Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Find Your Purpose (through bullshit)

One of the best characters in A.J. Jacob's Year of Living Biblically is his wacky ex-uncle, "Guru Gil." I was very entertained hearing of all of Gil's antics as he went through his years of spiritual searching, only to end up as an Orthodox Jew in Jerusalem. (Though given his extreme personality as described in the book, I wasn't all that surprised.)

What was surprising was discovering that Guru Gil, or Reb Gutman, as he's known these days, has a blog. I've periodically checked in on it over the past year to look for interesting tidbits. This one caught my attention a while ago:
When Jewish parents give names to their newborn children, Hashem sends them a hint of prophecy. The name that they will choose has already been allocated to that child in Heaven, and now the parents are coaxed into picking that same name. This means that each of us have Heavenly-ordained names that reflect our mission on Earth. Our names explain and define our potential, our individual uniqueness, our hope.
Wait, so God brainwashes parents into picking names that have been divinely ordained? What about cases where they don't know, or pick one literally at random? I'm sorry, but I'm pretty sure it happens. Wait, I'm getting a divine coaxing message. What's that, Heaven? Got it. Gutman is not to be questioned. Ok, Gutman, parents have no free will and all Jewish babies' names are chosen by divine providence. Sounds great. So what's the next step towards using this to self-actualize myself, O mighty Guru?

Look carefully for the meaning of your Hebrew name to see if you are fulfilling your intended task. For instance, if your name is Avraham, your main defining characteristic is kindness. Even if you have not seen this to be true in your life up until now, you must ask yourself why were you given this name, and you must strive to develop this trait.
Names have individual histories and meanings. Pay attention to the meaning of your name, or you may very well miss the point of your having been created you.

This soul-name searching came to a halt pretty quickly as I have no Hebrew name. No one likes feeling left out, and I had been very intruiged by the idea of soul-name prophecy. Luckily, Reb Gutman wrote a follow-up:
 Beside your name, there are other places to look for hints. Look at the portion of the Torah that was read on the day, or week, that you were born. Read it carefully a few times, and you will start to see hints about yourself there. After all, nothing is by chance, and this is your Torah portion.
According to an online calendar I found, I was born on a Sunday. I didn't know if that meant I should look at the Torah portion for the Shabbat the day before, or the one for that week, since Sunday is the start of the new week. The calendar I used said that the previous Shabbat was something called "Shabbat Shekalim." Shabbat of Shekels sounded cool, so I decided to use that day as my starting point.

The regular portion was Mishpatim, or Exodus 21:1-24:18, which describes the giving of the commandments to Moses. I looked through it, but had some trouble applying it to my life. Chapter 21 is about all the ways you shouldn't abuse your slave and how to take care of your oxen, which, given that I am a poor teacher, is not likely to be an issue. Chapter 22 is a little racier, describing various "bloodguilts" for theft, how to make restitution for assorted crimes, and fun esoteric stuff like forbidding bestiality and witchcraft. Chapter  23 gets pretty exciting. You can't boil a kid in its mother's milk, you should observe the Sabbath and Passover, not oppress a stranger, and, of course, not worship the idols of all the nations God has destroyed on your behalf. Check. The parsha ends with various house-keeping stuff: Moses tells the people the law, gets the tablets, hangs out on the mountain, etc.

I checked out the portion for Shabbat Shekalim to see if that was any better. Unfortunately, no dice. It's all about paying money to God in exchange for not being wiped out while taking a census. Uh, okayyy....

I suppose if I was being a little more charitable I could have some ground-breaking epiphanies here. I could notice that there are lots of ritual mitzvot in Mishpatim that I don't follow, for instance, or that I should "render unto God what is God's," as in Shabbat Shekalim. But at the end of the day, I just think it's kind of silly. (Not oppressing the stranger sounds good, though.)

Does the good Gutman have any other suggestions?
Add up the gematria (Hebrew numerical equivalents) of your name and add in your mother’s name. Then add your name to your father’s name. Now look in the gematria book for all of the words in the Torah that share your gematria. For some reason, these words share the same numerical value as your name.
Let's back up. You just told me to look my name up in the gematria book to find the words that have the same numerical value as my name. Now I'm supposed to be impressed by the "magic coincidence" that they have the same value? Is the special reason supposed to be "that's how the alphabet works?" Again, can't really do this since I don't have a Hebrew name.
G-d gave us the exact tools that we need in order to do the job that He sent us here to do. We say that G-d sent us, but in truth, our own prior deeds in our previous lifetime set up the waves of creation that caused us to come into this world as we are.
I guess the up-side of this cosmological view is that it implies there's a Divine Will behind me not having a Hebrew name or being Hebrew literate. Take that, Jewish guilt!

Look at the things that you are very good at, the things that you find yourself doing more than others around you, or possibly the things that most people like to do but you alone do not. Your uniqueness shows you the tools that you came into the world to use.
     Now take your specific skills, coordinate them with your overall mission, and apply them happily in your life. Your overall mission is determined by your obvious birthright. Are you a Jew? A Kohen? A Levi? Were you born into a family that enjoys special privileges?
Let's see, is mental illness a privilege? What about food allergies? Flat feet? Wait, I've got it... awesome facial hair. Done.

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Sigh. Another let down from someone claiming to have a magic system to unlock the secrets of the universe in general and my cosmic destiny in particular. Looks I'll just have to muddy through on my own. Again.

Let me know if you come up with anything else to figure out my destiny, Reb Gutman.

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