It was my first day in Machon Alte Seminary in Safed. I had just endured the fight of my life. I had survived cancer, but my fertility was greatly compromised. I had just turned 19, and was delving deeper into understanding myself and the role Judaism would play in my life.

The teacher was expounding on the deeper Chassidic meaning behind the story of Chana, the mother of the prophet Samuel (Shmuel). When the high priest, Eli saw her praying so intensely for a child, he accused her of being drunk. The Rebbe explains that Eli wasn’t accusing Chana of being physically drunk, but rather drunk on her own desire.

The words hit my chest full force. I could visualize that scene so clearly. Not being allowed to enter G‑d’s Tabernacle because I was filled with my own desire. Drunk on it.

I needed emotional sobriety.

I had survived my illness, but half of me was gone. On the outside, I appeared as my fun-loving self. But a crater had been dug into my chest. A void had been hollowed out in me. The pain felt endless. And so, I looked for something to subside it.

It would take me years of searching. I would stumble about in a drunken stupor of yearning, treading in cobweb-filled alleyways of my consciousness, looking for something only I could give to myself. But the seed had been planted.

It would be a long journey but I would find it in the only place it could be found … in a rock-solid dependency on the Divine within. G‑d’s light, His infinite light, the only light powerful enough to fill this endless void.

In an act of heartfelt encouragement for my infertility, people often like to point out the connection between my story and Chana’s in the book of Samuel. They encourage me that just as Chana was barren and she prayed for a child, so, too, should I pray, and I will be blessed with a child.

As flattered as I am that they would think to compare my prayers to Chana, I smile as they say it. Not for the reason anyone may think. I relate to a different part of the story.

When Eli, the High priest, told Chana that she was drunk with her own desire, she proved her innocence. Why had G‑d allowed Eli, a righteous person, to accuse Chana, a prophetess, of such a mistake? And how could Eli have made such a mistake in judgment?

It is for us to learn something from it. When a righteous person sins or is even accused of something, their “cracks” is where the light shines through. It is for the sake of the rest of the people.

My prayer for a child had holy gloss, but it burned my insides like vodka.

Professionals are often shocked when a person detoxes, gets their life on track and is no longer chemically addicted, and then bam, they relapse! As Rabbi Shais Taub puts it, the drug of choice is not the problem, it’s the solution. It is the solution to the pain that overwhelms them and threatens to overtake them every minute of every day. But this solution has a whole slew of side effects.

The true solution is nursing the pain, the aching void, the parts of us so deep that only G‑d’s endless light can reach. The solution is finding a way to let Him into the dark recesses we would rather keep locked.

Eli was telling Chana to sober up. Prayer is emotional sobriety.

From the story of Chana and Eli, we learn the law that one cannot pray while intoxicated. On a deeper level, that is the truth; you cannot pray drunk for long. It sobers you.

You can come into the house of G‑d—the world of prayer—filled with the desire for something that will fill your pain: your drug of choice. You ask G‑d for that thing. And then the process begins. The “intervention,” the honesty of realizing why I want it.

And every now and then, I have the epiphany of admitting that the thing that I want is to fill a void that only G‑d can fill. The things may be holy, it may be objectively positive, but I am using it as my drug of choice. It is to ease a pain, an inner ache I don’t know how to fill and that’s why my mind becomes set on getting this thing.

In this moment of clarity in the prayer process, I have two options:

  1. I can continue to pursue my drug of choice. The nice car, baby, job—my socially accepted drug of choice. And you may say these are harmless. Yes, the consequences are less severe than a street drug. The outside world may never even notice. But I know. The deep void still remains inside of me. The pain is masked by an ice-thin veil that cannot carry the weight of its burden for long.
  2. Or I can say, G‑d, I want You, and only You. But I don’t know what to do with this pain I’m feeling. So I need You to fill the parts of me that hurt. I need You. I can’t do this alone. I admit I cannot face this pain alone. I need a Higher Power—one of the first and most fundamental steps towards sobriety.

Chana wasn’t drunk. But she taught me how to be sober. She told Eli that the desire that permeated her for a child was G‑d’s coursing through her. She gave the child to G‑d at age 3, dedicating him to serve in the Tabernacle under Eli. Her arms were left barren. Chana’s desire was not to fill an emotional void.

Chana has taught me how to pray. Pray until I can say proudly to Eli, I am not drunk on my own desire.

I lead an exercise where I guide a person through the “prayer” experience to realize with a tantalizing clarity, “Why do I want this? What will this give me emotionally? What will I believe about myself when I get it?”

And then to realize how underneath that desire is something they can already give themselves. They can experience how in G‑d’s abundant kindness, whatever it is they want, the emotion, the feeling etc., is already present in their life.

After the exercise, with fear-stricken faces, people often ask: “But if I can already experience it now, then I will lose my motivation. What if I won’t want the thing anymore?”

I answer: “And what would be the problem with not having something you realize you don’t need?”

After the prayer process, two pathways emerge:

A) I realize the emotion I want to experience when I get “there” and start allowing myself to feel it now. I fill myself up emotionally. Slowly, the desire that was born out of desperation evaporates. I can now see that in truth I never wanted that thing, and it wouldn’t have acted as anything other than a temporary balm on an open wound. I gave my starved animal soul its much-needed emotional refill. It Is calm.


B) I am emotionally filled up. I am with G‑d. I am tapping into how the joy of the desire, and all the good It can bring, are also present in some form in the now. I still feel the desire for “that thing” or to get “there,” but it feels different than before. It’s not the same aching yearning—that anxious, restless feeling. There is a clarity: It is G‑d’s whisper in my soul that this is a path I meant to skip down. I now have the emotional freedom to welcome that thing into my life. With this new clarity, the dream becomes a reality in a way that feels effortless compared to the previous mode of being.

We can have nice things; that is not the problem. The problem is when things have us. When we are captured by our desire, we are intoxicated by them, and the path back to ourselves feels impossible. G‑d wants us to have true pleasure, not the knock-off version.

I couldn’t allow G‑d to fill me because the space was occupied. I was consumed with the yearning for a child. As I stopped obsessing over my drug of choice, I asked myself, why do I want this? What will it give me?

I found that what I was yearning for was a childlike part of myself. The part of me that sees the world through wonder. That feels the magic in the pulse of a blade of grass. That sees a strawberry patch as a secret garden she gets to tend to.

I wanted a child to again feel the innocence that cancer had stolen. To reconnect with a natural faith in G‑d and people and myself. To reconnect me with the unscarred heart that once pulsed in me before all the pain.

When I realized that what I wanted was something that was readily available, it was abundantly here when I was ready for it. Then I could begin to face the pain. The pain of what was lost. And I gave the pain to G‑d.

I let Him fill those hollow shells of what I used to call myself, and I asked him to plant seeds in this newfound ground. Because it turned out the pain was not endless. I hit the bottom of it, and it was fertile soil. It would become the nursery for sprouting new forms of wonder and surprise and awe in my life.

It would become the perfect place for G‑d to surprise me with all of His wildest dreams for me to come true.