For five years I taught an L.A.-based class called Seasons of Joy. Every week about a dozen Jews by birth and potential Jews by choice joined me for an overview of the Torah portion of the week, basic Jewish law and handy tips for ecstatic Jewish living. One student who frequented the class would typically raise her hand to ask questions that had little to do with the topic at hand. She usually would ask about angels, the soul or the afterlife and would react with authority to my answers. In private conversations I learned that she could hear and see angels and was in a constant dialog with her guides.
On one occasion I was visiting the 613 Mitzvah store in our ‘hood to restock my CDs. This is the best outlet for my music in the US and it’s always great to stop in and schmooze with friends and potential friends who are shopping for books, Judaica and music. I usually make a few sales each time I walk in. Sure enough, this aforementioned student of mine was there and she saw me helping a newcomer pick out a mezuzah. When I picked up a scroll I could feel a tangible energy in the parchment. I explained to the customer that a holy Jew devoted himself to the faithful calligraphy of the text and that a kosher scroll has tremendous spiritual power. Next thing you know, everyone in the store wanted to hold the parchment; whereas not everyone felt that energy, my student reacted like she was mainlining heroin.
Over time her statements in my class grew more bizarre and she developed a tic. Her flower-child dress and observations of auras were scaring away others in the group. I felt bad but on my rabbi’s advice I had to ask her not to make any more comments in class. I later found out that she had been banned from many other shuls and classes around Pico.
This last Shabbat I saw her for the first time in over a year. She was calm and composed, the tic gone, and I found out that she had started taking medication that allowed her to live a “normal” life. In our discourse I learned that she had chosen to sublimate her gift so that she could function in society.
I bring this up to you, my friends, simply to address this
question that I can’t get off my mind. In an age of spiritual disconnection, with all of the sadness and fear due to our crippled economy, with gadgets and media in all forms making profound headway into any shred of quiet time we might enjoy, I wonder if we should be medicating those few people who have access to other realms. How rare does one happen upon someone with true vision and deep perspective, without bias and agenda. Tzadikim that walk with G-d can take on many forms. They are a gift not to be squandered.
At a recent Earth, Wind and Fire concert, my wife and I marveled at the energy of the legendary band, particularly bass virtuoso Verdine White. I’m telling you, you haven’t seen hyperkinetic musical passion until you have seen this guy GROOVE! All night! And he’s in his late 60’s! My wife said to me, “can you imagine if his parents had put him on Ritalin as a kid?” Are we medicating our future Verdine Whites into submission? Getting all of our square peg offspring in round holes, thanks to the miracle of modern pharmaceuticals?
I realize that this former student of mine required intervention. Without the drugs it’s unlikely that we would have been having a conversation last Shabbas. Still, she is one of the few that I have met that possess that “knowing” and have the ability to potentially guide others to share the vision. Three times a day we pour our hearts out in prayer; how often are we really connecting? How rare and valuable is accurate rebuke? How often do we meet that person who can look right into our eyes and perceive our soul, knowing exactly what message we need to hear?
In a world bereft of spiritual insight, perhaps the best antidote is to train oneself to become more sensitive to heavenly messages, to the presence of G-d in our lives. Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach used to say that we have to take moments of personal ecstasy and bring them into our service of G-d. The idea is to summon the memory of a perfect ski run, a vacation in Yosemite, the birth of a child and inject that passion into everyday prayer. Check out the Art of Amazement for some practical methods to capitalize on the gift of wonder.
I’ve heard it said that life is like a perpetual night broken by occasional lightning. In those brief flashes we can set our reset our path as we trudge through the darkness. Hold on to those flashes! Keep them close and nurture them. And when you meet someone like my spiritual student, don’t dismiss him or her as a hippie freak but instead take a moment to share that precious bolt of lightning before you move on with your busy day.
I’m posting this on my new blog and I welcome your feedback.