Rabbi Rami answers your spiritual questions.
A friend just pointed out that Easter falls on April Fools’ Day this year. The resurrection of Christ, he says, is the ultimate April Fools’ prank! I know it’s silly, but this coincidence really bothers me. How do you see it?
Rabbi Rami: April Fools’ Day is the perfect day for Easter. St. Luke tells us that when the Athenians “heard of the resurrection of the dead, some laughed” (Acts 17:32). Luke thinks they were scoffing; I think they were “grokking”! Laughter is the sound of awakening made by the Fool for Christ (1 Corinthians 4:10) who, like Jesus, knows “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). This Easter, put on the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16) and free yourself from the fear of death and the grip of those who use that fear to disempower and manipulate you. When you hear that “He is risen” (Matthew 28:6), laugh with abandon and rise, as well!
I’m attending my first Passover seder this year. I’ve been reading up on the holiday, but I can’t figure out exactly what Jews think it means. Why can’t you people agree on these things?
Jews not agreeing with other Jews as to what Judaism is is what Judaism is. For me, Passover is a living engagement with the Exodus story: liberating ourselves from the narrowness of self (in Hebrew, Egypt/Mitzrayim means “the narrow place”) by avoiding the sourness of selfishness (chumetz, food forbidden during Passover, was originally made with sourdough). If you want to start a lively conversation during the Passover meal, share my understanding of the holiday, and ask for comments.
A dear friend’s daughter was raped. She is pregnant and considering having an abortion. Her religion forbids it, and because I’m Jewish she came to me for an alternative position. I have no idea what Judaism says about abortion. What can I tell her?
Torah considers a fetus to be property rather than a person (Exodus 21:22), and our rabbis taught that personhood begins at birth (Talmud, Sanhedrin 72b). This is why Jews place the welfare of the mother over that of the unborn (Mishnah Ohalot 7:6). Regarding abortion in the case of rape, centuries ago Rabbi Yeruchem Perilman ruled, “A woman is not a clump of earth, and is not obliged to nurture seed implanted within her against her will” (Ohr Gadol, #31). A 2015 Pew survey found that 83 percent of American Jews say abortion “should be legal in all or most cases.” Abortion is legal in the State of Israel and covered by government health care. I suspect, however, that none of this will help your friend. If she came to me, I would offer this: Living is all about making choices without knowing which choice is the right choice. The best you can do is choose that action which you believe best furthers your mission to be a blessing to all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:3). And know that whatever you choose, those who love you will never abandon you.
Which spiritual book would you recommend for a beginning seeker of truth?
My truth seeking blends (among other things) the Hindu practice of neti-neti (Sanskrit: “not this, not this”), Lao Tzu’s insight that “The tao that can be articulated is not the eternal Tao” (Tao te Ching 1), and Blaise Pascal’s realization that “all of our problems stem from our inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” So, I would recommend a blank book: (1) Fill the pages with every belief you hold, and then take a red pen and mindfully cross out each of them. (2) Set the book aside, sit alone in your room, rest in a state of not-knowing, and see what is in and of itself so. (3) Write these truths down and repeat the process over and over again until your mind is as open, empty, and free as a blank page.
I recite the Lord’s Prayer daily. Now Pope Francis wants to put words in Jesus’ mouth and change “Lead us not into temptation” to “Do not let us fall into temptation.” Do you agree with this?
The Pope isn’t putting words in Jesus’ mouth. The Gospels are written in Greek, while Jesus spoke Aramaic, so we don’t know Jesus’ actual words. The Pope is trying to make sense of an all-good God leading us into temptation. There are only two options: Change the translation or change your notion of God. Pope Francis opts for the first. I opt for the second. For me God isn’t good or evil, but good and evil, and beyond good and evil (Isaiah 45:7). Spiritual practice is marrying all opposites within oneself and resisting the temptation to surrender to one at the expense of the other (and thus becoming a self-righteous saint or a self-obsessed sociopath). The Lord’s Prayer reminds me of the shadow side of God, and the darker temptations of the spirit. Hence, I would leave the translation alone.
I appreciate that your magazine is Spirituality and Health and not “Spirituality and Politics,” but does spirituality or religion have anything to say to politics?
At their best, spirituality is the practice of awakening to God in, with, and as all reality; religion is the preservation of the values arising from this awakening: justice, compassion, humility, caring for the poor and powerless, loving neighbor, stranger, enemies, and so on; and politics is the embodiment of these values as policy and law. Understood this way, each should be in constant conversation with the other two. When not at their best, spirituality, religion, and politics shouldn’t speak at all. S&H
One For The Road
My niece is dying from a rare blood disorder. She takes comfort in believing she will soon be with her mother in heaven. I know otherwise: My sister isn’t dead. We told my niece that her mom died in a car crash shortly after giving birth to her, to spare her from the truth that her mother abandoned her and her father and ran off with another man. I stayed in touch with my sister (barely) and told her that her daughter is dying. She wants to see her before she does. What should I do?
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