It’s December. The sky is cloudy and grey, and almost every evening, rain lashes at my window. Even with all the heaters on, my house is freezing cold, and by four PM, it’s pitch black outside. I know that lots of people are thinking of seaside holidays right now. Not Bournemouth, or Dawlish, or Broadstairs; they’re dreaming of somewhere warm and sunny, somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere. Or maybe they’re just thinking about those idyllic days of summer; the days which feel far away, out of reach, even. I am, too. Not because I long for such a setting, or such a holiday. I hate the seaside, and have no plans to travel. But because a seaside trip was my watershed moment. It was my turning point. I can’t say it kick-started my Torah observance, but it strengthened it in a way that nothing else could’ve.
I should start off by saying that there have been a handful of other moments like my seaside trip. My first trip to an orthodox Shul, for example, opened a door which would otherwise have remained closed. The same can be said for Chabad; attending Chabad services has touched and, I feel, elevated my neshomo in a truly unique and beautiful way. I don’t mean to attribute everything to this trip, and I certainly don’t mean to disregard the efforts of the wonderful rabbonim and accquaintances I’ve been blessed with. But this seaside holiday brought so much kedushah into my life, and at the time, I didn’t even realise it.
Many will be wondering just how much kedushah can be found in a seaside town. The answer is, none at all, at least not where I stayed. Houses were falling down; litter was left to fester in the streets; drug addicts roamed about, every hour of the day; and stabbings were neither frequent nor infrequent. Half of the residents seemed to be extremely dangerous people, and the other half were extremely dangerous dogs. I don’t want to speak loshon hora about this unnamed place, but let’s just say it was grim, dirty, unfriendly, and very immoral. So how come I speak so highly of my experience there, one which I clearly didn’t enjoy? How can such a place have brought kedushah into my life?
I should start by saying, while I was there, my neshomo suffered. Like every story of success, it started with a struggle. I won’t say a failure; because I didn’t fail. I succeeded. But before I could succeed, my soul struggled. It battled within me. My neshomo longed to cleave to G-d; like every Jew’s, it is inherently connected to the Creator. But my yetzer hara, my evil inclination, fought with all its might. The food wasn’t kosher; the people weren’t tzniusdik; the music wasn’t aydel; and there were many sights which no one should’ve seen. It hurt my soul to experience all this; over the course of the week, I became somewhat acclimatised to it, which only served to hurt even more. Holidays like this can be dangerous; when one returns to the city, the holiday habits have set in. Suddenly, food without a hescher is okay. Not covering your collarbone is okay (though for the record, I never did that, not even on holiday). Skipping shul becomes normal, and secular music becomes addictive. But this didn’t become of me, thank G-d.
Instead, I returned to my home early one morning, after a few hours’ travel, and I was initially consumed by the task of unpacking clothes and preparing food and answering emails. Then the next day, I read about the Chassidus. And suddenly it dawned on me. My neshomo cried within me, when I realised the damage that had been done. I could see myself in my mind’s eye, and I felt utterly, thoroughly ashamed. I felt disgusted, unclean. I read the words of Chazal and I repented. I read the Parsha and it meant more than it ever had done before. I read and I thought and I wept and I wrote and finally, I resolved to better myself. Merely glancing at a photograph from that trip was enough to convince me; I need the Torah in my life.
But in the days, weeks, and months that followed, I didn’t even realise how seriously I had taken it all. How much I had actually listened to G-d’s voice, and taken it to heart. It’s only today that I realise how much that trip did for me. How it shook me. How it shocked me. And how it bettered me. Thank You, G-d, for bringing me miracles in the most unexpected ways.