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I was furious! “I want to know the answers,” I shot back. He said, “Okay,” and loaded me down with scholarly tomes. I’ll show him, I thought, as I went home to my apartment.
My roommates were out on dates. Me, I was still recovering from a horrendous break-up. Haim was brilliant, spiritual and good-looking, but over time he found ingenious ways to say how shamelessly self-centered I was and how my neediness went miles and miles deep. By the time the “relationship” ended, my identity was in shreds. I tried to dismiss him as a pathetic jerk, but his ideas had already taken root. Was I really one aching raw need? Oy, who would ever want to marry me?! Not long after this I was struck by the Hammurabi episode.
So yeah, the dean was right. I was sad no, deeply depressed, now that I thought about it. But did that mean my theological questions weren’t real? They were coming from my marrow!
I kept those books for months, until one day I returned them all, each one hardly paged through. Too dry, too academic and antiseptic. They seemed to have nothing to do with my passionate quest, or with life itself.
Meanwhile, I continued to go to my teachers for Shabbat, participating in all the Torah discussions (but never revealing the blasphemous thoughts festering inside me), feeling like some puppet in a show.
Out of this state of anomie, of utter bleakness, I sought out a kabbalist. Maybe, I figured, the answer lay not with an academic, an intellectual, but with someone in touch with the secrets of the universe. Brain and soul.
I saw a few. Not all kabbalists are created equal, I discovered. Then I found the Amshinover rebbe, who came with excellent recommendations. There was one caveat: He lived according to a different concept of time. His morning prayers bled into the afternoon, I think, and the Sabbath ended on Tuesday, I’m pretty sure. I was told the wait could be very long.
I came at 11 p.m., and the place was hopping. At first his Hasidic bouncers didn’t want to let me in. “Did you come here for a blessing?” the shorter one asked bluntly. I said no. I feared I’d said the wrong thing, but he responded: “Good. You can come in.”
I walked into the rebbe’s very plain living room. People were coming and going, and here it was, nearly midnight. Not knowing how much time I’d receive, I decided to focus on my old bugaboo, “An eye for an eye” — a verse I felt had been misused throughout the centuries to justify lynchings and brutal slayings. A very dangerous verse, as far as I was concerned.