Since I became religious, more than twenty years ago, I've lost touch with much of my extended secular family. The familiar faces and voices of my childhood have either died or faded away. Yesterday's news came from a 'lost cousin.' She read about the death of a mutual relative of ours who lives in her city. No one had notified her of his passing. She caught it in the obituary section of her local newspaper. She considered herself fortunate to have found the funeral in time. She sent me a professional email. I was sad to hear the news; but at least she seemed to be advancing at the firm.
On another occasion, someone else in my family died and, for a while, no one seemed to know about it. At least one person I know knew, but he wouldn't go to the funeral. He said he wasn't invited. Several times, after a death, I've had the opportunity to speak with 'lost relatives' who I haven't seen for a real long time. It felt good to re-connect then, and remember that I had a life before becoming religious . It also felt good to disconnect after hearing all the gossip: One 'lost relative' became a "bitter old man"; another 'lost relative' lost his wife and remarried an 'absolute shrew'; another 'lost relative' died without leaving a will for his only son; and still another 'lost relative' was caught cheating in business and was made into a villain on the web. As we spoke, I felt the guilt that survivors feel mixed with relief that it wasn't me. "Do you still exercise?" "Have you had your pancreas checked yet?" We encouraged each other to avoid getting sad.
Why was I getting sad? The answer is that my uncle's death put me in touch with my own mortality - which is a mistake because I'm not dying - nobody dies. Maybe I never really knew this. How could it be that I wouldn't know about eternal life after being Orthodox for all these years? Let me tell you about a famous Rebba who came to me, ostensibly for insomnia. He couldn't fall asleep. Do you want to know why? It was because he was so afraid to die. By day, he was 'the Rebba', but at night he sat awake in his chair, terrified to lie down and fall asleep. The Rebba told me he had read most of the holy books on the subject of death but it had not helped. He was at a loss to explain it. I wondered about that too. I guess that the Rebba's knowledge about eternal life was something that he learned about, like most of us, in an academic way. We can't really know anything about a subject that we learn academically. It's like reading books about dieting, or how to love other people, but still not knowing how to do it. You can read a book many times and even commit it to memory but not understand anything it says.
When do I really understand something? Only when I am able to leave myself behind. It is when I forget about me that I start to know about something or somebody else. It's when I get a reprieve from the perpetual knot in my head that I get that little bit of clarity and wisdom that makes a big difference. Knowledge about eternal life comes naturally to a person who lets it in. He does not need to strain himself to achieve this knowledge. It comes from outside his 'power of reasoning'; it comes from beyond.
Life and death go together. If I don't know how to live I don't know how to die and if I don't know how to die I don't know how to live. It follows that If I think I'm going to die there is nothing that I can teach my children about life - as long as I'm stuck in this area, there is nothing in Judaism that I can transmit to my children . No matter how much Torah I may know - it's still all academic. My Torah becomes a Readers Digest version of yiddishkeit (Judaism) and not a living Torah at all. If my faith is weak my family will know first.
How can I achieve a knowledge of G-d that is real? I simply have to pray for it and to chase more after holy people. When you're with people who are not afraid to die you'll know it - you won't need to hear them give a lesson about it. It's a just a higher way of knowing things.
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Dr. Zev Ballen, Psy.D. has been a practicing psychotherapist for more than 30 years. He is the founder and developer of Emuna Therapy, a faith-based method of counseling based exclusively on the teachings of Rabbi Shalom Arush. Dr. Zev has the endorsements of Gadolei Yisrael such as the Nikolsburger Rebba, Rabbi Yitzchok Fagelstock, Rabbi Shalom Arush, and Rabbi Lazer Brody. You can see Dr. Zev's live video broadcast every Wednesday at 5pm Israel time here on breslev.co.il. You can write in with questions to Dr. Zev at: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can call him at: 845-362-8600 (US) or 054-840-9499 (Israel). Dr. Zev resides in Jerusalem, with his family, where he learns in Rav Arush’s Kollel and maintains a part-time private practice. You're also welcome to visit Dr. Zev's personal blog, Emuna Therapy.