The Dilemma – Moshav Nocham

The Dilemma 

Six years ago, everyone who knew me would have told you I was the least likely person to become a baal teshuvah. 

Though my parents were traditional, I rejected everything as a teenager. I spent my time running after every material pleasure I could find. My friends and I “partied” night and day – in school, and more often, out of it. In clubs. At the beach.

Life was full of fun – but I wasn’t happy. I was constantly fighting a painful sense of emptiness, of meaninglessness. I didn’t understand why, but when I wasn’t numbing my senses with physical pleasure, I felt continually sad.

My school years ended. It was time to enlist in the IDF. As you might imagine, I didn’t gain a sterling reputation for dedication and work ethic. After earning several charges of disobedience and desertion, I got myself sentenced to five months in military prison.

Prison was the blackest, most terrible thing I’d ever experienced. For a guy like me, whose lifelines were “fun” and “stuff,” prison turned my ever-present sadness into full-blown depression. I felt completely stuck. Completely miserable. Completely beyond help and hope.

Without any other option, I turned to the only Source of hope and comfort I could access – G-d.

I started praying. I started putting on a pair of tefillin lent to me by some religious organization looking out for soldiers in prison. I even started keeping Shabbat.

And, for the first time in my life, I learned what it meant to draw joy and satisfaction from something other than material pleasure.

As my connection to G-d grew, I felt deeply grateful for the relief and support I found in it. I promised G-d that once I was released, I would keep Shabbat every week. I would put on tefillin every day.

When I finally left prison, though, things didn’t quite play out that way.

When life is good, it’s easy to forget about G-d. When you’re happy and comfortable, it’s easy to forget just how desperate you once felt, and just how life-saving was G-d’s support. 

That’s exactly what I did. I went home. Got a job. Fell back in with my uber-secular friends. Started filling my time once again with clubs and beaches and parties.

My gratitude to G-d faded away – as did my promises.

Life went on. I worked when I had to and partied whenever I could. I was having lots of “fun.” But, slowly, that nagging sense of emptiness was returning. Growing. Growing some more.

During one particular moment of depression, I suddenly remembered the commitments I’d made to G-d about tefillin and Shabbat. Memories of my time in prison – the utter misery, and the comfort I’d found in connecting to G-d – filled my mind.

With my sense of gratitude back in place, I found myself in a dilemma. 

I really don’t want to break the promises I made to G-d. But I don’t want to keep them either – they don’t fit into my schedule. 

What to do?

Eventually, a brilliant answer hit me. I know! I’ll do hatarat nedarim – a halachic annulment of my vows.

Simple, neat and effective. Perfect.

There was a kollel next to the building I worked in. The next day after work, I walked inside, glancing around for a likely-looking rabbinic figure who could help me annul my vow. 

Soon, an avreich (kollel student) who’d noticed me walk in came over and asked if he could help me.

“Yes, thank you,” I told him briskly. “I’m looking for help doing hatarat nedarim.”

“Hatarat nedarim?” he asked in surprise. He glanced over my ripped jeans, my necklace, my bare head. “Why do you need help with that?”

So I told him my story. “I’m really not up to keeping Shabbat right now,” I wrapped up, “but I don’t want to break any promises. So I just want to get rid of them.”

“Hm,” my new friend said with a grin (I wasn’t sure what was funny). “Come with me. Let’s talk to the Rosh Kollel (head of the kollel).”

Ah, I thought. I guess you need to be a Rosh Kollel to annul vows.

My friend approached the Rosh Kollel and introduced me. With a warm smile, the Rosh Kollel invited me to sit beside him.

“Your story is beautiful,” he said. “You should be so proud of how much you’ve accomplished spiritually.”

My forehead wrinkled. I wasn’t here because I was growing spiritually. I was here because I needed a spiritually acceptable way to get out of growing spiritually.

But the Rosh Kollel didn’t say anything about annulling my vows. Instead, he sent me to Rabbi Ofir, the Belev Echad Kiruv coordinator in the area. Soon enough, I had started attending his local classes for young men.

The classes touched something deep within me. I didn’t want to annul my vows anymore. Now, I just wanted help keeping them.

Rabbi Ofir and Belev Echad were the perfect address for me. Rabbi Ofir became a mentor for me, holding my hand as I slowly took on Shabbat, then regular prayers, then kashrut. Eventually, I started dressing, acting, and fully living like a Torah Jew.

Two years later, I met my wife, a true Eishet Chayil who constantly spurs the two of us to new heights of gratitude and commitment to G-d. When I look at the beautiful life we’re building together, my heart fills with gratitude to Belev Echad, an organization that rescues thousands of Jews from the desert of secularism and helps them build long-term, joyful, committed relationships with G-d. 

I’m constantly thanking G-d for all the support Belev Echad has given us – and continues to give us as we work to build our religious lives.

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