Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 16 July 2005 / 9 Tammuz 5765

Holey Heart

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Alan L.

Dear Rabbi,

I am a 49-year old Jewish man with a very large hole in his heart. I was raised a Jew and still think of myself as a Jew. But I really don't know what it is to be a Jew. I was Bar Mitzvahd and confirmed. I went to Hebrew school for 15 years.

My entire family has walked the path laid down for us by my deceased father. But for some reason, I am having a lot of trouble accepting faith in our religion. The non-Jews seem to have someplace to turn to when all seems lost or the burden of life becomes too heavy to bear. It seems so simple to turn to a priest and ask for an answer. Why do we turn to a rabbi or other scholar and receive no answers?

Where do I turn when the bottom drops out? Who do I talk to for answers that will sooth my soul? This seems to be a great failing in our religion. Can you offer suggestions? Are there any prayers that address such a dilemma? Does G-d even listen to such materialistic matters?

Thank you for your time.

Dear Alan,

My heart goes out to you in your pain. You are obviously suffering and I empathize with your dilemma.

However, it seems to me that your spiritual sorrow can actually be a source of inspiration for you. What you describe as a hole in your heart is not necessarily a bad thing.

Remember the story of Akiva and Rachel? At the age of 40, unable to read alef-bet, Akiva gave up hope of ever coming close to G-d. One day Rachel led him to a stream and asked him what he saw. He said he saw a waterfall. She asked what he saw under the fall. He replied, "The water has carved a hole in the rock beneath it". She exclaimed, "If something as soft as water can bore a hole in something as hard as rock, surely something as strong as Torah can bore a hole in something as soft as your heart!" Encouraged, he eventually became the great Rabbi Akiva.

There are so many admonitions in the Torah warning against a heart of stone, and so many appeals to circumcise the heart, that the hole you feel should be taken as a very good sign that your heart is still soft and sensitive. Thank G-d your heart shows spiritual vital signs! Sometimes G-d brings physical, emotional, mental or even spiritual suffering to very special individuals in order to personally circumcise their hearts and spare themthe spiritual callousness of which so many people suffer.

At this point in your life, despite the path that your father of blessed memory laid down for you, and despite your extensive Jewish education, I think you should start from scratch. At the age of 49 with a gaping hole in your heart, you should start over from alef-bet and begin filling the gap with the soothing waters of Torah. Read Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzattos classic work "The Way of G-d" for a re-introduction to the fundamentals of Jewish belief. Also, read with fervor the Psalms of David in which you can vicariously experience his own longing for, search of and discovery of G-d.

Let me conclude with the following thoughts. Sometimes we feel like the bottom drops out as we sink to the dark murky depths. When this happens, one must realize that there are Divine sparks everywhere, and sometimes we are plunged to those depths specifically to redeem those exiled, captive sparks and elevate them as we resurface. This can be compared to pearl divers who plunge to the dark and murky depths of the sea in search of impure oysters, only to resurface and pry out of their grasp lustrous white pearls.

Also, over the years of working with Jews returning to their faith, I have also met many Christians, including students and clergy, who have become interested in Judaism precisely because they felt that their questions were not only not answered, but they were not even tolerated. Dont think that "mass" is greener on the other side of the shul fence. There are many exceptional, knowledgeable and sensitive rabbis who can help you. Open your heart, search sincerely and have finding a rabbi in mind as you request in the 11th blessing of the amida: "Restore our judges and counselors as at first, remove from us sorrow and despair"

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