Imagine sitting in a hot air balloon tied down by six ropes. Each rope is tied to a metal pole dug into the ground. This is the Jew in exile. He has a soul that is designed to reach the highest of heights, but is constrained by everything around him. Even though he knows no other reality, he feels, deep inside, that this is not the way his life is supposed to be. Instinctively, he tries anything he can to grow beyond the web of restraints.
His mission is to break free.
He decides to do something crazy. He learns a little Torah. He dedicates an hour to learning the text with Rashi, or a Midrash. He downloads some Torah lessons onto his iPod and makes it a part of his daily routine.
POP! One of the ropes breaks. The hot air balloon begins to sway. For the first time, there is something other than dirt underneath. A small corner of the balloon rises a few inches with each burst of wind.
Things are beginning to feel the way they were originally designed to. His energy rises. His anticipation perks. Not wanting to lose the moment, he discovers Emuna. He realizes that everything in life is not random. Hashem is watching over us at every moment, and all our challenges in life are really catalysts for greatness. He reads Rabbi Shalom Arush's Garden of Emuna and Rabbi Lazer Brody’s Trail to Tranquility. Resentment and anger give way to patience and perseverance.
Another rope gives way. The balloon is fully airborne, even if only a foot. Every brush of the wind feels like a kiss by Hashem to this elevated soul.
But he is still tied down to the earth.
The two ropes giving him the most trouble are called “Television” and “Internet.” The strands that form the rope are called “News,” “Stocks,” “Entertainment,” “Politics,”
It will take forever to break free. You cannot break a rope with thousands of strands bound together, it’s impossible. But you can cut the strands one by one. Slowly but surely he works on himself. Even if he still likes television, he reduces the habit. Even if he still surfs the net, he does it a little less. Following politics and his portfolio of assets may be important, but it is no longer the primary focus of his life. Hashem is the King of the Universe, why worry about Presidents and Prime Ministers? He is the Provider to every living being on earth, what’s the rush to check how his assets are performing?
As the strands weaken, the ropes loosen. The momentum of his life has changed. Instead of the inertia of his life keeping him down on the ground, his actions have created a constant rhythm pulling him up. It is easier for him to keep ascending. The final strands soon give way to winds growing more and more powerful by the moment.
That’s when he sees the final two ropes. They are the foundation of what keeps this man tied to the earth. Some of the strands inside these ropes are made of steel. They are super reinforced to keep everything right where they are. It will take a lot of energy to break out of these constraints.
Enter the mitzvah of personal holiness. Slowly, the man decides to learn about the laws of physical morality. Tentatively, he takes things on bit by bit. Months pass. Years even. He rechannels his limbs. He rechannels his eyes. He rechannels his thoughts. After much exertion his soul has acquired a glimpse of its true potential.
He is a new man.
BOOOM! The steel gives way. One of the ropes snaps completely. The only rope holding it back is fully extended. The balloon is ten feet in the air. It is winding back and forth. The man has never felt such exhilaration. He has never experienced being so high up in his life.
From being bogged down into the dirt to soaring the heavens on earth, there is only one thing stopping him. Wanting with all his being to come closer, he cannot let any obstacle get in his way. Immediately he makes a phone call.
“Hello, is this Nefesh B'Nefesh? I’d like to go home now.”
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Dovber Halevi is the author of Sex, Religion, and the Middle East, a book about personal holiness and happiness. He lives in Israel with his wife and three children.