after-ache

We are well into the holiday season*, but to me religious ceremony is a bit like the ‘trips’ we used to talk about when experimenting with LSD in the 60s.

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The day of atonement is the holiest day in the year. It is the sabbath of all the other sabbaths. On the weekly sabbath, we create an integration of the expression of our religious faith. Unlike some other religions of this world, we do not believe the spiritual good and the material bad. We believe that the material pleasures of the world are as important as one’s spiritual wakefulness. Because of that, many of our precepts concern the physical relationship to material things. One of the things that are not allowed on the sabbath is fasting. And if a fast day falls on a sabbath, we move it to the next day. All except the day of atonement, on which we are commanded to fast.

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It is not meant to be a punishment. We are encouraged to eat till we’re full before the beginning of the fast. The fast is meant just to help us focus on the subject of life and death. For that is the framework within which we are asked to examine our lives. I have referred to soul-searching many times on this blog in the past. But that process, personal self examination can take place on many levels. Haven’t we heard that almost everything in life is relative? And it’s true. If one of the toes of our feet hurts, that toe can become the very center of our concern and attention. But we believe in truth. And truth has its boundaries. There’s a difference between opinions and facts. And the most sobering fact for a human being is that he lives a temporary life, and will die as sure as he was born. It is common, at the time of prayer, to go through a list of the different types of dying.

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So when we examine our acts, behaviors, and our choices, and what is valuable in our lives and what is rubbish while completely aware of the fact that we are going die, and are only on this world for a while, we are able to weigh the true worth of things seriously.

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I mentioned LSD trips earlier. It might be superfluous to tell you, but in case someone is reading this who doesn’t know me, let me say that I and my friends did not take this drug to get high, or to get drunk out of our minds, and drink the beautiful colors… Most of us had studied philosophy or religion, and read the tales of mystics, and wanted to expand our consciousness so as to be aware of those aspects of the world that are beyond the obvious. And though there is much that I could write about my experiences in such adventures, my personal bottom line on the subject, is that I came to the conclusion that the use of LSD is a shortcut to spiritual awareness. But as I used to tell my children, I don’t believe in shortcuts. It is my opinion that it is better to go the long way, and enjoy every step along the way. But back to the acid trip, one of the things we noticed, that regardless of where you started… and there were those who used to light incense, and put on soothing positive music before they indulged. No matter where you start, you don’t know where you’ll go from there.

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Well, the day of atonement is a trip no less powerful than an acid trip, and I’ve had a few. Usually, I start with a few prayers that get me in the mood, but there have been times when I picked a certain subject to work through, or a certain problem to study. I have gone to nature and I have joined a quorum of Jews in prayer. Like acid, you might know when you swallowed the pill, but you don’t know when you’ll feel the effect; so on this holy day you know when you’ll light the two sabbath candles but you don’t know when you’ll get high. I remember one time when I only felt the great uplift a couple hours before they were about to close and lock the gates of heaven.

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This year I begged to study the beginnings of the modern Jewish State. It was the first time I had chosen a secular subject to focus on, on the holy day. You know, we have many names for god. I think of them as faces of god. Just as a person has different faces when he is occupied with different things, so we have different names. There is the one specific name that says it all, but we are very careful about that name, we don’t usually say it. When we come to it in a text or a written prayer, we replace it with another name, because the name itself is so holy. But then, sometimes we exaggerate.

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Our first prayer on the eve of atonement, is a prayer to god that he will cancel all the promises we made to ourselves. And as we approach god, and refer to him, we call him by his name which means ‘place’. That is one of the names of god. And so after asking ‘the place’ to suffer my prayer… and I will admit to you, my dear friends, that I have made so many promises to myself, that after many years of having to beg cancellation, there are still a few promises flying around in my head, and they’re more distressing than a bunch of flies at the dinner table.

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I had a long day. I got upset more than once, and my doctors have warned me not to get upset. It’s bad for my heart. But I didn’t let up. Even after I had me a little nap in the afternoon, I went back to the same subject and continued to contemplate the difficult moral and social problems. In fact, even after the holiday had reached its conclusion, and I had filled my belly with good soup and fine food after the fast, my mind still dwelled on the study of my day of atonement. There were so many paradoxes to deal with, and impossible situations. One of the hardest questions I kept asking myself was how can I be blind to what’s standing right before me? But I had examples to study from: a personal hero of mine who had been blind to something that he knew and understood. But it had been just too terrible to see.

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And seeing is an important issue for me. I have cataracts, and I am aware of a loss in sight. Of course, on the surface there is a far distance between physical incapacity and psychological inability to see. But there are those who believe that even personality is written in our DNA. In any case, such was my state of mind, that I was asking myself, just how far can we widen our perspective and live. Remembering that when Moses asked for a glimpse of god, god told him, a man can’t look at me and live. All night, after the day of atonement, I was unable to sleep. But since I had already scheduled to meet with two very close friends the next day, I tried lying in my bed on the theory that lying down in peace and comfort might strengthen me almost as much as sleeping. I think I did sleep from 4:00 to 5:15 in the morning.

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The next day, I traveled to Tel Aviv with Noga and we had breakfast with Yizhar, whom I hadn’t seen for five years. There have been a number of meetings with him that have coincided with great emotional turns in my life. He’s a research scientist, and shared with us some thoughts and knowledge about eyes and sight. Of course, most eye problems and diseases are related to aging, and he discussed the efforts made to find remedies. In particular he related developments regarding failure of the retina. Though a remedy hasn’t been found there is a treatment that is able to slow the deterioration. The problem, though, is that the medicament slowly becomes more terrible than the disease itself.

Despite the difficult thoughts, it was good to be in the company of dear friends. Very good indeed. And good to return to Jerusalem. Very good.

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(*) As I’ve described in the past, this season which starts with the new year, is called in short ‘the holidays’; almost a month in which we don’t do much work… and we put off nearly everything that we don’t feel has to be done, till after the holidays. First there’s the new year, which is a two day holiday, and then comes the day of atonement which is a 25 hour fast during which we don’t eat or drink. And then comes the holiday of tabernacles which we celebrate for seven days by living in a temporary dwelling. The last day is called the ‘The Great Supplication’ followed by still another holiday which is called ‘the eight day of assembly’, on which day we also celebrate the ‘happiness of the torah’, though these two celebrations are celebrated separately on two succeeding days outside of our country, in the Diaspora.

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42 responses to “after-ache

  1. Such a thoughtful post to say much would distract from its’ depths.
    I grew up/around in a large Jewish communities. While most of what I remember from the kids was complaints about how they couldn’t do this or that or go to on Saturday, mostly I remember their parents and how they looked at /live life. Some marked by terrible times. All seemed patient, grateful for life, and showed consideration for all. (but their kids still couldn’t in your house because of the kitchen). At the big medical center, the docs and nurses would shift schedules to allow each to observe their holidays. It was something the entire city was proud of – getting along.
    I love your comparisons of promises like flies – so close to something my dad said.
    Few remember the Leary and how it all started. Although it does seem that all the chemicals needed are already in the body – some just able access them more?…and some not able to control them, well, then, maybe it’s a bit like Moses and God.
    Appreciate your writings
    Peace and blessings, Shimonz

    • In response to what you say about chemicals already in the body, as a young man I had the opportunity to visit the newly created Disneyland with a small group of tourists coming from Europe. It was my first view of ‘cheap thrills’, and it made a lasting impression on me. I believe there are wonderful new inventions all the time, and some of them really worth the effort, but what’s important is making choices. We don’t have to try everything that’s new. We can find what’s right for us. I know what you’re talking about when you mention the kitchen. I had a very dear friend who solved that dilemma by turning into a vegetarian. It’s a pleasure getting to know you, and I thank you Phil, for your friendly comment.

  2. Albeit a very personal blog, there was something disjointed, like there was something that needed to be said, but didn’t get expressed.
    The picture of the tree was glorious.

    • Thank you very much, Rachel, for your criticism. I was trying to describe what a day of soul searching was like. But I think you’re right, and that it might have been clearer if I would have taken one issue and gone with it all the way. It might be that I was trying to tell too much, to take a wide panorama shot and force it into the little space available on a blog. In any case, you opened my eyes to the possibility that it might have been too abstract. I certainly wasn’t avoiding any particular issue. If you have a question, please ask.

  3. Thank you for sharing such a personal experience. The title of this piece is a perfect fit. Shabbat Shalom!

  4. Wow Shimon!!
    You hit me between the eyes once again. And you’ve updated my knowledge of Judaism. We already know how sadly I am deficient in knowledge…even much which some would call “common” knowledge. Strangely I have the same or similar thoughts of myself and my actions and they develop with age. (my thought) Having reached 80 yrs, I delve into such thoughts daily.
    I have never taken LSD (and still wish I could), but on one occasion I was dealt mushrooms in a grape coolaide and taken to my favorite movie of all time “Fantasia”. I’d even pray to repeat that one.
    Another bulls-eye Shimon.

    • So glad you enjoyed the post Bob. I certainly wouldn’t advise you to take any drug like that for the first time at your age. But there are wonderful experiences to be enjoyed at our age as well. Sitting outside among greenery, and listening to birds and other animals can offer me now a taste of what I once knew only after climbing a mountain. Occasionally I have a certain reptile visit my patio. I think it’s called a gecko in English. He makes a very interesting sort of click sound… sending best wishes, my friend.

  5. I treasure your reflections and learn so much! I consider you a special friend and an inspiring writer. Thank you.

    • Thank you so much Kathleen. This is the miracle of our times; that we can find friends and share interests with people in far away places. I haven’t gotten used to it.

  6. I felt much as Rachel Bar. Much said, even so.
    Shalom.

    • Thanks menhir. I really appreciated Rachel’s remark, and thought that maybe I’d tried to put too much in this post. Last year, for my new year’s card, I had intended to use a picture of about 20 hyraxes feeding on the grass. But when I saw the photo in the size needed to post as a card, I realized that the animals were just little blobs in the picture, and reduced the photo to three of them. I think now I should have done something like that in my description of the day of atonement.

  7. Thank you for explaining to us about these celebrations. Well expressed, Mr. Shimon. 🙂

    • It is my pleasure to share a little of what goes on in my life. I have always enjoyed reading, and that has enabled me to cross the barriers of time and place. And it feels very good to be able to offer something in return. Thanks Amy.

  8. I get upset every day and every night about something, friend Shimon … good to have friends and family around in times like that … my son says it best as he senses way before I get my shirt in a knot … bless him …
    Much love, cat.

    • My heart goes out to you, cat. I know the burden of strong emotions. Thanks for the video. I will write you about that separately. You’re son is a fine man, and I am happy for you that you have such good family backing. with love

  9. Thank you for this thoughtful post, Shimon.

    Your words always linger and entwine with my own memories, thoughts, and experiences, and I always learn new information, too, so I walk with your posts for days.

    Shalom and gentle peace.

    • It is a consolation knowing that though we live different lives, and each of us has his own unique work and problems to learn and understand, there are certain common threads… tastes and choices, that bring us together with others, even in a virtual world deprived of many senses we’ve grown to depend on. Thanks so much for your comment, Kitty. Peace is the finest blessing one can offer.

  10. Thank you, Shimon. As to your lovely camera work, I, too, loved the photo of the tree. I suspect, could it talk, there would be many tales to tell.

    • Thanks very much Myra. That tree was in a very nice little park between the shops and the residential homes, and next to the park was a very nice dog park too, where people went with their dogs for a little exercise. I even watched as a young lady exercise on a mat under the foliage of the big trees. I was told it was a yoga exercise called ‘the blessing of the sun’.

  11. Tel Aviv was a good choice, post-fast. Often, I too had to get out of town (ie Rechavia). As for the rest (LSD, fasting, etc), it will take a good long sit-down to mull over those with you one day…I hope. Chag sukkot sameach, Shimon veh shana tova!

  12. Fasting, when done with a specific assumption, purifies not only the body but consequently the mind.
    I am used to fasting (or rather, to take only liquids that may be herbal teas or juices without sugars), initially it is difficult because our mind is focused on food and as a result, we are attracted by every smell that reminds us of food.
    It is difficult fasting when you have to be in contact with the material world, work in contact with other people, go in front of the ice cream parlors or pastry shops…. 🙂
    But basically, if you opt for a fast, the reason is certainly valid.
    No, I do not fast to follow a specific imposition dictated by religious factors. My husband and I fast to allow our physical course to “get rid” of all toxic substances that concentrate on the internal organs (stomach, intestine, kidney, liver, etc.) after the third day, I always start to feel a huge energy inside my body, it’s something special which I can’t compare to any type of LSD or lesser drugs (I never tried them either and I’m not into research to be able to make a comparison).
    But I can make a wild guess to compare a status of the mind related to the Tibetan bells and chanting specific mantras… this I tried quite a few times and, gosh, really is a challenging sensation.
    Most of all, dearest Shimon, I guess that for each one of us, doesn’t matter our skin’s color, our faith, our background or our country of origin, there is “always something really special” waiting for us. The challenging is to search for it… and many (too many) times, people don’t find it.
    Finally, I don’t think you need to take any sort of drug to get high! Funny, yes, but humans don’t have to escape reality by taking drugs… as you beautifully say, is enough to watch closely to the beauty of nature, to listen to the bird’s songs during the sunrise or at the purple-orange spread in the sky sunset. And doesn’t matter your age eighter. 🙂
    Hugs and the wish for a serene week 🙂 claudine

    • People have many different attitudes towards religion. Some have been exposed to the worst that comes in that name, and others to the best. I’ve always had the impression that by way of Buddhism, you encountered the more positive aspects of religion. For me, fasting is the same as you describe. Elimination of the toxic elements. I don’t find it hard, even when someone eats an ice cream next to me. For me, it’s a pleasure to fast. I truly agree with what you said about the ‘something special’ that is available to all people, regardless of color or cultural differences. And I do believe that we have it within us, without drugs or anything artificial, to find revelation and happiness. Hugs and best wishes to you too, Claudine.

  13. Dear Shimon, a broad sweep across your day, yet many layers and depth within. It takes time for such journeying to settle and ‘speak’ and I feel humbled to share it with you. Hugs for you, my lovely, ❤ xXx

  14. I find this a fascinating post, and would love to sit down with you and search with you through some of the things you say. I wish I could. I would be richer at the end of it.

    • As the years go by, I keep seeing different aspects of these exercises that I have known and loved since childhood… but maybe I tried to explain too much this time, as some of my readers have hinted. It’s a challenge. Yes, it would be especially interesting for us to talk face to face since we have studied some of the same subjects. Thanks for your comment, Gill

  15. Your candor and deep spirituality is a refreshing and meaningful message to us here in the US, who have heard enough about Tikun Olam from rabbis who have no idea what it is like to live in Israel. My sister and I would like you to be our rabbi, Shimon!

    • Yes, tikun olam has gotten great publicity with the help of a few twists. Soon they’ll be selling discount tickets to the event. Many thanks for your sweet comments. I hope to write you in the next few days so that both you and your sister will have my personal address if you care to ask any questions about religion. I am at your service, Cheri.

  16. Thank you for sharing your experiences. I was especially curious about your LSD use for spiritual experience. My grandson just recently told me about burning a scent for a more fulfilling spiritual experience. It was good for me to hear this from someone of your age and worldly experience. Thanks!

    • Burning incense is an age old method to aid in the elevation of the spirit. I am so happy for you, Bev, that you have a grandson with whom you can discuss such experiences. There are many aspects of life that we can be completely unaware of till we stumble on them by ourselves, or someone introduces us to them. And as exciting as it is to enjoy the giant strides of technology, there are other areas of life’s wonders that seem somewhat neglected these days. But when I hear of young people searching out the unique, I am always encouraged.

  17. I’ve always felt that, despite differences in our religious traditions, there was “something” connecting them, and in this post I found at least a part of it. I was so taken with your remark that, “Unlike some other religions of this world, we do not believe the spiritual good and the material bad.”

    One reason Luther’s view of things appeals to me is his refusal of Manichean dualism in all its forms: material/spiritual, sacred/secular, saints/sinners, mind/body.

    I once had a beloved professor who liked to put all of Luther into this little nutshell: Since God created all that is and is present in all that is, then it is possible to meet him in any detail of the world’s beautiful complexity, and the world in which we live will be redeemed in its entirety: dragonflies and storm clouds and city traffic and Brussels sprouts, as well as people.

    It’s always a bit of a shock to me to realize I’ve come to believe all that. As you say, there were no shortcuts, and most tales from the circuitous paths I’ve taken never will appear online. No matter. Some of the fruits they’ve borne do — just as they do for you — and that’s good enough.

    • I have to admit, that almost everything I know about Luther has been through the writings of others about him, usually historians, and they don’t always have a sympathetic view point. What you’ve shared with me here (by way of your professor), Linda, is something I could sign my name to. When I read a favorite writer, I always feel I’m getting to know him between the lines, regardless of the topic he or she may be writing about. In reading your blog, I feel I have gotten to know you as a person… even without the details. We meet here in virtual presence, without all the usual sensory information… and even so, it is truly a meeting.

  18. Goodness me! What a stunning, mystical fascinating post, I really didn’t want it to end! You describe your holidays so intimately and so beautifully. To be kept awake by such deep thoughts must be difficult, I always find the nights hard when deep thoughts are running through my head. Such an indepth topic, yet you still manage to make me smile as well as think, you are utterly thought provoking, and utterly wonderful! I salute you!xxx

    • What was difficult about that night Dina, was that I wanted to sleep so I’d have the strength for this trip to another city the next day. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have bothered me at all to be up all night with my thoughts. Being retired from business has its advantages too, and I can now enjoy both day and night as it comes to me. Glad you enjoyed the post. xxx

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