“I’ve had enough!” I clenched my fists quickly, terrified of the repercussions of unleashing my pent-up anger. I swiftly made my way to the forest, my haven for moments like these. The outbursts didn’t occur infrequently anymore, and the serenity and fresh air of the Judean Hills always seemed to calm my nerves. That voice again, that ceaseless call once more echoed through my being: “Everything seems fine, yet something is missing.”

At that point, I had been learning in Yeshiva for a few months and was having a difficult time acclimating. I wondered, “Is there something wrong with me?” I had the ability to learn in Yeshiva surrounded by my close friends, without the need to shoulder the responsibilities of living at home. What could be better? Yet, despite this privilege, I was not satisfied with life in Yeshiva. Learning Gemara in-depth for ten hours a day was overwhelming to say the least. But it was more than that – I began to sense that I wasn’t deriving as much pleasure from davening and the performance of other Mitzvos as I used to before my arrival. What frightened me more than anything else was that I was beginning to accept the possibility that Judaism was not supposed to be enjoyable excepting, perhaps, special zemanim like Shabbos and Yom Tov. My continuous inability to detect what I was lacking in my Judaism sparked increasing frustration. But in a moment of honesty, it was clear that these feelings of dissatisfaction did not suddenly arise when I arrived at Yeshiva. They were part of a narrative that had run its course throughout my entire life.

From the time I was a child, I had been perpetually confused regarding how to live the optimal Jewish life. This confusion was due to a stark contrast I constantly witnessed between the way that my parents practiced Judaism and the practice of others. On the one hand, when I looked around, I noticed that there were many frum Jews whose experience of Judaism seemed to lack effort or passion. Unfortunately, in many instances, their lack of interest in their daily avodah made it appear as if they viewed living a Torah life to be a burden. The way my parents engaged in Yahadus, on the other hand, couldn’t have been more different. They didn’t just practice Judaism. They lived it. Every breath that they took permeated with joy and vitality for avodas Hashem. Hashem’s Presence was palpable. He was not just some distant Being that had to check up on us once in a while to ensure that we toed the line. He was our Best Friend, Someone with Whom we strove to build a relationship. Consistently exposed to these conflicting messages, I was reasonably agitated. While too young at the time to adequately pinpoint the root of my frustration, I do remember being confronted by an internal struggle. Who was right? Were we supposed to live our lives with vitality and joy for Judaism, or was it simply enough to be satisfied by following the guidelines of Halacha with little to no emotion?

When I arrived at high school, my questions regarding the optimal way to live a Jewish life were forced to the back of my mind while I entered the maze of adolescence. Suddenly, my days were filled with hours of Gemara learning. Coupled with having to focus on secular studies, making new friends, and watching football, I was too busy being a Jewish teenager to contemplate the significance of developing a relationship with Hashem. In addition, it seemed more acceptable than ever to just go through the motions of living a Jewish life without investing much thought into understanding why living a Jewish life was meaningful to me. Many people surrounding me seemed to be content with simply existing within the boundaries of Halacha. At first, living such a lifestyle did not bother me; however, as time went on, the void within me began to grow rapidly. Faced with this crisis, I responded the way that most teenagers would: I busied myself with various distractions. I was committed to involve myself in anything that would keep my mind off the emptiness that threatened to take me captive. However, in the back of my mind I realized that this was an issue I could not avoid forever.

Following my troubling experience in high school, I arrived at Yeshiva with a sense of hope. Maybe I would be able to pinpoint what was lacking in the Judaism I had known and actually begin to derive fulfillment from engaging in a relationship with Hashem. However, my adjustment to Yeshiva life was met with numerous challenges. A combination of long days, new friends, and sub-optimal living conditions made it more difficult to devote my full attention to solving the root of my issues. These new hurdles only exacerbated my desire to solve this enigma. Instead of recognizing that this lifelong internal struggle was truly the source of my agitation, I blamed my frustration on anything and everything else that I could. I told myself that all of my friends seemed to similarly be experiencing challenges while adjusting to life in Yeshiva, so it was reasonable that I was struggling as well. However, as time went on, and my friends resolved their turbulence while I still felt this void, it became clear to me that I continued to suffer from the problems I had been experiencing since I was a child. It drove me insane. What was I missing? In addition to the increasing frustration mounting within me, a sense of panic began to overtake me as well. It had gotten to a point where I was seriously considering leaving Yeshiva due to my lack of interest in continuing to grind out the remainder of my time in Israel. Was I condemned to enter marriage and parenthood without enthusiasm for a religion that would dictate the remainder of my life? I couldn’t stand it any longer. Time and time again, I raced to the forest to collect my thoughts.

This all changed one day in my second winter in Yerushalayim. For a few months, one of my friends had been attempting to persuade me to attend a Chassidus shiur given by R’ Yaakov Klein. At first, I was apprehensive. I had never been exposed to Chassidus before. I vividly remember thinking, “Isn’t Chassidus meant for Chassidim?” However, after an especially difficult day in Yeshiva, I finally acquiesced. What would I have to lose by attending an inspirational shiur?

I walked into the shiur cautiously optimistic. I left a changed person. I was floating. R’ Yaakov discussed numerous topics I had never heard about before. I was never aware of the fact that I had the ability to connect with Hashem even when accomplishing the most mundane actions. That I could actually speak to Him in my own words when I wasn’t davening. Hearing about the possibility of cultivating a profound, loving relationship with Hashem created a sense of joy within me that I had never experienced before. However, the most reassuring part of that night was the validation I received in my belief that I indeed possessed the ability to derive fulfillment from my interaction with Hashem through the fulfillment of Torah and mitzvos.

This experience was just the beginning of a glorious journey. In the ensuing weeks, I was enchanted by R’ Yaakov’s book “The Story of Our Lives”, an explanation of Rebbe Nachman’s tale of The Lost Princess. In this famed parable, Rebbe Nachman tells the story of a princess who goes missing and a viceroy’s epic quest to locate her. R’ Yaakov explains that the princess represents the wonder of our youth which we often lose in our transition from childhood to adulthood. We become so accustomed to the nature of this world that we are no longer captivated by it. Many times, this process occurs with our Yiddishkeit as well. As we grow older, we lose interest in davening, learning Torah, and keeping mitzvos. The viceroy’s mission to find the princess is analogous to our critical journey to recapture the spirit of our youth. Embedded in this story are the keys necessary to reacquire this fascination for our experiences in this world as well as our relationship with Hashem. What I found so intriguing about Rebbe Nachman’s parable was the realization that I was not alone in my search to rediscover the beauty and profundity of our religion.  I learned that many people undergo a similar journey along which they lose their passion for their holy tradition and then begin to seek the “princess” for which they so desperately yearn.

I finally realized why I derived little sense of fulfillment in Yeshiva up until that point: I had lacked a true sense of mission. Although the importance of Torah study was reiterated many times throughout my experience in high school and Yeshiva, I never truly understood my role as a Torah-observant Jew was in this world and why it was so important for me to fulfill that role. Was it a surprise, then, that I wasn’t completely investing my time and energy into learning Torah and doing mitzvos? My introduction to “penimiyusseforim offered me many of the answers to the questions that related to the very root of my mission and why it was so integral for me to accomplish my spiritual objectives. Once I began to understand the significance and depth of my unique mission, a sense of happiness and fulfillment permeated every ounce of my body, a feeling that altered the way I interacted with the world on a daily basis. I began to relate to Torah and mitzvos in a completely different manner than I had. Each mitzvah was no longer seen as an action that had to be completed, but another way to connect with Hashem. Every second of life that I was granted was now seen as an opportunity to progress on the ultimate journey.

Having been granted this refreshing perspective, it has become clear that there is an issue we, as the Jewish people, must confront. There are too many of Jews who don’t feel as if they derive a sense of fulfillment from their practice of Judaism. There are too many of us that are not striving to actualize our infinite potential. And through my own experience, I have come to understand that this is due to the fact that many of us are simply unaware that we have been sent on a mission; a beautiful, profound mission to bring Hashem down into this world despite the numerous indicators screaming that such a task is impossible. The reason that we are not aware of this mission is often because while we have occupied ourselves with answering the “what” and “how” questions regarding Judaism, such as how to psychically conduct our lives in a manner that is in congruence with Halacha, we sometimes forget to answer the question that is more important than that: the essential question of “why?Why do we learn Torah? Why do we engage in mitzvos? It is only after we’ve begun to understand what our mission is in this world and why it is so important that we can then garner the passion and determination to achieve this lofty goal of revealing G-d’s presence to the world.

Therefore, I make one humble request of you, dear reader: Search! Please don’t allow the preconceived notions about Judaism with which you were raised stop you from embarking on a journey that can change your life. Search endlessly for the answers to the “why questions” that you may have about Torah and mitzvos. Because when you find those answers, you will realize that every action that you accomplish in this world has endless ramifications for the entirety of creation. That every seemingly trivial interaction that you have with the physical world is bursting with infinite meaning. That you possess the capabilities to develop a profound and loving relationship with the Master of the World. That practicing Judaism doesn’t have to feel like an overwhelming burden. That you can actually enjoy learning Torah. And that davening doesn’t have to feel ten hours long.

However, the only way to attain such a beautiful lifestyle is by granting yourself permission to search. Hashem wants to cultivate a relationship with you. All you need to do is begin to look for Him.

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Anonymous
2 years ago

Wow, beautifully written and so meaningful.

Yehoshua
2 years ago

I can really really relate to this. While I didn’t grow up frum or go to a religious high school, I did “lose my princess”. I got hope when I was a teenager after reading a Rabbi Tatz book, it sounded like Torah really had what I was looking for. Ending up in a non-chassidish yeshiva though quickly burned that out of me and I ended up fearing the same thing as the writer. The underlying message was Judaism I was being sold as true (and convinced, unfortunately, for 10 years) was exactly as the writer puts it. Gone were any hopes of answering the big questions about how is it possible to love Hashem, fear Him, be humble, love Torah and mitzvot, judge favourably, have pristine emuna, never be afraid, discover what’s so important about all this… Until I discovered chassidus. Rabbi Klein’s sefer on the Lost Princess solidified it for me too. I remember even asking a Rabbi when I was in yeshiva “I feel like I’ve lost my connection to my emotions, I feel deadened by my teenage years and I was wondering if the Torah says anything about getting it back”. It was my clumsy way of asking this very question, and I remember how the Rabbi looked at me like I was crazy and couldn’t answer… What a shame! It’s funny how you hear lots of stories of frum people discovering chassidus. I’ve never heard a story of a chassid discovering misnagdus lol. I have discovered my princess, I am slowly coaxing her back into the castle, the gates in the walls of my doubts and distrust are slowly opening and I have so much gratitude for people like Rabbi Klein, Rabbi Manis Friedman and all the great chassidic masters who never gave up on Jews like me. I believe the true sense of life we had as children, the True Life deriving from Hashem’s Infinite Light, is easily in our reach and I wish to share it with the world. I give bracha to all trying to spread the light of chassidus, including myself, that we should be successful and we should see Moshiach now!