Dreaming of Moshiach

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Whom By Fire?

As a baal teshuvah, people I meet often ask why I decided to become religious when I grew up in a home that was neither observant nor religious. Perhaps part of the answer is that we had mezuzoth[+/-] show/hide text
on the front door and the side door of our house. Actually, the mezuzah was one of the last remaining symbols connecting my family to Judaism. In many other respects, we were assimilated Jews.

I did not have the privilege of a extensive Jewish education. In my formative years, the only synagogue in our area was a Reconstructionist synagogue, whose practices (I can only now realize) were at the very margin of what is recognizably Jewish. Consequently, it is a great miracle that I am shomer mitzvoth today.

However, with all due respect, the Reconstructionist Hebrew school did teach me how to read Hebrew, to say Shema, and that a mezuzah has the Shema written inside it and is placed on the doorways of Jewish homes. I remember one Hebrew school project when I made a mezuzah by writing Shema onto a rolled up paper and placing it into a decorated housing. But this, with no deeper explanation, was the extent of my education regarding mezuzoth.

Many years later, I was a college student and joined a fraternity. None of the other fraternity members were Jewish but they were well aware that I was Jewish. I quickly became engaged in the typical fraternity lifestyle, including many self-destructive activities: alcohol abuse, illicit drug use, compulsive gambling, and licentiousness.

The fraternities were not welcomed on the college campus and the members of a fraternity often lived together by renting houses in the local neighborhood. Religious Jews owned many of these rented houses - this was apparent by the mezuzoth affixed throughout the houses. I recognized them but paid them little attention.

One night, I was extremely intoxicated during a fraternity party at one of these houses with mezuzoth on every doorpost. I became concerned when I noticed two fraternity members prying a mezuzah off the doorpost. I followed them around the house and realized they were collecting the mezuzoth as they moved from doorpost to doorpost. I followed them into a room and watched them remove the scrolls from the housings. They opened the scrolls, tried to read the writing, and then crumpled the scrolls up in their hands or tore them in half.

I felt violated and obligated, perhaps by the small spark of Judaism remaining inside me, to stop them. I confronted them at first with calmness and sensitivity:

“Why did you take those off the doorposts?” I asked.
“I dunno,” one of the collectors answered, “we just want to see what’s in them.”
“You should have left them where they were. You’re not supposed to take them down.” I responded sternly.
“Well, what are they?” the other asked.
“Its called a mezuzah and they go on the doorposts of Jewish houses.” I tried to explain.
I was stunned into silence and then admitted, “I don’t know.” As these words slipped from my mouth, I could feel the strength of my position weakening.
Then one asked, “Well, what’s written inside them?” His tone of voice showed renewed interest but carried an expectation that clearly put me on the defensive.
Again I responded, “I don’t know.”
They continued with a stronger tone of expectation, “Why are they on every door?”
“I don’t know.” I had failed to defend the legitimacy of my requests and attempts to prevent further desecration of the mezuzoth.
They were looking at me with scorn and one of the collectors asked, “Well, if you’re the Jew and you don’t know, then why should we care?!”

This question was shocking and painful, probably intensified by my intoxication. I continued arguing with them but I sensed the futility. The argument quickly became heated and ugly. When I demanded they stop what they were doing and give the mezuzoth to me, they scoffed at me.

Finally, one of the collectors continued the argument while the other walked out of the room. I thought that I was now only arguing with one instead of two. But he returned to the room quickly with a handful of housings and scrolls. He looked at me, smiling with malicious delight, and said, “You want them? You want them so badly? Come and get them…” and threw the handful of mezuzoth into a burning fireplace.

The two fraternity members laughed in drunken mockery. I was momentarily shocked with despair, unable to act or express myself with words. It took a matter of seconds for the scrolls to be consumed in the flames and the housings followed shortly thereafter. I walked out of the room dejected and heartbroken.

I walked out of the house, found a remote place outdoors, and sat down in the cold night. I replayed the incident in my mind over and over, each time coming back to the painful question: “If you’re the Jew and you don’t know, then why should we care?”

This event was the catalyst event that began my search for Torah Judaism. Today, I am living in my own home, married and a father, continuing to grow in Torah and mitzvoth. With inexpressible gratitude to HaKadosh Baruch Hu, and to the army of people that have helped me find my way, I have returned to Torah Judaism.

As a result of these blessings and the innumerable favors bestowed on me, I feel obligated to express my gratitude to HaKadosh Baruch Hu by publicizing this miracle in my life. In relating my story, I hope you have derived inspiration to seek out Hashem and the miraculous intervention that can occur when an individual does sincere teshuvah.

Reprinted http://globalyeshiva.com/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/700108461/m/7671063961




והיה השם למלך על כל הארץ, ביום ההוא יהיה השם אחד - ושמו אחד ישתבח שמו לעד לנצח נצחים בכל העולמות Blessed is His name for eternity in all worlds אין עוד מלבדו