27 Kislev 5782 / Wednesday, December 01, 2021 | Torah Reading: Mikeitz
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Searching for Meaning

I could find no answers to my questions about “what’s it all for?” within the context of this world. I took a long walk and let my mind wander…


Rabbi Shalom Arush’s story of teshuva and faith, Part 2

Last week, we left off when a post-office courier brought Rav Shalom – then a student at the University of Tel Aviv – a telegram informing him that his five best friends had just been killed in a helicopter crash.
I voice screamed from deep down inside me: “What’s it all for?!?”
My thoughts turned utterly serious, about death and about the meaning of life. I had an over-exposure to death, from cadavers to combat fatalities. Plenty of dead bodies had found their way into my own two hands. But now, in reference to the death of my five closest friends – taken from me with one fell swoop - things were different. My old defense mechanism wore off like a thin layer of veneer that you scratch away with a fingernail. Why continue running the maze of the stupid rat race when we’re all going to die anyway? What’s it all for? For a piece of cheese at the end? So what if I become a PhD in economics and a world-renown financial whiz? What difference does it make if I earn a hundred million dollars? I’m going to die anyway. In the coffin, I won’t even be able to enjoy the chunk of cheddar that they give the white mouse…
Life just made no sense. Life followed by meaningless death seemed completely pointless.
We humans are ingrained with a certain trait – we can’t stand doing anything that’s pointless. My living a life that made no sense therefore turned sour. Dreams of a degree with honors, money in my pocket, status and career success just didn’t deliver the goods anymore; neither did cheap thrills, pretty girlfriends and wild parties. I needed some answers, fast…
Mathematics was always my strong subject. Life became an equation that was missing a variable. I could find no answers to my questions about “what’s it all for?” within the context of this world. I took a long walk and let my mind wander. Then, I asked something. To whom? I really didn’t know, but I knew I was appealing to something or someone much higher that the deep blue sky or the soft winds coming off the Mediterranean. A strange hypothesis slipped into my mind that seemed to be the missing variable.
Maybe there’s a Creator to the world?
Talking to God
With the innocence of a new-born baby, I began firing away a series of questions in the direction of the gold and crimson horizon at sunset: “God, are You for real? Are You really there? Do You hear me? Do You love me?”
I was really walking on a tightrope with the “Do You love me” question. My parents were religious. They taught us the difference between was right and wrong. Yet all my life I had done things that violated my parents’ will, basic morality, our religion, and all three at once. I should have been ashamed and embarrassed to even show my face before God. Yet, I wasn’t. I thought about how much unconditional love I would give my future children. I thought about how the birds and animals in the barnyard and in the wild have the innate instinct of loving and protecting their offspring. Would God be God if He were any less compassionate than me or a mother hen or cow?
With the thoughts that a real God must be like a loving and forgiving parent in mind, I became even bolder: “God, if You’re really God, then You must love me, but I don’t feel it yet. Are you willing to listen to me despite the fact that I didn’t always do the things You might have wanted me to do? Is Your love unconditional? Did You really create me? Are You there, or am I merely an idiot talking to the air?”
In Israel, we grow up in stark realism. I knew I wasn’t an idiot, babbling to myself. I could feel something – totally inexplicable – as if I wasn’t alone. Yet, I looked around, and no one was in sight; I mean, no one with any corporal qualities…
All of a sudden, I got this spark in my brain. I received an amazing revelation – awesome, yet so very simple. I put my hand on my chest and felt my heartbeat. I looked around again; no, I wasn’t plugged into an electrical socket on the wall or to a generator. Thank goodness, I didn’t have a pacemaker or any other artificial device. Despite everything I did wrong in life – all the stuff that I was ashamed of – my heart was still beating. No bolt of lightning struck me down. I asked myself: Would I being doing favors for somebody who constantly did things to aggravate me? No way! So if it really is God that’s massaging my heart right now and giving me continued life, He must really love me!
I felt this warmth permeate my torso and a type of tingling in my extremities. It was as if some spiritual force within my body was telling me, “Yes – He really does love you! Can’t you feel it?”
At that point, I called out again: “If You really love me, will You be willing to show me more clearly that You love me?” I thought that if I had an estranged son – even a convicted criminal who spent time behind bars – how happy I’d be if that son suddenly came home to me. And once again, a real God would surely be much more compassionate and loving than I am. Of course He’ll listen to me, no matter how terrible I am…
“Hey,” I caught myself, like a commander shaking a soldier with shell shock. “Who’s putting all those thoughts in my head?” The instantaneous yet memorable ride on my first Heavenly spiritual wave was over, and now the doubts were waking up, like sleeping dogs that smelled a robber…
Who’s the robber? These pleasant thoughts that maybe there’s a God who loves me and will listen to me? What are they robbing me off, a meaningless and illogical rat-race existence?
The debate went on and on. I was confused and I still didn’t have the answers that satisfied me.
After riding my first spiritual wave and subsequent wipe-out, I then decided to test God. I wanted answers. I wanted to dispel all doubt. I wanted to know the truth, because a war of belief vs. non-belief was now raging at full fury in my brain. I couldn’t continue like this.
To be continued…

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