MyLife Essay Contest 2018
When you are 14-years old and you leave home, it really helps to know exactly who you are. To me, home is an anchor – a place that I can just be myself in a safe and accepting environment. And then that fateful day comes and I’m gone, off to a new place, new friends, and a new life away from home. What does all of this mean, how can I possibly make sense of such a life changing move?
No matter how nice everyone is at your new school, no matter how accommodating and giving your teachers can be, it is still not your home. I was raised to appreciate that there are consequences for your actions. So when a girl does something inappropriate, it makes sense that they are shipped off to a boarding school to be rehabilitated. But what could I have possibly done wrong to have the security of my being, which is my precious home filled with a loving family, uprooted?
Then you come to school, and you begin to learn a book called Tanya. Perspectives are everything. Your reality is the way you understand exactly who you are and how you fit into a G-dly plan. Tanya spoke to me about who exactly I am. Let me give you a real example of how understanding yourself from Hashem’s perspective can lead to a totally different life.
The year is 1945, and a 17-year old boy is left orphaned after the Holocaust. His mother, his father, and his siblings have been murdered simply because they are Jews. Rather than feeling like a victim and succumbing to depression, this young man makes a decision to live life to the fullest and chooses to squeeze every precious moment out of his existence. So when he would put on tefillin, he thought of each of the 7 concentration camps that he miraculously survived for every coil around his arm. This was his holy revenge, since he understood that he was his murdered family’s ambassador to this world. Therefore was no time for self-pity because he was on a G-dly mission to rebuild the life that was painfully torn away from him. Thank G-d this 17-year old had this attitude and crystal clear understanding of who he was and what G-d needed him to do next, because otherwise I would not have been born. This young man is my grandfather, Yossi Kaltmann.
After my Zayda survived the concentration camps there was not a night he could sleep through. Whether it was during those sleepless nights or in middle of the day, he understood exactly who he was and how important it was for him to fulfil his G-d-given task. His sacred purpose was to make sure that the Nazis lost their battle to destroy the Jewish people, which really meant Jews practicing their Yiddishkeit. So my Zeyde’s self-identity gave him the strength to overcome his painful challenges. Even though he could never understand why he went through such suffering, he understood that Hashem needed him to go on. Understanding who you really are from Hashem’s perspective leads to practical application in your daily life.
This little but ever-so-powerful book called Tanya changed the way I understand who I am and why I exist. My family lives in Columbus not because it is a world destination for shopping or because it has the most popular college football team in America, but simply because of what it says in this 221-year old book called Tanya.
My first introduction to Tanya helped me challenge the way I saw things in a healthy, upbeat way. The teacher said, “Why does Tanya start with the last letter of the Hebrew Alphabet, ‘Tof,’ and end with the first letter of the alphabet, ‘Aleph?’ Because sometimes you think you know everything and you’re holding by the last letter, but when you finish Tanya, you realize that you are really only holding by Aleph, the very first letter.” That means, don’t be scared to question the way you understand things. As long as you continue the journey, your reality isn’t conclusive. That intrigued me and never before had I thought that although I see one thing, perhaps it really means something else. Tanya opened my mind to a new view and appreciation of my existence.
Then we began to study the first chapter. For me to hear that Rabba from the Gemara clearly knew his identity was refreshing. Although his student Abaya couldn’t understand how his teacher could say that he was only a Benoni, Rabba wanted to encourage everyone else and so he shared something so private that he knew would be recorded for thousands of years. Rabba had a family, he had a yeshiva, he had a reputation; but he wanted to encourage everyone else so he disclosed something so intimate with the world. We are all trying to make the most of our challenges and Rabba was prepared to forget about what people thought of him because the Jewish people’s needs come before how he was perceived. From Hashem’s perspective, all that mattered was helping his fellow Jews, and so Rabba felt the need to make such a comment.
It gave me much strength to learn that first the Alter Rebbe explains our animal soul and only afterwards in Chapter 2 details our G-dly soul. We first see through an obvious, very physical lens – that’s after all who we are, limited human beings. For someone as holy as the Alter Rebbe to acknowledge that means that our opinions are actually important, otherwise he would just start from the real truth and ultimate holiness and begin Chapter One speaking about the G-dly soul.
Our perspective is very real and that’s exactly the point. From our way that we understand, our environment is actually very real. Chassidus explains that there are two ways to relate to our existence. The source of these two approaches is from Chana. When Chana was so pained by being childless, her world was very different than she had once imagined. Chana got married to have a family, to be a mother and enjoy a healthy, loving family. When things don’t go your way, when youre very sense of being is questioned, that’s when you really need a new fresh uplifting perspective.
So in Shmuel (Chapter 2, 3), the sentence says that Hashem is “the G-d of knowledges” – why is it plural? After all, there is only one G-d, and how could there possibly be another way of understanding anything? The sentence is teaching us something very profound. Of course Chana was in pain and that feeling was never denied. When Chana picks herself up to a higher perspective, then she can understand that her prayers, her sweet davening were needed so that her son would be appreciated even more. Originally Chana struggled with her world and her challenges that seemed impossible to overcome. But then, when she connected with a higher power and a new more spiritual way to connect with Hashem, then she was able to attain what once seemed insurmountable.
It’s all about perspectives, and the way we see the world is from our limited view. When we are able to pick ourselves up and see the same challenge from a new dimension, then we can not only cope with our problem but we can beat it. No matter who you are, a holy Benoni like Rabba, a childless wife like Chana, an orphaned Holocaust survivor like my grandfather – a higher view and appreciation of life is a life changer. When you learn to look at things the way Hashem sees them, then your existence becomes totally uplifted.
For a 14-year old girl to leave home is very difficult. No one could ever say differently. But for a 14-year old girl to learn a new way to understand the world, that is a gift that can help secure a much more meaningful life.