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I thought I knew everything

I thought I knew everything

I thought I knew everything but I was in for a rude awakening...

I went to a Jewish school. I listened to shiurim. I loved Hashem but I did not progress beyond being a "cardiac jew". Hashem was in my heart but not in my actions. The lessons I learned from many of our modern religious leaders were very comforting but they did not make me change my ways.

As my journey through life unfolded, I was successful in my undertakings. I was popular and super confident. I had a silver tongue. I could charm any woman. I could sweet talk my way into any job. I could sell ice to an Eskimo. Life was amazing.

I always had the inclination to become religious. However, I couldn't reconcile what I had learned from many of my modern religious educators with reality. I was inculcated with a concept of God that was self-refuting.

I had a lot of questions. If God is good, then why is there so much suffering in the world? Why childhood cancer? Where was God during the Holocaust?

If God is all-powerful, why is He powerless to stop the anti-semites, disease or disabilities?

How do we know that the Torah is true? Maybe the documentary hypothesis explains the authorship of the Torah. After all, this is what most Jews in the Reform Movement believe.

At one point, I descended into atheism. This was short-lived because I could not accept the notion that the entire universe could have spontaneously created itself out of nothing. I knew there had to be a Creator.

I never progressed religiously because I had too many stumbling blocks. The concept of God that was taught to me seemed too irrational to be true. So I guess you could say that I effectively lived as an agnostic. Even though I wanted to be more observant, I was drifting further and further away from Judaism.

Then disaster struck. I was afflicted with a chronic form of social anxiety. It was very strange. All my life, I was a happy, confident and resilient person. Even though I had bouts of depression or anxiety at various points in my life, I could always overcome it. This time, I just couldn't shake it off.

My life started to fall apart. I couldn't do sales presentations anymore. I couldn't function in meetings. I lost my job. I couldn't interview for a new one. I lost my friends. My marriage was on the rocks. I had legal problems. Every business I touched failed. I became impoverished.

I am not a Navi, so I might be wrong about this, but when I look back, I feel that Hashem was punishing me measure for measure.

The silver tongue that I once used to seduce forbidden women, hurt and embarrass people, lie to customers, lie to job interviewers, talk lashon hara, cause quarrels, disrespect my parents etc. now became a chronic source of pain and embarrassment for me. I feel like Hashem turned my biggest asset into a whip against me.

I struggled against this for over 5 years. Then I gave up. I could see nothing was working. I decided to take some time out to do some soul searching.

I took a menial job dropping off advertising flyers in mailboxes. It was very humbling. I was once a corporate star, now I was a lowly flyer delivery boy. It was a depressing low point in my life.

Little did I know, this low point was soon to become one of the most glorious periods of my life.

I was paid peanuts to walk 10 hours a day, delivering flyers in the Australian summer heat. Some days were over 45 Degrees Celcius (113 Degrees Fahrenheit).

I was walking through rough Muslim neighbourhoods, notorious for Middle Eastern organised crime gangs. I was sunburnt and dripping with sweat.  My feet were swollen and blistered. It should have been hell on Earth but these were some of the best days of my life.

These were the days where, after a lifetime of searching, I finally found Hashem.

As I walked, I decided to study the Tanakh cover to cover. I went through it slowly and carefully with a Nach Yomi program that explained every pasuk in accordance with traditional Jewish commentaries.

WOW! I was blown away. That's when EVERYTHING changed.

Every pasuk was delicious, sweeter than honey. This is what I had been missing all my life. I started to discover intellectually satisfying answers to all my questions.

One by one, all my stumbling blocks started to vanish. God finally started to make sense. Life started to make sense. My suffering started to make sense. The world started to make sense. It was beautiful.

Why suffering? Why the holocaust? What's the purpose of life? All the answers were there. It completely transformed the way I viewed the world.

The more I studied, the more the idea that the documentary hypothesis could account for the authorship of the Torah seemed like an absurdity.

Surprisingly, I also discovered that the Torah of the Nevi'im was quite different to the Torah I had been taught, by many of my modern orthodox educators, for most of my life.

I finally understood that God makes certain demands of me and I wasn't living up to them. They are not optional. It was time to do teshuva.

I examined my ways. I was brutally honest with myself. When I held my life up to the standard required of me by the Tanakh, I came up lacking. I could see that, for most of my life, I conducted myself like a disgusting human being. I was ashamed. I had a lot of sins. It was time to change my ways.

I didn't transform overnight. Even now, my teshuva is still a work in progress. I have over 40 years of sins and bad middot to fix. Some of these are so ingrained in me, I will probably have to battle against them for the rest of my life.

I started by fixing my moral conduct. I cleaned up my act in business. I was meticulous about not stealing, not deceiving people and being honest. I started to keep Shabbat. I improved my level of Kashrut.

After 5 years of struggling, almost immediately after I began my teshuva journey, my fortunes started to change.

Hashem blessed me with a good business opportunity that was enough to keep my family comfortable. When that came to an end, He had a safety net for me and brought other opportunities into my life. He blessed me with another child. My marriage started to improve. My social anxiety started to go away.

Now, I don't claim to be a Tzaddik. I don't think Hashem changed my fortunes because of my righteousness. I still had I lot of teshuva to do. I still do now.

I am not a Navi, I don't know the mind of Hashem, but I feel that my fortunes changed because of Hashem's great mercy and infinite kindness. If you are genuine about doing teshuva, Hashem helps you. Even though I am far from perfect, Hashem had compassion on me.

I can see now that Hashem didn't afflict me out of malice. He was rebuking me for my own good. When I got the message, He turned down the heat. It made me a better person. When I look back, I can see that His rebuke, even though it was painful, was an act of kindness. I am thankful for it.

As my relationship with Hashem blossomed,  I no longer need a "reward" to feel motivated to do teshuva. Keeping Hashem's mitzvot and working on myself makes me feel close to Hashem, that's all the "reward" that I need. I now have the one thing I searched for all my life - a meaningful relationship with Hashem. It has enriched my life beyond measure.

Hashem still chastises me from time to time, but I know to embrace it now. Now, I get the message.

I learned more Torah and did more teshuva. I starting reading works like Shaarei Teshuva, Mishneh Torah and the Shulchan Aruch.

Rabbis on YouTube like Rabbi Mizrachi and Rabbi Reuven inspired me (through tough rebuke) to take my teshuva to the next level.

I am now guarding my Brit and guarding my eyes. I am keeping Shabbat and Yom Tov. My wife and I observe the laws of Niddah, I try to guard my tongue against speaking lies and lashon hara. I try not to hurt people with my words. I have improved the way I honour my parents. I am meticulous about not cheating in business. I put on tefillin and go to shule regularly. I am trying my best to do more acts of Chesed and to give more Tzedakah and so on and so on.

I still have a long way to go. I still make mistakes. I stumble but I get back up and try harder.

A lot of our religious leaders today are afraid to rebuke us. They think it will turn us away from Judaism. They give us a very comforting theological message and try to "inspire" us to become more observant. They think they need to be a Rabbinical version of Tony Robbins. This is not what our generation needs.

Our generation does not have a problem with too little "self-esteem". If anything, our generation has a problem with too much "self-esteem". Many of us are filled with arrogance and pride and lead self-centered lives. The most ignorant among us think they know better than our Sages of blessed memory.

Our generation needs more Jeremiahs, Ezekiels and Isaiahs and less "feel good" Judaism. We need to be told the cold hard truth. Even if it hurts. We need to be shocked out of our inertia. We need to be put in our place. We need a reality check.

If someone gave me the cold hard truth when I was younger, I could have changed my ways sooner. Being rebuked by a human would have been less painful than the rebuke I got from Hashem. Perhaps someone could have spared me 5 years of suffering.

Hashem taught me that He is real and His Torah is true, the hard way. I went against Hashem and His Torah and lived my life like a Rasha, so he starting bringing all the curses of Vayikra 26 and Devarim 28 upon me. Then when I started to do teshuva, he started to lift the curses and bring His bracha back into my life.

Feel good" Judaism is not working. "God loves everyone, even the biggest Rasha" Judaism is not working.

Jewish education has failed. We need to do better for the sake of our children. We need to improve it.

Intermarriage and assimilation are through the roof.

Our kids leave school not even understanding the unique significance of Judaism's national revelation claim.

Our kids are taught that Hashem loves you unconditionally, even if you sin. It is not true. There are deeds that you can do, that are such an abomination, it can make Hashem hate you. Hashem hates evil. A good God is not only a God that is kind and merciful, a good God is also One that hates evil.

The Jewish people need to know that there are acts that are so disgusting they deserve to be punished with illness, poverty, famine, the death penalty, kares or eternal gehinnom. Keeping the Torah is not optional. Sugarcoating this message does not do us any favours.  It does not improve us as a nation.

It's not uncommon for kids to leave school and not even know the Ten Commandments or the basics of ethical monotheism. Our kids leave school Biblically illiterate. The Christians know more about our Tanakh than us. It's dangerous and embarrassing.

Jewish education has lost its sense of perspective. Many of our educators are pre-occupied with teaching Jewish customs, Hebrew, Jewish culture and ethnicity. Teaching Jewish ethical monotheism becomes an afterthought.

If you read the Tanakh, Hashem did not punish us with Assyria and Babylon because we didn't eat enough cheesecake on Shavuot. He punished us because we became immoral.

What does Hashem care about most? That we turn away from evil and do good. Don't cheat in business. Don't have affairs. Guard your eyes. Don't defraud. Be holy. Don't waste seed. Don't lie. Don't speak lashon hara. Honour your parents. Pay workers on time. Don't lend on interest. Keep Shabbat. Eat kosher. Comfort the mourner. Heal and care for the sick. Do kindness and give charity. Treat the poor and unfortunate with compassion. Don't snub your fellow Jew because he doesn't drive the right car, wear designer clothes or live in a mansion.

If you neglect these things, eating pomegranates on Rosh Hashana is not going to be enough to save you. We need to DO the mitzvot, not just symbolise them.

My advice to anyone reading this is, do teshuva now.  Don't waste half your life, as I did. Don't wait until Hashem brings all the curses of the Torah upon you. Don't repeat my mistakes.

I am not a prophet, but if there is suffering in your life or if you feel like Hashem is not there when you daven, it is probably is reasonable to conclude that it's a signal that you need to examine your ways, confess your wrongdoing and turn away from evil and do good. Be brutally honest with yourself.

If we want Moshiach to come, it is not enough to sing "We want Moshiach now" at the top of our lungs. We need to bring Moshiach with our deeds. Study Torah, do chesed, give tzedakah, turn away from evil, pursue justice, keep the mitzvot, work on your middot. Make Hashem's world a better place. Be a light to the nations. Then, please God, we will merit to see Moshiach in our lifetime.

Kind regards,

Benyamin Sydney, Australia

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