Tuesday, December 16, 2008


It's Not Religious!

by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths

Here we go again. It seems like these things run in bunches. He was the third guy this week who did not know that he is a Jew. That’s just how many I found. Who knows how many others there were? It certainly seems like Hashem is bringing Jews home from every corner of the world at an increasing pace.

He is about twenty years old and is from Austria. There are very few Jews left in Austria, less than one tenth of one percent of the population. He made it very clear to me several times that he is not Jewish and that he wanted nothing to do with religion. He said that not only isn’t he Jewish but his parents are not Jewish either. But when we talked a little he acknowledged that his mother’s mother was a Jew. “But,” he was quick to add, “she was not religious, not at all.”

“It doesn’t matter if she was religious or not. What matters is that she was a Jew. Jews are not a religion. We are a people. And since she was a Jew her children are Jews which means that your mother is a Jew. And since your mother is a Jew her children are Jews. Your mother’s mother was a Jew so you are a Jew.” I took a pair of tefillin and started to put them on him.

“No, no. I’m not any religion.” he objected pulling his arm away.

I explained again how Jews are not a religion but a people and again tried to put the tefillin on his arm.

“I’m not religious. Not with any religion. I don’t believe in any of this.” He persisted in his objection.

“It’s not about religion.” I tried to explain.

“Yes, it is,” he insisted pointing to the tefillin. “These are about religion.”

“No,” I insisted, “These have nothing to do with religion. Religion has to do with belief. These are spiritual. They are designed to give you a spiritual experience.”

He softened up a little and I slid the tefillin on his arm. He cooperated as long as it did not have anything to do with religion. He read the prayers in English. I was afraid that he would object since they come from the Torah and talk about G-d, but for some reason he read them. He had even heard of the Shema (A central prayer). I asked him how he would know of such a thing. He told me that the Shema Israel is famous. After he read the prayer in English I told him to try to do what I said with a good heart and he would have a spiritual experience.

“Close your eyes and picture everyone you love. Try to see them happy and healthy and send each of them a blessing. You are standing in the most spiritual place you can and you are doing the most spiritual thing that you can do. You can share this spiritual experience with your loved ones. Try to see them bathed in sunlight.”

He stood there for at least five minutes with his eyes closed and a peaceful, glowing look on his face sending blessings to all of his loved ones. As soon as he opened his eyes he burst out in a broad, truly happy smile.

“See,” I said. “It has nothing to do with religion. You are a Jewish person and you can have a spiritual experience without any belief at all.”

About an hour or so latter I saw him walking in the Rova (Jewish Quarter of the Old City). I called out, “Hey, hey you.”

He saw me and came over smiling. “Thank you. Thank you for what you did.” You could tell that he really meant it.

I tapped him on the chest with both my hands and laughed. I said, “You are a Jew. Make sure that you marry a Jewish girl so your children will be Jews too.” He said that he would.

Now he knows that you do not have to be religious to put on tefillin and have a spiritual experience. I know it sounds like I tricked him in order to get him to put on tefillin but really I didn’t. There are no rituals in the Torah. None at all. Rituals are based on religious beliefs. They can bring emotional reactions depending upon the person’s beliefs and his association of that ritual with other religious beliefs. Mitzvahs not like that. Mitzvahs are actually spiritual exercises and when done properly they will bring a spiritual experience.

Because he heard the right explanation he may very well see to it that he has a Jewish family. At least he said that he will. And he might even try a few more of these Jewish spiritual exercises, like making Kiddush on Shabbos and eating matzah on Pesach.


Shiloh said...

Kol hakavod. At my place of employment, a fellow has been opening up to me about his family. Yes, another one comes out of the woodwork. So, gave him the material to get him going, now it's up to him to live derech haShem.

Kae Gregory said...

This touches me deeply. I was raised with no sense of my Jewish heritage. Like my mother, I was fully assimilated. A few years ago on studying my mothers genealogy, I began asking questions where I discovered the truth. Believe it or not, when I first visited Israel, a decade ago, I believe I knew then. I'm sure its hard at any age but I'm middle aged now and becoming unassimilated is not easy. But I love working at it. If only I had met someone like you when I was young. Thank you for this post.

Anonymous said...

This prompts a question for the Rav:

How are we to approach the subject of b'nei anousim if we live in a part of the world were there are so many?


mink said...

Hi Rabbi Gil! Just wanted to say - you're the best! LOVE your book Coming Back to Earth. Keep up the amazing work. What a story!

mink said...

I mean, R. Gutman? oops! what's in a name? :-)

Gutman said...

Hi Mink
Which story in "Coming Back to Earth" did you like the most?
Now try "From The Old City." http://www.thereisone.com/books&music.htm You will like this one too.
Let me know when you are coming for Shabbos.
Gil (oops!)

mink said...

I'm not good at picking favorite-anythings! I loved the whole crazy (but not crazy) journey. I couldn't put it down. I do love the way you did whatever you did as fully as possible. And I love that you honestly challenge the status quo, push limits, wherever you go, in search of Truth, not belonging. Thank you. And for your daring conclusion about G-d, or rather, what you always knew and didn't feel the need to shed when you accepted a "religion," thank you.
I may take you up on your kind invitation, but probably not for a long while! :-)

Anonymous said...

Reb Gutman,

I LOVE these stories. They are so inspirational.

Thank you for sharing you mitzvah with us and I look forward to hearing the next installment.

Chanukah Sameach

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