Sunday, March 28, 2010

Science vs. Creationism

Ever since science has attempted to determine the age of the universe there has been an intellectual battle between the forces of science and creationism. I tend to believe that there doesn't have to be such a war between the two camps. There are genuine approaches for reconciling the two accounts of creation.

An example of one possible approach was set forth by Dr. Gerald Schroeder. He argued that seven days from the outer rim of the universe can equal billions of years within the universe. 

His approach is based on Einstein's time dilation theory.

The gist of it goes like this:

When the big bang happened the outer rim of the universe ballooned outward with such a tremendous burst of energy that it approached the speed of light. Time dilation theory teaches that the faster you go in space the slower you go in time. Therefore by reaching such high speeds, time greatly slowed down at the outer rim of the universe when measured relative to clocks within the universe.

So while the outer rim experienced only seven days, the interior of the universe could have experienced 15 billion years.

Once the framework of a seven day creation has been paradoxically greatly expanded while simultaneously being very literal, there is room to discuss a protracted process of creation, along with what tools might have been in the Creator's "tool box" to bring this about. Without any knowledge to the contrary, evolution should be as good a tool as any other for the Creator to slowly make the various species.

I'm not personally saying that this is how it happened or that I throw my full support into Dr. Schroeder's theory. (Actually, I personally believe in an entirely different mechanism for creation based on Lurianic Kabbalah, which for the moment I consider outside the scope of this blog.)

However, the very fact that such a neat reconciliation exists should bring both camps to question whether the argument is really worth it?

For those who are interested in further exploration of Dr. Schroeder's teachings, the following link will take you to his official website:

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

One That Corrects and One That Connects

Each person has two special “mitzvahs”, positive deeds:
One that corrects us and one that connects us.
What corrects us reshapes our desire to receive.
What connects us activates our desire to give.

A mitzvah is a special positive deed that connects a person to his or her Creator. Though a very Jewish concept with roots deeply embedded in Judaism, every human being (whether or not Jewish) is accorded the special privilege of connecting to his or her Creator by what s/he does. The Torah provides every human being with guidance in this area.

Some years ago, during a weekly study session with a teacher of Jewish mysticism, I was exposed to the teaching that every human being has a unique mitzvah specially designed for his or her soul. It’s via this deed that this individual soul connects most strongly with the Creator, as if given an individually tailored doorway. Naturally after hearing such a profound teaching, I was left the session wondering to myself, “What’s my special deed?”

This question has bounced itself around my head for years. It propelled me to ask various spiritual teachers for clues. Invariably, the messages were always mixed. Some claimed that this special deed is the one that a person finds absolutely most difficult to perform. While others claimed just the opposite, that this special deed is the one that a person finds the sweetest and most inspiring to do. These answers were enough to leave my head spinning, as my mind searched for a logical reconciliation.

Having to hold onto a question whose answer literally carries the key to life is uncomfortable enough. Being mixed up by opposite answers is a recipe that begs for mercy. Not knowing what else to do, I just kept the question available and continued to ask people who seemed like they might have an answer.

One weekend, I was visiting my beloved Aunt in Los Angeles. After enjoying a Sabbath meal is a friend’s home, I was invited to attend a small synagogue in the area that I would have certainly not discovered if left to my own devices. The attraction of the synagogue was an inspired visiting Rabbi. I sat down and listened to him deliver an inspiring lecture in Talmud, laced with delicious tidbits of Jewish mysticism.

The next morning I once again visited this synagogue, hoping to soak in more soulful teachings. After a morning of inspiring prayers and devotional studies, I escorted out the visiting Rabbi through a back ally. Realizing that I was in the company of such a special person I asked, “How does a person know which is his or her main special mitzvah, positive deed?”

“Actually, a person has two main mitzvahs.” He corrected.

”One mitzvah is what a person finds easiest to do. The other mitzvah is what s/he finds hardest to do.”, he explained.

This was one of those eureka moments for me. I finally understood. My confusion was finally clarified. The reason why I was getting mixed messages was because both answers are true.

Also, once I understood that I was searching for two mitzvahs, not one, and I had also received clear clues on how to identity them I was able to restart my search of a firmer footing. When I finally located these two mitzvahs within I noticed something very interesting. My most difficult mitzvah to perform seems to be anchored in my strongest "desire to receive". My sweetest and most inspiring mitzvah to perform seems to be anchored in my strongest "desire to give".

Dealing with my strongest "desire to receive" is about taming raging temptation. Once tamed, it can be reshaped as a vehicle for kindness. However, the work of reshaping is the process of correcting the misguided lower elements of the soul – vestiges from the animal world.

Dealing with my strongest "desire to give" is about reaching into the soul’s deepest yearning and making it manifest on earth. At the deepest core, humans want to give. It is the deepest human pleasure. Just at times this desire gets clouded over by fears and insecurities that haunt and taunt by feeding a person with one version or another of that narrow minded message that it’s a lot safer and smarter to receive and hoard.

However, if freed from these illusory psychological shackles a person would be edging every moment for an opportunity to meaningfully give. It’s too deeply pleasurable to ignore.

As the Passover season approaches, it’s worth considering what does that elusive word “freedom” mean to each of us individually. For me it means more freedom to give.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Book of Life

There was a man who every so often showed up at a particular synagogue and made some nice acquaintances among the general membership. Though this was not his regular synagogue, there were occasions when his livelihood brought him to the area and it was convenient for him to attend.

On one of these visits, an interested member asked him, "What are you doing?"

"Oh, I'm writing a book" he causally responded.

On his next visit several months later he was asked "How's your book coming along?"

"Oh, just fine", he smiled.

Over the next several visits during the span of a year his synagogue acquaintances always inquired about the development of his book with genuine interest. Each time he assured them that the book was developing on schedule and as planned.

One day, one day after prayers, about a year and a half after he first divulged the news about his book in progress, he was asked by a curious congregant, "Where’s your book? I’m eager to read it?"

In response, he pointed his finger to heaven and quoted the Talmud, "All of our deeds are written in a book!"


With our deeds we’re all “writing a book”. It’s published in heaven. Before we act, it’s a good idea to consider what kind of book we want to write. Eventually, we all get to read our own book. Hopefully, it will be a joyous reading.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Purim Reincarnation Story

Mystical Judaism believes in reincarnation, the notion that souls come back to clear up unfinished business. In this way a single individual can inhabit a series of bodies spanning the course of human history – like a person changing his or her clothing many times over.

Some years ago, on a Purim past mid-night, as hot tears streamed down my face, I appealed to the Creator that death and suffering were a useless waste and all humans should have a very sweet life. I cried until I could not take it anymore.

Realizing the late hour and that my Wife had long gone to sleep, I concluded that it was probably a good idea for me also to join the dreamers. On my way to bed, I picked up a picturesque coffee table book about Jewish history and proceeded to the restroom. While flipping through the large glossy pages, I noticed a medieval illustration which I found intensely disturbing. The scene depicted a Jew imprisoned in a dungeon. Coming down the steps were two figures. One wielded a torch, showing the way, while the other brandished a large knife, ready to murder the helpless prisoner.

After praying so hard for an end to all human suffering, I was much too sensitive to gaze at such a painful scene. I screamed in horror and rage.

While caught in misty stream of emotions, I dragged myself into bed. On a pillow, my tear filled eyes dropped moisture, while my closing lids exposed a world of dreams.

In the early dawn, I saw my toddler daughter about 15 years earlier. She was a middle aged Orthodox Jewish woman, with a slightly stocky build. She was sitting in the back seat of a car.

Dreams often arrive with non-visual information in order to provide a context for the scene. As part of this non-visual narrative, I learned that she was living in New York / New Jersey area and she was the victim of a serious car accident at some point during that life. It was unclear whether or not she survived. 

The next morning, on Purim day, I shared with my Wife the highlights of my three nocturnal events: my prayer, the illustration and the dream.

Laughingly, she rhetorically asked, “Don’t you see why you had the dream?”

“No”, I shrugged.

She explained, “The dream was the answer to your prayers and to your outrage at the illustration. The Creator was communicating to you that your precious gift, your sweet daughter, needed to finish up her previous life in order to be born to you. Without people passing away, no children are born.”

With that thought, I saw in the illustration a very different message, “The Creator was already planning the prisoner’s next incarnation or place in paradise. (In some sense) the murder was just a means to free him up for his very next opportunity.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Purim Miracle

I have an interesting personal story to share:

As with many words in Hebrew there is not an exact translation for the word "emuna" in English. However, the Hebrew word "emuna" (pronounced eh-mu-nah) roughly translates into English as "faith". Probably, the main reason why "faith" is only an approximate translation is because "emuna" connotes a knowing that is beyond intellect, but emerges from being deeply in contact with one's own soul. This inner soul contact can also act as an inner fountain flowing creative ideas.

By contrast, the English word faith can mean ideas which are superimposed on a person by an outside source.

I owned a very well written book called, "The Garden of Emuna" by Rabbi Shalom Arush. When it was gifted to me a few years back, I was busy working on other areas of my spiritual growth. However, I loved the idea of owning this very special book and set it aside for future reading.

A couple of months ago, my beloved Aunt had recently become an owner of a copy of this book. She shared with me her joys over what she read in sweetly glowing terms.

Feeling inspired to at least locate my own copy, I examined all likely "book spots" around my house. However, it seemed like it must have been misplaced. I prayed as I looked, but, the book hadn't turned up. So I simply let go.

I was scheduled this Purim night (Saturday night, February 27, 2010) to lodge at my brother's house in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, New York for a holiday visit. The snow in Brooklyn was unseasonably high and with so much of the curb side snowed over, finding parking was not expected to be easy. Despite my concerns, to my own surprise, a perfect parking spot emerged into view located conveniently around the corner from my brother's house.

I pointed it out to my family, but, because of the late hour it seemed only appropriate to provide my family with door to door service. So I passed up the spot. After my family was comfortably settled in, I resumed my search for parking. Turning the corner revealed that the parking spot was still waiting for me.

After pulling in, I got out of the car and laying on the snow in the nearby gutter was a copy of "The Garden of Emuna" in perfect condition. My heart danced as I lovingly picked it up and wiped off some surface moisture on the cover with my gloves and coat.

Then I searched to see whether anyone left his or her name in the book. Finding no identifying mark, it was seemed to me that the Creator had probably intended the book for me. Perhaps, I was being given a Purim gift, in the form of a message and a tool, to begin a new phase of further growth in the area of "emuna".

For those who are interested in learning more about the book, "The Garden of Emuna", you can click on the following link: