The year was 1987, and life was booming. I was living in Bexley, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus, with Sharon, my wife of two years, and a new daughter, and loving my work. As the president of Youthland, a children’s clothing chain founded by my parents, I had been steadily focused on expanding the business and had been able to build it into a bustling chain of 42 stores, spread over 10 Midwestern states. I was earning a great livelihood, and life was good. We bought a gorgeous house; I drove a beloved BMW, and I was president of my local synagogue. Sharon and I felt well connected in the Bexley community, and we imagined we’d be living in Columbus forever.

Or so we thought.

For many years, operating small clothing stores had been a growing and profitable business. Regional malls were booming, and independent retailers rode the wave. Youthland had a strong and unique brand, and I envisioned growing our company to at least 100 stores. But as I have since come to learn, nothing lasts forever. It wasn’t long before large retail chains like Kids “R” Us and Gap for Kids moved into the market, and it became virtually impossible for our comparatively minuscule operation to compete. We tried to slash prices to stay relevant, but that did not help. Quarter after quarter, we continued to lose money. Ultimately, the only sensible option was to file for bankruptcy.

Declaring Chapter 11 for my family business was beyond humbling. We had two children and a third on the way. I felt as if my life was crumbling. I was unsure of what lay ahead, and I was deeply worried. What would I do? How would I support my growing family?

It was during this brutal period, marked by desperation and fear, that I first began to see the hand of G‑d.

Years later, after much self-examination and study, along with the clarity of time, I came to understand that declaring bankruptcy was simply part of a process. In fact, it was a blessing. That time of desperation was an important leg of a journey that allowed me to become the man I am today. I sometimes compare myself and my journey to that of a seed. A seed is not pretty. It is small, undeveloped, and temporarily stuck in the ground. However, if fed by water, it will blossom and grow. The seed can even become a large and beautiful tree, bearing gorgeous fruit. If the humble and sunken seed, “trapped” in the soil, had never been watered and nurtured, none of the eventual fruit would have been possible. The “water” in my life was Torah and Judaism.

There is a mystical dimension of the Torah, called Chassidus, and it explains that a man cannot be complete without true humility. This virtue is called “bittul” and the literal translation is “self-nullification.” Bittul does not dictate that one should have no ego, but that one’s ego should be tempered. I think of it as a “healthy” or “appropriate” ego. A healthy ego is when one has enough self-awareness not to be trampled on. Chassidus uses the example of a broken heart. Only when a heart is broken, can it then become truly whole.

In my life, losing my business was truly a “bittuling” experience. In hindsight, I realize that I was just a seed planted in the ground, one that needed “watering,” every day. For me, that meant doing my part to serve G‑d.

There are moments in life now where I actually do feel like a tall and majestic tree that bears fruit and “feeds” others. And for this I am grateful. But I never forget that I was once a seed, underdeveloped and unseen, sunken deep in the ground. I also never forget the people who reached out and supported me through that humbling time in my life.