Yesterday I was at a carnival. The flashing lights seared into my eyes. The sounds of children laughing and parents screaming and carnies singing tore through my ears. The smells of turkey legs, kennel corn, and fried Oreos wafted into my nostrils. It was a beautiful, glorious high. As I got on each roller coaster, as I went into the house of mirrors, as I bounded through the sensory world, I felt more alive than I had been in a while. My heart ached with joy. Life made sense. Everything fit.

But today I'm in a desert. No lights. No sounds. No smells. Just sand. Dirt. Blankness. Life makes no sense. I'm disconnected, bored, alone.

I spent the entire day searching for the lights, listening as hard as I could. Sniffing as deeply as my nostrils and lungs would allow.


When I feel spirituality, when I feel like G‑d is talking to me, it's glorious. I'm alive, connected, I'm truly in a carnival. All my senses are heightened. My life seems perfect, like I can see the picture on the jigsaw puzzle I'm putting together. Read Torah all day? No problem! Pray three times a day? Awesome! Don't flirt with girls? Well, I'd still rather do that, but okay.

Life on a spiritual high is like a carnival. When I feel totally connected it's just the best feeling I'll ever have.

But carnivals only come for a small part of the year. For the vast majority of my life, at least, I'm living in a desert. Thirsty, starving really, for just a drop of what I tasted at the carnival. I'll do anything to feel that again. Do anything to regain the heights I reached on the roller coaster at the carnival.

And so, I try to create my own carnival. Sure, I can't ride a roller coaster, but I could create some illusion that makes my heart beat just as fast. I can even bend a few rules. Break some even. As long as it keeps me alive. As long as I feel like I can still see that picture of the puzzle.

And so, I start to forget about Torah. My praying slips through the cracks. Flings with girls make a lot more sense. Sure, I'm somewhat regretful. But what am I supposed to do? The carnival left. And all that remains is dirt.

Over time I've created an entirely illusory carnival. A carnival that appears whenever I want it to. Awesome.

But there's a problem with this carnival. No matter how big it is, I still see the dirt on the outside. The carnival, no matter how big it is, will never fill the entire desert. It will never cover the world. It will never fill my imagination.

I'm more alone than I ever was before.

Sometimes, I choose to leave the illusion. Usually, though, something wakes me up. I get a shove. I run out of flings. It's Shabbat. I run out of money.

I have no choice but to go into the desert. Out of the illusion. And it's painful. It's painful because the desert is so damn boring. It's painful because as boring as it is, I realize how much more real it is than the illusion I created.

And pretty soon, I begin to wonder. Was that first carnival... was it all just as fake as the one I created? Was it some sick joke I've been playing on myself?

These are the doubts anyone who has honestly addressed his religion has faced. This is the reality that all of us down to earth humans live every day when we attempt to reach truth. Sometimes it hits us. But usually it's gone.

Many of us spend our entire lives trying to recreate that carnival. We get addicted to the illusion of reality. We would rather have Diet Coke whenever we feel like it than real Coca Cola a drop at a time.

But with enough trips back and forth, and with enough help from G‑d, some of us are lucky enough to begin to understand the point is not the carnivals. The point is not trying to decide on the real carnival. The point is reality.

Anyone that has spent a night in the Israeli or Arizonan desert knows exactly the beauty that can come from simply being alone in the desert. From realizing that as alone as you are, you are connected to the truest thing in the world.

Reality exists in the desert. In the sand. In the dirt.

When we walk out bravely, ignoring that ache in our heart for the lights, for the sounds, for the smells, into the desert, we are truly experiencing life.

And when we are out there, when we are truly putting ourselves into the dirt, into the muck, and trying to find out why the hell we are out there, that's when the puzzle really starts to come together. That's when we start to realize that a beautiful, incredible, infinite carnival exists in every single grain of sand in that desert. That it may take years to access even one of those grains, but it will be so worth it.

And in the end, that's what this whole glorious adventure of life is all about. Reaching past the illusion, past even the grain of sand, and straight to our very souls. Straight to true reality. Straight to G‑d.