How I Discovered My Diamond Within
Our souls, our neshamot, come into this world like unpurified diamonds, sullied and covered in layers of soot that hide the beautiful, pure light underneath it.
Like a diamond undergoing the grueling process of being heated up, polished, and purified, so too does our soul go through a similar process. This happens on a spiritual level with the challenges we experience during our time in this world.
At the conclusion of this journey, we have a brilliantly sparkling, shimmering diamond that was always underneath the soot. We also have a pristine, pure neshama with our own special light finally shining through at the end of our life. I learned this concept from one of Rebbetzin Lori Palatnik’s video blogs on Aish.com.
My life experience is personified by the analogy of the diamond and the neshama. My journey to a Torah observant lifestyle officially started 12 years ago, but looking at the puzzle pieces of my past, it was a process that informally began in the earlier years of my life.
My mother is the child of Holocaust survivors who were the sole survivors of their families and two of the less than 400 survivors of their city of Plock, Poland. My father’s parents were traditionally observant Sephardim from Turkey who immigrated to Israel in the 1940’s. My father grew up in Azur, a small suburb right outside of Tel Aviv, and served in the Israeli army.
I was immensely proud to be a Jew, even though we were not Torah observant. My father invested his time heavily with me, teaching me to speak, read, and write in Hebrew. He took me on countless trips to Israel.
My mother noticed that I was compassionate and liked volunteering in the special ed class at school. Even though I envisioned becoming an M.D., she pushed me in the direction of occupational therapy as a career because she felt it fit my personality better. She said she always saw my mission in this world as a “friend of the friendless,” and a helper to the weak.
I went to O.T. school and became an O.T. at age 21, but was bitter about it and miserable with the work for many years. My twenties overall were a difficult time in my life. I was a shy, quiet, and insecure young woman, trying to figure out who I was and my purpose in this world.
I focused on building my career and trying to find myself through work, friendships, exotic trips and vacations, and reading books on every topic I was interested in. None of these ventures though satisfied the inner part of me that was craving true meaning. Something inside me yearned for more, but I couldn’t figure out what that “more” was.
During this time, I dated a guy who suffered from mental illness. I wasn’t observant and he was. While I was turned off by his cruel and callous behavior, I loved his family. They treated me like a daughter and sister and looked past my immodest clothing, driving on Shabbat, and non-kosher diet.
They answered all my questions, invited me into their homes with no ulterior motive, and gave me my first taste of a real Shabbat and Yom Tov (holidays). They gave me the unconditional love my broken soul needed. Through them, I decided that traditional Judaism was worth looking into.
I started seeking out more information, slowly changing my mode of dress, and taking on kashrut. I broke up with my boyfriend because I knew we were not good for each other.
I then moved to Kew Gardens Hills in Queens, NY, a lovely and close-knit observant Jewish community. I went to seminary in Israel when I was 26 years old. These changes solidified my commitment to Torah and Mitzvah observance, and forever changed my connection to G-d and outlook on the world and the meaning of life.
When I got to seminary at Neve Yerushalayim, I initially felt the burden of years of emotional baggage weighing me down. There was something about living in Yerushalayim and being a part of the holy atmosphere of the seminary experience that was invigorating. The rabbis and rebbetzins helped me find comforting answers to questions that had plagued me for years. I found like-minded thinking women like myself who had embraced religious Judaism because of the connection and meaning it brought into their lives.
I was on the right track, feeling more connected by the day. But when I was there, something set me back. My sister, who is five years younger than me, became engaged. I was happy for her, but at the same time, jealous. By then, I’d had countless failed secular relationships and bad shidduch dates. I was angry at G-d for blessing her and making everything seem so easy for her.
My sister’s fiancé was her first and only boyfriend and was an easygoing, sweet man. Here I was, giving up everything (it felt like) to become frum, and Hashem just kept sending me the wrong men. I cried about it to one of the Neve teachers, Mrs. Chana Levitan, who is also a renowned speaker, author, and marriage/family therapist.
She told me something that confused me at the time, but started to make perfect sense once I thought about it: “Each soul has to go through what it goes through in this world, to achieve its mission in this world.” These words deeply penetrated my soul, creating meaning and shredding layers of sadness and insecurity I had allowed to cling to it for so long. I took Mrs. Levitan’s advice to heart and was able to make peace with the situation with my sister. I was growing up.
Baruch Hashem, thank God, I eventually did meet my husband. Now, I’ve been married 11 years and have three beautiful children. There have been so many blessings… too many to count. There have also been hardships and challenges. But I’ve learned that with the hard times also comes incredible growth.
Since becoming frum, I’ve learned to balance many responsibilities at once, to let go of jealousy, to keep my cool and have patience during tough times, and how to separate myself from toxic people and situations that were holding me back. I began to love my job as an O.T. and embrace the fact that it allows me to have a job and lots of time for my husband and kids. My mother was right.
The diamond within me has definitely begun to shine. There’s much more growth and wisdom to attain. The diamond still needs more purification, of course. It’s a lifelong process.
Hashem said to Avraham, “Lech lecha m’artzecha moladatecha” (Translation: “Leave now from the land of your birth.”) These are the words that beat within the heart of every Jewish neshama.
I’ve come to a place in my life where I believe I know what my mission is and I am on the right path working toward it. I’ve been able to let go of unhealthy insecurities and replace unhealthy thinking patterns with mentally healthy thoughts and beliefs. I’ve become a more whole person and a better wife, mother, friend, daughter, sister, neighbor, and employee during the journey since embracing the religion I was so lucky to be born into.
There have been challenges, and the level of challenges has changed as I’ve spiritually grown and changed. I’ve met with successes and failures. I am constantly trying to become closer to the people in my life and show them my true self.
A patient I worked with a few days ago said to me, “Your soul really is shining,” after I told her about the diamond within.
But my process isn’t over. I look forward to discovering more of my own light and letting it shine.
Tamar Shtrambrand lives in Monsey, NY with her husband and three children. She wears a variety of hats (and wigs :-)), including
homeschool mom, freelance writer, adjunct professor at Rockland Community College, and clinical psychology doctoral intern at CAPS at Bikur Cholim.