Tag Archives: spirituality

material goods


I learned about Black Friday when a friend asked me what it was. My first thought was that it was some sort of religious holiday. But then I checked it out on the internet. Though western culture is enthusiastically accepted in our country, there are many aspects of western life that haven’t made it here, and some things that are virtually unknown. Thanksgiving, for instance, as beautiful as it is, is a holiday we don’t celebrate. The act of giving thanks for what we have received is an integral part of our heritage. Likewise, Black Friday is unknown here.


But yesterday, when hearing of lines of people waiting to be admitted to certain department stores, in anticipation of the sales available on black Friday, I was led to thoughts concerning our relationship to physical possessions.


For me, religion is a vehicle for dealing with the conflicts and difficulties inherent in our human existence. And it occurs to me, that one of the characteristics of religion, even before the advent of monotheism, was giving and sacrifice. For some reason, man felt a need to give of himself to god. Today, we tend to look at idolatry and primitive religions, as something of a caricature. For many, the idea of a rain god, or god of the seas, a fertility god, or some special god who watches over the harvest, is patently absurd. But even today, many people remember or pray to a special saint when they’re worried about some aspect of their day to day lives.


In our time, the mall has become one of the most visited and beloved institutions of the western world. It is not just a place to visit when you need clothing or tools with which to work. Most people go there for pleasure. They enjoy examining the wares on display. Time there, is considered entertainment, and I’ve often heard people describe the experience as a pleasurable one; improving their mood, and inspiring them to feel good.


The photos shown here are of the Haas promenade in Armon Hanatziv, opposite the walls of the old city of Jerusalem. One can see Kipat Haselah, and the El Aktza mosque from the promenade, as well as many other parts of our city. The promenade was built in 1987, and people come every day to look at the city of Jerusalem, and to contemplate the holy temple which once stood on the temple mount, also known as Mt Moriah.


The holy temple was an institution that provided health care, and psychological treatment, as well as religious counseling and ceremony. It was also a source of entertainment and learning. There were great concerts there with an in-house orchestra. People went to give thanks to god, and to pray for relief and success. On the three pilgrimage holidays, the city was filled with pilgrims who came from all over the country to bring s sacrifices to the holy temple. Those sacrifices included beasts that they raised, as well as fowl, fruit and grain. It was customary to choose the finest of one’s agricultural yield, as a sacrifice for the temple.


Why this need for sacrifice? In English, we’re familiar with the proverb, ‘you can’t take it with you’. Most people, as they grow in awareness, become aware of the limits to the pleasure taken from physical objects. True, there is pleasure in a nice car and a beautiful house, and in fine tools, and art objects, comfortable furniture and toys. But there is also pleasure in knowing that that isn’t us. That these things are just an envelope surrounding us. And that in our center, there is something, almost indescribably, that is beyond the physical nature surrounding us.


Those of us who eat meat deal with yet another paradox. We prefer to buy the meat as small geometric objects wrapped in nylon, ready to be roasted or cooked. The meat iyself has been disassociated from the animals from which it is taken. In the days of the temple, people brought their finest well loved farm animals as sacrifices, and these sacrifices reminded them of the temporary nature of all life. It inspired them to contemplate on their own impermanent presence in this world.


I am sure that many of the people lining up to buy commodities on Black Friday are hoping to bring joy to their loved ones. And that, of course, is a worth while endeavor. But I can’t help wonder of those who throng the malls, haven’t chosen to distract themselves from the universal questions that trouble a man’s soul. Are we still missing something we had in the temple?


it’s all in our heads

Last week we touched the surface of the Hebrew understanding of the spiritual and the material in our world. I started with the Hebrew, because that is where I come from and who I am. But as some of my readers have probably realized by now, I don’t try to convert anyone to my religious beliefs. I do believe there is only one truth in this world. But also, that there are many paths to approach that truth. And that it is not for us to completely know that truth. We can approach it. We can become comfortable with it. But there will always be so much more than we can understand.

this is a poster of a citron, a local citrus fruit which is native to our land. It is used in ceremony, representing a human being at its best

I believe that god has spoken to all peoples in this world, and to each in his own language, and according to his own nature. Nowadays it is fashionable to believe that all people are the same. Though there are similarities, still, each human being is unique. To me, an individual is a parable of a people and vice versa. And we are different, even though we nay be brothers, or members of the same people or nation. Yet we always have something to learn from others. This is true in spiritual learning just as it is true in science and technology, and farming, and sailing the seas. I have learned from many sources, and ultimately, having learned from some foreign wisdom, was often able to go back to my own culture and religion and find what I had learned also existed in my own backyard.

yin and yang
the symbol of yin and yang

And so, to understand the meaning of money, I would like to use the symbol of the Tao, the yin and yang that we know so well, that comes from China and has influenced a number of religions and cultures. Though not formally accepted as monotheism, Tao teaches us to understand that there is a ‘whole’ and that it includes everything we know. And that we too are part of that whole. Anyone who has studied this religious philosophy knows that it isn’t easily understood… not in an hour nor in a day. But we will be brave here, and touch the surface, knowing that the depth is deep… very deep. From my very Jewish perspective, I see the yin and yang as two fishes embracing each other, and each of the fish has an eye which is of the color of the opposite fish, and represents its opposite. And so, the eye of the yin is yang, and the eye of the yang is yin. Now, for our purposes we will associate spirituality with yin, and materialism with yang.

this is a 50 shekel bill, legal currency in our country, and designed by a personal friend of mine. It displays our greatest modern author, Shai Agnon, and his personal library behind him.

For us, our home, our car or bicycle, our furniture, our food and clothing, and our books and jewelry and toys are all part of the material world. And our love, and our faith, and our joy and sadness, our transcendence and our peace are all part of the spiritual world. But each side of this equation has an eye that belongs to the other side. On the side of spirituality, we may have wine and wafer, or a cross, or the church building, or incense, or rosary beads or a present to our lover that represent our love and faith. They are the white dot on the black yin. On the side of materialism, it is money that represents all those physical possessions that we love. That is the black eye on the white yang. Money, associated as it is with everything material, is in fact a spiritual entity, which by itself would have no special value without the belief and faith of all the people who employ it. It is a convention, accepted by almost all. And though it may be nothing more than a piece of paper with a picture on it, and some printed letters, I have heard that money talks.

this is a display representing the head phylactery, worn by Jews during prayer, showing the side where the letter shin has four arms. This letter has a mystic importance, and its symbolic meanings are very deep in our culture.

Now some of us get so caught up in the church building, or having the right incense at the right time, that we forget the essence of faith. And others of us get so caught up in the accumulation, investment, and dispersal of money, that in our passion, we sometimes forget that it exists in this world as a symbol with which to buy shoe laces and tomatoes. My teachers have said, ‘who is a rich man? A man who is satisfied with what he has’. On the most basic level, this means to me that if I don’t have the money to pay my mortgage on my home, I should leave it, and find a single room to rent. And if that too is beyond my means, I might sleep under a tree. On the other hand, when I do have food and clothing, and a roof over my head, I have no further need to accumulate more and more money. Though if it rains on me… and sometimes this happens, I can use it to further those things I love or believe in. Freedom is one of the sweetest of human experiences.

All the images in this post deal with the importance of symbolism in our understanding of the world around us.

the wind and the rain


For the last couple of weeks, I have been renewing my tools, which on the whole, is more work than fun. Not only did I purchase the Kindle, but I have also bought a new laptop, after five years. If I could, I would use the same tools for at least twenty years. Once I was able to get away with that. But in this computer age, even if some of the better tools manage to keep on working, there are so many technical changes over time, that it really doesn’t make much sense to keep on with the old devices. Unfortunately, the move from one computer to the next, means transferring a lot of files, and installing programs that I had on the old machine, and the frustrations accompanying the learning about the new computer and the new operating system. I had to learn and test the techniques that have emerged in recent years. I have a tendency to become a little obsessive when engaged in that sort of a move. Fortunately this time, I didn’t wait until the old laptop failed me completely. That made the move easier.

for Steve

But I did buy two more external hard disks, and did find that some of the old programs I am used to, do not sit well on my new computer. So I had to find new solutions. All kinds of thoughts run through your head when you’re involved in work like that. In fact, it is very much like moving from one house to another. You find certain old objects that bring back memories. You think about the impermanence of life… Sometimes you have an opportunity to do soul searching.

a portrait of Nechama

One night, after a particularly intense day, I had a dream. It was in fact, a memory; something I had filed away in a bottom drawer of my mind, and now, reappearing in my dream. My father was telling me about how his father, my grandfather, had lost all his money, and much of his possessions in the great inflation after the first world war. While going through some old tools and documents, I had been thinking of my own losses as a result of the move from analogical to digital photography. And I suppose one thing had lead to another. While thinking about the dream, it occurred to me to write a blog post about money. Then, weighing that, and how to explain my attitude to the subject, I thought it best to first tell you a little about Tao.

might this be an object of worship?

My thoughts kept pulling me along, and I started wondering whether it could all fit in one blog post. As it is, I sometimes worry that I’m too wordy. I don’t know how much patience a blog reader has. That’s one of the reasons I sometimes just post pictures. If anyone wants to comment on that, I’d be very pleased to hear some ideas on the subject. How long should a post be?


So to begin, lets start out by examining two major categories in our understanding of the world. We might call them the physical and the spiritual. Having met a great variety of thinkers on the internet, I know that some people are put off by the mention of spiritual, and won’t accept anything that can’t be measured by scientific tools and gauges. If that’s the way you feel, I beg you to indulge me. I promise not to ask for any faith that you don’t feel on your own, within yourself. And since the very word ‘spirituality’, brings to mind spirits and ghosts, I would remind you of the term, ‘the spirit of adventure’ or the ‘sporting spirit’.


Our language, Hebrew, is a conceptual language. Its vocabulary is built on roots. The root words of materialism and spirituality are rain and wind. If we think about rain, we realize that condensation of the humidity in the air changes that humidity, which is unseen, to something physical that can be weighed and measured, water. And so, rain is a prime example of materialism. Wind, on the other hand, is the movement of something we don’t see. Were I to sit in my house, and look at people outside through a closed window, I might think that it was just as hot outside as I was feeling inside my home. But if there was a nice breeze blowing out there, those people might feel more comfortable than I was feeling in the static air. One has to feel wind blowing in order to be aware of it. And the wind itself is not material. It acts on material things, blowing one way and then another. It is a force, but it is not material. A strong wind can move you from your path. Even a mild wind can propel a vessel at sea. All the words for ghosts and spirits, and spirituality are built on the root ‘wind’ in our language. just as materialism is built on the root ‘rain’.

the neighborhood as seen from the approach

Well, I’ll leave you to think about that till next week, when we’ll continue our discussion. Eventually, we should get to the money. To be continued.

happiness & spirituality 2

To continue on the subject that I started writing about last Friday, I mentioned that there were two different blog posts that I had wanted to relate to. The first, was posted by Genie on the subject of happiness, and I felt it important to relate to that subject, because I myself started out in this world, a very unhappy person. My childhood was so unhappy, that after all these years, I still can not bear to talk about it. Nor can I read a book in which the main characters are children, or watch a movie that could possibly remind me of my own childhood. Learning to be happy was a lot of work, and I studied the subject. I studied what laughter was. Fortunately, I survived and went on with my life. I lived a happy life. I would say that my life has had more happiness than unhappiness, and that looking back, now that I’m an old man, I am quite satisfied.


The second post that stimulated quite a bit of thought on my part, was a post by N. She, like myself, had a very bad childhood, and has worked on herself for years and years, trying to get past all the side effects that stayed with her after childhood. She is an intelligent woman, and a fine student, and relates to this world in a very serious way. Though she comes from a completely different culture than my own, and her horrors were different from mine, I often find myself identifying with her. And lately, she described her mixed feelings regarding faith, and her disappointments with religion. She asks, ‘how does one get to know god?’ Now, I know that this is a very sensitive subject, and the mere mention of it, is enough to turn a lot of people off. Some people have a hatred for organized religions, and look at all such institutions as a great fraud. And to make things worse, most of my readers come from Christian cultures, and I myself am a Jew. But I ask you to look at this post as a letter from me to N, and consider that I’m sharing it with my readers as well.

my little prayer book

Many years ago, I was working on fixing an airplane. I knew the work in theory, and my partner in this job was an experienced mechanic who knew everything there was to know about mechanics. As we were working, he suddenly said to me, “Give me a 6 allen wrench” I was familiar with allen wrenches, and went to the tool box, and saw quite a few. But none of them had numbers on them. I said to him, where’s the number written? And he said, ‘I don’t know. I’m talking about a 6mm wrench’. His hands were full, so I got out my caliper, and measured a couple of wrenches till I found the right one. Later on, I noticed that when he took a wrench himself, he didn’t have to look. He could just feel which was the right one. And after working on this project for a while, I too could feel if I was holding a 6mm or 4mm wrench between my finger and thumb. This experience remained with me, through the years, as a reminder of how difficult it is to really know something, even if you’re seeing it right in front of you, if you’re not familiar with the object.

allen wrench

I’ve heard people talk about intuition, as if it was something mystical… unexplainable, to a rational logical mind. As we get educated, we learn a lot of facts, and logic. We learn how to apply the things we know in a logical way, finding answers to our questions, to satisfy our needs. It is a rational process, and the human being is a very rational animal. So much so, that sometimes we’ll accept an incorrect answer because it makes sense to us, rather than tell ourselves that we just don’t know. Intuition works differently. It is based on an awareness of how things come together and how they work. But the individual facts are not kept in orderly partitioned drawers in the mind. These facts, which could also be related to, one by one, are part of an image in the mind of the whole, what works, what is right. And a person with a strong intuition can tell you, ‘it’ll work this way’ without being able to explain his feeling in a rational manner. Some people have such a strong intuition, that they can provide answers to problems, that even experts are baffled by. Others, rely on studying the facts, and using logic to resolve their needs. And a few are blessed with both of these abilities.

light at the end of the tunnel
light at the end of the tunnel

One of the things I learned early on as a student, was that the more you learn, the more you are aware of what you don’t know. Children ask ‘why’ a lot. Sometimes they get the right answers, and sometimes they have to search out the answers themselves. Eventually, they have a picture in their mind, of how the world works. It is often enough for a person to know where the light switch is in a room, without knowing what electricity is, or how an incandescent bulb can radiate light in the dark. If my friend is pleased that he can read easily, now that he’s gotten glasses, I don’t feel the need to explain to him how a lens works. But for myself, I have a lot of curiosity. And I like to know how the world around me works. Even so, I am forever learning about more things that are beyond my knowledge or understanding.

aching for life
aching for life

You and I might agree that it would be better for all of the people of this world to speak one language, instead of 150 or more. But if we tried to devise that language, we would not be able in our life times to devise something as intricate and rich as the English language, with all of its many subtleties and its rich literature. My own language is Hebrew, and though I have studied English well, and translated from one language to another, there is something about the mood and flavor, and sense of reality in Hebrew that I am unable to convey to an English text. For many of us, there is a sense of a wholeness about the world, as if it has one personality… despite the fact that a tree is nothing like a human being… at all. For such people, coming to terms with that wholeness, is in fact, an introduction to god. Some of us, when looking at a butterfly, or the face of someone we love, or a stormy sky, have a very strong belief that all of this world was made by one being, and that we can know that being by studying his work. But even those who do not believe that the world was created, might believe that it is one… that all the different phenomena of the world, is part of a one whole thing. We could call that thing nature, or the universe… but if we feel that it is one, this give us a sense of a consistent relationship to all of the world around us.

close to one another ~ generations or cell phones?

Among every people, and in every culture, there has been the development of a sensitivity to the awareness that there are things beyond us, that act in a way that affects us. It is often called religion or spirituality. For some peoples, there have been a number of gods. Others, believe in monotheism, and that means that god is one. But either way, the relationship of man to these forces that are beyond us, is an intuitive process. We have a sense of what works; a relationship to some sort of image that represents the many aspects of this world that is greater than us. But this faith is even greater than our own personal intuition. Because it has been added to from generation to generation, the most sensitive and holy people of our own antecedents have contributed a little of their consciousness and intuition to the big soup that is our religious (spiritual) awareness. In the same way I spoke of culture being represented in language, no matter how hard we tried to ‘create’ a new religion, it would be very difficult to incorporate all the subtleties and the depth of a religion that has been living for generations.


But unfortunately, the keepers of our religions; the janitors who kept the floor clean… were human beings too. Sometimes they had terrible faults, and these faults allowed for some unholy things to creep into our sense of the universe. There are many ways to go astray. There are things out there that can cause an allergy. As I write this post, I am reminded of a lot of concepts that are part of religion and faith… and I dare not go on and on… knowing that even a blog post has to remain within a framework that is palatable. I could do a whole post on the ‘all knowing god’, as I have discovered him. I have been asked many times about this ‘all knowing’ characteristic. But as I said about relating to people in my previous post, I would say the same about approaching god, that it is best to start out looking for the good in god, and not trying to challenge him. Though there have been some very holy people who reached a point where they could even challenge god, and argued with him.