I recently opened my tefillin bag and discovered that the straps had been completely unraveled and unceremoniously shoved back into the case (at least the culprit got that right!).

To say I was miffed is an understatement. After all, who—other than a small child (my suspicion)—would do such a thing? When I approached the rabbi to ask about it, his face lit up. Not quite the reaction I was anticipating!

He explained that there’s a local teen with special needs who seems to be obsessed with tefillin, and I wasn’t the first to find my tefillin this way.

A few days later the rabbi followed up with a video of the young man in question being asked by his father, “Why do you feel the need to kiss everyone’s tefillin in shul?” The boy (who until recently was non-verbal, but thanks to a combination of G‑d’s will and man’s ability to create within it) answered through the simulated voice of a tablet: “Because I get holiness transferred to me … and I love G‑d.”

So, I thought, this must be what it’s like to be touched by the wings of an angel.

A few years ago I wouldn’t have felt those wings; wouldn’t have recognized the holiness of what had happened. I could no more see G‑d’s hand in the flow of things than I could drag myself out of bed after the dissolution of my 29-year marriage and the loss of the job that was supposed to carry me through to retirement.

There’s a song by country music crooner Brad Paisley in which he rather humorously describes the depth of his despair:

There’s two feet of topsoil
A little bit of bedrock, limestone in between
A fossilized dinosaur
A little patch of crude oil
A thousand feet of granite underneath
Then there's me

What the song doesn’t articulate, is how it actually feels down there.

“Divorce,” a rabbi once told me, “is like death.” And he’s not far off. There’s a level of loneliness that only someone who’s experienced the daily bliss of married mundanity can relate to. Odd as it sounds, it’s not only the loss of a spouse that gets to you, it’s the loss of routine. There’s a powerful beauty to the simple questions: What’s for dinner? What do you feel like watching? Need anything while I’m out? And, of course, the piece de resistance: How was your day?

Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong’s co-pilot and the second man to walk on the moon, described what he saw upon leaving the safety of the lunar module as “a magnificent desolation.”

This is what it is to be alone. To suddenly find yourself at the end of a table with all the other single men, watching someone else regale the guests, someone else make small talk with his wife and children, someone else be anchored. This is what it is to go to bed alone and wake up the same way. It’s a level of emotional desolation that can’t come close to being quelled by the usual forms of escape. I know because I tried.

Those forms of escapism are, as local traffic signs are quick to point out, “not a through street.” They’re just the same street over and over again (if in slightly different iterations).

What I was looking for, what I really needed, it turns out, was a good old-fashioned hug. Or rather “hugs,” and on a regular basis, too. Because the vices, it seems, won’t hug you back. G‑d, however, will.

All you have to do is observe His mitzvot. And, odd (and possibly heretical) as it may sound, you don’t actually have to believe in Him to feel His hugs. You just have to start applying His mitzvot to your life, and you will be astonished by how quickly the loneliness leaves you and how completely your life can turn around.

Keep Shabbat, for example, and suddenly the stuff that stresses you out during the week is gone (no screens means no distractions). Acknowledge that Someone greater than you is running the show, and just like a baby being swaddled protests at the injustice of being made temporarily uncomfortable only to be sated afterwards, you too will start to see that there might actually be a grand scheme with regards to the pain you’re suffering, and that you, too, with G‑d’s help, will see the reasoning behind it and be sated.

So I started going to shul, and suddenly routine was back in my life. Not only that, but the people I prayed with were genuinely glad to see me. I never lacked Shabbat invitations (the thought of eating alone was unbearable) and I once again had a place where I began to feel like I mattered. And here’s the kicker—I felt that way because that’s what G‑d, our Rebbe, and Chabad teaches—that as a Jewish soul you’re ineluctably connected to every other Jewish soul that currently exists, ever existed, and that, G‑d willing, will continue to exist. You’ve been given an extraordinary gift—one you can spend the better part of a lifetime unwrapping.

The same rabbi who told me that divorce is like death also said, “I think your message is how you didn’t feel alone—even in your loneliest moments.”

I agree. And also that I now love wearing my tefillin even more.