Saturday, December 31, 2011

Me? Work? But I'm a ben toirah!!

One day I was at Viznitz. I met this sefardic guy. He told me that I could get a job in the store he worked at. I thought I was dreaming. Me? get a job? How could I possibly do that? I would be admitting that, at least for now, i was not going back to learning. Somehow, I went to the interview.

(for all it's worth, I had failed my first driving test, and I had promised myself that I would never fail again. At the time of my interview, I was 21 and still didn't have a license. I drove to Clifton, NJ, when I came out of the interview at 9:00 at night, my car was gone. I was like "what the f*ck to I do now?" I had no phone. what do I tell to my potential bosses. i can't call the cops. They may ask me to show them a license. That may not be the best thing for my potential bosses to see, that I had driven without a licence. I must have made up some kind of a story, and it turns out that they lived in Monsey, so life goes on.)

As can be imagined, I was glad to get the job. At least now I had something to do. At the same time, there was no way that my mind could reconcile what it was thinking with what I was doing.In my mind, I was a respected Rosh Yeshiva, long frock, sitting on the mizrach. In life I was selling TV's and Cameras. It was a long shot. What the f*ck is going on here? It would take years until there was some kind of resolution to this mess.

For now, day in day out, I'd set up the camera cases, and make sure all the product was on the shelf neatly. They taught me how to sell. I knew nothing about selling. They told me to tell the customers that " This camera usually sells for $ 150.00, but it's now selling for $ 110.00 together with the warranty!!" Now I knew that it didn't usually sell for $150.00.That seemed like an outright lie to me. I knew this world wasn't for me, they are a bunch of liars!! Over the years (of my gadol addiction) I had developed a relationship (addiction to) a certain well known Rosh Yeshiva. I got on the phone with him, and asked him what to do, about the sales pitch that I was required to use. "You can tell a lie?" He asked me. I tried to throw in another "but..." "You can tell a lie?" was his same response. I must admit that even thought I was sorely hurt by my experience in the Yeshiva world, I still had a lot or respect for this mans certainty that any kind of untruth was out of the question.

I'll never forget the day that a friends father walked into the store. I was so embarrassed. His son, Chaim was now married and in Koilel in some other state, and here I was an utter failure. I hid. I was on the sales floor but I made sure that he wouldn't see me.Many years later, when I was performing for a rehabilitation center, I saw him. He had fallen down a flight of stairs. He was not an old man and I could tell he was a little bit ashamed to have found himself in a rehabilitation center (which was primarily a center for elderly care). I reflected on my shame 15 years prior and realized that we all go through tough times in life. We all have a moment of pride and a moment of shame, a moment of smoothness and a moment of awkwardness. I realized that life doesn't work out perfectly for anyone. We all have our turn to grow and learn and adapt to change.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Flat on my back

If you have ever seen this happen, you know exactly what I mean. There are no words to describe the devastation. Like someone who has just been hit over the head sixteen times with a baseball bat, there was no thought, or calculation that could help my confusion become more bearable. There was nothing that I had ever known or could know that could have prepared me for this. There was nothing about me that I knew. All I had known was that I was a Yeshiva bachur and that learning was the most important thing in the world. There was really nothing else in me, and now that was taken away from me, not be my own choice. It would take many years for this to begin to make sense.

For now, I wandered around Monsey. I would just go to shul. I hated it, but I had nothing to do. Eventually, I met some others who also had nothing to do. There was no one to really talk to to receive comfort. I had no idea what had happened. How could I possibly talk about it? Also, it was so confusing and so disorienting that, perhaps it was better not to speak about it. Part of me, said that if I spoke about it, perhaps I could make it worse. All of the people that I knew were Benei Toira. How could I possibly tell them? I was so embarrassed. How do I tell all of my friends, that "I don't know what is going on with me, but I feel like I can never touch a gemara again"? and, I'd need to add " I don't even know how this happened, or why this is the case but I know I can't do it". How do I possibly do this?

I was also distraught because there was nothing left to my social life. The only one I knew was the one that evolved around Torah and Torah discussions. I had rarely talked about anything else but Toira and emuna.

To add to the misery, I had known deep inside that my learning is what I relied on for everything. This is what I needed to be and do to gain peoples respect, to have friends, to have people red me good shidduchim, to get into a good koilel, to get a good wife, to get close to hashem, to get into oilem haboh. Everything was contingent on my involvement in Toirah. Who am I now? what will I do? what will I be? How did this happen? Will it eventually go away? Will I ever be able to learn again? What will become of my life? How will I ever become anything?

What was really going on was that there was no more me in me. There was no other me that I had ever known and neither did I conceive that there could be any other me, therefore I started to become despondent about whether I could ever find a way to live that would make it worth while to live here on the planet.

For a while I went back to my yeshiva in Brooklyn for shabbos. I knew no other life. Where else could I go? I felt so distant inside from the life I had, but I thought that maybe if I at least kept a "kesher" that would score some kinds of shidduchim points. Inside, I felt like the game was over, but I could not possibly believe that. No way in hell was I going to let so many years of effort go down the drain that fast.

I would just stay there almost begging and hoping that it would take me back. One shabbos I lay on the floor of the dormitory. I looked at the plain light blue walls. I remember having this terrible feeling inside. I had been coming for shabbos for a while, hoping to feel that "connection" I once felt. Now, I looked at the walls and I felt my insides crying "I have given you so much of my life, my youth, my most vibrant energy. How did you do this to me?". I had known that there were others who had despise the Torah, or who were bored by it, and left. They went "off the derech". I had met some of these people at times. But I surely didn't see myself as such. I was a devout ben toirah with the secure knowledge that I would be planted in the house of hashem for the rest of my life. "How did you do that to me?". I heard myself cry. How did you do that to me?" Me? You had no one else to choose but me? I am one of the good ones!!!!!!!!! I actually care about toirah and love the mitzvis. What have I done wrong? How can I, how will I ever be anyone again? I have nothing, just confusion and anger. My life is over. I know it is. There is no purpose to live. I am totally f*cked. I know it. Now I have absolutely no choice, but to rebel against hashem. How could he ever do this to me?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

How can this be happening to me?

As can be imagined, although I started seeing there was something wrong, and that there were things I could do to change the situation, I still would not give up. That summer I became a learning Rebbe at a camp in the Poconos. Somehow I thought that teaching instead of actually learning would calm my mind. I was wrong. At this point, my mind was wired to only see all learning as a path towards respect and towards security that God would give me a good life. I didn't realize that there was nothing I could do to undo that. I was t eaching mishnayos brachos, and I literally had to force myself to prepare my lessons because my body was having such revulsion towards it. It was during that summer that I really started feeling all of my life and aspirations fall apart. It wasn't as if, I thought that I had any other option. It was just that my body, my left shoulder in particular would hurt so much, and my hands would shake or tremble ( to some degree) when I got close to a gemara, or thought about learning it. I simply had no choice. Of course, I had been feeling pain and stress until now as well. I charted up to the difficulty that a person must experience to become a gadol in Torah. Now, the pain was so great that I had to stop. I had begun to feel my grip being forcefully loosened from it's addictive hold on learning gemara, so in a desperate measure to hold on to my advantage of getting ahead of my friends. I made a solemn oath to myself that, for the rest of my life, no matter what would happen, I would learn two halachos of shulchan aruch a day. That would be my saving grace. There came a day, a moment, in the middle of July of that summer that I could not even keep this very small commitment. No, of course that didn't mean that I was giving up on my life long dream of being a ben toirah, and a magid shiur, it just meant that I simply couldn't do it anymore.

To this day, I am amazed at how much the body can endure before it becomes too much. I had endured 3 to 5 years of it being nasty, terrible, disappointing, scary, depressing, stressful, agitating, and impossible, before it literally became impossible. Somehow the body yells too loudly when something is threatening its existence. I feel that we can ignore it for some time, but there seems to come a moment when it's impossible.

Many people have asked me, "why did you go off?" and they don't understand when I say, I had to. I had no choice. I really do mean that. I was addicted. I had all my connections in the frum community. I only left because I had no choice. My body would not let me.

Since I was 10 or 12 I had been drawing the same face. It was the face of a yeshiva bachur, looking at him from the side. He was young and sweet. Then his beard started growing in just a bit. Then his beard got longer. Then it got even longer. Then his face began to wrinkle. Then he got really chashuv (important) looking. This is the way I saw myself. This was the cycle of life I had hoped for myself. I wanted the youth of a yeshiva guy who spent all of his moments learning. That's what I had. I aspired to the life of a koilel yunger man, who spent all of his days in the beis medrash. I hoped that after some time, I would be accomplished enough to give my own shiur, and then I hoped to be a rosh yeshiva, to have my own yeshiva. I knew I could. I remembered how hard it was for me to learn how to learn. I remember all those sad days of staring at my Rebbe's face, and wondering "what the hell is he talking about?". I remembered how I had attained the desire to help others learn, to be the one who can always explain the gemara in a way t hat was easy for everyone to understand. Somehow, I knew in me that I had what it took to be that leader.

I remembered how good I felt, as I finally began conquering the world of learning "Wow!! I'm actually getting good at this" and started realizing that my dream could come true. All I needed to do was continue learning the way, I was and I would end up where I wanted to be. I had a pretty consistent and solid feeling that I was doing the right thing and that I was on the right path.

One shabbos, in eretz yisroel when I was coming up the stairs to the dorm from a late night of learning, I had a spiritual experience. There is no way for me to understand what happened or what to make of it, but I can say that I felt like I was literally with God. For that moment, all the issues and destruction in my mind went away, and I knew that all would be alright. I also knew that all that I was doing was right. I never told anyone about this moment until now, because I didn't know what to make of it. What I knew was that that moment was one of the only peaceful and tranquil moments that I had ever felt in my life, and according to my studies, that was a gift from Hashem for how I had been learning or a level of spiritual strength I had achieved. For better of for worse, that moment, was one that inspired me in my commitment to become a person who is only close to hashem all the time. IN some ways, that moment, destroyed me, because I wanted that moment back. Please come back I need you so badly, now I knew that I could experience joy and for now, I had thought that the only way I could get that moment back is through the merit of limud hatoirah (torah study)

Now, this whole world of aspiration and imagination, was crumbling, before my eyes. The images, the hopes, the aspirations were still there. The gold was just a couple feet away, but, for a reason unknown to me, whenever I reached my hand out to touch it, I felt a sizzling electric current, shoot through my body.

10 years of hard work just collapsed before my eyes. I didn't know of anything else in the world. I didn't know of anything else inside me. I just knew that the only thing that I was permitted to do was learn Toirah, and that that was the only thing that was impossible for me to do now. "Would I ever go back?" was the only question in my mind. "How did this happen?" "Where did I go wrong?" "How did I not see this coming?" "What could I possibly do now, if I am only allowed to learn toirah?" "Will I ever get better?". I had never heard of this happening to anyone. "What was hashem thinking right now?" "would he be happy with me?" "would he understand?" "How do such bad things happen to such good People?".

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Ancient bile, dying to get better.

A change was definitely happening. I at least had a suspicion that there was something wrong with me. Yes, I had only admitted it once I had no choice but now I cared to find out what had been wrong and how I can get better. Of course, all was in disarray. I had no idea what to do, but I had some advice.

The thing that perturbed me most was how something that I had loved so much became something that I hated? How was that possible. I had had a very hard time learning when I was in high school. I became determined to get out of the position of always being that "nebach" who always had to ask someone to explain the gemara to him. I had decided that I would be the pro and then others could ask ME! I had spent hours, and days and nights, and months, and seasons and years, year in year out, during the zman during bein hazmanim. All of life was one long learning cycle. Once I got into the rhythm, things seemed great. I was feeling good and I was feeling accomplished. How could this have possibly gone wrong? Hadn't I done everything perfectly? I had never heard of this happening. How could I hate something that I had loved so much? How could I hate it so much that now I can barely do it anymore?

So I started reading Tony Robbins book unlimited power. He spoke about the mind and why we do what we do. Something about the way he spoke fed my starving soul. He spoke with such simplicity about how the mind works and how we get to love one thing and hate another. I was trying to figure out the secret. How did this happen? Now I was serious. I needed to find a solution and get all this anger and fear and confusion out of my system. I was serious. I knew that if I was honest enough and strong enough, to follow Tony's prescription for joy, I could get it, so for now, I read his book very carefully. I was determined to do anything he told me to do. He was the first person I had ever read that seemed to be speaking about this issue. I was in so much pain that I decided, what choice do I have?

As the days got brighter and warmer, and we edged closer to summer, I developed a habit that I never imagined I would. Instead of participating in the pesach zman as others would, I would go to another beis medrash down the block and adamantly answer all of the questions that Tony asked. I just sat there in front of the beis medrash answering all of his questions, to the best of my ability.

I was excited but I so much hated the process. I was a sick man with years and years full of old memories, and tears, and hurts and sorrows. If I had had the support of others and the safety needed, I should have really gone into 30 days straight of therapy, but, at that time, I had never heard of therapy and I needed to get better right now, so I decided to do the best I could at answering his questions.

Some of the questions but knives in my gut, and tore out my heart because the fears and terror that he asked me to speak of were not those of the past they were very real and speaking of them and writing them down did not make them feel any better, it just brought them to the forefront of my mind and in some ways made me even more hopeless that things could ever get better because the reality they reminded me of, was as real as the sky, the earth and my body.

Of course, many of my fears stemmed from religion and the most extreme and terrifying understanding of how it played a role in my life. I had a terrifying God in my mind. I had a god that would get really angry if I did anything that wasn't Toira. I knew in the deepest way that the only chance I had in getting a cheilek in oilem haboh, would be if my soul was so pure and so full of Toira that nothing else could possibly enter my consciousness. I had been working my way into a mindset where I forced my mind to only think Toira. I was also afraid that something would go wrong, for example, I knew that if I died owing one person money, then my soul would come back here again, and I knew for sure that once I went to shamayim I did not want to come back down. My rebbe told me that the generations were getting worse and that I did not want to come back to a later generation. I was determined to make sure that once I died, there was no coming back. (Now I know that there are far easier ways to make that happen)

I spent a lot of time wondering "How could I possibly know that I have paid everyone back?" What if there is one person that I forgot? It pained me to imagine that all the efforts that I have put into becoming a talmid chacham and baal yerei shamaim would go down the drain if I just forgot to pay back one person!!!!! How do I win? Is there any way to make sure that things go OK? All I wanted was to get on top of the situation and make sure that things went well for me, but how? How can I possibly do that? It seemed so complicated to navigate the heavenly labyrinth of conditions, rules, and laws of what would make it worthwhile for them to keep me around (in heaven).

Also, of course one of my main concerns about getting to heaven was that I had read that "adam nich veh may chupasoi shel chaveiroi" a person will be embarrassed, burnt or hurt by the Torah accomplishments of another. to me that meant that, if I didn't learn torah to my greatest potential there would be an eternal scar on my soul. All would be able to see that I had not lived up to my Torah potential, so now I had my priorities straight. I knew that I wanted to be happy and proud of my Torah accomplishments, and that I should not be embarrassed. I also knew that, I needed to make sure that once I was on my last journey, I would not be coming back.

Seeing all this Sh*t on paper was, in theory, a healthy first step but in reality it was no consolation, because I was sure that all of what I believed was true. Now I was really f*cked. Not only was I going to hell for my thoughts and lack of adequacy, but I couldn't even learn. I had nothing. I had no hope. Nothing will come of me. Nothing, not in this world, not in the next. I had no hope. I never had it, I never thought it, and now I knew for sure with utmost certainty that nothing will ever come of me. There was no use going on. I had never met anyone who was as miserable and unfortunate as I was.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Dating? What are they talking about?

I was a slow learner. Yes, everything came very slowly. My peers were all dating. Going here, going there, absent from sedarim. That was the name of the game. For me, it was very different. It wasn't as if I didn't want to date. I had no idea what it meant. I was so distant from the possibility of knowing another person, or even sitting that close to one that I didn't even want to think about it and I didn't care to think about it. When asked "are you dating?" I would politely say "no, not right now" but then there was always that quiet or not so quiet shout coming from somewhere very deep, saying" WHY!!!!?????? WHY NOT?" Why can't I ? Why do I always have to say "NO"? Why can't I say yes.

Somewhere in my mind I knew that this is exactly what I had been waiting for for seven years. I knew how much I had thought about sex and how much I wanted sex, and how much I had dreamt about sex, and how much I had worked just so that I would some day merit to have sex, and here I was at the perfect moment, that I had always been looking forward to, and now I was saying "NO" I didn't want to date.

Looking back, I can say with great pleasure that I am so happy that I did not date, and I suffer together with any man who, has said "yes" to any woman while being in a similar state of immaturity to where I was at age 21. I was so far and distant from anything remotely connected to our planet. I was in the clouds, but even that would have been nice because then I would have at least learned something about the atmosphere.

I still don't know how this happens to the mind, but I do know how it feels. Long before that point, perhaps when I was 2 or 8, I have no idea. I had decided to go deep within myself. I would hide. I would just stay in this deep dark shell and not come out. I must have done or said something that had disastrous consequences, which had me decide that I will hide, and I will never come out. If I stay, if I don't do anything, nothing can go wrong. If I don't try, there is no way I can fail. Somehow, I had gone through all, or many of those explorative years of youth, childhood, adolescence without learning anything, yes almost nothing about my hands, my heart, my legs, my wants, my thoughts. there were so many questions and wonderings inside that knew nothing about who I was or what they meant to me, or how they related to me because I never asked them. I virtually knew nothing about me, and the parts that I did know were neatly tucked away so that I would not have to admit that they might be me.

Unfortunately the stubborn memory of these unanswered questions and unexplored parts of me was too loud for me to ignore. As much as I would have liked to, it seemed to be very clear and persistent. It seemed to indicate over and over again, my worst nightmare, that life has no short cuts. There was no way that I would be able to advance to step two before I accomplished step one. There was no way that I could ever meet and bond with a woman, my mate, unless I knew who I was inside. There was no way that I could love and honor another unless I was able to do the same for me, and there was no way that I could truly know me and love me, unless I had explored all those wantings and yearnings that had played in my deepest mind for such a long time, but were not allowed to come out.

"Shut the f*ck up" I could hear myself tell them. Can't you leave me alone? I'm done now. I have put in my time. I have learned. I have earned my right to get married and settle down. My mind would not believe me for even a second. It was adamant that I had missed a giant step in my development and that there was no way that I could ever be ready to face a woman if I was not ready to face myself. It seemed to say that if I had perhaps missed a couple months or even a year of childhood then maybe it would let me get away with it, but no, it would not let me get away with skipping ten or fifteen year. "It just doesn't work like that". Even though the voice seemed clear, and even though I felt it, I still didn't admit, it. It just means that it was so clear, that there was no way that it would let me date. I still dreaded the notion of starting from scratch. Where would I start? What should I do? Where do I go? Who should I talk to? What would make you happy? What would make you satisfied?

OK. OK. OK, you're right, I know I have neglected you for so long, and I realize that you will not let me go. I realize that you must get what you want, but where should I start? I had spent so many years, hiding my fears and my tears, and my sighs and my cries under neath piles of gemara, intellectual debate, the great mission to find the accurate teitch in a specific passuk or maimar chazal that I forgot that there may be another way. Now I was being told that there was another way that there had to be another way , that I had to find it, but I never knew anyone who walked it. I never knew anyone who spoke that way or thought that way. I knew only one way how to think . where would I start? It seemed like a path needed to be taken that I knew nothing about. A new language had to be spoken that I had never heard, My mouth and heart simply didn't know how to formulate these words, these wants.

There was nothing to analyze nothing to figure out, nothing to conquer. It seemed like I was being coaxed cajoled to feel again. Wait, but what's a feeling? I wasn't sure if I even knew what a feeling was. I surely didn't care, because it wasn't something that I gave any attention to. Unfortunately, there was only one feeling that I was all too familiar with, pain. I knew the result of keeping feelings inside. I knew how that felt and it felt terrible.

To this day, I look back and I am amazed that the psyche, doesn't forget. It knows what it wants. It knows what it needs. It knows what needs to be cried. It knows what needs to be said. It seems to have a perfect record or notion of what it wants in the deepest ways. it seems to know what is crucial to its growth and, at least from my experience, it is relentless. It will not stop until it gets what it wants.

During one of my first months or first year in Venice, I wrote this poem (I think it's the only poem I have ever written so far)

My soul is all knowing, as deep as the seas, travels with ease to destinations

unknown, eternally sown to a path of its own, ignoring the mind and tricks of its

kind, to stop the eternal from reaching its goal.

They think they can stop it, or just plain ignore it.j

or drown out its shout to continue its rout

towards creation.

No one can tell where god may appear next.

I can't contaminate my ears

Good fortune shines upon me in one way. I had a very good friend, really, he was my mentor in eretz yisroel. He was the "older bachur" who had patience with me and helped me understand the gemara. He was very charismatic and everyone liked him. His name was Avi. I was honored and proud that he took the time to learn with me and help me. Turns out, by some strange coincidence, that he ended up in the same small yeshiva as I did, when he came back from eretz yisroel. Little did I know, and it would take years for me to grasp that he also had a handsome selection of little and bit demons that were eating at his heart from the inside. I was still naive, holding out, not knowing what could possibly be wrong and knowing that this was the only right way and that I would hold on no matter what, not because I wanted to necessarily but because it was the only thing I knew and because I knew that it was the only thing that was right.

One night, after night seder, he walked over to me. He had some Tony Robins tapes and he wanted me to listen. He had found Tony to be very inspiring. I told him refused him. I knew that Tony wasn't Jewish and wasn't coming from a Torah perspective. I knew that my ears and mind were holy from all the Torah I had been learning. I wouldn't want to contaminate all that I had accomplished. My words were "I'm not ready" I knew that I needed something. I knew that Avi wanted to help me. I also knew that if Avi could listen, and he was a big learner, perhaps it could be good for me. I just couldn't bring myself to do it.

Monday, December 26, 2011

How could I possibly admit this?

Despite my images and hopes of becoming one of those skinny koilel guys who went to eretz yisoel as a bachur and stayed there, forever, I did find myself back in a yeshiva in the US. The shocking thing was that for the pesach zman, my brother came to learn with me in the same yeshiva. He was even my chavrusa for second seder. This was all so ironic and strange because he and I had never gotten along. He was four years younger and ten times better at everything. He was driving at age 12 and I still didn't have my license. He knew everything about everything and was being flown around the country to do fundraising for his yeshiva when he was in eleventh grade. There was no way I'd ever be as good as him and I hated his guts. Of course, I wouldn't say this, because I was an eidele "baal midos" who never says what he feels and feels what he is. Although,at that time, I had no idea how deep my fears ran, looking back, I could honestly say that I was so afraid of life, I had always been. I never did anything. I couldn't set an alarm clock. I barely knew how to do anything but learn gemara and even that got me nervous.For years,I had just sat and watched when kids were playing because my mind couldn't grasp anything like required thought like remembering where the ball should go next or what should we do when this or that happened. My mind simply didn't get it. So distant it was that it didn't even consider trying to get it.

So here the worst and best of situations all came together. Here I was so lonely and afraid. So not knowing what was going on inside me. I knew that all of this couldn't be good. I knew something was very wrong, but I had no idea how to stop it from happening. At the same time,here is my brother sitting across the table from me. I had nothing in me, a shell of a person. I had never known what it was like to think, to be strong, to be a man. I was so distant from that. Meanwhile my younger brother, who was my chavrusa (learning partner) was all that I secretly wished I could be but knew that I could never. I was his older brother and I was suffering. There was no way that I could ever tell him what was going on.As I had hoped from so many others, I surely, secretly hoped from him "please respect me for how much I have learned" I hoped that somehow, my intellect and accomplishment would get me some points. I had no idea, that the only points could come from ones conscious choices. Since I was, then unaware that there was a chooser in me, there was no way for me to stand, to think or to be. So for now, I stood back, knowing that I must bow to all that I am being told. I knew that at the rate, I was going I was going to crumble and shrink and fall. There was simply no other option. I had never heard of any.

By this time, the pain was sickening. I was beginning to feel physically nervous to the extent that others saw something was wrong. I was reaching a point that felt very dangerous. I was feeling sensations that were impossible to ignore. My brother was fine. For him, he had always diluted his learning with healthy portions of diversion, and fun. For him, he would do learning to the extent that he felt comfortable.For me, it was a moral obligation. It was serious stuff. I felt my hands loosening their grip on all that I had been looking forward to for my whole life. I had always wanted to be a Talmid chacham, a ben toirah, something that would make everyone proud to know me, something I could be proud of and now I felt an iron fist, twisting this treasure away from me. "How could you do this?" I thought "How could you do this?". "I have been so good. I have worked so hard for you. How can you do this to me?"

So there came that moment during second seder in the middle of April where I looked across the table at my brother and said " I can't do this any more" I had it. I didn't know what was going on, but I knew that there was no way for me to continue. I had waited until my body could no longer take the pressure I had put it under. I had so much pain in telling my brother this. I had already felt so lacking from the great advantage that he had over me. I had already felt so deeply offended and aware of my lack because of how untalented I was, and from his immense capability. Now, I was handing in my surrender. In essence I was looking at him and saying " Even this one advantage that I thought I had over you, even this one strength is no longer" Not only was I admitting that I had failed, but the worst part of the pain came because I didn't even know how this was happening. How had I gone wrong? What did I do? I had done everything right? I had followed the seforim. All was written. This wasn't my fault. I had listened to everything I had been told. I had asked a shaila about everything!! I was a true ben toirah. I was completely humbled to all of the words of the Torah, the sages, chazal, the rishoinimg the baalei mussar. I was on the good side. I had done everything right. How could I possibly be so wrong.

Looking back, I was lucky that my brother was there. If I would believe in hashgacha pratis, I would say that this was a small miracle because, although he and I never got along, and although I perceived his way as entirely different than mine, there was still an unspoken solace in having him there, during those toughest moments of my entire life. Somehow, they said, that things may look so upside down now, but in the end there will be smoother times. He and I walked abound those Flatbush blocks again and again, speaking about different subjects. I was in such pain from the inside and out that I was barely present. Still there was some comfort in the fact that he was there. We had never been friends, but for now, for this moment, he was my only friend.

Strange encounter with the long white beard.

One Shabbos I was walking back from a meal in Har Nof. I see this fairly large man walking with a long flowing beard. Somehow I gravitated towards him. Looking back I was lonely. In those days, I didn't like silence. I needed to be speaking, it hid me from my pain. I loved being engaged n conversation because it gave me the imaginary idea that I was known and that I was close to someone. I said "Good shabbos". Now this man must have been wise, and deep because he must have seen the pain and loneliness right away. He did speak to me. Then we sat down. We must have spoken for a little while. He was American, and he came across as safe and normal. Somehow I felt comfortable talking to him. All I remember was that somewhere in the middle of the conversation, he said something like, "your blood must be boiling over". I wasn't sure exactly what he meant and he explained that, as a young man, I must be thinking a lot about sex. I was shocked to hear a man with a long white beard talk about sex so openly. I don't think I had heard the word mentioned in all these years in Israel."How did he know this" I wondered because I knew that I surely didn't tell him what I was thinking. Although it would be many years until I would begin having a slightly healthy and "normal" attitude about sex, this was one moment of surprise, normalcy and encouragement that planted a seed in my mind. Perhaps there was another way to live, another way to think. I also knew that it would be a very long time until I made it there. I had no idea how it looked so I didn't really know what I was after.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Something starts to break (2)

Firstly, I had always been the one to come to Seder right on time, no games. I stayed until the end. Now, it wasn't that simple. I started feeling things crawling under my skin. I just couldn't sit. I couldn't believe that there was something in my body that was stopping me from learning. How could this be? It was so painful. It felt like it was robbing my destiny from me. "don't you realize that my destiny is to be a gadol? Don't you realize that I must keep on learning?" I told myself. How could this be happening.

I would go out in the middle of seder and do cartwheels in the chatzer. this felt good because it relieved some of the stress but I had no choice but to wonder "what was happening to me?" I felt out of control. I was advised to take a break and go to a moshav. It was actually nice. There were nice fields and open spaces. I didn't stop. As a break, I didn't learn gemara, but I learned mishnayos yevamos. I knew that anyone who know yevamos got respect and lord knows how much I needed that. I remember thinking "what kind of break is this?" "why can't I stop?"

I had gotten this idea in my mind, that if my soul was clean, I would have greater faith. I must have read somewhere, that if a person dies "al kiddush Hashem" it destroys all of their aveiros, I also read that if someone imagines that they are dying "al kiddush hashem" then it is as if they did. So, not being one to shy away from original methods of reaching my goals, I had a brilliant idea. During the shabbos meal when everyone was enjoying their shabbos meal, and singing nigunim, I would go up to my room and, in the dark, I would dance, while pretending that I was being burnt "al kiddush hashem". To me this was "normal" just in case that says anything. I figured that, if my sins for forgiven,if I was clean of all impurity, all would be calm. Then all would be ok. That's all I really wanted, for things to be OK.

Then I did something which I never thought I could ever bring myself to do. I had been so sure of my way, so sure that anyone else was wrong, that there was no way in hell that I would ever consider that anyone could be right. All I knew, and all I needed to know, was that I was on a path that would finally bring me the respect that I've been looking for all along. I finally figured out how to learn, now I will force the information in my head and get that respect. Basically, "I'm on the way to the top, I have to get there yesterday, so get the f*ck out of my way" (I didn't use that word in my mind, but if I could have, there would have been no better word)

About this time, I was in so much pain that I finally started thinking about who I could possibly speak to who could tell me about this kind of pain. Of course, i was in such turmoil about this attempt because somewhere inside, I knew that what I was doing was crazy, and that I had to stop,and at the same time "how dare anyone suggest that I stop, I know EXACTLY what I'm doing!".

I went to an old friend of my father who lived in Har Nof. All I remember was being so bewuildered and shamed. I didn't even know the words to put to my pain. Nothing made sense. All I remember was that somewhere in the conversation, I asked him "how long will it take me to feel better?" I was hoping that he would say a week or so. He said " it could take 10 years" I was shocked, that was exactly what I didn't want to hear. "I don't have that kind of time to get ahead, I need to get better right now?" I thought. "Well" I said, "how can I possibly wait that long?" I asked. He said something like "even if you get to experience one good day, it will have all been worth it". Those words were quite bothersome, just a short moment of light in an ocean of turmoil. But I always looked back at that brief moment,with David Goldstein as a short moment where I got to hold on to a life boat, and see that someday I may want a life that was different than the one I had this moment, but for now, I went right back into my intense learning desires. How dare they think they can stop me. Damn it, I will get the respect that I am looking for.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Something starts to break

I really had no choice now, something was starting to break. so much of what I was doing was held together by so many illogical thoughts and aspirations that something would have to give eventually. It was only my certainty that learning Torah was the only solution to all my difficulties that had me hold on so tightly.

Looking back, the true source of my torment and downfall was the fact that my life was infused with a deadly combination of true aspiration and false aspiration. some aspirations that were innate to who I was as a person and some that were impossible for me to ever satisfy.

I had this obsession with "gedolim" I liked them, I followed them, I wanted to be around them. Looking back, the healthy reason for this was because, I am great, I am smart and I truly aspire for greatness, and in most of these men, I saw a refinement of spirit, a devotion to Torah, and to becoming something extraordinary. The unhealthy part of this addiction was the fact that I needed them. I had come from a baal teshuva family. I had always been conscious of this. My father was an English teacher (we shouldn't hear of such things)in a yeshiva, where most of my friends parents learned in the Kollel and were grandchildren of gedolim and things of that sort and I felt insignificant compared to them, so I was determined to get myself some gedolim points. Since I was 14, I was writing to people like Rav Pam and Rav Gifter. Boy did I get a high when I would get a letter in the mail from one of them. (Usually it would say something like "please don't write to me, I'm really busy")I was able to then go back to my fellow friends and tell them that I got this letter. Of course I mentioned it in the most humble of ways, as if I didn't really want them to know but I rejoiced when they knew because now they would associate my name with the gedolim. I was now someone important, worthy to know.

When I moved to Israel, the obsession grew. It wasn't only about knowing them or writing letters to them, it was about developing a "kesher" with them.For me, that was another word for addiction. There was another layer of sickness in all this that I have alluded to before. I had this fear that because of my passport issue, I'd never make it back to America to see my family. The state of my mind and fears were such that I didn't have what it took to actually look into them and see the situation. It would take another 10 to 13 years until I could do that. I was also afraid of my lack of emunah. I was actually terrified. I knew that I just couldn't lie.Lies, to me, were even more scary than saying the truth, because I actually had to live with it. I was in a predicament where, I simply had no choice but to live with a lie and I had to force myself to find a way to believe it. I told myself and pretty much believed that my questions and doubts were my defect and I had to do anything I could to eradicate them. I didn't know any better, so I started doing some things which made my situation worse.

My gedolim addiction, now took on new proportions. I needed them to give me the confidence that the Torah is true. I liked being around them. I tried to immitate their facial gestures, and their actions, with the hope that I would become the same as them. I had heart that this one Mashgiach who I had hung around, also had "passport issues" and was able through the saying of "ain od mil vado" to get pas the border. I had the idea, that if I hung around him enough, I could force my mind to experience this great level of faith and thus solve my passport issue. I had also heard that this Mashgiach had reached the highest level of betachon that the Chovos hale vavos speaks about. I needed that. You see? I needes sex. I needed to know that when I got back to America, I'd be able to get married right away. I had been thinking about sex since I was 14 and I knew that the greatest obstacle right now, between me and sex was my lack of emunah. How would I ever find a shidduch? "He's a real masmid....well, he has some problems in emunah, but other than that he's fine". "He's a real baal midos...mamesh so eidel....but he doesn't beleive in god". Looking back, this man (me) had many more problems than just not having emunah. It would take at least ten years until I would begin to be fit to live in normal society.

So for the time being, I got as close as I could to these "gedolim" so that I may learn from their lofty ways. All I knew is that I needed to reach their lofty state of faith ASAP. I know that it had taken them 20 or 50 years to achieve. I needed it now. I couldn't afford to be a man without faith. That being said, I was terrified inside. Something told me that, that was simply not the way things worked. I could not force myself to think a certain way, but with the mind I had, it just knew no other way.

I started doing some really crazy things to reach my goal. I started living in a state where I would not talk any words but Torah. I had this idea that God was one, and that the Torah was God, so if all my thoughts were Torah, then I would be one with God. How could I not have faith if Torah was such an integral part of my neshama. I imagined that if I reach that goal, where there is nothing in my mind but Torah, yes nothing, I would have reached my goal, I will have the emunah that I so desperately yearned for. This goal was so dangerous that it came close to costing me my mind. I knew now exactly what I needed to do. I needed to make sure that every sound, every word, every thought in my mind was just Torah. I had justification for this from the Torah. Had we not been taught "chuch be roishoi yaasok bi toirah" one who is sick in the head (and boy was I) should learn Torah. Torah is the great healer for all ailments and not that I had finally figured out how to learn gemara, I was sur the the keys to all forms of greatness and peace and emunah (and of course sex) were in my hands. All I needed to do was keep on learning and not let anything else get in my way.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Hard to Ignore This, but I Must. I have no choice.

Something was definitely changing but I knew that I couldn't pay it much attention. I knew that I was a servant of hashem and as long as I continued my devotion, all would be ok. Of course, I understood that being a servant of hashem could be hard andc that pain was an understandable experience, but I knew I would make it. The frustration was catching up with me. I saw myself doing things that cought my attention, at least for a moment. My chavrusa caused me much suffering. he always wanted to go slower and enjoy the gemara. i wanted to move along. For me, it was about learning as much gemara as I could. I wanted, needed to be the one who everyone knew as a buki in shas. I needed that respect so badly. I knew that if I didn't get it, my life wasn't worth living. that was my sole motivation to learn, and here this chavrusa was trying to slow me down. One day, in the middle of the beis medrash, I started punching my fist against a sharp metal part of my shtender until blood started pouring out of my knuckle. I had always felt myself to be a calm, eidele bachur, always with a smile, the kind who would turn the other cheek,rather than hurt a fly. I had just gotten a glimpse of a very different kind of person. there was a very angry sad person, in there, of course, i wouldn't admit that for a very long time.

On Friday afternoons when even the "good" bachurim went out to play basket ball, I stayed, in the almost empty beis medrash and learned. I was better. I knew that the trophe went to the one who learned the most. If I was here and they were not, that means I was getting ahead. Since I knew I learned, absorbed information slower than others, I had this idea, that perhaps, if I learned when they were not, that was the way to get ahead. There was a temporary high from the idea that i was getting ahead, but the pain of disconnect that I felt with myself and others was not worth that superficial high. My mind just couldn't focus. I remember thinking,"what's the use of sitting here, trying to learn and get ahead, if I can't even get my mind to focus and absorb any information". I hated my mind already, and these moments just increased my hatred. I could hear myself thinking " You stupid fuck, I am taking this extra time, to learn just so that we can get ahead. Why can't you do that for me? I am wasting my day!!!"

I also wondered what was wrong with this picture. My friends who had gone out to play basketball were also good bachurim, so why wasn't I out with them? I had this idea that if I went out, hashem wouldn't like it. I had a whole bunch of unnatural, and unhealthy attitudes in me, that stopped me from participating. Looking back I was just one pile of fear that couldn't think slowly enough to be here and now and enjoy life, like a normal person, so for the time being I sat in a puddle of pain, and fear, hoping that my extreme methods of compensation, would somehow, someday brinfg me the pleasure that I sought so much. Perhaps someday, somehow, people would be my friend. I didn't really know what that felt like, or what it would feel like, but I figure, hoped, prayed that somewhere down this road, things would get better and I'd find a friend. I had to get rid of the pain in me, and I figured that if I got a friend, perhaps the pain would be a little less.

One Friday afternoon, I had a scary premontion. One that to this day, has me believe that our mind knows very well, on some deep level what we need and what is good, and what has us aligned with our deepest truth and purpose. I was learning a gemara in sanhedrin which had alluded to this point, and had me think this thought. "Someday, all of these strivings that you have made, to get ahead, and to know more than others will all be undone, they will amount to nothing". I had this notion, that somehow, it will all be undone, that it is impossible for one to beat their natural destiny. One can strengthen an arm, but you can't chop it off. I tried to kill this voice. "How could you tell me what will be?" I thought. "shut up, I am in charge here!! I will learn as much as I want to learn and I will get all the respect that comes to those who know shas, and know which gemara is where". I hated that voice so much. It sounded so true. It was as if there was nothing I could do but continue learning my way to my doom. I had no choice. I had no other option. I had heard of no other way. I had no way out of my pain and lonliness. I had only one way, so back into the gemara I went, to find a way to avoid facing the monster, the terror that lie waiting in my psyche since before I could remember.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The hidden storm (2)

It gives me great pain to even recall these days because they were so full of fear and unanswered questions.They seemed to be like vipers growing inside my spirit, feeding off preexisting fears. And of course the secrecy gave these evil snakes the food they needed to destroy me and since I had vowed to keep it inside there was only one solution that could bring and end to my misery: Death.

I was afraid that I'd never make it back to America to see my family. I was born Israel and I had done some illegal changes to avoid the Army and I thought that I'd get caught. My sexual drives had been baking inside me since my early youth and it seemed to be relentless. It's passions seemed to be fed by the illegality of my obsession. I just wanted girls so badly. I wanted to run my hands over their breasts. I thought that would feel really good. Looking back, that was the only good I could conceive of. Life was so dreary that touching a woman was the only comfort that I could conceive of. It would be a long time until I would finally be able to fathom the abundance of good feelings that can come from within. socially, my mind was so hidden from what it's like to be human and interact with other humans that, speaking to a girl and touching her seemed like an unfathomable crime. I could barely conceive of me and another person in the same breathing space, in the same body space let alone touching each other. Someway, somehow, sometime, a long time ago, the little boy in me decided to hide, shut the door and never look at others again. I had no idea how long it would take it to ever consider being human, to ever consider that it may actually be able to reach out, and look at someone.for now, my eyes avoided eyes, my heart avoided feeling, and my arms definitely avoided touch. Oh, how I yearned to touch another person. I wanted to know that I was human and that I was worthy of touch that I could have that experience. No, of course, I didn't know of these feelings then, but looking back that's what I wanted.

Of course I was a bit surprised at these thoughts that went through my mind, as I climbed the great ladder of hasmoda, as I began to master the derech halimud, as I began to see how an amazing baal mazbir I was. I did get some satisfaction from all this at the same time wondering what was going on in me. How would I ever live with this monster in me. One night I had a dream. I had married the daughter of a Rebbe. Here was the night I had been waiting for. Now I would finally have sex. I was so excited. For whatever reason, she didn't want to have sex with me. Why did I get married again? I knew nothing about love. I didn't know me. I didn't love me. I was distant from me. How could I ever imagine that someone else could love me?

It's true I was learning. Part of my heart felt happy. I had struggled with learning for so long. I had hated myself for son long. The gemara simply would not go into my head. What would ever become of me? How would I ever succeed? How would I ever get the respect that I so yearned for. I had been determined. I found a way to go over the lines of the gemara hundreds of times. My policy was, that I would go over a question of the gemara until the question bothered ME. Then the answer had to bring me satisfaction. Making it personal in that way, was a powerful memory tool and I started gaining ground. Of course, I didn't get so much satisfaction from my learning, because, what I really wanted was respect, so the real joy was not in the learning, it was when I'd be asked a question by a colleague and I was able to tell them it was in Kidushin 42 B, four lines down from the top. That was the joy. Yes, there was an intellectual joy which was real, but most of all there was the hope that all of this would pay off, with a good Shidduch (great sex) and a good shtelle (job security) and all would be good, and I'd live happily ever after....oh, not to forget, all those boys and bachurim who had made fun of me during all of those years, they would finally know who was the real deal. They would all come and bow before me begging for forgiveness.

Meanwhile there was another storm that had been brewing since I was 14. Yes, I was the one with all the questions, a mind that never stopped. But how do we really know that God wrote this? I just found it hard to believe that all of this was handed down from person to person with no mistake. Now what I was really after was sex. I couldn't understand why I couldn't have sex. I needed a really solid reason. I needed to know for sure that it was off limits for me to stay abstinent. Of course, I was ready to subdue my passions in the service of what was right, if only they could prove it to me. I know now that in the face of my desires, there was no proof that would be good enough. I just wanted sex, i didn't need or want any answers. that being said, I was still faced with an implacable problem. I found it really hard to believe what I was being told, but that was the only way I knew. I had no other choice. there was no choice of another way of living that I had ever heard of, so obviously this would be the way that I would live, but it was so hurtful to force myself to live a life that I couldn't accept as necessary, vital or correct. I thought this must be some kind of cruel world that forces people to live a life of secrets and lies. I also hated God of course. I hated my mind. How can I be in a position where I must keep the Torah when I can't get my mind to believe that it is true. I hated everything. I knew I was doomed. Worst of all, I knew that there was no way in hell that I'd ever get married if I still had "sfekois in emunah". Of course there was no way in hell that I ever would say them to one of my Rabbeim or friends so I decided on a plan that would demolish all of my sfeikois and it was this plan that was the worst idea that I could ever conceive of, a child of suppression, secrecy and fear that almost had me institutionalized for the rest of my life.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The hidden storm

How was I to know? How can one possibly know what is normal. As far as I knew all the pain I was feeling was the only way that life could be. I didn't even know that there could ever be a point where the pain got so bad, that it would force me to rethink how things were and how I could possibly change them. I was numb. The only thing I knew was that if I wouldn't think, there was a chance I'd survive. If I started thinking, the dreaded possibilities were endless. I didn't know what kind of feelings and thoughts lay inside because I hadn't thought and felt for so long that I forgot what it would be like. I didn't know what to look for so there was no hope that I would ever find it.So for now, I just hid, safely and snuggely, behind, under a huge volume of the talmud. I did know I was hiding. I knew that much. I also knew that this was my only hope. I tried to swallow myself...allow my being to melt away inside, beneath those ancient thoughts and lines. they brought be so much comfort. I knew that the closer I got to those words, the more they were in my blood, in my neshama, the more hope I had that I would achieve peace. After all, faith brought peace. If I was one with hashem, how can I possibly suffer, if all I had in my heart and sole were his holy words, how could I possibly be far from him. So I kept learning. I actually liked the protection of the huge volume of gemara. It was tall and strong and I needed something big and tall to protect me. Occasionally, of course there was an inner dissonance, a subject would come up in the talmud, perhaps the killing of a whole city, or the details or a divorce litigation, where my mind would wonder what was the connection between these words, and the peace I so much yearned for? but of course, there was no answer that could ever resolve that inquiry. Here I was there was no other life I knew and I had to find the solutions here. What I also knew was the secret that I carried inside was so dark, deep, and disturbing that I needed to keep everything silent and well locked in order for things to be OK. If I had even known what I was hiding, perhaps I would not have been as scared but since I didn't know, the only way to justify not looking was by having another endeavor in who's involvement I could totally lose myself. The other nice thing about being behind that gemara was the fact that I could hide away from people. I hated people. No, of course, i wanted them to like me, hold me cherish me. I looked out from the holes in my heart at all the happy bachurim in the yeshiva and wondered, "what the hell is going on?" "how do I get out of this mess?" "what is wrong with me?" Will I ever find out? will I ever be able to tell anyone? Will I need to die with this great secret hidden in me? Will I ever be able to connect to another person? so for now, I just suffered because somehow, although I did not know the secret, I had this instinctive feeling that should I ever open my mouth, and allow the secret to speak, it will be so ugly and repulsive that there would be no way that anyone could ever like me. Not that I felt liked, now, but, for now, at least I could imagine that there was a possibility. I remember sitting next to a really kind and sensitive bachur in the yeshiva. He was like a mentor to me. I remember thinking this thought, "I know that he is probably kind enough to listen to my pain but, I don't even know what to say, and even if I did, I know for sure that I will not say anything", so for now, I just kept it inside, always with a big smile, always with a "seiver panim yafos", always suffering, and making sure that my outer world was perfect so that no one would ever suspect the angry storm that was brewing inside.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The spark that broke the camels hay stack

it was a hot july afternoon. i had been preparing for this day, from the moment i started lying to myself and others about what i really want in life. how was I to know. no one ever spoke about wants and desires and aspirations, loves and feelings, just chaos, and fear, uncertainty and whether we would make our carpools. i had done the right thing the whole time, because that was the only thing i knew how to do. i knew that if i did the right thing, all would be ok, and that's all i really wanted. i wanted to be safe. i knew that if i did something wrong, like think the wrong thoughts during shmoneh esray, god, would come down from his mighty throne and kill us all out again, the way he does from time to time when he gets pissed. of course, some of that was a little hard to fathom. i wondered how exactly he calculated when he would get upset. Was there an algorithm. Was this a precise science that he had worked out? how many Jews needed to be mechalel shabbos in order for him to bring a holocaust? How many for a pogrom? how many for the ordinary steet assult? Math was never my strength, and neither was figuring out Gods mind. Not my niche. By the time i was 21 i was sick. yes, i was so sick and blind that i didn't know how far i was from the truth, as a matter of fact, i didn't put down the gemara because i thought there was anything else that was better. i was simply in so much pain that my arms, particular my left shoulder wouldn't let me. My hands shook so much. i never knew this could possibly happen to a person. What could I have done wrong? All i wanted to do was to be a devoted eved hashem. I had kept everything and beyond. I davened with such kavana that Rabbeim either commented to me themselves or sent others to let me know that I could tone it down on the kavana. I crunched my face so much when I davened that the impression could be seen for hours after. It was obvious how many hours had gone bye since my lest shmoneh esray (then it was only 18. Maybe by now they have added some). Of course, I didn't listen, "who are they to tell me how to daven?" I thought. my prayers finally came true. In the middle of July. I was a learning Rebbe at a camp. i could feel it in my body. something was wrong. Even for a person like me who was so out of touch with the mind and body, i just had to admit that something was wrong. Can this possibly be. No, of course not. I would not admit it. I just couldn't. I had invested way too much time and energy into being the talmid chacham that I was. This simply could not be true. I had struggled so hard until I had begun to grasp gemara. now that it had become easy. i was so proud. i was so happy. i was finally feeling the pride and joy and confidence which comes with reaching my dream. i had always wanted to be a leader, a Rebbe, a magid shiur, maybe even a rosh yeshiva, and in the recent years. i saw myself coming close to that realm. i had become really talented not only at learning gemara, but breaking it down, and finding interesting ways of explaining it to others. i had a deep satisfaction from these endeavors and felt, knew that my life was on the right track. There was much joy and satisfaction in this knowing. i was so far from the truth that only eight years of torture were to allow me to see a new way again...a path that may actually be my path, the one that I was destined to follow, the path into the desert, where nothing is sure, but all is fascinating.