Got questions? Rabbi Rami has answers.
Q: I recently visited a friend’s home, where a picture of Christ sat next to a picture of Krishna on a makeshift altar. I was shocked and said she cannot serve two masters. She was insulted, and my visit ended abruptly. Admittedly, I was rude. What should I do?
Rabbi Rami: You should visit my home. Not only will you find Christ and Krishna, but Buddha, Ganesha, Kwan Yin, Avalokitesvara, Mary, Ramana Maharshi, Ramakrishna, Ma Sarada, and Vivekananda as well. But I serve no master, only Truth: Alles iz Gott (all is God in Yiddish). When I know all is God, I see all beings as sacred and the mystics of all religions pointing toward Truth. As for your friend, I would email her, apologize for being rude, and ask her to help you understand what she means when she honors both Christ and Krishna.
I say the same Christian grace before every meal. I think God is pleased I do it, but I’m not so sure my doing it is very spiritual—instead of a matter of rote and obligation. How can I make it more meaningful and from the heart?
First, stop saying grace completely. Stop for a few days or maybe a week, and see how it feels not to do this. If God is pleased when you recite grace, is God angry when you don’t? Second, instead of saying grace, silently pay attention to the food you are eating. Notice its texture, color, and smell, and think about the lives you are consuming and all the people who worked to bring this food to your table. Third, draw on the sense of wonder and gratitude arising in you as you do this andcompose your own grace. Mine would be something like this: “I give thanks to the One in whom all life arises, to the lives I am about to consume, and to those whose efforts make this meal possible. May I honor you all by living my life as a blessing to all the families of the Earth. Amen.”
There are so many Jews in yoga classes and Buddhist retreats, but I never see Hindus or Buddhists in synagogues. Why is that?
In the United States, popular schools of Hinduism and Buddhism are often presented as culturally neutral spiritual practices: Students of yoga aren’t required to learn Sanskrit, study Patanjali, revere cows, or worship Lord Krishna or mother Kali; and Buddhist meditation practitioners aren’t asked to become Buddhist nuns or monks. Judaism, on the other hand, is nothing without its tribal culture: Shabbat, kosher, Hebrew, torah, etc. Jews flock to Buddhism and Hinduism because no one asks them to become Buddhists or Hindus. Buddhists and Hindus don’t flock to Judaism because, at some point, someone is going to ask them to become Jews.
I recently awoke from a dream and knew I had to divorce my husband. I called a lawyer, but now I’m having second thoughts. What should I do?
I take dreams seriously, but dreams speak through symbols, and I wouldn’t act on a literal reading of a dream before first digging deeply into what the dream might mean metaphorically. Seek out a spiritual director or therapist who knows how to work with dreams and who can help you access the truth hidden in your dream. As youdo, you may find that divorce was a metaphor pointing you toward something other than ending your marriage. As you go through this search for understanding, ask to share it with your husband so that he might understand what is going on with you in a way that may invite him to grow as well.
I'm told that enlightenment is living without preferences. How are my preferences keeping me from enlightenment?
Nothing keeps you from enlightenment. Enlightenment is awareness of and engagement with what is happening here and now without the distortion of -isms and ideologies. If enlightenment is living without preferences, and enlightenment is preferable to nonenlightenment, then enlightenment is simply another preference. Rather than concerning yourself with enlightenment, put your effort into being compassionate, just, and kind instead.
I heard my pastor say that God’s command to be fruitful and multiply means we should eat lots of fruit and learn our multiplication tables. Is that true or was she joking?
That was a joke. If you can’t tell when your pastor is joking, either your religious education is woefully deficient or your pastor needs to work on her delivery. Perhaps both.
A dear friend of mine insists God knows past, present, and future, and therefore we humans lack free will. I believe in free will and feel sorry for my friend who doesn’t. Am I merely deluding myself?
I don’t know if you are deluding yourself, but if you are, you might want to investigate to see if you are doing so of your own free will. An ancient Jewish teaching says, “All things are foreseen and yet free will is given” (Mishna 3:19). How can it be that God knowsthe future, and yet you are free to create that future? I recently binge-watched Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom, one of my favorite television shows. Because I had watched it twice before, I knew in advance everything that was going to happen. This is analogous to “all things are foreseen.” Yet I had no control over any of it.This is analogous to “free will is given.” If you imagine a God who knows past, present, and future, you imagine a God who is stuck watching reruns of all existence. This God doesn’t make you do what you do, this God only knows what you will do because, from God’s perspective, you’ve already done it. This is the curse of being God: Everything is known; nothing surprises—eternal boredom. So, don’t feel sorry for your friend; feel sorry for your friend’s God.
I just turned 55. I’m becoming more and more conscious of my own mortality. I’m wondering: Is there any point to life at all?
Imagine you are dieting. If someone asks you why you’re dieting, you might explain you’re dieting for health reasons or to impress others at a class reunion or to fit into those jeans you wore in college—but enough about me. What you most likely won’t say is that you’re dieting because you love to diet. Now imagine you are singing. If someone asks why, you will most likely say you love to sing. Dieting is a means to an end (however unattainable) and has no meaning in and of itself; singing is an end in and of itself and needs no additional meaning. Life is like singing, not dieting: There is no point to life; life itself is the point.
Throughout the pandemic, RABBI RAMI has been posting his responses to questions stemming from people’s concerns with COVID-19 in special editions of Roadside Assistance for the Spiritual Traveler on spiritualityhealth.com.