Looking for a Standard

Looking for a Standard


Rabbi Rami provides wisdom on reincarnation, yoga classes as appropriation, astrology predicting the future, and more.

I’m not interested in religion, but I am looking for a standard by which to live my life. Any suggestions?

RABBI RAMI: The Talmud, the ancient anthology of rabbinic wisdom, teaches that four questions will be put to you when you die:

  1. Did you make time to pursue wisdom?
  2. Did you cultivate love and friendship?
  3. Did you treat people honestly?
  4. Did you yield to hope more often than you gave into despair?

Living your life devoted to wisdom, love, honesty, and hope may be the standard you are looking for.

As a believer in reincarnation, I am haunted by the harm I have habitually committed over many lifetimes. How can I atone for what I’ve done?

Reincarnation isn’t about atoning for harm done in a past life but about breaking the habit of harming still operative in this life. You break that habit and achieve atonement by realizing your atonement with all life and engaging with each life in a way that is both just and kind.

My church offers yoga classes. Am I right to be upset by this act of religious appropriation?

If Christianity’s appropriation of ideas and practices from other religions troubles you, yoga is the least of your problems. Imagine cleansing your faith of just its Jewish appropriations: the messiah (Mashiach), the Sabbath (Shabbat), Palm Sunday (Sukkot), Easter (Pesach/Passover), Pentecost (Shavuot), Eucharist (Ha-Motzi and Kiddush/blessing of bread and wine), much of your liturgy (Tehillim/Psalms), and the Old Testament (TaNaCh/Hebrew Bible). I’d worry less about your church’s act of appropriation and more about it not honoring the sources from which it appropriates.

My kindergartener keeps asking me about God and death. What should I tell her?

Before you tell her anything, ask her to share what she thinks and work with that. If she still wants to know what you think, share what you know to be true, even if the truth is you don’t know anything at all.

When my five-year-old grandson asks me what I think about God, I tell him God is everything, and if he wants to see God, I draw his attention to a flower, an ant, a honeybee, and ultimately himself. When he last asked me about death, we filled a clear bowl with water and dropped a salt tablet into it. Stirring the water, we watched the tablet disappear. Then we took a spoon and tasted the water from different parts of the bowl—surface, depth, and sides—and noticed that the salt had spread throughout the water. This is like what happens when you die, I told him: Your form disappears, and you become part of everything.

During meditation I notice an inner ringing in my ear. My doctor has ruled out tinnitus. Any ideas?

The universe is fundamentally vibration, and you can hear this vibration during meditation. This is not a sound you can produce but a sound you can perceive. The Bible calls it kol demamah dakah, the subtle voice of silence (I Kings 19:12). If you hear this sound, simply attend to it, rest in it, and over time notice all sound, all vibration, all life, arising from it. Two books that might help you here are Ajahn Sumedho’s The Sound of Silence and Edward Salim Michael’s The Law of Attention: Nada Yoga and the Way of Inner Vigilance.

If Christianity’s appropriation of ideas and practices from other religions troubles you, yoga is the least of your problems.

I’m convinced the science of astrology predicts my future. Do you agree?

My interest in astrology is less about predicting the future and more about understanding the present. I read my chart the way I read my dreams: as a gateway into subconscious forces impacting my life. In this way, astrology is more storytelling than science. The general story is this: You belong. You aren’t an alien plopped into the universe; you are an expression of the universe. Astrology is a powerful tool for unpacking this story.

The guilt I feel as a white woman is inhibiting my spiritual progress. Finding peace, joy, and God is a privilege Black women don’t have. As a result, I’m spiritually paralyzed. How can I get over this?

Assuming women of color cannot find peace, joy, and God is racist and denies the richness and spiritual genius of religions rooted in cultures not dominated by whiteness and white people. Pretending your guilt over being a white woman keeps you spiritually paralyzed suggests your spirituality is performative and your paralysis is a kind of spiritual virtue signaling. If you want to get over your spiritual paralysis, start by getting over yourself.

Several months ago, a drunk driver ran a red light and killed my son. Why did God allow my son to die?

With all due respect to you, your son, and this tragedy, asking why yields nothing of value. The question I urge you to ask instead is this: How do I go on living in a world so steeped in suffering and horror? My answer is to live in a state of radical, undefended openness to whatever arises—joy and sorrow, blessing and curse, good and evil. In short, to live with a heart so shattered that it leaves you ever more vulnerable to love.

I have a terminal illness and would like some guidance as to how I should prepare myself for dying.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says, “If you remember me at the moment of death you will come to me.”

Remembering Krishna is remembering your divine nature. Coming to Krishna is returning to God the way a wave returns to the ocean. Reciting a mantram—a sacred word or phrase—is a simple and powerful tool for remembering who you are. A Hebrew mantram that I recite daily is ain od milvado/There is nothing other than God. Whatever mantram you choose, make sure reciting it reminds you of and calls you to your divine nature. Reciting my mantram is how I prepare myself for dying. See if it works for you as well.

My dad constantly uses baseball metaphors to communicate his most cherished values: Everything is about running the bases and getting to home plate. Lately he has expressed disappointment in me for devoting more time to enjoying life than to earning a living. How might I explain this to him in a way he would understand?

Try something like this: “I agree with you, Dad, that life is like baseball: We start off at home plate and then try to get back home by running the bases. What I’m exploring is this: If we start out at home plate and life is about getting back to home plate, why run the bases at all? Why not realize we are home from the start and just enjoy being there? I value home as much as you do, Dad; I’ve just eliminated the unnecessary running of the bases to get there.”

Magnifier searching for a standard

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