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I'm Starvin'!  What's Spiritual About  That??

09/28/2022 01:14:43 PM


Rabbi Moshe Rudin

The Voice of the Belly and the Still Small Voice: A Preparation for Yom Kippur

In every book, movie, comic or even spoof about a spiritual quest, the seeker after truth is at first confused by their encounter with the master.  I'm dating myself here but one of the most iconic spiritual master/seeker disconnects was when aspiring Jedi Luke Skywalker meets the great Jedi Master Yoda.  

In those days before computer generated images, the alien Zen master was created by non other than Jim Henson and Frank Oz, the same guys who made Cookie Monster, Miss Piggy, Kermit the Frog and Big Bird.  Yes, Yoda is a muppet.  

Which I guess is the point of all of those unlikely teachers.  Despite being first cousin to Bert and Ernie, Yoda proves to be a very good teacher and soon young Luke is flying around and levitating objects, including Yoda himself, like nobody's business.  

True wisdom it seems, comes from the most unlikely places.  Maybe the origin point for all the pop culture is in the Tanach, the Hebrew Bible.  There, Elijah the Prophet visits Mount Sinai seeking G-d.  Hiding in a cave on the rocky slopes, he beholds an incredible display: thunder and lightning splitting mountains, flames and a terrifying earthquake.  Surely he's about to have a powerful encounter with G-d.  But nothing.  After all the meteorological and geological upheaval, silence. 

Then, without warning or fanfare comes a Still, Small Voice not from the Mountain or the desert peaks.  Instead, the Voice comes from within the Prophet himself.  "What are you doing here, Elijah?"  And then Elijah, who has looked out at all the fury of nature passively, is frightened at last.  He covers his face with his cloak and falls to the ground in worship.  I have been zealous for Adonai- but I am the only one left...

We are taught to listen to our heart and that seems to be what Elijah is doing.  But on Yom Kippur, we hear from another inner source.  Our stomachs.  At first, we kind of shrug it off.  After all, we occasionally go without eating for a bit.  Maybe we're on a long drive, or preparing for a blood test, or just super busy.  No big deal, right?

But over time, our mouths dry out and then there's that gnawing feeling.  And that's just when we're supposed to be most focused on repentance: regret, confession and determination to not repeat negative acts.  How are we supposed to do make changes, reflect and atone when we keep on thinking about pizza?  Or worse, chick-fil-a!  

Because our bellies are our teachers.  To think that simply going for a day without food or drink has the power to hijack our thinking is pretty huge.  Our physicality is not who we are but it is the source of our energy and like an annoying beeping alarm that wakes you up or distracts you from a great conversation, it has the power to drag us down from the heights to attend to needs.

On Yom Kippur and Rosh HaShana we might make resolutions.  But they have about the same success rate as new year's resolutions.  Even when we make spiritual resolutions: to be more patient, more kind, better listeners, more giving- intention's ability to override the call of the belly is less than we like to think.

Because the call of the belly is also the call of our entire lower nature; being hungry and being angry gives us being "hangry".  All of the fight or flight emotions- anger, impatience, scorn- they are all part of that lower nature.  On Yom Kippur we come up against that voice that seeks to pull us down and into ourselves in the most direct way possible.   And if we can during the day of Yom Kippur manage to choose to tell that lower self: you're not the boss of me, then we have just discovered the way to hear the Still Small Voice which has been speaking all along, drowned out by our need to listen instead to our neediness.  

By all means, make resolutions.  By all means, reflect on faults and hurtful behavior and mistakes and try to deeply regret, confess and make a determination to do better.  But above all else, strive today to discern and identify the voice of the belly in all of its disguises and pretenses.  While some call it the Yetzer HaRah, the Evil Inclination, it is also a teacher about our vulnerabilities and needs.  But it is not who we truly are.  If we can learn to identify when that's the voice we think is really us and learn to respond to it mindfully, when to choose to listen and when to transcend and choose differently then we will have achieved something.

We will have taken a step toward being free and toward becoming the compassionate, engaged, kind beings who we truly are. 

G'mar Chatima Tova!

Sat, May 25 2024 17 Iyyar 5784