Greg asked, “Yesh, what about you? How has fate influenced your destiny?” (When our men’s group meets we eschew the truly imponderable questions like, “Who do you think will be in the Super Bowl?”)
I had spoken earlier in the evening about how my pushing against my father and Judaism as an adolescent seemed to have set the stage for my passions for both in my middle age. I could have added something about the fate of being born the son of a Yankee rabbi and a Southern rebel. Rather than speak to fate, I thought out loud about destiny. How does one ever know one’s destiny? Where does one find the clues?
When Debbie and I arrived in California in 1977 one of our early adventures was to visit a much ballyhooed psychic, Reverend Michelina Russo. Really. A friend swore by her ability to provide answers to questions that one offered to her in sealed envelopes. Really. We went to see her several times and though we retained a certain skepticism, we were nonetheless repeatedly amazed. The first time we went to her we had a private chat in which she calmly foresaw that I would one day speak before large groups of people, but that it would be a very long road before I got there. This is not a prediction that I consciously carry around with me all the time. Years may go by without it coming to mind. Then again, decades have gone by and I haven’t forgotten it.
Not too many years after that I saw another intuitive counselor whose specialty was reading auras. Really. She told me that Debbie and I had been together in past lifetimes, and that I had been a very severe, a very harsh rabbi in one of those lifetimes. Really. She said that my job in this lifetime was to demonstrate to others the joy of Judaism—quite a pleasant task to contemplate! Like the other prognostication, I don’t often think of this, nor have I forgotten it either.
I related these two stories to the group in partial answer to a question John had posed to me, inquiring as to the role food (meaning my healthy weight campaign) plays in the realization of my destiny. The way I put the pieces together is simply that given the current state of my Yiddishkeit (Jewishness), as well as my intellectual, spiritual, and emotional development—it seems that for me to fulfill these prophecies would still require much personal growth, indeed a very long time, just as Reverend Russo suggested. Too often, despite any wisdom I may have accrued over the years, I find myself without the knowledge, but more importantly without the patience and vocabulary to gently influence others, as I would hope to do—regrettably it is that harsh rabbi who occasionally makes his presence felt. Therefore, given the physical shape I was in, up until very recently, the odds that I would live long enough to fulfill that destiny were not great unless I ceased to be obese. It seemed prudent to drop some pounds to enhance the chances that my body will survive as a place in which my spirit can dwell on this planet.
Lest some of that sound too self-deprecating, I also reflected on my selection of a middah in my recent Kol Zimra chanting workshop—the quality of lightness (viz., http://yesh-indeed.blogspot.com/2012/07/the-incredible-lightness-of-being.html). Accomplishing lightness of body has been relatively easy. Attaining and maintaining lightness of being seems to be more of a challenge. Sometimes I castigate myself for lapses into darkness when that harsh rabbi speaks for me. Yet, as we have so often noted in the men’s group and in other places of inquiry, there is no light without dark. Our teacher at Kol Zimra, Rabbi Shefa Gold, warned us that each middah we chose would be accompanied by its shadow as well. If, indeed dark and light are inseparable companions, then it seems foolish to curse the night. And while it seems uncomfortable, to say the least, to embrace it, that is what I must do in myself and others. The path to lightness includes making peace with its polar counterpart.
I also reminded John and the others of how I had asked the rabbi for advice on how to connect a spiritual quest with the physical one on which I had embarked. One outcome of that conversation is that I now, more times than not, pause to bless the food I am about to eat, reflect on the blessing of the nourishment it provides as it begins to circulate throughout my body, and express my gratitude in prayer upon completion of the meal. Making eating a spiritual act serves as a model for making any and all activities spiritual acts. Bringing consciousness to one of life’s functions spreads awareness to other functions as well. Increasing such consciousness is a long journey. Again, attaining and maintaining a normal body mass index has the potential of giving me a greater opportunity to be on that journey.
There have probably been countless fateful occurrences that have influenced my movement along my path. Perhaps none clearer than my almost accidental decision to attend the rabbi’s adult b’nai mitzvah class that began in late 2005. When the class ended early in 2007 I decided to participate in the formal b’nai mitzvah exercise even though I had already celebrated a bar mitzvah at age thirteen. In my remarks to the congregation I noted that when I was a lad I had no idea what it meant to be entering the portal of adulthood. I also surmised that if there were a portal I was entering at this point in my life it must be that of becoming an elder, about which I knew as little at age fifty-nine as I did about becoming an adult at thirteen. That did not deter me from declaring in so many words, “Today I am an elder!” which later led a few knowledgeable friends in the congregation to tell me about the brilliant book by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, From Age-ing to Sage-ing. I followed their suggestion. Reading that book brought me to what has already become an ecstatic journey of study within the Jewish Renewal community—brought on by a simple twist of fate!
I often quote a classmate from my first Jewish Renewal workshop—one based on Reb Zalman’s vision of spiritual eldership. This classmate happened to be a rabbi from New Jersey. Months later we ran into each other at another Jewish Renewal event and he introduced me to a congregant of his with the words, “This is Yeshaya. He still thinks his path is his choice!” One day I will ask him exactly what he meant by that since I am still somewhat mystified by the comment. We do make choices, or so we are given to believe. Are those merely incidental influences on a predetermined path? Of my choosing or not, what fateful occurrences lie around the corner? Will they affect my destiny, and what is my destiny anyway? Will I, one day speak to large gatherings of people and infuse them with the joy of Judaism? I suppose only time will answer these questions, and won’t it be fun to look back on them when, God willing, more of the story is revealed!