Journeys of Life Part V: The Age of Dreams Ends
The next few years essentially flew by for me. I have never worked that hard in my life, before or since. The Mashgiach job(s) had me going a solid 60+hrs a week non-stop, six days a week, every week. It was brutal. The pay was great, I was already getting a good hourly wage and the overtime on top of that was amazing. In addition to that I was also learning full-time for the upcoming Semikha exams. I was getting four or five hours of sleep most nights, sometimes less. I can’t say that this is a schedule that is good for the marriage of a young couple, but it was the path we had chosen together, and it was going good. We had a goal to focus upon and the means to reach it.
Like the guy at Yeshiva how only slept 3hrs a night, you simply cannot maintain such a pace forever. I don’t know how I did it for so long, but it still took a toll. Shabbat dinner was a rushed affair every week, so that I could get to sleep finally, and then aside from davening, I would sleep pretty much all day on Shabbat, and Saturday night, until I had to get up, around 3am to go make the bagels. When I was a kid there used to be a commercial on TV where a bleary eyed guy rolls out of bed and says, “Time to make the doughnuts.” I seriously wanted an alarm that would say, “Time to make the bagels.”
People used to joke that I grew two knew appendages, one a Shulhan Arukh and the other a Gemmarra. It was true, except for on Shabbat, you never saw me without them. Constantly wherever I went I was learning. At work, reviewing whenever I could get as little as 30secs. My lunch break was a learning session. I even began recording myself reading my notes and such so that I could listen to it on the days I had to drive, or while standing at the train station.
Its a fact that learning Torah changes you fundamentally. That much learning causes a metamorphosis. I became a very different person than the person I was before I started out, and I liked the change(I still do). The change was so deep and so fundamental that it is nearly impossible to describe. The best way that I could say it, was that my worldview to that point had been shaped and molded by a number of different things, not all of them good. During that time, so gradually it was nearly imperceptible, my worldview changed to being determined solely by Torah. Then one day, I was finally done.
I will never forget the elation of making all of the arrangements to fly to Israel to take the Rabbinut exams. It was both the scariest time of my life and the happiest. Yes, it was scary. Years of my life were going to be determined but a few simple tests. I wound up flying out of New York during the New York blackout, and I got into my hotel in Jerusalem just in time for Shabbat(as in the Shabbat siren sounded just as I finished my check in at the hotel).
The following Sunday another major event occurred in my life, for the second time, I went to meet with Rav Kaduri. I had initially seen him when I was there on a Birthright trip, this time I went to his Yeshiva by myself to seek his blessing in my upcoming exams. When he found out that I was staying in a hotel, he insisted that I move into one of the apartments at the Yeshiva. It turned out that I didn’t get a lot of touring done on that trip, aside from one Shabbat away, and the days I took my exams, I pretty much stayed at his Yeshiva and learned, some with him, some on my own.
One day as I was learning Tanya from my copy of Chitas the Rav came over and stood by my shtender, just staring over my shoulder. After a short while, I realized he wanted to say something to me. I asked him if there was something he wanted or needed. He asked me what I was studying and so I told him. Then he said, “There are some errors in the sefer, if you want I will fix them(make a tikun sofrim) for you.” I knew there were possible errors in Tanya, after all the Alter Rebbe(or is it one of his sons) says as much in his own introduction. So I responded that I would be thrilled if he would correct the sefer for me. How often do you get the chance to have the greatest living Mekubal fix the errors in a Kabbalah sefer for you? He asked me several times if I were sure that I wanted him to fix it, and I continued to respond that I was. He took the sefer and walked off. A half hour later he returned with it, handed it to me, and said, that it was now Kosher. It felt a bit light. As it turns out he sliced out the Tanya and the Sihot of the Rebbe. From my other conversations with him about Chabad Chassidus, that act about encapsulated his view(see picture below.)
About two weeks later, I returned to the US with a newly minted Rav with my Semikha in hand. A few days after I got back the local Rav/Shliach called me up and asked how it went. I replied that I had passed. Awkward pause… really(dripping with disbelief) awkward pause… well we wanted to invite you to eat with us this Shabbat. Shabbat evening was nice, he had some other newly minted Chabad Rabbis down for a visit, and it was really great. Shabbat lunch, was a different story. I faced another Semikha exam, where three Rabbis were popping off complex halakhic questions, they expected me to answer Ba’al Pe, I must say that I acquitted myself well enough. They in the end admitted that I had really learned the stuff necessary to be a Rabbi… whether they trusted it beyond that… well that was certainly more unclear. For that I turned the tables on them a bit, and asked them a shaila(question) that my Havruta and I came up with in our learning that pretty much stumped our Rosh, and he had to take to a major posek. It was sadistically fun to watch them wrestle with that one, but in that afternoon it became clear that the gulf between me and Chabad had reached a point where it could no longer be bridged…