A true story of my return in the merit of our holy teacher
Rabbi 'Na Nach Nachma Nachman Me’ man'
The story of my return starts I think at age 9 even though the process only actually began at age 19. I was born in a small town in the center of Israel as a daughter to older parents after a brother and a sister. You can say that till age 9 my childhood was more or less normal. My parents tried to raise me in a traditional manner. Something that in their opinion seemed right, but for me seemed contradictory, because I learned in secular schools.
At age 9 unexplained fears and phobias began to awaken in me, and a multitude of questions and thoughts began to haunt me. This process was slow, but would rise to extreme heights, and then be forgotten again. As a girl I didn't know how to deal with this situation except to cry to my mother or to cry alone at night. I felt as though something was wrong with me, but when I tried toconvey this to my mother, she just said "oh don't worry it will pass, it's nothing".
With the years I learned to live with this mental and spiritual anguish and I found solutions to cover it up. At a very young age I would obsessively 'escape' into my studies. The situation was absurd: Inside I was an anguished child; I have no other words to describe my state: anguished with no discernable reason, and full of anxieties, fears and horrible thoughts. But on the outside I was a perfect student, successful, socially popular and gifted in many areas such as music etc... Not a soul knew of my inner anguish.
"What's wrong with you?" my mother would ask "You have everything". Many times I only asked to die or at least to sleep and awaken to a new reality (I never actually attempted to take my life because deep inside I knew there must be an answer to all this), but every morning I would awaken with all the heavy emotional baggage, unexplainably stuck to me like a heavy stone sitting on my heart. For years I carried this heavy stone without rest. Besides for my fears I had many confusing philosophical and existential questions, and the lack of answers for them only strengthened my emotional state.
In High school the situation worsened as my heavy anguish was accompanied by the usual teenage emotional confusion. My social life deteriorated and my studies stopped being so important to me and couldn't serve as an escape any longer. I began to develop different eating disorders, as food became my escape. My social life became very important for me. Of course in a high school of 1000 students being the 'class queen' is very difficult and I had many social struggles. But mostly I was struggling for my sanity and my mental state.
I learned to live with myself by escaping to food, to loud music to relieve my soul, parties, discothèques. At the same time I began to go through a rebellion against my 'conservative' parents. They raised me traditionally with random 'rules' pertaining to religion, but all my friends were completely secular and to me it was confusing why I couldn't do all the things they could do. I rebelled against their religious values, I felt trapped like a caged animal. This period, I remember only as a very painful one for both me and my parents. Our relationship deteriorated and became a constant war zone. The more they tried to close me off from the secular world in which I was growing up, the more rebellious I became. Instead of going out with my friends to have fun, I started to work at the pubs. From a good studious girl, even a 'goody goody' I became a wild, extremely rebellious teenager (Today I look back and realize that this was all huge costume, too big for my size), and inside I remained a good momma's girl.
At that time this rebellion was a basic need for me. I needed attention constantly, and was always running away from this all-consuming evil that seemed to me rampant inside me. Of course, I had no idea what all this meant. I had no concept of the suffering of a Jewish soul. But my whole essence told me one thing: If I don't overcome this, it will overcome me. I was afraid of going mad, and emotional stability became my goal justifying all means.
I finished high school strangely enough with good grades but without taking my final exams. I just didn't show up to take them because when I would finally sit down to study, my fears and thoughts would attack me and I would escape into music or social activity. After high school I became friends with a group of people who smoked marijuana and this became my new alley for escape. I very quickly became addicted to this drug, and the more I smoked, the stronger I seemed to those around me. The way I dressed and acted, the music that I liked (Hard Rock) and my whole way of thinking was not acceptable in the town in which I grew up, and I found myself becoming an outcast, the obviously strange character in a small town. I stopped hanging out with my childhood 'boyscout' friends and became friends with the 'fringe' society.
Together we would go out to hard-rock clubs in Tel-Aviv, or just sit around for hours on the streets of Tel-Aviv talking about nothing, hating everything. The 'highlights' of my life became: the next time we would sit to smoke. And truthfully – I hated myself. The inner search for truth was still burning inside of me and I tried to find myself in different social groups. I felt as though I was surrounded by people living in the mold, coming and going with no purpose at all, and those who did try to break the mold, very often spoke with meaningless euphemisms and non-committal statements. In my search I 'touched' everything, but nothing really 'touched' me, and something inside me screamed – No! -- each time I got close to any teachings or different theories offered to me.
I had friends who were into healing, meditation, sayance, scientology etc... Many of the people around me parroted mantras and different proofs for their beliefs. Everything seemed to me stupid and meaningless. I couldn't find satisfaction in anything, and I couldn't stick to anything. I was not even able to hold a job. For a period of time I tried to live as an anarchist or something of the sort. I was surrounded by people who believed in this path with all their hearts (How so?). I would spend my time with them and return home exhausted and confused. It seemed as though they had high social values but so often their level of morality didn't match up to their words. The confusion was all around me, in my soul, and it only worsened with time.
The next stage in my life was my enlistment into the army. The IDF received me with open arms. I, who for years was so successful at hiding my anguished mental state, put on a mask of health and happiness. I was accepted automatically into a course for officers, despite my anarchist opinions.
Many times I would imagine what could happen if I revealed my inner emotional world, and after 3 and a half months in the course this actually happened. My hurting soul broke into pieces, and all my fears and awful feelings which I had tried desperately to hide, began to come out at each night, until once again I wanted to die. The army psychologist dismissed me from the army after hearing my life experiences with surprise (“every day is awful for me and I don't know why”, I told him).
My life continued to become an endless confusion of contradictions. On the one hand I was surrounded by smart people, spiritual and intellectual. Most of them confused, rebelling against all social norms but not finding any alternatives. But on the other hand I was thought of as 'mature for my age', adults loved me (for some reason...) and still thought of me as successful. Together with my inner search for tranquility, there was a burning quest after the truth. “Nothing is true” I would say sadly. Nothing in my life seemed worth the effort and endless race after the regular norm of getting up in the morning, working to make money, buying nothing, sleeping, waking up once more...
This rat-race seemed too stupid to live for. Bringing children into this world? The thought didn't occur to me for a minute. I began to live a double life: In the mornings I worked a good normal job. At nights I smoked marijuana and went out to pubs with the worst crowd. I still lived according to: the ends justify the means, the end being healthy emotional state – I got up and left for far away... to Eilat (the south of Israel).
Today looking back I know that in Eilat my 'Tshuva' started, because that is where I sunk to the lowest muck possible. I found work in a high class hotel and my days were spent under the influence of grass. I couldn't wake up without smoking in bed or live for more than 3-4 hrs without drugs. In the first months I lived in the illusion of happiness. I was free and far from my confining parents and boring society. At night I worked in a restaurant and pub, the rest of the time I smoked Marijuana and went out to parties. Drugs became the center of my life until in the end their effects turned to bad, because their 'job' is to bring out inner experiences and mine weren't exactly joy and happiness.
“My Bad”, as I called it, then began to emerge again and I suffered. I saw that all the people around me were as superficial as everyone, running after money for nothing (as I also was then). Again I had no one to talk to and not a soul understood me. People like to see you beautiful and happy, and if you are not, the downfall is obvious. The first point of light during that time was not conscious. My partner, who I lived with then, also worked nights, and when I wasn't working I had to sleep all alone. The small one room apt. we rented, we thought was haunted with spirits because many strange things occurred, and we would hear strange unexplained voices. I don't know if these fears were well founded, but one night I slept alone and awoke shaking with fear. The hours passed and I could barely fall asleep. I felt the fear in all my limbs and I longed for the coming morning.
“What could I do to stop feeling afraid?” I wondered to myself half asleep. And then suddenly from within my soul I saw a big white sign on it was written in blue “Hear on Israel, the Lord our G-d, the Lord is one. Blessed is his name, exalted is his kingship for ever.” And I knew inside me that this was the answer. I immediately awoke, and half asleep I wrote down what I had seen, I added a Star of David and hung the sign across from my bed. That night I slept with a feeling of peace, full of confidence. This was a complete renewal for me, as at that time I had let go of even the little Judaism that I had kept – no Holidays, no Shabbat, nothing! I worked around the clock without knowing which day it was or what the Hebrew date was on the calendar. A month later I awoke with an awful gut feeling. “What am I doing here?” I asked myself, “This is not my place”. The silly emptiness of Eilat, which had enchanted me in the beginning as an escape from myself began to disgust me.
In a decision of a minute I packed my suitcase and got the next flight home. This time I was broken, even crushed. I felt like I had tasted everything that life had to offer, and anything which I hadn't yet tried was just a different form of something I had already been through. Heaven saved me from getting involved in heavy drugs, as I was so close to this, but I knew that this could greatly affect my mental state so I was left at age 19 with nothing to hold on to. Everything was useless and recycled. “I'm living for nothing,” so I felt. I couldn't handle my inner emotional pain and depression any longer.
I decided that I had to change to take care of myself, to grow to fix, but I didn't know how. Only one thing I knew – I couldn't go on like this. I met an old friend from my past, when I returned home. It was during the high holy days, and he asked me where I was going to be for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. I told him that I was going to be on the Kibbutz with friends (I meant a secular Kibbutz where I could profane the holiday without guilt). He was shocked and offered me to spend the holiday with him. He was just beginning his return process himself, and I saw a big light on his face but didn't understand what it was.
“You should read psalms”, he said simply in one of our discussions. He didn't realize what this advice would do for me. My mother almost fainted from happiness when I asked her to buy me a book of Psalms, and she ran to the store to fulfill my request. I followed my friend’s advice and began to read, word after word, chapter after chapter, and for the first time in my life I felt asthough someone in this world understands me. Not just understands, but penetrates my soul, reads my thoughts as if he is inside them. I fell in love with the Psalms and my feelings were time and time again, as though I were writing each sentence with tears. This book, with each and every word expressing exactly my emotions, broke through huge barriers of pain and suffering, my tears were like those of a small girl endlessly falling deep into the nights. I was still completely secular at this time; I worked on Shabbat and was still smoking marijuana.
That Yom Kippur I will never forget, because at the end of the day I felt purified and cleansed in a way I had never felt before. I returned home from synagogue with my father crying endlessly. The book of Psalms became the central point of light in my life, practically the carrier of my soul. Slowly, slowly I began to keep Shabbat but it wasn't easy. Cigarettes and drugs sometimescaught me, and only the simple reading of the book of Psalms was constant for me. Despite everything I read Psalms and eventually I persevered. I started to feel this great light enveloping me and filling me with warmth and love which I needed so much.
I discovered anew a G-d who I always knew existed but somehow lost along the way. I began to talk with him and tell him everything, how hard the empty pain was, how meaningless my life was. I lifted my eyes towards the heavens and said to my creator:
“You should know, that if you exist (even though I felt G-d in my heart, intellectually it was hard for me to believe) then you are my last path in this world because I have nowhere to turn to, and I have no more strength anymore. If you exist,” I asked “prove it to me, show me, and help me. I will do anything I need to, because I really have nothing to live for anymore”.
And of course G-d answered me. Everything I asked for happened. The beginning was hard but full of help from above. First I continued with my secular life, but I kept the Shabbat and some other basic precepts of Judaism.
The stronger I became the more I became disgusted with those around me. I would sit in the pubs with my friends, chain smoking, and waiting for the moment when I would be able to lie on my bed with my book of Psalms. The immense hole of emptiness would become threatening every time I went out to 'have fun'. Pubs, parties – everything disgusted me. Even just sitting in a café seemed empty and meaningless to me. I was searching for meaning with all my being.
I disconnected relationships (especially with the opposite sex) leaving myself with almost no friends. “I want religious friends”, I begged G-d, and he sent me old friends who were just returning. For the first time in my life I felt as though I was doing the right thing, with certainty without self delusions. I found a job at the airport as a cashier, and I slowly started to learn the holy books. My spiritual thirst was immense. I felt like I wanted to swallow the books whole, complete libraries... The more I learned the greater my will to know more. To do more, to really feel G-d.
I begged without an end that G-d should lead me toward the truth. I was afraid of making mistakes. Many times I asked G-d: “Is this what you really want? These rituals, these written prayers, these costumes, these laws? I love you,” I said to G-d “and if this is what you want, I will do it”. And so it was, I advanced pretty quickly in my return, and very quickly I realized where I wanted to go. I wanted to go to the end, to the absolute truth. No compromises, no middle path, no secular life with religious overtones. I wanted to be religious till the end, to truly fear the word of G-d, because this is what He wants. My friends acquainted me with a new concept which I had barely heard of it at all: They showed me Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, may his merit protect us. “Our Teacher- Rabbenu”, they called him. They told me about Rabbi Nachman, his student Rabbi Natan and Rabbi Israel Dov Odesser, Master of the letter, who revealed the new song: NA NACH NACHMA NACHMAN ME'UMAN.
Divine providence accompanied me constantly, at every moment of my life. Where I worked, there were two young religious men, one of them a Breslover. They became my spiritual teachers. One of them taught me simple Jewish concepts, and the other opened for me a window into the world of Chassidut, and let me read the many books in the store where he worked – the books of Rabbi Nachman. “Rabbi Nachman doesn't want me”, I said to him one day, “I don't understand a lot, what's written in the books”. He answered: “Rabbi Nachman wants all the people of Israel. Just ask to understand”.
So I asked. And since that day a new world was opened before me, a world full of light and healing – the words of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. I bought many books and filled my room with holy books, sifting out all the secular books from the house. The process was gradual but basic and was a kind of internal cleaning. After a while I heard of a special woman with a family who lived in Meron. She hosted women who were learning about Breslov in her home. I called her up and was invited to her home. We arrived at her house during the days between Passover and Shavuot. We immediately connected, she offered me to come and live with her for several weeks and to get close to Rabbi Nachman and this is what I did. I arrived at her house for Shavuot and I sat behind the guesthouse and wept, begging G-d to show me the way.
I decided to choose Breslov from all the different groups of Judaism which I came across along my path of return. I felt in my heart that here was the light, and that in the general truth of Judaism I had to choose and continue to search after the final point truth (the truth of the truth). At this time I left my job.
Even though I received great support during my whole process of return I felt like the secular atmosphere wasn't conducive for me. So half a year after beginning my process I arrived in Meron. I feel like my true 'tshuva' of healing of my body and soul began in Meron. My closeness to the holy Tzadikim – Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, Rabbi Nachman and 'Sabba'-Rabbi Israel Dov Odesser – was truthful and innocent and required self sacrifice (leaving my family, friends, work and changing my way of life- starting to live as religious women all the way and changing my habits and dress). All this did its work and my bitter, painful heart began to heal.
The walls of self protection which I had built around me for all these years began to crumble and the emotional therapy which I had been awaiting for 10 years began. Two days after arriving in Meron I took an evening walk with my hostess and I broke down in tears, like a small child.
“My life is terrible. All my life has been like this. I don't know why. I have no reasons and no one understands me”.
She hugged me warmly and told me that G-d will help me and that the Tzadik heals. I don't think I really understood what she was saying and maybe I didn't really believe her. I was very depressed, and without Rabbi Nachman who said: “There is no despair in this world at all”, I think I would have given up on my sanity long ago.
So I began intensive self work with a lot of prayers for the healing of my soul. I felt like I was holding on to prayer like a lifeline, and didn't stop. Rabbi Israel Dov Odesser says: “Likutey Tefilot is the hospital of the world”. This is how I felt. Each word of Rabbi Natan's prayer book was engraved from the depth of my heart and soul from the suffering of my being. Mountains of garbage melted with each prayer.
The peak of healing was my trip to Uman – the gravesite of Rabbi Nachman. There I felt like the root of my darkness was being uprooted, something that no psychologist could have done. There was no intellectual explanation for this. My mind had always been an obstacle in my return, and I stood amazed at the blessed unbelievable change that I saw in front of my eyes. The enchanted story with the Tzadik worked its magic on me. I felt my old fears and anxieties which I worked so hard to suppress, coming up and surfacing, but this time to heal and cleanse me for ever.
I returned from Uman changed, and continued in my spiritual work of cleansing and purifying myself. Sometimes I felt as though I was on an operating table and I didn't know how long the long operation would continue. After years of confusion and searching after the truth, after something worth living and dying for, 3 years of a journey for my essence, and finally Rabbi Nachman was taking care of me.
I drifted from place to place, while searching for my own, but I always made sure to travel to Jerusalem, to the grave of Rabbi Israel Dov Odesser, to cleanse my soul with prayers and weeping. Anyone who has gone through such suffering of the soul can understand how tiring the process of healing is.
Another two and a half years and I met my husband (through my hostess in Meron) and we built a Jewish home with G-d’s help. I say with a full heart that all the pain I suffered and the searching because of the pain – it was all worth it, only to merit the wonderful opportunity to return and discover the uttermost truth, the simple pure truth of returning to G-d and coming close to the true Tzadik, the holy 'Rabbenu' NA NACH NACHMA NACHMAN ME'UMAN.
He is, with G-d’s help, the healing for my soul, and in his merit I was able with the goodness of G-d, to see an utter miracle, to be released from the suffering of my soul and to build a healthy Jewish home and bring children into the world. Of course, the process is never-ending, the work is endless, but the soul is continually being healed, thank G-d. I hope all of the Jewish nation will get close to the true Tzadik and be redeemed from the bondage of this world speedily.