13 Sivan 5779 / Sunday, June 16, 2019 | Torah Reading: Shelach Lecho
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One Size Fits All

Until Alex came to our yeshiva looking for help he didn't realized that he could still ride his bike, spend time cooking or practice his musical instrument...


15 years ago Alex was a popular guy, a gifted musician, an athlete and a gourmet cook.  Loved by everybody, Alex conversed in three languages and was known for being a super handy and helpful person. He could fix just about anything and was always willing to lend a helping hand.
Alas, today Alex is unemployed, unable to study, his marriage is on the rocks and he's a stranger to his kids because he sleeps all day. Sometimes his body shakes violently, sometimes he literally can't move and sometimes he simply collapses. When Alex began to think about suicide as a "solution" he was taken to a doctor who diagnosed him with mental illness. 
In a famous study, David L. Rosenhan proved that psychiatrists, psychologists and psychiatric social workers really can't tell the difference between people who are genuinely crazy and those who were really sane but were simply pretending to be "crazy."
Alex was neither crazy or pretending to be crazy. This might sound odd but his problems resulted not from an illness but from rejecting the truth of how he was meant to live.  Please allow me to explain.
The paradox of Alex's story, as you'll soon see, is that he really was looking for the truth - like so many people in our troubled times, Alex yearned to find G-d in his life.
When Alex met the Rabbi he was told that the only way to be close to G-d and live a life of truth was to learn the Talmud for 12 hours a day. Alex went along with this advice because the Rabbi showed him in writing that this was the "truth." Since Alex was serious about finding happiness in spirituality he followed the Rabbi's advice and made an abrupt change in his life. He began to learn 12 hours daily and in one fell swoop he cut out every other activity in his life that had been giving him pleasure.
The problem with his new lifestyle was that instead of making Alex happier, it was making him more depressed. Alex's body began to revolt against conforming in this way. But Alex thought it must be his fault. After all, if the Torah said that learning was the main purpose of a man's life why wasn't it making him happy? He went back to the Rabbi to find out what he was doing wrong. The Rabbi insisted that Alex was on the right track but if 12 hours were too much he could reduce it  8 hours a day.
What the Rabbi omitted to tell Alex was that the Torah also says that a person needs to feel happy with his lifestyle, and so if he is not the type of person who is happy learning for 12 hours or even 8 hours a day, he could choose from other options and still lead a Torah way of life! 
Until Alex came to our yeshiva looking for help he didn't realized that he could still ride his bike, spend time cooking, practice his musical instrument or go roller blading with his kids. He also didn't feel free to use his other considerable talents to work for a yeshiva or other religious organization. It hasn't been easy for Alex to let go of the fallacy that he must push himself to learn even if it makes him sick. He still compares himself to great Rabbi's who sacrificed themselves to learn even when it was very hard for them. Alex and many others like him need to hear that G-d gave them the unique background and talents that they have for a reason and that G-d doesn't necessarily need everyone to become a great Rabbi. A person who loves to learn feels happy from learning.  If someone is meant to learn for long hours he will also bring that pleasure home to his wife and family, and he will function normally in all areas of his life. Someone who belongs in yeshiva full time will never experience the "psychiatric" symptoms that Alex had. If they do, then they are not living in accordance with G-d's plan but rather they are trying to fit themselves into a someone else's one-size-fits-all conception of a Torah lifestyle.
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We invite you to visit Dr. Zev Ballen's popular daily web journal Spiritual Coaching.

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