Monday, November 11, 2013

Nothing to Hide

When Mark was 20 years old he became a Torah observant Jew and enrolled in a yeshiva. It was a good move for Mark, he loved his new life and took to learning Torah right away. He dreamed of spending the rest of his life learning Torah which after 25 years he still does. Mark's progress as a "learner" was spectacular. He worked hard and advanced from level to level so that today he learns in one of the most prestigious yeshivas in the world where he has been learning full time for the past 15 years.  Mark is now a seasoned Torah scholar who has learned the entire Talmud and learned it well - alas there's another side to this story. 
You see when Mark first embarked with excitement upon his spiritual voyage into the yeshiva world, he was a young man who smiled and had friends and socialized normally - but that's not the case today.  Mark hasn't had any friends for years and he sorely misses having people in his life that he can open up to and spend time with - but unfortunately Mark's situation is even more serious than this. 
Over the years, Mark's psychological health has spiraled down. He became not only socially and emotionally isolated but he became the victim of paranoid ideas and very fixed false beliefs that certain others were plotting against him. Fears of being persecuted and ruined by others began to dominate Mark's consciousness and at times it became impossible for him to learn or pray. 
Eventually Mark turned to psychiatric medication in the hope that the right combination of medicines would stop the terrifying intrusive thoughts and "command" hallucinations (voices in his mind) that tortured him. On several occasions, these "voices" commanded Mark to jump up from his seat in the yeshiva or in the synagogue and run for his life. He responded to these voices by running out into the street in a cold sweat as though there was a real threat to his life.  Mark didn't respond to psychiatric medication and continued to suffer with episodes of psychosis for many years. 
The obvious question is what happened to Mark? What changed in his life that could possibly explain the onset of these kinds of troubles?  What caused this radical change in Mark's personality that suddenly transformed him from a normally out-going person to someone with paranoid schizophrenia? 
I can't say for sure but here are some thoughts to consider:
Yeshivas differ from one another about how to educate abaal teshuva (someone new to Torah observant Judaism) and prepare him for his future as a religious Jew. The philosophy of the first yeshiva that Mark attended was that he should hide the fact that he had not been born from religious parents and was not raised in a religious environment. He was told that he and his future children would be more accepted in the religious community if he never spoke about his past and tried his best to act like everybody else. He was told that if he didn't conceal his true identity that he ran a high risk that his children would be barred from the best schools and yeshivas and that his children would certainly not get "the best" arranged marriages. 
Mark was a serious student who trusted in the leading Rabbi of the yeshiva who advised him to make a total break from his past which included cutting himself off from friends and family who were not religious. Mark followed his Rabbi's advice and never revealed his secret to anyone, until 6 months ago when we first met. Continue here...

Need more to read?

By Rabbi Shalom Arush - No Room for Rebuke

By Rabbi Lazer Brody - Pursuit of Prestige

By Rivka Levy - Brazen Face

Have a blessed day!
Dr. Zev Ballen

Dr. Zev Ballen