I hadn’t been serving G-d until now
My name is Yitzchak, I was born and raised here in New Jersey*(name and place are changed). Unlike many people in these pages, my story starts as a frum Jew. I grew up in a religious home where Torah was valued to the highest degree. My father was well respected in the community. He taught hundreds of kids and was a source of support for anyone with any sort of issue. Very often he raised money on his own for those in need, gave a listening ear and dropped off gifts secretly by their doors. My mother as well supported him. She herself does a lot chessed. She has a talent for sewing and very often can be found sitting for hours mending clothing for free. As a kid, modest clothing wasn’t available in the area she lived and she had learned how to sew by making her own modest clothing.
Raised with such parents, some would think that there couldn’t possibly be a need to improve. That’s a big mistake and Hashem made it very clear to me that something I was doing was wrong. I needed to improve.
I was always considered a good kid. I was attentive in class, I paid attention and got average grades. I also valued Torah as my parents did. Throughout my childhood I always loved movement. I loved to play ball, skate, bike, canoe etc. Going to school was a time to learn, grow and then go out to play ball. Many Sundays were spent playing baseball. Sometimes I played roller hockey or Ice Hockey. I was a member at the skatepark. Throughout this time I also learned and always tried to be polite and sensitive to people. Every now and then I had an oversensitive moment and I got angry at something or misinterpreted something. For the most part though I did what was right. This went on for a number of years. I felt comfortable with the way I was living and figured I’m a pretty good guy. I have my head in the right place, I’m growing, what could I be doing wrong.
As time went on I started developing health problems. In ninth grade my stomach started bothering me. I started making frequent visits to the restroom. Some more time passed I started bleeding while I used the restroom. More time passed and I started needing the restroom more frequently. It got to a point where I started needing the restroom on a constant basis. Every few minutes I needed to run. Since I was bleeding each time I went, my strength started to go. The loss of blood caused me to get very tired. All the while I didn’t know that I had any illness, this went on for about a year and half. For some reason I never thought to go to a Doctor. At some point, I started falling asleep during class and not being able to focus. One day I just stayed home from school and stayed in bed. My mother decided to talk to someone about this and she was told to take me straight to the emergency room. I spent about two and half weeks there getting tests and x-rays done. They soon discovered that I had Crohns, a genetic disease that effects the bowels. Part of the digestive tract gets sore by the food you eat and if you’re not careful you could end up requiring surgery. Thank G-d I didn’t need surgery, but regardless I had to watch what I ate. The Doctor put me on a liquid diet, which basically meant I wasn’t allowed to eat for several days. Eventually they reintroduced me to bland diet in which I had to eat foods that wouldn’t affect my stomach. Over my stay at the hospital I also developed cediphasil, which is another form of stomach illness. I lost a lot of the little weight that I had to begin with and then was released from the hospital. From then on I bounced from Doctor to Doctor with my mother, trying to figure a suitable health plan that didn’t involve a lack of food and living out of an outpatient clinic. This went on for about two years, here and there I had many ups and downs with my health. I started to get used to living this way. It was a drop frustrating but not too bad.
I was still interested in growing all this time and started investing more energy into my growth. I wasn’t necessarily adding hours to my learning but I was shaping my attitude to serving Hashem.
After Highschool I went out of town to Yeshiva to learn. I was very driven to grow and succeed in learning. The schedule was very demanding, its about a fourteen-hour day, with meals, breaks and prayer in between. I tried my best to make it all the way through each day and sometimes staying a few extra minutes. I starting being very focused on goals of growing, often getting frustrated if I didn’t grow enough. My patience for others started going down a drop while I felt like I was going up. I didn’t realize at the time, but my service of Hashem wasn’t exactly service of Hashem. I was serving myself. I was making myself great, not Hashem. Perhaps I would even appreciate a solid compliment about my studiousness, or my level of learning. In the religious world its called the Frum Yetzer Hara (the religious evil inclination). Many people have no concept of this, but its really the same Yetzer Hara that causes a person to lie cheat and steal. You are serving yourself, not Hashem. You are serving your ego.
My desire to grow (make myself great) pushed me to move back to New Jersey after Passover and learn as best as I could there. I learned and tried as best as I could to focus. After a few months of learning, my Yeshiva took us to Israel to learn and be inspired. Throughout our stay we visited great Talmidei Chachamim (Wise and righteous people). After the Yeshiva trip came to an end, I stayed in Israel for a little while longer with my brother and some friends. We intended to enjoy ourselves, which we did. We went on a few trips and had some fun. For one of our trips we decided to hike from Teveria to Tzfas. We walked around a little and then found a hostile owned by an old couple and we stayed there for the night. The next day we woke up early, davened and set out towards our trail which would take us towards Tzfas. We hiked for hours in the hot sun, mountains and trees surrounded us. There was no civilization around us. After a while of hiking, some of the guys got tired and decided to hitch to Tzfas. I and another friend decided to continue by ourselves. We didn’t realize at the time, but the trail got harder, the markers were further apart and we got lost. And we kept on getting lost. By the time Tzfas was in sight it was almost dark. Baruch Hashem we made it to Tzfas, had a good time and were a drop tired out. That’s when the trouble began.
Maybe it’s because I didn’t drink enough, regardless Hashem stepped in. My stomach started bothering me. And this time it didn’t let up. I was always on the run to the restroom. My flight home was shortly after and my stomach continued to bother me. I developed a hemorrhoid, and my continuous bowel movements caused it to burst. My stomach was bothering me constantly and I was bleeding constantly. At some point I stopped eating. There wasn’t really much opportunity for me to think about anything. I was in discomfort and had run to the bathroom constantly. I also stopped drinking and I wasn’t able to fall asleep. The human mind can only handle so much and my actions showed it. I started saying odd things and doing odd things. I don’t really have a particular order of how things played out because I don’t really remember. I tried buying cars from random people. I walked to different people’s houses and started talking about different things. There came a point somewhere between Rosh Hashana and Chanuka where I started playing around in my mother’s house. I accidently broke a few things, some by accident and some not so. My mother couldn’t handle it and called some people. Meanwhile I was making believe I was a karate guy and scaring the daylights out of my mother. I told someone I wanted a neighbor across the street to come and he did. I punched him in the stomach. Then Shomrim came and I started jumping around scaring them. Four of them surrounded me and took me down. Meanwhile I was making all sorts of comments. Then the police came and put me in handcuffs and took me to the mental hospital. Things got worse. I couldn’t sit still for more then a few minutes at a time. There were all sorts of strange people there. When they had group therapy I couldn’t really focus and I interrupted every time (I think). At some point when the staff wasn’t looking I got up and walked through the double doors out of the hospital and walked for about four hours all the way to the Yeshiva near my house. I had escaped. The police were waiting for me there and brought me back to the hospital. This time they had twenty four hour security by my door.
Throughout my stay at the hospital many people visited me including my parents, siblings, friends, teachers and members of the community. I had gone from being good and with it, to a Chesed case. Someone who needs help. I had always been considered normal, well behaved and well liked. It was all taken away. While in the hospital several days of my life were missing from my memory. Eventually I was released and from then on it was back and forth to a psychiatrist and neurotherapy sessions. This went on for over a year. I had been diagnosed with bipolar disease with psychosis. My caring mother despite all odds and severe warnings from the psychiatrist started lowering the doses for the medicine I was getting. She figured that if I regress, at least I had fair shot at coming out normal as opposed to having to take these drugs my whole life. She was getting advised by the alternative medicine Doctor who was giving me therapy. A while later I was off all medication for bipolar and started putting my life together again. My life was changed.
Throughout this upheaval in my life I got many apologetic stares, had many conversations. I was being helped by many people, it was very uncomfortable. I had little control of my life. I was being led by a force that was way beyond me. My intensity slowly melted away, I started introducing Faith and Trust in G-d into my life. Although I was raised religious, did everything religious people do and even spent time learning, I hadn’t been serving G-d until now. I was forced to constantly think rationally otherwise I could fall back into my previous state of being. I was forced to realize that no aspect of my life is solid or unbreakable. My body is fragile, my mind is fragile and at any point in time Hashem can take everything away. Later on I got married and our financial situation has been consistently fragile. I consistently have to rely on Hashem for physical health, mental health and monetary health. Once Hashem is part of your life you become much more calm and collected. My younger brother notified me that he saw a big difference in the way I was before the health problems and after.
Eventually I went back to New York and learned for a few years. While I was there I picked up Cd by Rabbi Mizrahi and got hooked the second I started listening. I remember saying out loud to myself this person talks Tachlis (to the point) every time. A short while later I picked up a Cd by Rabbi Reuven about his life story. It was gripping and to the point. I’ve been hooked ever since. I listened to one of his Shiurim(gehinom) on line with a Tanach in hand and started checking all the sources. Shortly thereafter I started sending him questions and Baruch Hashem got good answers. What else do you need. Take advantage of the truth being told straight and it will get you to the place you want. Consider this story a Baal Teshuva story because now my religion has G-d in it.
Yitzchak (New Jersey, USA)