When I became bar mitzvah, things got intense. I knew that everything until then had been child’s play, just practice for the real thing. Now we were playing for real, and every move I make and every law I break, He’ll be watching me.
I remember breaking down and crying to my parents around that time. I didn’t understand why we studied Torah. What was the point? Especially if the law wasn’t practical or applicable, why study it at all?
It ached me deeply to not have absolute clarity, to not completely understand why I was doing something. I was walking with my parents while asking them this and we happened to bump into Rav Neventzal, the community rabbi. They asked him the question on my behalf, and he smiled and gave some sort of answer. It satisfied me enough back then, but I can’t remember what it was now.
To do this day, I say, “give me a WHY and I can deal with any WHAT.” There were so many why’s missing, but I KNEW the premise was true and it was simply my lack of clarity that was at fault.
So I lived with the pain.
I would wake up at 6:40 am and go pray. I would actually walk to and from synagogue while reading a halacha book, just a to get a bit more in. If Rav Neventzal could do it, why couldn’t I? I would run through the six constant mitzvos in my head on a loop. I would visualize God’s tetragrammaton name in front of my eyes when I walked down the street, the way the Shulchan Aruch says you should.
I prayed longer than anyone else. I would try to let the words affect me on an intuitive level. To become Baruch, to live Ata, to experience Adonai. I would usually finish when chazaras hashatz was finishing up, and then have to rush to catch up.
For several years, I was the official ba’al koreh at aish for mincha. I loved the responsibility and the attention. Here was a chance to be good at something, to play a role, to be indispensable. I would arrive late to my family’s third meal because I prioritized my obligations over them.
I used to experience excruciating stomach pains every Shabbat morning during prayers. It felt like ulcers. I know they were a combination of eating funny the night before and then not eating at all the next morning for hours, coupled with good old anxiety, my lifelong friend.
In general, although I had school on Shabbat, it was only for two hours, and I didn’t enjoy going. But I would feel guilty about not doing so, and the rabbis would try to pressure me to come. Either way, I would try to study on my own for a bit, but the general lack of structure just left me alone with my anxiety.
I would get bored, so fucking bored on Shabbat afternoons that I’d get horny. And without the usual pornography to get me by, I needed to entertain myself in more old fashioned ways. Let’s just say theirs is nothing more creative than a teenage boy trying to get himself off, and leave it at that. Except maybe, for a teenage boy trying *accidentally* get himself off, because to masturbate on purpose, is, to quote the Shulchan Aruch, “the worst possible sin, akin to murder”.
So I didn’t want to be a murderer, but I also wanted to get off, and that vicious cycle of sinning and trying my hardest to counter balance with as much good deeds as I could, is a summary of my entire teenage years and into my early twenties.
And it wasn’t just atonement.
“If you could only be spiritual enough and fill yourself with enough Torah,” the rabbis taught, “these evil thoughts would not come into your head in the first place.” So apparently I was just not trying hard enough. And I could barely live with myself.
You know those plane crashes? Those terror attacks? All the evil in the world? That was me. I had the spiritual power to protect the world, protect the world, and apparently I was sucking at it. And hey, a literal jerkoff like myself, was it much of a surprise?
So I tried harder, and I shuckled faster, and I remember the horrible, helpless, sinking feeling when I heard the echo of the #14 suicide bus bombing come rolling through the beis midrash windows.
Full chapter list (Available in eBook Form)
- Good and Evil
- Yeshiva Gedola
- Ramat Shlomo
- More of That
- The IDF
- Shitting on the Parade
- Spreading Wings