I am an alcoholic, drug addict and a Toras Simcha alumnus.
I am writing today to Matzav readers about the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Asher Zelig Rubenstein zt”l, and the impression he left on me.
I come from a troubled background and when I met Rav Asher I was 17 and making an effort to be a ben torah. Rav Asher saw I was a “rough and tumble” kid but my sincerity showed through and he accepted me into the yeshiva. When I attended Toras Simcha I kept the rules and hashkafa as best as I could but it became readily apparent that (as Rav Asher put it) I was a “square peg trying to fit into a round hole.”
All told I was in the Yeshiva for 2 zmanim.
I never regretted the decision to attend Toras Simcha and remain close with some Rebbeim and Avreichim to this day, relationships that are some of the most fulfilling and meaningful I have ever had in my life.
The experiences I had at Toras Simcha, the mussar, the speeches, the shiurim, the hashkafa, Rav Asher’s presence and what he meant to us all; these are matters best described by more capable and fitting talmidim of the Rosh Yeshiva. In this regard, I will say that the Rosh Yeshiva’s approach to life and tefilla in general was eye opening and life altering.
I am writing this as hakaras hatov to Rav Asher in recognition of the amazing things I did learn from him, things that influence my life today.
After I left Toras Simcha I avoided Rav Asher. In the 7 years after I left the Yeshiva and Israel I can only recall seeing Rav Asher 3 times.
In the passing years my drinking became worse and I began abusing drugs. I became suicidal.
Through the grace of God and the help of close friends and some Rebbeim from Toras Simcha I received help and I have been sober ever since.
Also during this time I left Yeshiva and the religious affiliations that I had.
The oft quoted “That which does not kill me only makes me stronger” has long been a philosophic pondering of mine. I’ve been through a lot. I’m still here. According to Nietzsche, I should be nearly invincible by now.
Yet I’m not. Far from it.
Growing up I was a target. I was beaten physically, verbally, emotionally and mentally from all sides. Parents, teachers school bullies; I felt as though I was an easy and indefensible target.
Nonetheless I knew my day would come. The rage from my past was ever present and reared its head on occasion. I knew that one day I would be bigger or stronger than my so called opponents and when the opportunity would arise I would strike.
This, I mused must be real power. It was now in my hands to rectify the injustices I felt were so readily committed against me.
For a while I lived this way. If you crossed me you had better run.
But the satisfaction derived from this lifestyle was fleeting and the outcome appeared bleak.
As a result of my vengeful lifestyle I was taught that real power was having the ability to impose my will but declining to do so; in the sense that by conquering my demons I conquer myself. The choice being mine and making the supposed correct decision was in my hands.
This was even less fulfilling than imposing my will, so I reverted to doing so once again.
I lived on the edge both while drinking and when sober. Suffice it to say that I am an intense individual. Happiness and serenity have eluded me; power and control have been fleeting moments with no ability to satiate or satisfy me on any meaningful level.
6 months ago Rav Asher passed away.
Completely out of the blue I was crushed. I had nothing to do with him for years and frankly couldn’t bear listening to people speak about him for a very long time.
So it was astonishing to me as I read that email notification that Rav Asher had passed that I felt crushed. I didn’t understand what I had lost that depressed me so. Rav Asher’s true talmidim who swore by his every word and action, they were understandably crushed. But me?! Why was I depressed over his death?
I did not actively pursue an answer. But in the following weeks I reflected on what I knew about Rav Asher. I focused on what I believed he stood for. The things I have always admired about him.
Rav Asher was the biggest baal bitachon I have ever met in my life. The ever present smile on his face, his chuckle when discussing God; Rav Asher was happy. Happy in ways I could never dream of being. And his happiness was effortless, the result of letting go. The result of knowing that its all in God’s hands and that everything goes according to His plan. If everything goes according to his plan and He controls everything what do I have to worry about.
Rav Asher was 45 years older than me. He had many children and grandchildren. He undoubtedly had many difficulties he faced in his time, yet he was as carefree as a teenager living by his parents getting a hefty weekly allowance. I have lived my life like a stray dog trained for dog fighting. I feel as though I may be 45 years older than I am, allowing stress and life to rule and ultimately ruin me.
The following is a large part of what I have learned from Rav Asher.
I ultimately realized that real power was realizing that I had no power. Nor for that matter do you have any power.
Rav Asher was fearless. But his fearlessness had nothing to do with his own strength or power and everything to do with his insurmountable faith.
This is real power. The key to absolution of fear is found in faith of God.
This is my response to Nietzsche’s “that which does not kill me…”, a testament to true power and a lesson in mortality. Immortality should not be the objective, facing one’s mortality with a smile on their face and faith in their heart/mind is key to a happy and meaningful life.
I can be happy and free as Rav Asher was, by embracing faith as Rav Asher had. Letting go and being thrilled that you have let go is enough to help any stress fade away. This simple technique can add years to your life and immediately enhance the quality of every minute of every day.
At any time that I am upset or stressed out, I am now aware that I am trying to control a situation that is none of my concern. It is me telling myself that I know better than God and that I have power. This vicious cycle leads to stress and unhappiness.
Now that I can recognize this it is in my power to change it.
I can pray for the power to let go and recognize as often as I can that I am living in God’s world and under His terms.
In letting go, in binding my faith in God, in being serene and happy; in these ways I honor Rav Asher’s memory. I hope I have learned this lesson from my Rebbe well and I hope that my experience can help you enhance your bitachon and bring additional simcha into your life.