1- If a person was born secular and became a baal teshuvah, why is he responsible to rectify his past now and correct any mistakes he’s still making, when there was no way for him to know until now about the mistakes he was making?
2- But regarding the changes that a person needs to make now in his life, is he now responsible for his past?
Answer:1- There is a lengthy discussion amongst our Gedolim about what it means to have the status of a “captured child” (tinok shenishboh) growing up in our times and how far this definition goes. If a child is raised secular today, is he totally innocent, because he can’t help his ignorance? Or is he not that ignorant, because every person ultimately encounters Jewishness all over the place, and therefore he’s not totally innocent (and therefore he still had free will to improve until now)? The truth is that only the Beis Din upstairs in Heaven can know how much free will he really had, depending on his unique circumstances; if he’s totally innocent, partially innocent, partially guilty, or totally guilty. There is no person on this world who can know for sure how to judge anyone’s situation. Only the Beis Din in Heaven knows what each person’s situation is and how the person is to be judged.
2- One must do whatever he can do right now to change himself from the present onward, and he needs to change his life retroactively – whether he was guilty until now, or whether he was totally ignorant and innocent for his actions until now. As we said before, only the Beis Din in Heaven can judge his past, and there is no one on this world who can know if he was responsible until now for his past. But what is in his free will right now is, to change himself from this point onward.