I had an interesting conversation with my friend, Elya, yesterday. He called me on the phone to chat because we hadn't talked in quite some time, and we ended up talking for well over 3 hours! No, no, don't get the wedding invitations ready just yet! Elya is a dear friend, and someone I look up to for guidance when I am studying Torah.
Elya is also someone I can confide in without fear of judgment; he knows things about me that most people will never know. He is a baal tshuva (is that right? my terminology is horrendous, my apologies!), born to Jewish parents but raised with no Jewish identity. I'll save you all my story, you can read it here.
Anyway, the other evening we were on the phone with one another, studying the Book of Daniel in depth and I was asking him some questions because my History of Judaism class had recently discussed this book of the Bible and I wanted to get some further insight and clarification from him.
Before that, however, we had to catch up on one another's lives over the past couple of weeks, as we had both been busy and unable to be in touch. He asked me how my conversion was going, how school was going, etc. I told him how I have been feeling lately, how I seem to be at somewhat of a standstill (with the conversion process) even though I am studying on my own and learning as much as possible. Elya being the great friend and kind soul that he is, picked up on the fact that I was feeling down and a bit discouraged. I confided to him that yes, I was feeling low, because lately I have been feeling as though I don't exactly "fit in" with my more religious friends. Don't get me wrong, I love them dearly and I am grateful to have them in my life, but there are certain things that I don't think they'd ever quite understand about me. Maybe that's not fair, maybe they would, but the truth is that I'm too scared to tell them because I am afraid they will judge me. They are all FFB's, and while I know that doesn't mean that they are perfect by any means, it does color their view on the world and the experiences they've had within it. Elya knows my past, knows what I've been through--my struggles and my pain--and he embraces me for it and doesn't tell me that I am ever wrong, he simply guides me to something that will help me when I ask him to, or listens when all I want is to vent. He's not perfect, either. He's had a rough life, and yet, he is one of the most compassionate and warm people you will ever meet.
Anyway, after confiding to him how I felt, he decided to tell me a bit of wisdom that the Lubavitcher Rebbe (may he rest in peace) once said in regards to those doing tshuva. He told me that the Rebbe said (now don't quote me on this, I'm taking it from what Elya told me so I could be a bit off here) that someone doing tshuva is like an oil lamp. The flame is what's burning, what the person's soul is, that is becoming ever brighter with the study of Judaism and the devotion to G-d and His Torah. The oxygen that helps keep the flame from going out is G-d and the embracing of Torah, the ever-increasing knowledge and happiness from learning. But what keeps the flame burning from beneath? The oil surrounding the wick, which represents the person's past, their life experiences, what they bring with them as they enter their journey towards Torah observance.
So, Elya said, do not be ashamed of where you have been and what you have done, because that is the fuel that keeps your fire burning. You have a gift that others do not have; you know what life is like without Torah, and can in turn appreciate it that much more as you come to know it.
I cannot express in words how much hearing this lifted my spirits. I am so grateful to have a friend like Elya in my life, who can help me learn and grow in my Judaism, and keep me motivated when I feel like I'm faltering. All thanks and praise to G-d, for all of the gifts he has bestowed upon me. I am so blessed.