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Ask Rabbi Rami: "Whose God is the Truest?"

Columnists

My friends and I have different ideas of God. Is any idea of God truer than any other?

Rabbi Rami: Let’s define “true” here as “that which makes me more kind and just.” The more your idea of God leads you to justice and compassion, the more true it is; the less it does that, the less true it is. “By their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:16).

Do you think psychedelic drugs can deepen spiritual awakening?

I have zero experience with psychedelics. When LSD was legal, I was a Buddhist and drugs were not part of my practice. Having said that, my primary concern with drugs is that we use them to get high rather than to get wise. Lots of us want to get high; all too few of us dare to get wise.

I don’t understand why you Jews don’t accept Jesus Christ as your lord and savior. I mean no disrespect, but he died on the cross and was resurrected from the tomb—what more does he have to do to convince you people?

He has to bring world peace. We Jews anticipate a messiah whose kingdom is of this world, who will end injustice and war, and who will fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah and Micah and bring about a time when everyone sits beneath her vine and her fig tree and no one is ever afraid. Crucified Jews were commonplace in Jesus’s day, and while resurrection is nothing to sneeze at, it still falls far short of world peace.

I hate to admit this, but I am sick of people. When I look at people I see robots programmed for endless consumption, exploiting other beings and each other in order to fulfill their own desires. I’m thinking about being a hermit. Would you approve or talk me out of it?

Sometimes I feel the same way: people can be so wicked, cruel, and callous that there are times when I just want to avoid them altogether. As for becoming a hermit, I would say this: If you are withdrawing from the world to pray for the world, then you are like a cloistered brother or sister, and I wish you well. If, on the other hand, you are withdrawing from the world because you despise the world, I suspect you will only lock yourself away with your negativity and it will eat you up.

I’ve read that spirituality makes us humble, but as a woman I have been humbled and stepped on so often that what I need is to stand up for myself and be strong. Why doesn’t spirituality make us stronger rather than weaker?

When I speak of humility I don’t mean to imply weakness. I’m speaking of the capacity to rest your small self, your ego, in your larger Self, the Self that knows itself as an expression of God. When the small self rests in the larger Self there is no sense of weakness at all. On the contrary, you awake to and live from your innate divine dignity and neither accept nor offer anything less than dignity in your relationships with other people. Done rightly and well, spiritual practice lifts you up without putting others down.

My husband and I are spiritual but not religious, and we have adopted a little girl whose birth mom is Jewish. I know that makes our daughter Jewish. Should we raise her as a Jew or not?

Usually being spiritual but not religious means you are open to wisdom wherever you find it. If that’s so, take care to include Judaism when seeking out wisdom to share with your daughter. As she gets older you can explain to her that she has biological roots in the Jewish community and if she ever wishes to explore those roots you will support her and find teachers to help her do so. Bottom line: your job as parents is to raise a wise, courageous, creative, just, and compassionate daughter regardless of labels.

I’m a single mom with a 12-year-old daughter. I’m not Jewish, and we don’t belong to any church or religion, but I do want to give my daughter a bat mitzvah. Can you help with this?

What you want, I suspect, is to offer your daughter a rite of passage into womanhood. I suggest you invite the women who have been central to your daughter’s life to go on a private retreat with your daughter and you. Create a ceremony of passage, maybe using a lake as a “baptism,” to mark your daughter’s transition from childhood to young womanhood. Ask each woman to speak with your daughter in the company of the other women about what it means to be a woman, and to give her a gift symbolizing that meaning. Creating a rite of passage into womanhood from the experience of actual women can be something your daughter will treasure forever and perhaps pass on.

My mother, who was a very loving and accepting woman, died a few months ago, and I can’t shake the feeling she’s watching me and disapproving of how I live my life. Can this be true?

Your mom isn’t going to change her opinion of you simply because she’s dead. If she approved of you while alive, she approves of you now. Your feelings are your feelings, however, and I wouldn’t ignore them. Perhaps you disapprove of the way you are living but just can’t admit it, and so you project onto your mom feelings that she doesn’t have but you do. Look honestly at how you’re living and see if you are living with integrity. If you find that you don’t like the way you live, change it. And then thank your mom for pointing this out to you. If you look and find no need to change your life, thank your mother for caring and gently suggest that she find someone else to haunt. —S&H


The big question:

My mother died seven years ago. She asked to be cremated and have her ashes buried with my dad when he died. My dad has since remarried and is now facing a terminal illness. He wants to honor my mom’s wishes, but his current wife refuses. She says, “I’m not going to share our eternal rest with another woman.” What can I say to make her change her mind? I don’t think I can stand burying my dad without my mom by his side.

Share your response by writing a comment below. 

 


Rabbi Rami Shipiro

Rabbi Rami Shapiro is an award-winning author, essayist, poet, and teacher. His spiritual advice column, "Roadside Assistance for the Spiritual Traveler," addresses reader questions pertaining to religion, spirituality, faith, family, God, social issues, and more.

His newest book is The World Wisdom Bible.

He has this to say about religion: "To me, religions are like languages: no language is true or false; all languages are of human origin; each language reflects and shapes the mindset of the civilization that speaks it; there are things you can say in one language that you cannot say or cannot say as well in another; and the more languages you know, the more nuanced your understanding of life. Judaism is my mother tongue, yet in matters of the spirit I strive to be multi-lingual. In the end, however, the deepest language of the soul is silence."

To comment on this installment of One For the Road or submit a question, email the editors. Questions may be edited for length and clarity; all are published anonymously.


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