stumbling in the dark
How many times have you forgotten to turn on the bathroom light before shabbat started and found yourself stumbling to the toilet for the next 25 hours? It’s annoying, it’s unpleasant, but it’s manageable. Most of us know the routine with our eyes closed, we don’t fall in, we don’t miss, we don’t trip, we don’t drown.. Somehow we just turn off our conscious brain and manage on the part of the brain that works on habit, experience and faith!
That’s basically how I’ve been feeling - spiritually speaking - for the past few weeks; I’ve been stumbling in the dark.
For as long as I’ve been Torah observant, my behavior and my beliefs have been secured on two fronts - intellectual and emotional.
On the intellectual side, I've read books, asked questions, spoken to countless people and studied many years. Although I don’t believe there is 100% proof of anything, for many, many years I have felt confident that there was proof beyond a reasonable doubt regarding the existence of G-d and the Torah.
I’ve continued to question, but I’ve questioned from the inside out. I accept the premise that the Torah is valid and authentic and when inconsistencies arise I take for granted that the mistake is in my perception or in my understanding, and not in the Torah itself. That may seem like a cop-out to some, but it’s a choice we all make. No one can remain sitting on the edge, sometimes looking in, sometimes looking out.
You’re either IN the torah - looking outwards to the world and trying to make sense of the world according to the reality of the Torah
you're IN the world, looking outwards to the torah and trying to make the torah fit the reality of the world.
I made that choice years ago and since then I can honestly say that I have very rarely had real intellectual doubts regarding the truth of my chosen path.
My heart on the other hand, seems to work on a different track than my brain. Emotionally speaking, there have been times when I didn’t care what proof there was or wasn’t, my heart felt so connected to its source, my heart felt the presence of G-d so strongly and my tfilahs were so heartfelt, so sincere and so real that I had no doubts that they had been heard.
And so, throughout all these years, when questions would arise and make me intellectually doubt my beliefs, I’d quiet my brain and rely on my heart - my emotional experiences keeping me anchored. And, when my heart would shut down, and I couldn’t feel the connection - the intellectual reasoning would resonate in my mind and remind me why I had chosen this lifestyle.
Never did I envision that both of these powerhouses could collapse, simultaneously. Having felt secure in my beliefs for so many years, having overcome so many questions and doubts and internal discord, I thought I had finally reached a point where I had made peace with it all and could finally soar forwards…
And then it happened – and I literally felt the rug being pulled out from under me.
In the blink of an eye, my feelings and my thoughts, which had always kept me connected to G-d suddenly abandoned me. As my heart emptied itself of the feelings of attachment and gratitude, my mind filled up with uncertainties and doubts.
I suddenly felt like a baby thrown into an enormous pool of water, left to swim on his own.
I’ve done a lot of thinking since to try and understand what happenned, and to try and figure out how to handle it. One of the things I’ve realized is that there are actually three parts to me through which I connect to my Judaism, not two. I had always relied on my intellectual and emotional connections to Torah and it seems to me now that these two had suppressed the third – my soul. With my soul abandonned by its emotional and intellectual accomplices, I suddenly became aware of a force in me that I had not encountered in years. The energy that drove me when I was just learning about Judaism, before I felt its truth, and before I knew its truth suddenly reappeared. I've come to realize that these anchors that had been securing me down all along were apparently only confirmations of what I knew on a much deeper level.
It’s difficult to differentiate our minds, from our hearts and from our souls, they all combine to form our conscious experience and it was only through the ‘malfunction’ of some of these that I was able to reconnect with the other(s).
It’s still new to me. I still feel like I'm stumbling in the dark. I’m not sure how much I can trust my soul. I feel vulnerable, but it’s a power stronger than me, a power that seems to keep pushing me, whether I want it or not - and whether I understand it or not.
I often hear people who were born in observant homes say that they don’t know if they would become baalei teshuva if they had the choice. They haven’t gone through the kiruv system, they haven’t heard all the ‘intellectual’ proofs, and they haven’t had all the emotional highs.. and so they can’t pinpoint what it is that keeps them going.
I think this is what ive just discovered.
It’s a connection so subtle, but SO real. It’s one we have a really hard time describing or verbalizing, but it’s a link to reality we can’t deny.
Dovid from a gonzo state of mind wrote something beautiful in his blog today. He said: "Torah study draws the soul into this world by giving forms and definitions and physical experiences to its otherwise vast and intangible spirituality". Anyone who has studied Torah knows that it is more than an intellectual pursuit and/or an emotional exercise. It touches something much deeper, much more difficult to describe, but very powerfully felt.
Today, having been stripped of the comfort of my emotional attachment, and the security of my intellectual connection, I realize that this third, deeper, spiritual entity is what will really keep me connected and push me forward…until the light turns back on.