My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I got this book back in 2002 when author Audi Gozlan came to talk at my synagogue in Miami Beach. At the time I found his lecture, focusing on Abraham as the father of meditation in both east and west, interesting, so I purchased the book. It took me 10 years to get to it, but the timing was just perfect.
Gifts of Abraham presents a look at meditation across the world religious landscape and shows how it all ties back to Abraham with the use of Biblical commentary, Talmudic discussion, midrashim (legends) and the tools of Torah exegesis. His presentation is clear and concise, well-documented via endnotes showing his sources (both Judaic and otherwise), and thought-provoking for anyone willing to consider a far grander picture of world history. Though the book is geared toward Jews and Judaism, I believe it should prove an interesting read for anyone who appreciates theology, world history and philosophy, not to mention meditation and meditative practices.
I can’t believe it’s already Rosh Hashanah again! Nevertheless, here we are. A very happy shana tova (happy year) to all my Jewish friends out there. May you have a sweet and healthy new year and be inscribed in the Book of Life. Now let’s go party!
A link to a page called “How to stop your kids from becoming Atheists” flew around a couple times this morning on my Twitter feed. I decided to ignore it, as it wasn’t aimed at me directly, but then I thought about it and decided to actually respond to it. Or rather, respond to years of such little links and comments read and heard from people I consider friends or close acquaintances. This isn’t a rant, this isn’t a retort. This is a response.
You decided you do not believe in G-d, and I decided that I believe in G-d. Your decision does not make you any smarter, insightful, wise, accepting, or educated than me. Neither does mine make me all that in relation to you. When you say general statements about believers, remember you are including those who are your friends, those whom you respect and respect you, among them. That means me, Daniel, the guy you play games with, go to school with, chat online with, joke with, even sometimes share a true memorable moment with.
I don’t mind that you’re an Atheist. I honestly don’t care because that is your choice. I respect your choice. I will even talk about our choices, how they differ, how they may even be similar in some ways, and not have a problem with it (heck, in many cases I’d welcome it). It’s your choice and I respect it, especially if you are my friend, even if I don’t believe the same way. That goes for Atheist, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, or Pastafarians. I only ask you do the same.
I am a convert to Judaism. That means I chose my belief, and I did after a really hard and intense–painful, even–struggle with myself about belief in G-d and me as an individual (and frankly, it’s a struggle I continue to be engaged in every day). But even if I wasn’t, even if I’d been born into observant Judaism (or Christianity, etc), my point remains the same. I am not an anomaly, I am simply an example, just like how you reached your decision to be an Atheist isn’t the same as that of others.
“But, Daniel,” you may ask, “what about the Westboro people, or the Jihadists, or the [Insert Religious Extremist Group Here]?” What can I tell you, there’s shitty people in all walks of life. What about Atheists that believe all believers should be killed (I’ve actually heard this, don’t laugh)? I’m sure we’re both groaning right now. Listen, these people are out there. Let’s not be like them, then.
I don’t need you to apologize for tweeting that link today if you did, or for any comment you may or may not have made in the past. I honestly don’t. I also don’t want you to police what you say to be politically correct. Just be aware of what you say, what you forward along, and understand you might be hurting someone you actually esteem.
I haven’t had a chance to blog about the start of this new semester at the university, or about the fact that I’ve been going to the gym practically daily since then as well. It’s been very busy.
In any case, I wish all the Jews out there a happy and blessed new year. And a happy new year to all of Creation as well – Rosh Hashanah is as much about all of G-d’s creation as it is about the Jewish people. Maybe one day I’ll talk about that more.
I got this message this morning from Chabad.org, and it impacted me. Over the past few days the thought of cancer has been firmly on my mind, between Mother’s Day, my game in progress, and news from a few people I follow on Twitter who are going through their own ordeals at the moment and whom I wish them strength. This message speaks to all of this:
By Tzvi Freeman
Not all suffering can be explained. There is pain, sometimes, that is not punishment and not repair.
True, we were given Torah, a G-dly wisdom containing the secrets of all things. But concerning these things even Moses asked and was told to be quiet, to cease to ask. Because there are some things that even G-dly wisdom does not explain. Because they cannot be explained.
We can only know that whatever happens is from G-d, that G-d is just, and that He does not desire suffering.
But until the end of days, we will have to suffer the ‘why’.
I can’t claim to understand all of it. I can’t claim to say I’m fine with it all the time. But I accept it. I accept it because I do believe that all that happens is G-d’s doing and that ultimately it is all for good, even if my limited understanding is not enough to see how. I rage against the dying of the light, but in the end I let the light go as is His will.
To those who are going through their own ordeals, maybe this will give you some measure of strength. Maybe not. But it is something that we should keep in mind all the time.
Gam zu l’tovah. This is also for good.
I’ve met a fair number of rabbis during my time as a Jew. Most of them are regular people who have dedicated their lives to studying G-d’s Torah and helping people out perform mitzvot. They lead normal lives and have the same kinds of issues most people do, except they face them with this admirable confidence in Hashem. What’s more, I’ve yet to meet one that doesn’t also impart that joy they have to others. I also know there are some rabbis that transcend even the rabbis I have known, that make them seem in comparison as normal as I seem next to a rabbi. These are rabbis that have achieved levels of connectivity to G-d that are truly astounding. We call them tzadikim, which can be translated as righteous. Today I met such a rabbi.
I can’t tell you anything about the Kalever Rebbe; before Monday I had never heard of him, or seen his picture. Understand, there are a lot of Chassidic groups each with their own Rebbe, even if the one most people know of is Chabad-Lubavitch. But I saw that the Kalever Rebbe would be visiting FIU for one day, at a time when I could drop by for a visit. I’ve been going through some spiritual stuff lately and I figured meeting with a tzadik would be good (my wife concurred).
Long story short, he was delayed from the 12 PM time he was originally scheduled to have been on campus, but after my class I walked over and was able to see him.
I’m not sure what I was expecting, maybe something earth-shaking, a spiritual sledgehammer to the chest, based on accounts of meetings with other tzadikim I have heard/read. It was nothing like that. It was actually about as mundane and simple a meeting as you can imagine: him in a chair at the head of a conference table, me standing to his right, us sharing some words. He shook my hand and didn’t let go until we were done, and he’d pat it for emphasis pretty much every other word. He gave me a few blessings, and gave me a very simple, almost elementary, answer when I told him what I’ve been going through. A smile never left his face.
It took only a few minutes. I walked out and went on with my day. But it was subliminal, and without any effort, he imparted me with some of the peace that seemed to hang around him like fruits on a tree.
There was nothing extraordinary about our meeting, and that’s what I found most extraordinary.
Today is El Dia de Reyes or El Dia de los Reyes Magos, Three Kings’ Day in English (also known as Epiphany). In the US this day means squat, it’s just another day as any, but in Puerto Rico today is a holiday, the culmination of the Christmas season, and a big day in our national culture. I’m not entirely sure how big of a deal Three Kings Day is in other Latin countries or in Spain, but I do know it is celebrated, as we get the custom from our Spanish ancestry. In Puerto Rico it has taken on a life of its own, with parties and feasts all over the island, none bigger than the celebration in the town of Juana Diaz.
Thing is, my Mom’s maternal family is from Juana Diaz, so that Fiesta de Reyes is not only a national celebration, it is also a family tradition, one that has gone unbroken for at least the last 50-60 years (and probably longer – I need to find out for sure). Every year, all of us living in the San Juan area, would jump into our cars early in the morning and trek down the 2 or so hours to the Ortiz household right on the town’s main street to the central plaza, and spend the day there, wandering the plaza, checking out all the artisans and their wares, and the various musical acts as well. Then we’d have tons of food over at the house, and go back at night, tired and stuffed and happy.
Obviously, not being Catholic anymore, Three Kings Day has no meaning for me, at least not religiously. I can honestly say the religious aspect of the day ceased to have any impact on me even before I moved from Puerto Rico, much more so now that I am Jewish, but the family tradition aspect of it, that still has a pull. It’s been about nine years since I last went to Juana Diaz, but every January 6 I would get a call from Mom from Juana Diaz and at least for a few moments I’d be a part of it.
This morning I was the one to make the call, to my Aunt, and at least for a couple of minutes I was a part of it again. I wish I was able to teleport, so I could be with my family for a little bit then return home for dinner. At least my sister is there with my nephews representing our family nucleus.
This is just a constant with which I live: the biggest drawback to having converted to Judaism was the rift it created regarding my family traditions. I mean, it’s not like I can’t ever go to a family celebration, but it is different. I can’t eat with everyone, for example, and food is one of those universal social glues that hold bonds together. Being that Puerto Rico is very much a Catholic country, the difference in religion is a big deal, especially during Christmas, when a huge part of Puerto Rican culture gets displayed (be it in food, holidays, celebrations, art, music, etc). The physical separation between PR and Miami offers a buffer but every so often emotions seep through, like today.
Like I said, it’s just a reality of my choice in life. I accept it and live with it, even if sometimes, for a little bit, I look with a small amount of longing at what was.
 I had my sister ask around while she was in Juana Diaz, and as far as anyone can tell, the tradition of our family to get together there for Fiesta de Reyes is about 100 years old. That is powerful, and I need to reflect on that more.
What is it that the child has to teach?
The child naively believes that everything should be fair
and everyone should be honest,
that only good should prevail,
that everybody should have what they want
and there should be no pain or sadness.
The child believes the world should be perfect and is outraged to discover it is not.
And the child is right.
That’s me right there. Yes, I have a cynical side that often gets the better of me, but deep down that’s me. That’s why I sometimes get taken advantage of, why I became cynical in the first place, because I believe those things and got burned more often than not when I discovered it was not like that. But I continue to believe it all.
I guess you could say deep down I am as Lawful Good as they come. And you’d be right.
You want to know me? Remember the above.
It is with a heavy heart that I let everyone know that my Mother, Wanda I. Robles Ortiz, passed away today Saturday, August 8th, 2009, her birthday, at 3:00 AM in the morning. She was 56 years old.
I cannot find enough words to celebrate my Mother. Suffice to say she was the noblest person I’ve ever known and I learned so much from her. Indeed, all I am is thanks to her. I will miss her, but I know she is in a far better place.
My thanks to everyone who throughout this year has sent good wishes and prayers our way. I know they had an effect, and I know they will continue to do so.
My brother Michael and his wife Diana (pictured above at the Arecibo Radio Observatory, Arecibo, PR) are getting married today in Ocala, Florida!
Yes, I wrote that right. Michael and Diana have actually been married for a few years now by civil law. Both were in the military at the time, and they decided to get married one day, during lunchtime, after which Diana returned to her job, and Michael reported to be shipped to Iraq the next day for the first of a couple of tours of duties. They have been through some tough times, especially for a young couple, and they have pulled through with flying colors. Today is their religious wedding, and while I cannot be there in body, I am there in soul, wishing them, with all my love, all the blessings in the world for a happy, strong and enduring marriage.
Michael and Diana, Yvette and I love you both and send you congratulations!