Daniel Raphael Silverstein
Rabbi, educator, meditation teacher and MC/poet.

Why I’m Heading Home

[Firstly, just a word of explanation: it’s “I” and not “We” as although I couldn’t do this without my wife, Karin, she can and does think and speak for herself.]

When Adam and Eve are given paradise on a silver platter, they can’t bring themselves to follow the one simple rule necessary to maintain their privileged existence there. The only thing they’re told not to do, they do. Similarly, Lot — Abraham’s nephew — is groomed his whole life to inherit his uncle’s material and spiritual wealth, but he takes the first opportunity to run in the other direction as fast as he can, setting up home in Sodom, a place that is the antithesis of the home he was brought up in.

So it goes for many of us. As soon as I arrived at university as an undergraduate, the Modern Orthodox Judaism that nourished me as a teenager soon became a tremendous impediment to the growth and development I yearned for. Instead of a path to my own best self, it was a burden I looked to free myself from, and soon did. I devoutly embraced atheism and re-began my search for meaning in the world with the premise that it could only come from within, from my own experience.

For years, I sought to learn whatever I could from every human wisdom I encountered — religious, secular, academic, artistic. Everything was open, everything was permitted and everything was possible. The search took me to many disparate corners of the universe. I swam in the waters of existentialist philosophy, folk music, rave culture, hip hop, Sufism, Buddhism, psychic healers, spirit journeys with medicinal plants and Indian gurus to mention just a few.

As I wandered in my spiritual journey, so I wandered in geographical space. I spent time in several continents, in diverse eco-systems and human settlements — remote villages, bustling metropolises and everything in between. In every space, in each new context, I tried to learn whatever I could about the world around me, but also the world inside me. What was different in each place, and what was the same?

I was committed to the search for meaning. What was life for? How should I live? I explored paths which people had created and walked for millennia, asking the same questions. The well-trodden roads of those who came before us offered some welcome guidance, some hard-won wisdom from experience, which I would be foolish to ignore. Some of these people seemed to have found some degree of fulfillment, but the sheer multiplicity of options suggested there was no one-size-fits-all answer. It seemed that each person really did have to find and — to at least some extent — create their own path.

I walked down whichever path was most promising to me in each moment, and one by one I reluctantly crossed them off my own personal list, as each one proved ultimately unfulfilling. Gradually, I honed my ability to listen to myself. It took much painful experience, as I learned the necessary lessons of exploring and giving up so many possible lives, each one a universe unto itself. I learnt the profoundly disappointing lesson that I could not be everything — I could not walk down every path at the same time.

Through this process of trial and elimination, I eventually learnt to hear the call of my own deepest yearnings — my neshama. And once I could hear it, it told me that it needed to breathe, to grow and to flourish. It needed to be given space and oxygen, sunlight, water and nutrients. That voice was and is my teacher, my guide to how to best let life flow through me.

My neshama told me that just as I have a physical family, with whom I share so many genetic and psychological traits with — like it or not — I also have a spiritual family. There are those for whom Hindu practice is their path to their best self, and others who find self-actualization only through Navajo wisdom. There are countless ancient human families, each with its own spiritual DNA, its own language, worldview and technology. As a species, we share so much, but part of what we share is the depth of our diversity. We look at the world through different lenses, and so of course we each create a different melody in the symphony of life.

My family has a home. I am beyond privileged to have the opportunity to move to our homeland, as so many generations of our ancestors yearned to. Like every land on this planet, she offers her own unique gifts and challenges, and like every land, these are especially rich for those who have been in relationship with her for thousands of years. Her soil, water and sky speak to her children in their mother tongue, in the language of their neshama. Our hope for her has sustained us this far, and has now carried us back to her.

As I write this, I do not know the details of where in Israel we will live. Here is what I do know: we are searching for an earth-based community that is committed to honoring each person’s neshama, whoever they are. We want to grow our family in a place of creativity, curiosity and openness. We are looking for opportunities to give our gifts, and we cannot wait to rejoin the love affair between the neshama of our people and our beloved home.

About the Author
Daniel Raphael Silverstein is a rabbi, educator, meditation teacher and MC/poet. He recently moved from Palo Alto, where he was Director of Jewish Life and Learning for Hillel at Stanford University, to Israel.
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