It’s an argument I hear all the time. People will approach me at weddings and after funerals, they’ll stop me on the street and corner me in the supermarket, and attempt to explain to me exactly why they can’t accept more Judaism into their lives: because they just weren’t born into it.

Their parents didn’t practice, they didn’t attend It’s an argument I hear all the timea Jewish school or weren’t paying attention during religious classes. They can’t read Hebrew fluently, they’ve never felt comfortable in shul, and they’re sorry, but it’s definitely too late to start now.

Is that true?

There have been tens of thousands of ba’alei teshuvah over the last few decades—men and women who weren’t born into religious families but who have chosen to become Torah-observant. We all have the free choice to change and the ability to succeed. Admittedly, it might be harder to pick up a new language and to adopt new rituals at a relatively advanced age, but it definitely can be done, if one wants it enough.

Perhaps even more extraordinary than ba’alei teshuvah are geirim, converts, who weren’t born Jewish and yet have taken the audacious step of transforming their lives and casting their lot in with ours. We welcome them aboard, and we admire their courage.

If you think about it, Shavuot is the festival where we celebrate this capacity to adopt Judaism and commit oneself to G‑d. The men and women clustered around Mt. Sinai didn’t really know what they were getting into, but they were willing to find out. Right then and there, they chose G‑d and promised to spend the rest of their lives changing, learning and practicing until they got it right. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.

On Shavuot, we all become ba’alei teshuvah and we all promise to convert. It makes no difference where we’ve come from; the real question is, where are we heading?

When Moses climbed the mountain to receive G‑d’s commands to His new nation, G‑d instructed him to “say to the House of Jacob and tell the Children of Israel.” Biblical commentators point out that the variant expressions “the House of Jacob” and “the Children of Israel” are a reflection of the different types of people whom Moses was addressing.

Jacob and Israel are both names of our forefather Jacob. Jacob was the name that he was given at birth, and reflects his identity as an innately holy Jew, born to spiritually pure parents. Israel is the name that he received when, as an adult, he demonstrated the courage and maturity to struggle against adversity and independently chose to transform himself.

The “House of Jacob” is a reference to our birthplace. We don’t get to pick our parents, and we have done nothing to deserve the treasures into which we’re born. The“Children of Israel,” by contrast, describes us as the adults we have become, who choose our own paths in life and deserve the rewards that we have personally earned. G‑d was instructing Moses to speak on both levels and tailor his message to every stage in the journey through life.

G‑d is speaking to all of us, all the time. No We were all born holymatter what we’ve been doing till now, we can and must do better in the future. The training we’ve received to date and the legacy we inherited from our parents and teachers are useful only if we utilize them to better ourselves in the future. We were all born holy and, at the same time, we must all improve further.

When we gather in the synagogue on Shavuot to hear the Ten Commandments and receive the Torah anew, let us be truly grateful for the gifts we’ve received in the past, and let us promise to transform ourselves into the people that G‑d wishes us to become—and thus earn the reward that He is confident we deserve.