For some months now, I have been studying Torah with the Chabad emissary in Mobile, Ala., Rabbi Yosef Goldwasser. Knowing that I am new to this and to keep me moving forward, the rabbi gives me readings from the week’s Torah portion that are reasonably short so I can goI yearn to learn through them and the accompanying commentaries, and further my learning and understanding without feeling overwhelmed. Then, we spend a half-hour together over Zoom so I can ask questions and he can fill in the gaps with explanations, parables and quotes from the Rebbe.

Although we only have a short time together each week—the rabbi teaches youngsters many hours a day, among his other duties—I am grateful for the time and effort he expends helping me to learn a little more about what is central to being a Jew: learning Torah. As this was not something I grew up with, it’s sometimes hard reading for me, but I yearn to learn—to be Jewish not in name only, but as one who respects and fully embraces my religion and heritage with love and gratitude.

Recently, the rabbi suggested I read a large section of Leviticus. I enjoyed it very much, learning about each Jewish holy day in turn. I also enjoyed reading the commentary in the Chumash we use to study together. In one of those commentaries, I was struck by how we approach G‑d differently for each of the holidays, some engendering awe and others love.

When I attended a service and holiday celebration at Rabbi Goldwasser’s home, I was so grateful to be standing with a group of fellow Jews whose devotion to G‑d and Torah brings them together to reaffirm their dedication and absolute belief. There is a deep solemnity followed by a feeling of consummate joy.

The Rebbe’s father-in-law (the Previous Rebbe), and then the Rebbe himself, alluded to this world as “G‑d’s garden,” from the verse, “I have come into My garden, My sister, My bride.”1 In doing so, they taught us to see past all the pain and the suffering and the terrible things in this world we humans so often focus on. They must have seen only the beauty and holiness of G‑d through the lens of his Torah, and the possibilities offered therein. It was not a denial of the world’s ills, but a rising above them with hope, the promise of a Messianic era that surely is coming soon, and a belief in the basic goodness of G‑d’s most precious creation—we, the people who inhabit His physical world.

When I was 34, my husband committed suicide in our home after holding me and my children hostage. For years, I let that painful, traumatic episode define my life. I was confused about where G‑d was in all of this. I spent years healing, and time in and out of mental facilities. Eventually, I began exploring and delving into my Jewish roots, which helped me discover the value and purpose of life. Finally, I am able to see our world not only as a place of pain, but as an actual beautiful garden.

I have begun studying and reading Psalms. They are a balm to my soul and a way of praying for others in my life who need G‑d’s deep consolation and love. Immersing myself in the verses of Torah and the commentaries is healing, like a dip in the ocean when the warm saltwater buoys your body, taking away the pressure and pain you feel when you stand on solid ground. I feel at once grounded and lifted up, with a feeling of joy and new understanding.

My learning is still in its infancy, butImmersing myself in the verses of Torah is healing each time I read and discuss a passage with the rabbi, I come a little closer to understanding what it is that G‑d expects of me, and how to go about making my life a little less worldly and a little more introspective. I am overjoyed that G‑d chose me to be a Jew. I hope that as I continue living, I will use the talents He’s bestowed upon me so graciously to further my own Jewishness, and become a part of making this world better for fellow Jews and anyone else I can help in G‑d’s name.

Yes, I started quite late in life on this path to understanding my place as a Jew. As I experience each of the holidays, I try to allow their moods and spirits to fully penetrate and help me grow in my connection and relationship with G‑d. The best thing I have learned thus far is that G‑d has a plan for each of us, and it is my responsibility to work to understand and live out His plan for me. And if I can help one fellow Jew to see the beauty of being held in G‑d’s arms, I will have planted another tree in His garden.