| Street Smarts |

Lone Soldier

“Do your students speak to you about yahadut, about Judaism? Do they discuss their questions and doubts?”


is name was Yaniv.

L’aan?” he asked curtly. “Where to?”

Just the one word. No hello, no good morning, no greetings or pleasantries. Just the facts; where to.

I gave him the address.

“Atah holech l’hitpalel? Are you going to daven? He had obviously noticed my tallis bag.


“So late?”

Great, I thought to myself. Now he’s going to lecture me about zeman tefillah and tell me that he davens netz before he hits the road.

I felt the need to explain. “I teach in a yeshivah for troubled boys and we schedule the tefillot a little later to make it easier for them to come.”

He stared at me for a minute, sizing me up.

Atah rav?” he asked. “You’re a rabbi?”

“Yes, I’m a rabbi.”

“The boys you teach are ba’alei teshuvah?”

“Well, some of them. I mean, that’s our hope, our mission. We’re trying to help them build better lives for themselves and hopefully, they do teshuvah.”

He sighed.

I looked at him. Something was weighing on his mind. I sat in silence, not sure what to say.


“Do your students speak to you about yahadut, about Judaism? Do they discuss their questions and doubts?”

“All the time.”

Tears streamed down his cheeks and his entire body shook. He could barely get his words out.

“I just recently did teshuvah. I keep Shabbat, I pray, I put on tefillin and keep kosher. It was a long process, but finally I decided that the Torah is emet and that this was the right thing to do. My family, my friends, they all thought I was crazy but I made the decision and they accepted it. But now —” he was sobbing uncontrollably — “Now, suddenly, I am plagued with questions. I was so happy, so excited and passionate about my teshuvah, and I never doubted for a second that it was the right move. But now I am filled with doubt. Why is this happening to me? Is this my reward for doing teshuvah?”

I whispered a silent prayer that Hashem put the right words in my mouth.

“I think you’re making a mistake,” I told him. “Your doubts are not a bad sign. They’re a good sign. Any time we take a big step in life, a positive step toward Hashem, the yetzer hara is going to fight it. Before you made your courageous decision to do teshuvah, you never had doubts, because the yetzer hara wasn’t worried about you. But now that you actually did teshuvah, he’s fighting to get you back.”

I offered an analogy: “In the army, the higher your rank, the harder the enemy tries to eliminate you. Yaniv, you are obviously a celebrated warrior.”

I gave him the names and numbers of a few rabbanim as well as some kiruv organizations. As I exited the car, I saluted him – Yaniv, the lone soldier.


Rabbi Akiva Fox is a rebbi and a lecturer on Hidabroot. He lives in Ramat Eshkol.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 830)

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