Toward a Meaningful Life with Simon Jacobson
Radio Show Transcript – February 11, 2001
Rabbi Simon Jacobson: Good evening. Welcome to another edition of Toward a Meaningful Life. As always, I want to thank our listeners for their calls and emails. The interaction of kindred spirits trying to address the issues that we struggle with in our lives is a very rewarding experience, and is what makes this show be what it is.
Through my journeys and travels I often hear a recurring question whose essence can be summed up in the following few lines of a letter that I received. Someone writes:
“Dear Rabbi Jacobson,
“I’ve attended many of your classes and they meant very much to me in my growth and my journey. Before I explored Jewish spirituality, I was involved in Buddhism, which really spoke to me—Zen Buddhism particularly—and it was the thing that nourished my soul when I was in my twenties and growing.
“I never really recognized that Judaism had any message to me that was relevant, and both through your classes and through other experiences, I came to realize that Judaism, actually, my own religion in my own backyard, the one I was bar mitzvah-ed with, had a deep spirituality that I simply was not privy to. However, I cannot ignore the fact that for so many years of my life, Buddhism played such a role, and it did speak to my soul, and in many ways had many positive effects and actually opened me up to my Jewish search.
“I can probably say that without that, I would still today be completely ignorant of my Judaism. So how does one reconcile that type of past with my present and future? Some Rabbis tell me I have to simply ignore it, annihilate that part of myself, that part of my personality, others say I should embrace it, but the fact is there are many issues that are irreconcilable. There are many things that I regret doing. There are many things that are not necessarily things I’m proud of, yet at the same time I must give credit to where the roots and seeds were planted.”
This is a typical question asked by many people today. In this case it refers more to a spiritual journey, but the truth is, it’s a question that’s quite generic and universal to all of us: What do we do with our pasts? There is no person who has not made a mistake in his or her past. Human beings by nature are flawed; we have our ups and downs. Many of us have made some serious mistakes and some less serious, but the fact is, life is made of mistakes.
Once you’ve come to a deeper realization, where you’ve had a revelation, epiphany or just an evolution of thought and process, what do you do with that past? What is the Jewish approach? What is the Torah approach?
Of course, if your past has been a healthy one, there’s no discussion. A healthy past is something we build upon. But when you’re dealing with a past that often includes sins or crimes in any sense of the word (I don’t necessarily mean in the Biblical sense, but any time we’ve made errors, mistakes, hurt ourselves or others whether out of our own ignorance or even maliciously), and now we come to new awareness and realizations, what do you do then?
In the broader context of Judaism, this is really the concept of teshuvah, often translated as repentance, but the true meaning being “return.”
So this show will focus on “The Role of the Past in Our Lives—Annihilation or Integration?” And we’ll discuss how to use the past to move on in our life, to use it as a springboard.
The fact is, if we annihilate the positive effects of our past experiences—even if today we say, “If I had known what I know today, I would not have done that”—then in a sense we annihilate a part of our personality. Is that a healthy thing to do?
So I want to begin by describing an experience that took place in one of my Wednesday night classes. At the end of one of the classes that I give, a fellow came in, he seemed a little high on something, and he said, “Rabbi, I hear I can ask any question here, that the table is open for any questions.” After I said yes, he said, “Here’s my question. I grew up in a semi-Orthodox home where we kept kosher, they sent me to yeshiva, I was bar mitzvah-ed, I read Hebrew, and I went to shul (synagogue) every Saturday. Then, as a teenager, I simply drifted off. It wasn’t speaking to me. My family was not avidly pushing me to maintain it though they were heartbroken when I stopped coming home for Shabbos. I essentially rebelled and left everything that was Jewish.
“Since I grew up in the late 60s, early 70s, I went off to L.A. and discovered G-d and spirituality through Far Eastern religions, and most importantly, through my LSD experiences. (This is exactly the way the story happened.) And that’s where my spirituality was nourished, from those alternative places.
“For many years I was not a practicing or active Jew. The only connection I had was going to shul on Yom Kippur, either out of guilt or nostalgia. However, I was on a plane once flying from the East Coast to the West, and I was somewhat high (the way he put it) and I was dosing off or in a trance, and suddenly I heard from the back of the plane a quorum, a group of Jews davening, praying.
“I guess it was the afternoon service and I heard them saying, ‘Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh,’ which is one of the prayers where you say ‘Sanctified, sanctified, sanctified are You G-d,’ and as I heard it, I jumped up and something drew me to the back of the plane. I joined them and for the first time in many years I prayed with them.
“I literally was able to sense right there on the plane the supernal angels and the cosmic forces and the celestial experience on a very profound spiritual level that lies in these words, “Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh” in the prayer service. As a child, I knew the words in Hebrew, but I never experienced them in any personal, profound, or spiritual way.
“This began a journey in my return to Judaism where I began to daven more often, I began to put on tefillin again, keep the Sabbath, keep kosher, and I would say today I’m more observant than when I grew up as a child.”
Then finally he ended with his question. “Without LSD, I would not be a practicing Jew. It was that which brought me to G-d again. It awakened me and brought me back to the prayer, and I don’t think I would be observant today without it. What’s your opinion on this?”
There was a group of about 40-50 people there in the class, and everybody was looking at me to see if I would give an endorsement—hashgacha as they say, you know like Rabbis give these endorsements on kosher food, so they were looking to see if I’d give an endorsement on LSD—so I’ll tell you what I answered later on in the show. But the burden shouldn’t always be on me, so I’m going to throw this question out to all of you. What would you answer to this question?
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Jacobson: Okay, we’re back. Let’s go to Steve on the line.
Caller: How are you Rabbi? I heard what you were saying about the LSD and the fellow finding his Judaism. I would say that I think LSD can help anyone…anything that anyone wants to do, I think LSD can help him do it better. So whatever goals you have, I think LSD would help.
Jacobson: Well, let me ask you this. What about talking from a Jewish, Torah perspective?
Caller: Well is there anything in the Torah about LSD?
Jacobson: I doubt LSD would be in there because LSD is a chemical that was discovered in the 50s, but nevertheless, the question of using alternative or foreign substances to induce a spiritual awakening, especially if it can be somewhat detrimental to health, is a question. It is a good point to want to know what exactly would be the position on drugs from a Torah point of view. I clearly see your position.
Caller: Well maybe you should have some professors who have written some good books on LSD and maybe in a future show you could have an expert on LSD come on the show.
Jacobson: Well, I respect your response and it’s good to know that we’re going to get a variety of responses, but nevertheless, the question really is this. Can one really have a spiritual awakening without a drug and is there any downside? I must admit, I have never experimented with LSD, nor with any other drug, but what I hear from people who have is that there are quite a lot of side effects and damage that come as a result of it because you may not be able to integrate it in your life. People have really been hurt by it.
Caller: True, but people have been hurt by anything. Most people I know who have experienced LSD say that it really opened their mind in spiritual and intellectual ways about many things. I think it’s a shame that it’s illegal and I think maybe you should try it. It’s somewhat silly to have a discussion about it if you haven’t tried it, do you know what I mean?
Jacobson: Well, I’m going to ask Philip Namanworth, our producer, who has tried it to come right on the air and talk about it.
Namanworth: I haven’t taken any drugs in many years, obviously, but in the 60s when I was a hippie and on my own spiritual search, I took drugs like LSD, psilocybin, and mescaline, and I had many friends who took them as well. Unfortunately, some of them wound up as street people. I also lived in Haight-Ashbury and would sometimes be at the clinic when they would bring kids in screaming from these experiences.
Now of course, in the circle that I traveled in, people were really looking for something to expand their consciousness, and some of us did, but the effects of it were so strong and there weren’t enough people around to guide us, that it was not really a safe situation.
Now that I’m a person who’s into spiritual Judaism, I get the same experiences where I can access them more readily. So I wouldn’t personally recommend LSD to anybody because I think it’s the “short-longer road,” where someone wants a quick fix. I think the really devastating thing about LSD is that you can get a quick picture of what reality is and then you don’t do the hard work to keep it so you go back to do more drugs.
Instead, on a spiritual trip where you see a glimmer of reality, you want to go back and do the hard work to change yourself and transform yourself.
Jacobson: Philip, I have to thank you for getting me off the hook here because there’s no way I could have answered that one, but let me ask you this question. Based on what you’ve learned today and based on your Jewish experiences today, do you feel that a person could have that same spiritual high as some people induce in a quicker and “short-long road” through foreign substances like LSD?
Namanworth: Could they have the experiences on LSD? No.
Jacobson: But can they have it through Judaism?
Namanworth: Absolutely. But it depends on your commitment. It takes a lot of spiritual integrity. You have to say, “I’m going to be committed to this path and I’m going to look at the blocks in myself that are holding me from it.” If you think that you can go on a spiritual path and not face who you are psychologically, then you’re never getting anywhere. Then it’s just another ego trip.
Jacobson: Well said. So Philip, I’m glad you’re here. When I checked your resume, I didn’t ask if you were a former LSD user.
Namanworth: I was in rock and roll all those years. But now I’m a guy who wears tzitzis, what can I say?
Jacobson: And at the Meaningful Life Center we don’t do drug testing either.
Namanworth: Thank G-d!
Jacobson: Okay, let’s go to Mark on the air.
Caller: Hi, how are you Rabbi. I’m enjoying your show.
Jacobson: It’s getting lively here, no?
Caller: I also did some LSD in college…
Jacobson: I guess it’s confession night…
Caller: I have a feeling you’re going to disagree with what I’m going to say but I hope we can have a discussion about it. I feel LSD liberated me from and made me see religion in a different light. I used to be religious before that, but LSD helped me see that religion does more damage than good in the world. I think religion separates people and it makes people think that I’m with this group—a kind of “us and them” thing—and instead of realizing that we’re all earthlings and that there is a G-d but none of us know exactly what it is, we should do more to help people live healthy lives and happy lives instead of getting mixed up in all of this Scripture nonsense.
Jacobson: I understand perfectly what you’re talking about, Mark, and this is one of the reasons that I do this show. I thank you for the call.
I, for one, am the first to admit that from my experiences with religion—and I grew up in a religious environment—there are many flaws, particularly with the people that represent it. I know that the way you describe Scripture makes many religious people cringe, but it doesn’t make me cringe because it’s the experience that many people have had with religion—that it’s very dogmatic, very “us and them,” very divisive, and anything but spiritual. It’s ritual without the spiritual. Frankly this radio show and everything I do is meant to reintegrate the two.
The Judaism that I was blessed to experience was one that had deep spirituality. And a true relationship with G-d can never allow an “us and them.” So it’s true that in some ways the experiences people are having with alternative spirituality are perhaps waking us up to reaching deeper into what Judaism is about, but we shouldn’t make the mistake that Judaism doesn’t have the answer.
What’s happened is that the answer has been lost through the years, whether through assimilation or whether through expulsions or persecutions, but Judaism in its root has deep spirituality that is completely non-labeled and non-judgmental, and does not create an us vs. them attitude. Instead it sees the universe as a creation of G-d and everything in it is Divine energy.
I remember giving a class once and talking about how everything in the universe has Divine energy, even the orange and the table. The animate and the inanimate objects of our lives, everything. And a woman who was there said, “I can’t believe what you’re saying. The only time I ever had such an experience was when I volunteered to be one of the people at the University at Berkeley whom they did the acid experiments on. (It was still legal in the late 50s.) And I said, well this is basic Chassidic thought, spiritual Jewish thought that teaches that there’s energy in the universe and I knew that and I was able to describe it without the drug experience. So clearly it’s about getting back to what Judaism is really about.
Let’s go to the next call. Liba is on the air.
Caller: I can’t address the LSD experience…
Jacobson: My question, actually, was when a person says that through that they came back to their Judaism, what do you tell them?
Caller: My parents were Jewish and not observant in any way, and as a teenager I joined a church where I was for 40 years. I do not view it as a mistake, but as preparation for where I am today as an observant Jew. I know you said we all make mistakes, and I see these as stepping stones that led me to where I am today rather than a mistake.
Jacobson: Okay. That’s very eloquently put, but I will ask you this, Liba. Since you’ve gone through the experience, if someone were to ask you, is there anything that you need to reject or in a sense get out of your system? Or is there anything there to build upon? I mean, is everything a stepping stone, or is there anything that you grow away from? In other words, what do you reject and what do you integrate?
Caller: Well, in order to see the difference, you have to be educated, and once I started receiving a Jewish education, primarily through your book, Toward a Meaningful Life, that was one of my first stepping stones out of the church…
Jacobson: And please tell everybody that this was not a set-up call…!
Caller: Right! This is not a set-up call at all! There were other books involved too. But the second one that I had was Toward a Meaningful Life, and therefore, until you have facts, until you have truth, until you have something with which to compare where you are, you cannot separate. Once that education came into my experience, I could immediately see the difference and therefore make a choice.
Jacobson: Thank you for sharing that. Let’s go to Josh on the line.
Caller: Hi Rabbi. To answer your question, I know that a lot of people are confessing to having recreational experiences with drugs, experimentation…
Jacobson: Some sounded a little more than recreation, actually…
Caller: Or even heavier use. There is a possuk, “B’chol derochecha dei’eihu,” meaning, “in all your ways know G-d,” many different ways people will come to know Hashem and love Hashem and pursue Torah. I came about becoming frum (a religious Jew) in an Episcopal High School, Quaker College, and even though I was heavily exposed to Christian influence or teaching, echoing the sentiments of the other caller, I understood or became aware of Hashem, G-d, after being exposed to Christianity.
I think that with many Jews, it takes, to use a metaphor that we’ll see in Purim, stripping away the mask. We may be in the work setting, we may be in a private high school in my case where someone may be approached in terms of using an illegal chemical substance, and may be abusing that substance. Hashem will tap that Jew on the shoulder, so to speak, there will be some pintele Yid, some spark will be ignited to approaching and encountering Hashem.
Jacobson: But let me ask you this, Josh. What about all those people who go through experiences like that and don’t so to speak come to recognize their Judaism?
Caller: I wouldn’t recommend doing it l’chatchila (at the outset), but …
Jacobson: Did you learn that word l’chatchila in the Episcopalian College?!
Caller: Obviously not! But I grew up non-observant. But there are many Jews who have had that dawning, that awakening, an awakening of their Yiddishkeit, their Judaism, and it’s seemingly been in very estranged circumstances, under very strange circumstances.
I wouldn’t assume a judgmental posture with respect to those people, I would simply say that kol ha’kavod, (good for you) that that person did become observant. We’re looking at results, and if there’s a way of reaching a person who is currently abusing a chemical substance or using something to attain a temporary, transitory high, there are ways of bringing them to other higher levels of pleasure, the higher level of exploring meaningful growth through Torah rather than through that temporary vista of a use of a substance.
Jacobson: Thank you Josh for sharing your experience. Let’s go to John.
Caller: Hello Rabbi. I think it’s important for people to realize that when you talk about LSD, a lot of people’s negative experiences with LSD and other illegal drugs has to do with their illegality, because people are made to feel like they’re pariahs … it makes no sense, why are alcohol and cigarettes legal and why is marijuana and LSD illegal? It doesn’t make any sense and I think it messes with people’s psyches that they think they’re doing something wrong and they do it in situations where they’re not comfortable.
People should be able to just go to the store and just buy some LSD and bring it home and enjoy it without all the guilt and everything. I think maybe you want to get your producer back on the air. A lot of the times when people have negative experiences, it’s also because they’re not getting pure LSD as it may be cut with something else. Because it’s not regulated, there’s no way for people to actually know what they’re getting.
Jacobson: Thanks John.
Namanworth: I just want to say that part of the show is really about how to use what’s happened in your past, not whether people take drugs or not. Drugs are just one example. I think the topic is: what if you were spiritually seeking and you went to drugs because that was the way that you chose. It could have been any other experience. It’s not about whether drugs are illegal or not. We’re not really discussing why people take drugs but the fact that it is possible to have a consistent spiritual experience in your daily life through the methods of Judaism.
Jacobson: I’m going to be attacked by all my religious friends for this show. They’re going to think I’m advocating…
Namanworth: No, we’re not advocating anything.
Jacobson: Good! But just in the spirit of the show, we’ve never silenced anyone calling in to this show and I very much appreciate the fact that they feel comfortable enough to share their voice even though I have the title of Rabbi. The fact of the matter is, these are the calls coming in…
Namanworth: We thank them for their calls. But I think we have to differentiate between people who are seeking spiritual things or people who are just seeking pleasure by doing whatever comes along.
Jacobson: My show is not a platform for legalizing drugs. There are plenty of other places to do that. My comment to John would be, well maybe alcohol and tobacco should also be illegal. Then there wouldn’t be this loophole and there wouldn’t be this argument. Let’s go to Elliot on the air.
Caller: Hi, how are you? I heard some of the calls here and I don’t think it’s so much a competition of, is LSD better than Judaism, or is Judaism better than LSD. I think they’re both good and they can both be integrated into a spiritual, intellectual life. I find that my own experience, both in my background in Judaism and my experimentation with LSD, has made me do what religion is supposed to make us do, which is to fight oppression. And I think it’s important to fight for other people’s rights, for example, Rabbi, I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but this station has been on the air for about 70 years and they’ve never hired an African-American host, which I think is terrible. Part of what I do is try to fight segregation wherever I see it.
Namanworth: Is that documented, because I’m looking at some engineers here and they’re shaking their heads saying that’s not true.
Caller: Tell them to name one.
Jacobson: We’ll check on that. I can’t speak for that. But the points you’ve made are well taken. I still think it’s interesting that all I have to do is mention LSD as an example, and it’s turning into another type of show, but I guess that’s what the listeners want.
Are there any callers out there who are anti-LSD!!?
Namanworth: Right. The question is, how do we use our past? How do we use those experiences?
Jacobson: I guess the listeners we have have interesting pasts, and presents, for that matter. Let’s go to Henry.
Caller: I’m anti-LSD, but that’s not the purpose of my call. Reb Chaim Luzzatto, in his book, Derech Hashem, The Way of G-d, states that each and every human being, each and every soul, has his own individual way of reaching G-d. It’s kind of mind-boggling. With all the billions of people, there’s an individual way for every one to reach G-d. However, of course, in Torah Judaism, the Torah lays out the easiest and best way to reach G-d. Each and every mitzvah and the learning of Torah is designed to develop spirituality to the point of reaching G-d.
Also, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan has written a lot about meditation. Even though it’s been forgotten, there is meditation in Judaism in the Talmud and the Kabbalah. A lot of spiritual things are not known, particularly with people who are not involved in Torah, so they seek it elsewhere. But we don’t have to go to LSD or to alcohol. You can reach a high but you can reach G-d through more regular means.
Jacobson: Thank you very much Henry. We have Richard on the air.
Caller: Hi Rabbi. I’m delighted to hear your program. I actually had the great opportunity to attend a class you gave some time ago at the New York Open Center, and as a result I’ve been listening to the program. My 13-year-old son is greatly in love with Judaism. However, as I mentioned in your class, I actually turned to the Eastern disciplines over the last 30 years and in fact I would suggest to you, from the Eastern point of view, there are great orders of knowledge, language and mathematics that are pretty much lost to the world. They would suggest that something like LSD is extremely dangerous. That’s because everything in creation is in motion and is vibrating at a particular pitch with a particular pitch, tone and frequency. That’s how we differentiate one thing from another, one person from another, according to Eastern teachings. And of course it includes four different worlds and bodies and seven operant lower planes which are rates of consciousness or rates of vibration or matter or energy.
Jacobson: You heard me address the subject of the seven spheres of emotions and the four worlds in Judaism, I guess that’s the parallel you’re talking about.
Caller: The two teachings of the East and the West are in fact the same. There’s only a difference in the way they’re addressed, but they would suggest that something like LSD is extremely dangerous because it’s like putting a person in a dark room and then suddenly shining a very bright light in their face.
Jacobson: That’s a good analogy.
Caller: They would suggest that what happens is this. The mind can’t shock open. There are, in the Eastern teachings, recognized within the yetzeretic body (?) a second body which corresponds to the dream state or the thinking state. In that body, from the Eastern point of view, there are nerve channels running through what would be the spinal column, 72,000 in all. There’s a central column called shashumna in Sanskrit, which stores impressions over a vast period of time to the soul. This column is interspaced with what’s called chakras which are worlds of energies that contain tremendous potentials, potentials of the L-rd.
In most human beings, except for the lower ones which govern our ordinarily instinctive sexual and normal functioning, theses chakras are actually closed and they can be opened through spiritual practices which involve intense forms of concentration.
Drugs do it all at once and jumpstarts it, but it can cause such a tremendous shock that it can lead to a phenomenon that medical science no longer believes in but is unfortunately quite real which is demonic possession. It can lead to the person being lost to this world. The only thing that the doctor could say about it is that the person has gone into perhaps a catatonic trance and this has happened with LSD.
But actually what happened is that while their body is here, the essence of the awareness, the soul, is trapped in a very dark place and it can lead to a nightmare of unimaginable proportion. That’s why I would suggest to anybody that they stay away from it, avoid it like the plague. It has nothing to do with spiritual life.
I have in the course of years, encountered people who have said just what you suggested, the party who mentioned that LSD had opened a spiritual door for them, and I think that there is some possibility of truth to that, but it’s an extremely dangerous truth.
Jacobson: Richard, I couldn’t agree more and you’ll see from my response to the fellow that there are many similarities. I would say that the parallels between the Eastern and the Jewish thought is not a surprise to me because it does say in the Bible that Abraham sent his own children with gifts of wisdom to the East. So there are many similarities. When you say Brahmin, it’s similar to the word Ibraham, Avrohom. And we see parallels in many other concepts. But your call is well taken and I completely agree with you about the dangerous aspects of it. I would pose to the previous callers who were so pro-LSD, just as they challenged me that I can’t talk about LSD because I never did it, then they can’t talk about spirituality until they do it in an intense way. And that I do have experience with.
So the fact that I have Philip here, we have the best of both worlds, I guess. The fact of the matter is, spirituality is an intense experience and does need discipline and integration for growth. It isn’t about having fun or escaping the realities of the monotony of life. There are many dangerous aspects to it, but first let’s go to a break.
(Announcement break for Rabbi Jacobson’s weekly Wednesday Night class at 346 W. 89th St., corner Riverside Drive in Manhattan at 8pm. Listeners are also invited to visit the website of the Meaningful Life Center at www.meaningfullife.com, call 1-800-3MEANING, or email at email@example.com for all the activities of the Meaningful Life Center, transcripts of the radio show, seminars, and other important information.)
Jacobson: Okay, we’re back. Well, the show began with the topic of the role of the past in our lives—annihilation or integration—and the different ways that we take past experiences that may or may not have been destructive and led us to new revelations and insights, and what to do with it.
But I did tell a story about a guy who came to my class and about a spiritual awakening through LSD, and by the way, for the listeners who don’t know what LSD is, let’s keep it that way, but one thing I can tell you, it’s not the acronym of Let’s Start Davening.
So what would you tell someone who came through a destructive pattern of drug use or LSD to a spiritual awakening that brought them back to their Judaism or to their spirituality? What do you say to a person like that and what do you say about that experience? Do you endorse it? Do you reject it? How do you straddle the fence?
We have Neil on the air.
Caller: Hello. First I’d like to touch on what another caller said if I may. There was a Daily News article by David Hinckley, and Bill Mazer and Dr. Atkins were talking about it, that this station has always been segregated since it started. Can your engineer name any black host? The station has never hired a black host.
Jacobson: Well, I don’t represent the station, just as they say in the beginning of the show that they don’t represent my opinions.
Caller: But Rabbi, as a Jew, don’t you think we have to fight to integrate?
Jacobson: First of all, I have to research the facts. Even if there are, the fact of the matter is, it’s not just this station. There’s a problem with integration across the country. Is it my first cause? I guess it’s a question of what I can do about it.
But let me say this. I will check into it. Thanks Neil. Let’s go to Arthur on the air.
Caller: Hello Rabbi. I would like to comment on this without getting cut off but I happen to know that there has never been a black host on this station, and if the engineer says there has been, why can’t he name who the black host was?
Jacobson: Well, I haven’t said either way.
Caller: Yes, but you said the engineer said that there had been a black host. Why don’t you just ask him right now?
Jacobson: Let’s go to Mike. This is a show that’s on a certain topic, and respect for the topic is also important. I want to deal with the particular issue that I opened the show with, so something that is easily verifiable one way or another is not tonight’s topic. If listeners of this show would like to make their statement, they can write letters to WEVD. and say exactly what they want to say. I don’t represent WEVD. I don’t think this is necessarily a good platform for it.
Caller: How do you do, Rabbi. Look, on the subject of LSD, I’m not religious—I’m Jewish, I’m not orthodox. If I wanted to be close to my Judaism I would think of going to a Reform synagogue. That’s my prerogative because it does mean something to me. I could see that giving me a high. But I’m a senior citizen. But LSD, those guys are whacked out, Rabbi, pardon the expression. I mean, who needs LSD in order to gain a spiritual experience? These guys are whacked out. I’m not religious, but if that’s the case to go on religion, I don’t want any part of it.
Jacobson: You haven’t heard that from me!
Caller: No, that I know. It was from these guys who were like whackos. All these religious experiences they were talking about. Who are they kidding? Hey, I’m past 65 and they’re trying to tell me that it’s different? I remember those hippie years and in those hippie years, those guys were nuts.
Jacobson: Gotcha. Thanks for the call, Mike. Let’s go to Ray.
Caller: Hi, Rabbi. I really enjoy your program. You give such an insight to myself and I’m sure a lot of other listeners. I was going to ask you off the air who your guest was last week about physics and the universe. It was very interesting.
As far as LSD is concerned, I never did that but I did find out about spirituality through writing, through personal journals and through talking with a lot of people who are religious and people who just think that the universe is out there for them and they think about G-d as well as religion.
Not only that, your program has given me some direction as to what G-d and spirituality is all about. But I think that LSD can open up your mind, but like one of your callers had mentioned, it was a chemical additive to the brain.
Now if you can do that time after time, you may think that you have a euphoric sense of the universe, when in reality, maybe you don’t. Maybe you’ve just altered your own body chemistry.
Jacobson: It’s almost like an artificial and false induction. Let’s go to Eric.
Caller: Hi. I disagree with the 65-year-old who just called. LSD I believe made me realize that religion was a complete waste of time but made me see real spirituality and that we’re all one people and so forth. I don’t understand why you just let that guy rant and say that all LSD people are whacko. How dare him?
Jacobson: Well, you can say that as well. You see that I didn’t silence you and I didn’t silence him. I may disagree with you as well but I think in a platform like this you want to be able to allow different people to speak and I’m trying to be fair across the board.
Let’s go to Barbara.
Caller: What I would do is tell that gentleman that I am very happy that you have come back to Judaism. I’m sorry that you did it the way you did, and I would never suggest that anyone take LSD to come back to Judaism, but the important thing is that you did that.
My own way of being more spiritual was through a book about reincarnation that advocated more Christian principles and I have to say this. I think the reason that a lot of people who are brought up at least semi-religious don’t stay with the religion because all they’re taught, as I was, was all the things that you’re not allowed to do on Saturday. I was never told about the ethics of Judaism, and that’s what interests me more than anything else. It’s such a wonderful religion. Anyway, that’s what I wanted to say.
Jacobson: I appreciate the call Barbara. Let’s go to Joe.
Caller: Hello. I’d like to say that I think that everybody should really try LSD before they pontificate about it.
Jacobson: Yes. But you heard Philip on my show here tried it and he gave a very elaborate and comprehensive overview of it. No one is disputing or arguing the fact that some things have a powerful effect on people, Joe. The question is the long-term effects, the question is alternatives, the question is where your psychological state is, the question is whether spirituality is a quick fix or something that needs to be worked on.
I see many times situations where if you can get something done in five minutes, you go for the five-minute approach rather than the discipline that may take 30-40 years. So no one is arguing with the power of it, the question really is its overall effect on the health of an individual.
Let me go back to my original thought on this. The question that was posed to me, which I spoke about at the beginning of the show, was that a spiritual high had brought this fellow back to Judaism through LSD and Far Eastern religions. To me that was just an example because LSD is not the issue here. The issue is the journey that we’re on and the road that brought us there.
So here’s what I answered him. I said, imagine somebody, G-d forbid, gets into an accident or falls into a comatose state and they’re like a vegetable. And everything the doctors try to do to intervene doesn’t work to revive the person.
Finally the doctor says, you know, let’s give him this injection of drugs that will maybe shake up his system to the point where he may wake up. Now you would never give any healthy person or even a conscious person that amount of drugs because it could kill him. But they decide they have nothing to lose. He’s going to atrophy; he’s vegetating. At a certain point, the body cannot live like that in a comatose state, so they try the drugs as a last resort, and it does wake him up.
Would anyone ever suggest that this is the way to wake people up if you have other options? No! It’s a last resort for someone in a comatose state. I believe that we live in a generation of spiritual “comotosity” because religion has been corrupted, both in the way it’s been taught to us by religious establishments, assimilation of all sorts and forms, the material world, the battle of science vs. religion, and the list goes on and on of every reason of how spirituality has become eroded in our lives.
People are desperate because they need transcendence, they need purpose and meaning, and they’ll find it one way or another. It’s no accident that so many young people are drawn to drugs because there’s a vacuum in their lives. It’s easy to wring our hands and say, look how terrible, look how terrible.
But there’s a vacuum and the vacuum is a search for deep meaning and passion. If you don’t find it in healthy ways you’ll find it in unhealthy ways. That’s how it is. The oil rises to the surface. When the soul is hungry it will get its day. If it’s taught in healthy ways it will be healthy. If not, it will be extremely unhealthy to the point of self-destruction. And that’s why drugs have such a powerful appeal, precisely because of the hunger. But that’s the root of it. The question is how to deal with it.
So I told this guy, I think you were in a spiritual coma. The religion taught to you was not presented in a way that spoke to your soul so you were hungry. And since there was a hunger, there was a vacuum and you went to fill it.
I will never judge you or in any way invalidate your hunger. Had I met you or had someone else met you and given you a healthier way to access your soul, that would have been the most positive approach. Why try drugs that are dangerous or have other side effects when there are healthy ways to wake you up?
But once you did it, I am the last person to invalidate an experience. What you need to do is realize that G-d saved your life. And maybe G-d did plant, in a very bizarre and strange way, a spark of power in this chemical called LSD or in whatever forms people have spiritual highs. Why did G-d put that there? Not because that’s the way to go, but because it could possibly be a last resort, and you don’t want the person to die of complete spiritual hunger. But that does not validate the experience. What it simply does is validate the soul’s search.
So when we look at our past, we have to be able to distinguish between how we filled the vacuum and the hunger itself. The hunger is always healthy. The fact is, as one of the callers intelligently said, it’s about education. It’s what your options are. Let’s say you’re looking to make money and the only way you see people making money is through theft. So there’s a vacuum, you need the money, but you have no other way, those are your tools.
That doesn’t justify it. You need to learn that there are other legitimate ways to make money, just as an example. Another example is searching for love. Often, when we don’t know how to achieve it in healthy ways, we find it in unhealthy ways. (A few weeks ago I did a show on “The Anatomy of Desire and Lust.”) It’s recognizing and distinguishing between the root of something and the object of how you go about getting it. The object is always built upon our limited subjective tools.
But the root is a very healthy one. So we have to look back at our lives and see that we are born as a healthy soul in a body. Then there are certain tools given to us and certain tools we may not have. So to look back at our pasts is really looking at the tools we used to see what experiences, what realizations we came to.
True teshuvah does not mean annihilating the past. It means recognizing and not judging or invalidating who you are and what you searched for. If it brought you somewhere, exactly as Liba said earlier, these are stepping stones, and stepping stones are always healthy.
The bottom line is this. From a Torah perspective, and this is something for another show entirely, drugs are unacceptable for an entirely different reason. For they are not the way one achieves pure spiritual integration.
There’s a discipline involved. The reason the Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, was not just taught easily, in quick classes or in ten-step programs, and the reason there were restrictions not to study it until age 40, because it’s the respect for its sanctity. It’s not because it’s off-limits, but because there’s a discipline.
Certain things are not taught to children. Why? Because they’re not ready for it yet. But human beings tend to gravitate to the sensationalistic, the exotic and quick ways of achieving a high. So I’m not minimizing or in any way trivializing or invalidating the spiritual experiences that can come through foreign substances, the question is, have you earned your way there? If someone takes you on an express train to another place, are you ready for it? Have you become a more refined human being? Is your marriage better for it? Are your children happier for it? Or is it perhaps a spiritually arrogant experience? Something that makes you feel better, more enlightened about yourself. But there’s a thing called spiritual arrogance.
When it comes down to it, the question is, what is our purpose and the disciplined way of achieving it? That’s the real question about spiritual experiences. There were four great men in the Talmud who went into the Garden (“garden” refers to a spiritually ecstatic experience) and had very high spiritual exposure. But only one, Rabbi Akiva, was able to come back and integrate it. Another one went mad. Another one became an apostate, and another one died. They burned out from the experience. And burning out doesn’t always mean literal death. It can mean psychological death, a certain resignation, a certain inability to cope, to come back to the ground.
Once you’ve seen certain things, the real question is, how do you come back to the ground? Once you’ve had spiritual highs, how do you come back? There’s much about this in Judaism and in the Torah.
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I want to thank all our callers and apologize to those calls that I could not take. You can call again next week or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website where the show will be transcribed and posted.
I’d love to hear your comments. This has been Simon Jacobson with Toward a Meaningful Life speaking about how to use your past and elevate it to a greater place. Everything in your life is a stepping stone