“Yes my friend, that is a good question,” said the President of the Sikh Temple in Queens, NY. “Religion can be quite complex with challenging questions. But, I know this… you are my brother, I am your brother, and Our Creator made one human family, which we need to strengthen the bonds of everyday.”
I think of this spiritual experience often. It plays again in my head when I wonder what direction our world and society is going in. The year was 2003. I moved to Manhattan to study Torah full time at Yeshiva University and considered life as a Rabbi. At the time, I focused on gaining the skills to go through a page of Talmud and attempted to catch up with post college students who learned this incredible system their entire lives. The task was daunting, but my teachers and fellow students were incredibly supportive and a little surprised that a newly observant Emory student didn’t go straight to a job or graduate school. What did I find interesting enough about the Talmud to put my life on hold?
I truly didn’t have an answer. That nagging feeling was the source of my seeking. In my 2nd year of college, I discovered the Orthodox Jewish community and practices. Sure, I had a bar mitzvah and even confirmation (those who know, know). However, I never opened a Talmud or experienced Shabbat. To walk into Beth Jacob in Atlanta on a Friday night, and be introduced to Lee Caplan, who would host me for a meal was a moment of shock. He is having me over now, after knowing me for 1 minute? “Sure, no problem,” said Lee and brought me to his incredible family for a Shabbat meal and experience I will never forget.
So my adventure in Torah Judaism began. Throughout the journey, I finally found the freedom to talk openly about G-d, our specific mission, and the mystical feelings that happened during music and prayer. I found a community. Yet, there I was studying Talmud, philosophy, and prayer night and day in Yeshiva, feeling unfulfilled. What was bothering me? I had access to all of the Mussar, Chassidut, prayers, and Talmud material anyone could ask for. Yet, it was coming up short in my soul. I felt the calling to go outside of the Jewish community to find devotees of G-d in other religions. I read about Rabbis who combined different mystical traditions, but I wasn’t interested in mixing systems or bringing ideas into the Jewish world. I wanted to adventure out into the world, and what better place than NYC. The international community was just a subway ride away.
In college, I took a course on India and became enamored with the Sikh religion. The founder, Guru Nanak, stated, “There is no Muslim, there is no Hindu, there is only One G-d.” I interpreted it to mean that seekers of G-d could become lost in the traditions meant to teach consciousness of the Creator. Instead, the systems became dividers and kept people from seeing the big picture. Guru Nanak was the 1st of 10 Gurus who led the Sikh community. The 10th Guru, Guru Gobingh Singh, elevated the holy scriptures, the Guru Granth Sahib, as the the one and only Guru. The Sikhs became people of the book. Sound familiar?
I decided to visit the Sikh Temple in Queens. At the Temple, I took off my shoes and covered my head with a cloth as is required of anyone entering the holy sanctuary. A Sikh introduced himself and said, “How can I help you my friend?” I said, “I would like to ask a learned person about Sikhism and G-d.”
“Yes, I can introduce you to our President of the Gurudwara, come this way,” said the man. I walked down the hallway and into a small room with a ceiling fan and waited. What I learned next changed the direction of my life.