When I first entered Yeshiva (school for Torah study) I engaged in a practice called hitbodedut . Hitbodedut is an aspect of Breslov Hassidut which involves going to a secluded place like a forest and having a dialogue with God. Much of my time in hitbodedut was spent screaming at God while crying bitter tears. I blamed him for making me witness the darker side of reality.
I had spent ten years in Manhattan, and much of that time was spent in some very horrible places where people were doing some very horrible things. I drank from that cup until my soul could take no more and, out of desperation, I moved to Israel and began the long and painful journey toward living a Torah lifestyle.
Outwardly, I had made the transition to religious life. But like a stain on my soul, the memories would not go away. I would wrap phylacteries on my arm, scared because I had memories of what these hands had done.
Until one day when I had a conversation with a sweet man named Kalman. Kalman taught me a deep lesson based on a verse is Psalm 56. This lesson helped me let go of the bitterness and blame I had for God, and also taught me the power of tears.
After a particular session of screaming at God, I was heading back to the yeshiva when I met Kalman, who was sitting on a stone next to the path smoking a hand-rolled cigarette.
“You are scaring the animals,” he said.
I explained my predicament. He nodded and then said something that rocked my world.
“When God created the world, he sprinkled it with sparks of holiness,” Kalman said. “When all the sparks are gathered up by men, the world will be complete and the Messianic age will begin.”
“The problem is that the very sweetest sparks of holiness fell into the darkest places. This is to give a greater reward to those who finally find them. The angels of darkness protect these sparks and won’t let any holy people near them. So the only people who can get to these sparks are holy souls dressed up as shleppers or even like bad people.”
“These holy souls sneak into the dark places and under the noses of the dark angels, they steal these holy sparks and then, one day, they repent and bring these sparks back to God. They are holy thieves and you were one of them.”
I sat in silence, thinking about what he had said while he rolled a cigarette for me. I don’t normally smoke but this was a special occasion. I needed to do some serious thinking.
“I don’t like it,” I said finally. “It’s not fair and it’s not very nice.”
He nodded. “God is very hard on the souls he loves the most,” he said. “All of the most amazing Jews in the Bible had difficult lives. But this makes them even more precious.”
And then Kalman recited a verse from Psalms that made me cry. After raging at his harsh treatment at the hands of his enemies, David said the most amazing thing:
You keep count of my wanderings; put my tears into Your flask, into Your record. Psalms 56:9
This verse touched me deeply. In my wallet is a lock of my son’s hair from his first haircut when he was three years old. But I wish I had a collection of small glass bottles to hold all the tears of my children. I would not pray for my children to never have cried. I understand that it was the difficulties that helped them to grow into the amazing people they are today. But that only makes those tears even more precious.
Kalman’s words, and the verse from Psalms, helped me see the beauty in the struggle and pain I had experienced. It showed me that those dark moments in my life, though difficult to live with at times, were really opportunities for growth and for finding the hidden sparks of holiness in this world.
I realized that the tears I shed over that period of my life were not wasted, but were actually valuable treasures that were being collected by God, just like the locks of hair that I kept in my wallet.
This realization allowed me to let go of the bitterness I felt towards God, and instead focus on the value of my experiences. And it helped me find peace and acceptance in my journey towards living a religious lifestyle.
As David hints in the Book of Psalms, by pouring out our hearts to God and embracing our struggles with faith and determination, we can transform even the darkest moments of our lives into opportunities for growth, healing, and spiritual connection. May we all have the strength and courage to seek out those holy sparks, and to draw closer to the divine in all aspects of our lives.