SCIENCE, CYBERSPACE AND THE SOUL
Something is going on out there.
One need not be an astute social analyst to see that
the search for
a metaphysic that speaks to our time no longer emanates from the
fringe, nor is it the sole domain of those who seek to live life in a
New Age sort of way. While science and technology are changing our
world more rapidly than we can keep up with, the timeless questions of
existence and the human condition are sounding an ever more resonant
The fields of science and technology are inherently
progressive. Breakthroughs and advances are the products of new
knowledge based on more experimentation, tests and evidence than
anything that preceded them. In the technological realm, what's newer
is generally what's better. At the same time, people are seriously
questioning whether all these developments necessarily bring in their
wake better ways of understanding and dealing with life. There is a
growing realization that those of an earlier time, those who could
never have conceived of the human genome, palm devices or chat rooms
could, and did, devote a great deal of thought to matters of human
fulfillment, the meaning of life, and issues of identity. Today, from
the boardroom to the ballpark, matters of the soul, of a mind-body
relationship, of values, and of a spiritual dimension to living have
entered the mainstream of social
consciousness and discussion. Who would have ever believed that one
day Campbell's would tout its soup with the line, "Mmm-mmm, good for
the body, good for the soul."
The National Institute of Health, a bastion of biological reduc-
tionism which has long viewed human beings as just another dish of
chemical reactions, has allocated two million dollars to establish a
Panel of Mind-Body Interventions. Harvard Medical School now holds
seminars examining the frontiers of mind-body medicine, and nursing
schools regularly offer courses exploring the relationship between
prayer and healing. For a sense of the public pulse, one need look no
further than the New York Times' bestseller list where over
twenty-five percent of the titles in recent years have been books
related to spirituality. The Road Less Traveled, a book about
spiritual growth, was a bestseller for over five hundred weeks. And
Phil Jackson, a six-foot, ten-inch, ex-New York Knick and Buddhist,
successfully coached Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, and the
Shaquille O'Neal and the Los Angeles Lakers to seven NBA championships
while employing zen techniques with his players. Clearly, something is
going on out there.
2001: AN INNER SPACE ODYSSEY
The long awaited year 2001 has finally arrived. As history ventures
past this mythical watershed, people of every ilk are looking not only
backwards and forwards, but more importantly, inwards. More and more
the long-awaited calendar shift is catching people's cosmic attention.
"Where are we headed?" they ask. "Where should we be headed? What does
it all mean? Is there an ultimate purpose or meaning to my life, or
have I just been set hopelessly adrift?" Simply put, people want to
know, "What's it all about?" And this time the it is not outer space,
but inner space. It is life.
The Jewish calendar takes a much broader view of human history than
does our civil calendar. If you look at a Jewish calendar, you will
find that we are in the year 5761, not 2001. Thus, the Jewish calendar
has no millennium shift for another two hundred and forty years.
Nonetheless, Judaism would always applaud any efforts at
introspection, any attempts to grapple with life's ultimate questions,
and every aspiration to uncover a deeper dimension to living.
LOOK AGAIN: AT PURIM AND LIFE
A recurring theme throughout the story and holiday of Purim is the
idea of seeing beneath the surface. The Book of Esther tells the Purim
story and is the only book in the Bible which never mentions the name
of G-d; yet at every turn in the story one can't help but sense a
transcendent presence. Purim is the only holiday in which we are told
not only to eat and drink, but to actually get drunk! (See page 30 for
a discussion of this issue.) Yet, while the observance of the holiday
includes eating, drinking, costumes, and parties, both the great
Kabbalist, Rabbi Isaac Luria and Maimonides, the renowned sage and
philosopher, assure us that Purim is a day whose spirituality is
rivaled by no other. And the Hebrew term for the Book of Esther,
Megillat Esther; when literally translated, means to reveal (megillat)
that which is hidden (esther). From all sides the holiday of Purim
calls out to us, in fact challenges us, to look beneath the surface.
The wonders of the world around us are without end. Majesty and awe
are commonplace in nature, but there is more to this awe than meets
the eye. The complexities of the human organism are just beginning to
be understood. Yet, this homo sapien is not just another genus or
species. There is far more to the human being than meets the
microscope. In all aspects of life, Judaism looks at one level and
then proceeds to perceive and reveal quite another. In every detail of
living, Judaism sees a dimension of an ever-deeper life form, and a
richer quality of potential. It is to these depths of perception and
living that Purim calls us.
I recently had a conversation with an accomplished graphic
designer from California named Heidi. Quite to my surprise she told me
that, "I was born Jewish. Ičve never really done much Jewish stuff,
but lately Ičve been wondering if there could be any spirituality in
Judaism. You know," she continued, "you can begin a conversation for
one reason and find out that it was supposed to lead you in a
direction you never imagined."
"Heidi," I wrote in the copy of a book I sent her, "sometimes the
things we are looking for are hidden in places we would least expect
to find them." Like Purim. Often referred to as a "minor festival,"
Purim is in fact a major source of wisdom and spiritual inspiration.
The One Hour Purim Primer has been written for everyone who never
dreamed that there could be more to Judaism than what they encountered
in the world of suburban Jewry. Indeed, just as there is far more to
Purim than meets the eye, so there is far more to Judaism than most of
us were led to believe. This book is an attempt to cast a ray of light
into the subterranean domain of Jewish wisdom and spirituality. Far
from inaccessible or foreboding, once we venture beneath the surface
of Judaism, we will find an enlightening and enchanting inner world,
a world of experience and thought that speaks to us in the context of
our lives today while simultaneously lifting our vision of what we,
and what the world can be tomorrow.