By Dr. Zev Ballen
What brings meaning and purpose to my life? Forty years ago I would have answered: to be a starting forward for the New York Knicks. During my college years, it was about the freedom to do as I pleased; and, later on, when this nagging question got worse, I comforted myself by thinking that my purpose in life was to be a therapist, or so I thought.
As the years went by, my idealized image of myself as the strong, all-knowing therapist stopped working. The truth was that like most of my clients, I too was living in uncertainty and doubt. Every now and then (more often than I realized) someone would see through my façade of strength and self-sufficiency and recognize that I too was a fellow sufferer.
These days, my clients seem to appreciate my telling them the truth about my own struggles and how I deal with them. It’s not always easy, but I’m trying to be more honest with them and myself.
We tend to define ourselves by a limited role or affiliation such as: American, musician, doctor, or housewife rather than thinking more broadly about what we believe in and what we stand for. I always admired people who were passionate about a mission or cause that was dear to them such as the civil rights movement and other types of humanitarian causes. Even if they seemed quirky, naïve or fanatical – believers eat, sleep, walk, talk and breathe their purpose in everything they do. They live with a broader more encompassing sense of purpose, responsibility and commitment to their cause which they experience as greater than themselves. Most of these people are ready and willing to die for what they believe in. Rabbi Arush and Rabbi Brody are the best examples that I have found of this type of person.
I would still be in the same old rut if Hashem hadn’t intervened. He sent me a “mid-life crisis” (though he could have sent it at any age). My mother passed away, I began experiencing signs of my own aging, marital conflict followed on the heels of financial strain, and six years of harassment by a fanatical psychopath were enough to nudge me toward greater introspection.
My journey back to myself began with the books of Rabbi Arush and the lectures of Rabbi Brody. As my wife and I became more inspired we realized that there was an answer to every existential dilemma that we had in those books and CD’s. We visited Israel and felt that we belonged someplace for the first time in our lives. We toured the land and immediately felt connected to our people, our history, and our future. With our new Spiritual orientation, we started to feel a sense of commitment and responsibility – to learn more about Hashem and to share whatever we had with others. I started learning at Chut Shel Chesed, and, as I got to know Rabbi Arush and Rabbi Brody I realized that I had never met men like these before. These great men spoke to my soul. It’s not always easy, but I strive to nullify myself to them as representatives of Hashem. My wife and I feel that our lives have finally become meaningful. I am learning Hashem’s Torah, writing, giving shiorim, working with my clients; we entertain Shabbos guests, raise our children, – every aspect of our lives have become unified by our common purpose of serving Hashem. Continue reading
Before he ate from the Tree of Knowledge, Adam knew with perfect certainty that the only necessary reality is Hashem and that his Glory was everywhere. When he ate from the Tree of Knowledge, he forgot about Hashem and started to think for himself. The Midrash says that he became so preoccupied with his own aggrandizement that his head actually swelled from arrogance, and became so heavy that he couldn’t hold it up. Eventually he toppled over from the weight of his own intellect. Continue reading...
Wishing You Blessings Always,
Dr. Zev Ballen