It’s been 8 months since we made Aliyah. I woke up and davened like most mornings but then it hit me. Today I’m going to check out Chut Shel Chesed, the Yeshiva and Kollel of Rav Shalom Arush. Not wanting to think about it too long I quickly scribbled down the address and called a cab. “56 Shivte Yisrael, please”, I heard myself tell the driver in hesitant Hebrew. I was there in about 8 minutes. Inside, the building was overcrowded with men of all ages. Broken plaster walls revealed old Jerusalem stone. A broken window pane hung over the back door to the little room. I wasn’t sure who I needed to speak with and felt somewhat at a loss. The atmosphere charged with excitement – everyone was speaking Hebrew. Suddenly I realized that I was in the middle of some kind of a meeting. At least a half dozen young men stepped to the front of the room - one after the other and spoke with intense energy into the microphone. There was a lot of interaction and feedback from the audience. I had no idea what they were talking about. They were dark and strikingly handsome royally draped to the shoulders in their long, thick side locks. There was no place to sit down so I stood off to the side with some others. I vainly tried to communicate but their attention was riveted on the speaker, disoriented but determined to know more. I asked G-d to help me make my way through this new experience. Every once in a while someone would interrupt the speaker and yell out something. There was a mixture of laughter and intense seriousness in the air.
When the Rav walked in, everybody stood up. Unconsciously recognizing the custom, I regained some equilibrium. Silence fell on the room. The Rav looked strangely calm... There was a beauty and grace to his slow movements. He sat down and warmed the room with a smile like the morning sun. His beautiful long side locks framed a most interesting unfamiliar type of face. His respiration was very slow and deep, the muscle tone of his face was relaxed, his eyes were bright and alert – he radiated pure joy. He was clearly living on another plane. This was not America. I had found what I was looking for.
Just then someone showed me to a seat. His whispered in English, “sit here; I’ll be right back”. The Rav’s face became serious. He started to speak with deep emotion, I knew he was speaking about G-d and I yearned to know what he was saying. Just then my new friend returned. “Do you know Hebrew?” he whispered.
“Not well”, I whispered back.
“He’s talking to us about ratzon - about human will. He is telling us that for a man, there is nothing more powerful than his will and that we must beg and plead with Hashem to have the will to stay intimately connected to Him at all times because without Hashem we are nothing and this world is nothing!. I felt a tinge of fear as I remembered my former life in New York. I felt a sudden desire to return to my spacious comfortable living room and two cars in the driveway.
“What’s he saying now”, I asked.
“He is telling us that he wants us to pray much harder for Am Yisrael - for the nation of Israel…that the people should crave with all their hearts to come all the way back to Hashem’s holiness and purity (long pause) “and now he is telling us that he wants us to beg Hashem for more personal holiness so that we can go out and share it with the Children of Israel…now he is saying that he is a very shy person…once when sitting at his sister’s house, he was afraid to ask for a drink of water… but when it comes to the Children of Israel he says he is not at all shy…he says that we must make more time to do hafatza, to spread emunah.
Later that day, I was getting more acquainted with my new friend. Behind the Yeshiva was a sunny courtyard. Tables, schtenders (small study podiums) and chairs were scattered about. The melodious sounds of Torah learning served as a background to our conversation. “What is hafatza”, I asked. He said that’s when we go out and talk to the people about Emunah. “When do you do that”, I wondered.
“After Kollel. That’s when we go out with the Rav’s books and CD’s. We go to non-religious places like Tel Aviv, Haifa or even to the Mir Yeshiva where they are very learned. We speak to them about Chasidus…about Breslev. We set up tables and sell books…we go into the hospitals and give out free copies of the Garden of Emuna. After about 3 hours we come home, spend a few hours with our wives and kids then we go to sleep. I wake early and go to the mikvah (ritual bath). The morning study session starts at 2am…I learn until sunrise and then I pray. After a little more sleep and breakfast with the wife I’m back here by 9am to do it again – learning till 4pm; hafaza till 7pm and so on. I asked him many more questions. He enjoyed talking and telling stories. I did a lot of listening. The time went quickly. I felt a slight sunburn on my forehead. We had talked for almost 3 hours. I didn’t know yet how I was going to do it, or even if I could but I knew I would come back tomorrow to hear more.
To be continued.
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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 Nicholsburger 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).