RAV OFER EREZ, THE NUCLEAR PHYSICIST
Rav Ofer Erez is one of most respected figures in Breslov chassidut. Today and has guided thousands of students from all different types of backgrounds towards the light of Rebbe Nachman’s teachings and observant Judaism.
He’s the author of many profound books on Chassidic thought in Hebrew. Including the soon-to-be-released translated titles in English, From the Depths and The Mountain of Myrrh.
For the last few years, Rav Ofer has been the moving force behind the ‘Ka’ayal Ta’arog’ outreach organization, that has distributed hundreds of thousands of CD shiurim. Organized countless face-to-face classes, and been involved in a number of other charitable
projects to ameliorate the financial difficulties and other issues being faced by bnei Torah.
Recently, Rav Yitzhak Gabbay, one of the writers for the Hithadshut magazine interviewed Rav Ofer Erez about his own path to Breslov. We’re pleased to share an adapted and translated version of that eye-opening interview with you, below.
Q: We’d love to hear a little of how you began your path to observant Judaism and Breslov chassidut. How did it all begin?
My more concrete thoughts about emuna (faith) really began while I was serving in the Israeli army. But the first glimmers of those thoughts started a couple of years’ earlier.
Already when I was 16 years old, I’d decided to leave high school, because I had a theory that school was really a bourgeois construct, and that its whole purpose was only to obstruct mankind’s pursuit of true knowledge.
During that period of time, when I [temporarily] left high school. I lived for a time in the North of the country, and then also in the South, in Noeva, which was 110 km south of Eilat. When my money ran out, I used to return to Eilat, sell some ice lollies on the beach, and then go back there.
Because there was nowhere near as many illegal substances available then as there is today. The conversations I had there used to be very serious and deep, and we’d really try to explore what the essence of life really was. I used to be the youngest participant in those groups, so I didn’t really get involved in the discussions, but I used to listen avidly, until I’d fall asleep from exhaustion.
GLIMMERS OF TESHUVA
That was the first place that I experienced glimmerings of teshuva.
A few years’ ago, I was with the Rav, shlita, on the seventh day of Pesach, when he started describing the journeys the Baal Shem Tov undertook, to try to get to Eretz Yisrael. Then, he added in some short stories about Rabbenu’s journeys, and then he started to tell us about his own trips.
He recounted that when he was an avreich (student) in the Volozhin Kollel, he used to come down to Eilat, to try to bring more of Am Yisrael back [to Hashem and mitzvah observance].
The Rav would spend the whole night talking about emuna with a bunch of people, and he used to say to them: ‘What, you really don’t see that there’s a Creator of the world?’ He used to ask them all sorts of questions to awaken their hearts to have more emuna.
It’s very possible that all the Rav’s trips down South, a little while before my time, were in order to rescue the souls who found themselves there. Maybe, those first glimmers of teshuva that I got for free were thanks to the Rav’s activities there.
Q: For quite some time, you [Rav Ofer] were engaged in the study of nuclear physics, and you came to be recognized as a scientific genius. What happened after that?
Throughout those years, I was also engaged in a deep exploration of the philosophy of physics. It was a search for something that would enable me to neutralize all the superficiality that was being taught in university. It was a type of spiritual search that was taking place within the scientific world where I found myself.
So I was in a rush to connect to something deep, on the spiritual level, that bore a rough likeness to the ‘something’ I needed to get me through university. It was only after I made teshuva that I really got the idea of how to place those feelings in their proper vessels.
Much later, I understood that this was a type of very deep birur, or process of clarification, that the Ari writes about in the Shaar HaGilgulim (the Gate of Reincarnations), where he says that there’s a connection between souls, and which Rabbenu also elucidates in Lesson 69 [of Likutey Moharan].
That’s when I understood that there’s a source and a root for the feeling of identifying oneself with and connecting to figures, until the point of self-nullification. Here, the clarification is extremely fine, because if we’re talking about a holy person, then the connection with them is, of course, appropriate and good. But if the person is from the side of the klipot (dark forces), G-d forbid, then it’s decidedly dangerous.
POP ‘IDOLS’ AND AVODA ZARA
One of the experiences I examined at that time was the interaction that occurred between a crowd of people and famous singers, which could literally reach the point of complete self-nullification and self-sacrifice. I understood why they were called ‘pop idols’ – they were definitely connected to the whole concept of idol worship and avoda zara.
At its root, avoda zara is the nullification of the soul to a figure that comes from the side of tumah¸ or spiritual impurity. ‘Hashem made this to counter that’. Against this, on the side of holiness, is the nullification to and connection with the soul of the Tzaddik.
“JUST TELL ME WHAT TO DO…”
The first figure from the holy side that I really connected to at that time was Rebbe Nachman. As a result of that connection, I also made teshuva. When I discovered hitbodedut (talking to God in your own words), I discovered a whole other world, and I used to do hitbodedut for many hours on end. Long before I’d even had the first real idea about Yiddishkeit, until Rabbi Aryeh Nedav, from ‘Ramat Amidar’ taught me some basic rules of Judaism.
A short time after that, I got to the ‘Netivot Olam’ yeshiva, and the Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Yosef Baruch, tried to explain to me the principles of emuna in a very scientific way. I interrupted him very quickly and told him that while I’d just come from the university, and had been part of that set.
Now, I was so deeply engaged [in Judaism] that all he needed was to tell me what to do in order to keep the mitzvot.
I’d been believing in, and connecting to Hashem for a long time, already.
To be continued in the next post….