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Taking My Blessings Where I Can Get Them

by Dr David, Editor / Publisher

Up north I followed a mystical sect of Judaism, Chabad, whose teachings exercise and expand your mind, making delightful connections. The study of kabbalah is kabbalah.

Two or three years ago Chabad came to San Miguel in the lovely persons of Rabbi Daniel and his wife Raezel. There are yet no regular Saturday services, but now and then on Friday nights I go to Shabbos dinner at their house, Chabad House, and I can be counted upon to help make the prayer quorum of ten whenever one seems likely to be had.

The rabbi, who with his family, is out of town for a while, messaged me to let me know that a couple of rabbinical students would be staying in his house and that he would have them contact me. Yesterday they did and I invited myself over.

CHaBaD is a Hebrew acronym (CHochma, Bina and Daas) for the three functions of intelligence: wisdom, understanding and knowledge. These functions are hierarchical. You can know something without, understanding its full import. And you can understand something without grasping the transcendental wisdom associated with it.

But this hierarchy can also be inverted. There are geniuses who do not understand how to get along in the world, how to apply their wisdom. And if you cannot communicate your understanding into basic ideas, knowledge or data that others can grasp, then you are missing something important.

In Spanish upside-down; is boca abajo, "mouth below."" It is this inversion of the hierarchy, this turning things boca abajo that allows for radically new psychological and existential perspectives.

King Solomon, they say, was the wisest of men, because he was comfortable right side up and upside down. He had great wisdom and he could explain things. It is said that he could bring an idea down 3000 levels and still maintain a thread connecting it with its source.

Two months ago, largely due to a lack of funds (largely due to the virus lockdown), I decided to turn things upside-down, scaling back our full bore progress on my Lokkal project in favor of a more modest development schedule. We would put the iPhone app and the map function on hold and perfect what we already have in preparation for a launch and a Go Fund Me campaign.

Yesterday, I realized that we were almost ready; the many programming bugs were almost all ironed out and I had come up with an attractive way to explain the lofty, broad and innovative project.

No Solomon, early afternoon, when I messaged the future rabbis, found me engaged in bringing down Lokkal's grand concept onto a web page. Some time later I received a phone call from a mystically inclined friend with whom I could discuss (not for the first time) the world-transforming aspects of Lokkal. By six o'clock, the time set for my visit to the future rabbis, elated by my progress in manifesting and explaining Lokkal, I pause my writing labors. The sky was overcast and threatening rain. Undaunted, my spirits were much too high to worry about getting wet, I packed a rain jacket, put my kipah (skull cap) in my pocket and rolled my bike out through the front door only to discover that it had a flat tire. The air pump wasn't where it normally lives, but I found it in my car and inflated the tire.

Unflustered by the momentary disappearance of the pump, ecstatic at the productivity and the overall mood of the day, happy to be exchanging the confinement of the keyboard for the freedom of my bicycle, I rolled down to where my little dead end meets 20 de enero. There, while I waited for a car to pass, a little old lady stopped and backed up two steps with arm extended and palm upturned asking for alms. Still seated on my bici I reached into my pocket. Finding no coins, I confirmed that the blue bill I had extracted was a 20 pesos and not a 500 peso note and gave it to her.

She responded with, "Gracias." Unsatisfied with that, I retorted "Dame una bendición" (Give me a blessing). That lit her up. Most animatedly she stepped up close to me, started muttering blessings and crossing first my head and then several times my body. A good Jewish boy on my way to visit the rabbinical students, I was for a moment taken aback. But, when in Mexico...

Shortly later, the way is mostly downhill, three-quarters of the way to the rabbi's house, I turned a corner and noticed two anglo women walking up the sidewalk I would normally be riding down. A bottle-blond, in her early forties was in the lead. Her friend, a step or two behind, four or five years younger, was wearing a sleeveless tube top, which struck me because it was too slight for the cool air temperature. They must have been coming back from a day on the town. As I passed close by, bumping along the cobbles, she behind looked up into my eyes and flashed me a million dollar smile. Moments later, having gained the long sidewalk in front of the San Juan de Dios Church, I acknowledge aloud, "Well, that was another blessing."

The irony of it all was not lost on me, aware as I am that ogling beautiful women is just as incongruent as receiving the blessing of the cross when going to visit the rabbis, but such are the paradoxes of my existence.

A few minutes and a few hundred cobblestones later I rang the doorbell of the Chabad House. The young men ushered me in. Before we were settled, I asked to put on tephillin, the black leather boxes containing sacred writing that Jewish men are enjoined to put on each day:

"These words I am commanding you today... You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes."

Menachem brought out his set and I put them on. Chabad is concerned with making Jews more observant. These young men go out each day looking for Jews to put tephillin on them and otherwise bring them in. I was getting off on the right foot, taking care of business. When in synagogue...

I stayed for a couple of hours. The conversation ranged from people we knew in common, to Stephen Hawking's wrestling with God, to the religious fervor associated with Woke politics, to the shyness of secular Jews to explore religious Judaism: they'll go to a Swahili religious ceremony, but they won't come to shul (synagogue).

During our talk the theme of how things that seem bad turn out to be good came up. I didn't mention it then, but it is very curious to me even now, how it was that if I hadn't been delayed in leaving my house by the flat tire and then by the exact amount of time it took me to find the misplaced pump, I wouldn't have gotten blessing from either the old woman or the young one.

During our talk together I introduced many secular subjects, but always with a religious, a Torah, connection. One of the young men reacted with great interest to these glimpses into the world at large. But these rabbinical students have their lives planned out. Barring an act of God, they know where they will be, or at least what life situation they will be in 5, 10 and 25 years from now. On one hand, in that there is a lack of adventure. But on the other hand there is stability and rootedness.

Say what you will, but, despite their unhealthy, fatty diets, their lack of exercise and their frequent use of cigarettes, the ultra-orthodox in Israel and elsewhere live longer than their secular peers. This longevity is attributed to their supportive society, to their belonging, that there is a safety net when things go wrong, people to turn to. Certainly it is also due to their faith, their sense of cosmic order.

We could have spoken all night, but supposing that they needed to eat dinner and knowing that I had my work to get back to, I made my goodbyes, explaining that, on my bicycle, I wanted to get home before it got dark.

The Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn, advises his students to use as a mantra the phrase, "I have arrived." The Jewish Sabbath has the same message of completion. The six days of creation are done. Now rest and enjoy the perfection. Lokkal is not done, but, after years of work, it is rapidly approaching a stage of completion where I (and you) can admire and enjoy the fruit of my labor.

My life has had its adventure and still does. But it has been short on the sense of completion and rest. Still, now I can see and feel the blessings being given me in the street. I admire the comfortable hours I spend talking practical spirituality with the rabbis. I am ecstatic that there is a chance that the internet platform I've created, my Lokkal, might change the world. My life is a very mixed bag. It might be faint praise, but from where I started, I'm doing ok. I just keep telling myself, "I have arrived."


Dr David and his merry band believe that the new expanded Lokkal will change the world, city by city.

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