What brings meaning and purpose to my life? Forty years ago I would have answered: to be a starting forward for the New York Knicks. During my college years, it was about the freedom to do as I pleased; and, later on, when this nagging question got worse, I comforted myself by thinking that my purpose in life was to be a therapist, or so I thought.
As the years went by, my idealized image of myself as the strong, all-knowing therapist stopped working. The truth was that like most of my clients, I too was living in uncertainty and doubt. Every now and then (more often than I realized) someone would see through my façade of strength and self-sufficiency and recognize that I too was a fellow sufferer.
These days, my clients seem to appreciate my telling them the truth about my own struggles and how I deal with them. It’s not always easy, but I’m trying to be more honest with them and myself.
We tend to define ourselves by a limited role or affiliation such as: American, musician, doctor, or housewife rather than thinking more broadly about what we believe in and what we stand for. I always admired people who were passionate about a mission or cause that was dear to them such as the civil rights movement and other types of humanitarian causes. Even if they seemed quirky, naïve or fanatical – believers eat, sleep, walk, talk and breathe their purpose in everything they do. They live with a broader more encompassing sense of purpose, responsibility and commitment to their cause which they experience as greater than themselves. Most of these people are ready and willing to die for what they believe in. Rabbi Arush and Rabbi Brody are the best examples that I have found of this type of person.
I would still be in the same old rut if Hashem hadn’t intervened. He sent me a “mid-life crisis” (though he could have sent it at any age). My mother passed away, I began experiencing signs of my own aging, marital conflict followed on the heels of financial strain, and six years of harassment by a fanatical psychopath were enough to nudge me toward greater introspection.
My journey back to myself began with the books of Rabbi Arush and the lectures of Rabbi Brody. As my wife and I became more inspired we realized that there was an answer to every existential dilemma that we had in those books and CD’s. We visited Israel and felt that we belonged someplace for the first time in our lives. We toured the land and immediately felt connected to our people, our history, and our future. With our new Spiritual orientation, we started to feel a sense of commitment and responsibility – to learn more about Hashem and to share whatever we had with others. I started learning at Chut Shel Chesed, and, as I got to know Rabbi Arush and Rabbi Brody I realized that I had never met men like these before. These great men spoke to my soul. It’s not always easy, but I strive to nullify myself to them as representatives of Hashem. My wife and I feel that our lives have finally become meaningful. I am learning Hashem’s Torah, writing, giving shiorim, working with my clients; we entertain Shabbos guests, raise our children, – every aspect of our lives have become unified by our common purpose of serving Hashem.
Before he ate from the Tree of Knowledge, Adam knew with perfect certainty that the only necessary reality is Hashem and that his Glory was everywhere. When he ate from the Tree of Knowledge, he forgot about Hashem and started to think for himself. The Midrash says that he became so preoccupied with his own aggrandizement that his head actually swelled from arrogance, and became so heavy that he couldn’t hold it up. Eventually he toppled over from the weight of his own intellect.
Until recently, I didn’t understand why it was such a problem for me to pursue material comforts, money and influence. I felt compelled to do these things in order to survive and my survival was all up to me. Adam’s legacy to me was that there is no God in this random, absurd and meaningless world; and since any tragedy can happen to anyone, for no reason, at anytime – it’s a dog-eat-dog world and it’s every man for himself. It was up to me alone to “find myself” and live in alignment with my “true” self; and if I hung all that I had taken myself to be on the wrong choice and became obsolete - I had no one to blame but myself. That was the life that I had before Rabbi Arush.
My life since Rabbi Arush though not without tests, has been much simpler, pleasant and fulfilling. My identity is that I’m a Jew. This is the central organizing principle of my life. My purpose is to do my best to learn Torah and internalize my Rebbe’s teachings. Then, to the best of my ability, I’m supposed to spread my Rebbe’s teachings. I don’t have to worry about whether I am successful at this or not, my job is to do; Hashem is in charge of the results.
The Torah provides me with all the tools that I need to live the good life if I use them: The Torah gives me excellent advice about every aspect of my life from dealing with financial matters, my kid’s education, marriage, how to pick friends, where to live, how to eat healthy, and how to not be afraid of death. Before Rabbi Arush, I was free to call my own shots and engineer my own destiny but freedom led me to failure. As my head continued to swell, I became top-heavy and almost collapsed under my own weight. It’s been a humbling experience to say the least. Self-will has utterly failed me. I pray to be finished with self-will and to nullify myself even more to my Rebbe.
Since we took Rabbi Body’s advice and moved to Israel, it’s so clear to our family that this is what Hashem wanted. From the moment our plane landed we have all been feeling more in touch with who we are and why we’re here. What will it take for the world to humble itself? Look at the price that Japan alone is paying for their inhumanity to three of Hashem’s children.
A mid-life crisis can come at any age. You don’t have to wait until your 57 to solve yours. My beloved brothers and sisters believe me. These Rabbis are men of great integrity. They are the type that sacrifice themselves constantly for us and would make the ultimate sacrifice in a moment’s notice for Klal Yisrael. They are calling for you to come now. Listen to them. Just start learning Hebrew and call Nefesh B’Nefesh; they are experts at handling every technical aspect of your Aliyah. After you land, Rabbi Arush, Rabbi Brody and the whole staff of Chut Shel Chesed will happily welcome you and help you figure out the rest. They did it for us, and they’ll do it for you.
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Zev Ballen, LCSW has been a practicing psychotherapist for 32 years. He is licensed in Israel and the State of New York. Zev has the endorsements of prominent Gadolei Yisrael such as the Nikolsburger Rebba, Shlita, Reb Yitzchok Fagelstock, Shlita, The Kasaner Rebbe of Forshay, Shlita, Rav Shalom Arush, Shlita, and Rabbi Lazer Brody, Shlita. He resides with his family in Jerusalem where he learns in Rav Arush’s Kollel and maintains a part-time practice. You can write to Zev Ballen at: email@example.com or call him at: 845-362-8600 (US line) or 054-840-9499 (Israeli line).