Having grown up in a family of highly educated secular Jews, (my father, shlit”a, is an MD and my mother, shlit”a, a Masters in social work) one would think that the last thing that we would need in our lives was emunah, Jewish faith. We had already cast off the contrivances of faith (or rather that was done for us), we had the secular education that, supposedly, proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that religion is only “the opium of the masses” – what did we need it for? We had all that we needed!
Except we didn’t. We lacked a purpose.
My parents understood this and began their journey to religious Jewish adherence when I was quite young, but me? I was a kid! How much thought did I give to life and purpose? None whatsoever! I had my friends, I was having fun – what did I need religion for?
It was then that my world got turned upside down. My parents decided that it was time for the family to leave the US and move to Israel, the Holy Land. So a little while after my bar-mitzvah (not bark-mitzvah! In those days we only did them for humans!), we packed our worldly belongings and flew across the world to a foreign land. Boy, was I mad! This was before the time of emancipated teens. Otherwise I probably would have been one of them.
I went through high-school in a yeshiva high school where they didn’t know how to teach me, (I was among the first “olim chadashim”, new immigrants, to arrive), was forced to learn topics for which I had no background at all in a foreign language (Hebrew) that was even more foreign as it was also in Aramaic (the Talmud). It was the pits. I think that they graduated me out of pity for the first several years. In any case I finished high school and decided that, despite having been accepted into pilots training in the Israeli air force, (these were the years right after the movie “Top Gun”, by the way), it was finally time to face the question that had been gnawing at me for years: “Why?”
Why did my parents decide to change our comfortable, easy American existence for this difficult and demanding Israeli one? Why did they give up our easy, fun and available secular lifestyle for the rigid, detailed and oppressing religious one? If it isn’t broken— why fix it? Why not lobster? Why not pepperoni pizza? (They are delicious, by the way)
So I pushed off the army and joined a yeshiva for American boys, Ohr David, (the yeshiva I teach in today), to give those Rabbis a chance to explain it to me before I go and become the next Tom Cruise, (the awesome, Israeli version).
I went to yeshiva and I met some awesome people. It wasn’t specifically the learning, unfortunately, that affected me. It was the people who were devoted to keeping the Torah alive and spreading it to other people. It touched me.
Ok. I wouldn’t go to the air-force. To many issues. But if I can’t FLY a plane – at least I’ll jump from one! So I went to a hesder yeshiva, yeshivat Sha’alvim. I was there for a few months and then I joined the IDF. If I wasn’t going to be Tom — I would be Sylvester Stalone! I decided to be the maggist, (the guy who carried the heavy machine gun). But G-d, in His infinite wisdom, had other plans. I developed knee problems to the extent that I couldn’t carry the gun and eventually I was sent to a different unit to finish my service there.
As a more mature soldier I had more time on my hands and I tried my best to fill it as I understood. I was proactive on base, I volunteered a lot, but I always felt that my time was slipping through my hands. I felt wasted. I wasn’t being productive. I didn’t have a purpose.
So I tried learning some Torah. But I didn’t have the faculties to really learn in depth.
Thank G-d, (Baruch HaShem), I had the technological marvel of my day: the Walkman! I also had taken a bunch of tapes from Aish HaTorah to listen to. And I did. I listened to the shiurim (classes) of HaRav Noach Wienberg, zt”l, the Rosh haYeshiva. He talked about all sorts of topics. But the one that spoke to me the most were those that eventually became the Discovery program at Aish.
I avidly listened to those classes and they became the basis from which my emunah began to grow.
It was what I was missing all along – to know that I wasn’t just doing something of imagined purpose. I wasn’t giving up those things that I enjoyed in my youth based on some fiction. There was/is a G-d and He gave us these instructions for living. I had finally begun to strengthen my core emunah!
It was then that I decided that when I finished my army service I would really begin to take the Torah seriously. It was then that I began to learn. That was the beginning of the journey that I made that led me to where I am today.
But it all began with the core. We have to have core emunah.