and decided to share my discovery with my chevra last Shabbos.
Almost lost on the large table of cakes, kugels, herrings and bowls of chulent was the small plate of finely chopped bright orange habanero peppers, courtesy of yours truly. In response to the many, “hey, what are those” questions I received, I let my friends know what was on the plate, where they came from and attempted to describe the powerful punch they pack when added in miniscule doses to the chulent. I stood back as the initial daring few took a small pinch and added them to their plates. The even more courageous, despite my warning, popped a small portion directly onto their tongues! Slowly but surely the plate of peppers disappeared, and the shock induced tears increased. Yes, my friends were experiencing a “sensation” they never experienced before.