I think it’s an epidemic of dissatisfaction, disconnection, confusion, loneliness, emptiness, lack of fulfillment. I see it all the time. I have a divorce and family law practice in Atlanta, Georgia. Every day in my practice, I see the kind of unhappiness and brokenness that comes out of bad relationships. And frankly, I see the bad relationships that come out of unhappiness and brokenness.
That’s part of the reason I went to become a counseling psychologist, and a rabbi, in addition to being a lawyer – because there’s just so much I can do for people as a lawyer alone. In my mind, being a lawyer is a lot like being a surgeon. A surgeon can take out your tonsils, but isn’t really the person to tell you why you keep getting infections, or how to have a really healthy life afterwards. That’s somebody else’s job. To me, it’s the same thing with being a lawyer. I can get somebody a divorce, but I’m not really there to counsel them on how to make their life happy and meaningful. That’s the job of the other parts of me, the psychologist and the rabbi. I think the part of me that makes the most positive difference for people is the psycho-spiritual coach I am when I step into my role as the Radical Rabbi. That’s what I call the combo you get when you cross the lawyer with the psychologist and the rabbi. But among those separate roles, The Rabbi is the part of me that I like best. That said, I definitely like to approach that Rabbi roll with the eyes of a lawyer, and a psychologist.
When people come to see me at the law firm, they’re looking for me to be a lawyer. They want me to be a warrior for them. But so often, when I hear their story, I think, “Wow, they really need the Radical Rabbi.”
Here’s why I say that. So often, The big events of our lives, the events that knock us down or knock us back are meant to be stopping places on our life journeys. And we’re meant to dwell for a time in those stopping places long enough to regroup, process, heal, mine for wisdom, even just to develop our resilience, or regain our resilience. We were meant to take time in those places to recharge. And we need to use that time to get the impetus for the next leg of our journey. And that’s where people are When they are on the verge of a divorce.
Divorce is just one stopping place, or what I’ll call a journey shifter. When you’re at one of those stopping places, you really benefit from a coach to help you delve into the experience. So you can get what you need there and prepare for the next leg of your journey. Otherwise…Oops! Stuckness! Can’t move on! Or you do the same
dumb thing again, or you go way off course.
One of my favorite, favorite quotes comes from Gracie Allen, of Burns & Allan fame. She said, “Never put a period where God put a comma.” I just love that. Because we all have the tendency to think that major life events, especially failures or events we think of as failures, pin us to a permanent place on our life map. We do it with all kinds of things: with careers, with relationships, with accidents or rejections. You think, “I’m done with that!” and you put a period there. You relationship breaks up and you think, “I’m giving up on ever having a good relationship.” You get fired, and you think, “my career is over.” These become stopping paces where you can get stuck. You put a period in your story instead of a comma. What if you said, “What’s the invitation for me in this? What can I gain from this?” But that’s really hard to do when you’re stuck in it. That’s why you need a coach on the journey. You need guidance.
The first and best guide for all of that is the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, or what I as a rabbi call “the Torah.” I want to put this out there: The Torah is probably the most read and most neglected writing ever. People think of it as a history book, or a book of laws only. But actually, it is the best psycho-spiritual guide and archetype compendium around. It’s an amazing document.
More than 70% of the Torah is the story of the great Exodus. That’s when the Israelites were delivered from slavery in Egypt, and journeyed with their inspired Life Coach, Moses, to the Promised Land. On that epic journey, they made 42 stops. The mystical rabbis starting with the Baal Shem Tov, teach that those 42 stops represent the 42 psycho-spiritual journeys of the human soul. That’s pretty cool, right? All of those journeys are about process – the process that we all go through to liberate ourselves, to find self-empowerment, to transcend our limitations to break out of our constraints, and journey to our ultimate best selves, hopefully. And it’s also about dealing with what we encounter throughout that journey. But to really unlock and decode the mysteries, in those stories, to really pull the wisdom out and unpack the divine guidance, you need to know the ancient language very, very well. And you need to understand the ancient symbolism. No translation will do. And that’s where I come in as a teacher. I’ve spent more than a few decades studying that and bringing that wisdom out in a way that we can use. I created programs based on some of the stories, because the same issues come up for so many of my clients, students, and friends.
I’m also a teacher who’s experienced this kind of journeying in my life. I helped myself with the same advice I dole out.
So, before I even go on, I want to tell you some of the journey legs and stopping places on my life journey.
First stop birth. I think we can almost all relate to that. I was born into the 1950s traditional Jewish World In that world. Girls did not become rabbis. Well, they didn’t become lawyers or psychologists either. But they certainly didn’t become rabbis. So Who would have ever guessed that my life would turn out like this?
When I was five years old, we moved to a little Alpine village in Austria, a place called Mutters bei Innsbruck, where I went to a village Catholic school. Now, this was not very long after the end of World War Two. And I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone that I was Jewish. Well, it didn’t take long for the priests to figure it out. Another stop.
I live through Woodstock, the student sit-ins and riots of the 60’s and the Vietnam War era. Stop.
I served as an X Ray technician in Israel right behind enemy lines during The 1973 Yom Kippur War. I saw unimaginable things: heroics and altruism and horror, and terror. 32 funerals in two months, Stop.
I divorced. And I went through very ugly divorce, Another stop.
I became a mother several times over and a grandmother several times over – cherished, joyous stops.
I went to a night law school while working two jobs in the day to get by. I graduated magna cum laude and passed the bar.
I lost a child.
I built a successful law firm. And then my law partner was convicted of one of the most heinous murders in Atlanta, Georgia history. I was left having to steer our firm clear of all of that. And I did. Sure felt like a permanent stop. Afterwards, I had what some would call a “nervous breakdown,” and others called a “major depressive episode, complex” and I called an “existential crisis.” Major stop.
I studied spiritual direction and contemplative Judaism. Through transformative spiritual practice and having been blessed with great teachers and a major dose of grace, I was able to turn the events of life that brought me down into wisdom teachers that would help me help others. I was gifted by those events with empathy, courage, and wisdom that can only come from experience. You know – that kind of wisdom that you get when you’ve been there. Above all, I think I was gifted with faith in the Divine Spirit and in the human spirit.
At some point, I accepted that I really have a calling. And my calling is to be a teacher of the brave soul – the Brave Soul – that part of every human soul that chose life, and the Questing Soul, questing for meaningful connection with the divine And with others. And that led me to rabbinical school, and a religious Christian School in Atlanta, Georgia, to learn professional counseling psychology, and psycho spiritual, spiritual direction.
During my professional training, I temporarily dwelled as an intern in a mental hospital.
And as a chaplain, too.
For a time, I was called to live on the land and explore the holiness of being a steward of the land. So I had to stop for a little while as a rancher.
Eventually, I came back to family law. So I circled the mountain, as it were. And now, again, I’m moving on with my journey as I put myself out there as the Radical Rabbi. This time, I’m inviting you to come with me and let me journey with you.
My journey has some pretty dramatic stops, and your journey may as well. But so are the 42 journeys that the Israelites and the men and women and families in the sacred stories encountered. Those journeys are templates, algorithms, patterns, rhythms of our lives.
Which brings me to another major theme of the podcast and of my teachings: about the characters themselves. The characters that we encounter in the sacred stories, so many of them are archetypes. They represent parts of each and every one of us. They are hardwired into our psycho-spiritual DNA. And I firmly believe that’s part of why the Torah is loved and accepted by people across every single demographic, because it speaks to us, all of us. The stories give us a chance to watch these characters in action. And we can wrestle with the decisions that they make. The process helps us get inside our own decisions. And sometimes, it lets us sit back and laugh at ourselves. Many of those characters are transformed through divine encounter just as many of us are transformed through divine encounter.
Each week, I plan to bring you another episode of the Radical Rabbi podcast. I hope you’ll tune in. During the episodes I’ll share some of my story and teachings. But I also want to bring guests on to the show. Some will be experts in the psycho-spiritual journey. Some can help us analyze the behavior and decisions that our biblical friends made. Some may be fellow travelers with their own inspiring stories to share. Whoever they are, they’ll be coming on board to help us understand our own journeys better. The goal here, remember, is to help each and every one of you get to your own Promised Land. So if you’re curious about your own life journey, if you want insight, if you want guidance, or coaching to get to your best life, if you need empowerment and inspiration, I invite you to listen in every week, week in and week out without fail. This might just be what you need. I hope so. I also want to invite you to jump in as we develop resources on this website.
I invite you to contact me in the form with your questions, suggestions and stories. I would love to hear from you. Well, that’s it for now. I’m putting a comma in our timeline together.
Until next time I offer you this radical Rabbi blessing: May you and yours have joyful, meaningful journeying and beautiful Now. May it be so!