Reviews for Open Secrets:
From Nondual Highlights
#2179 - Tuesday, June 21,
2005 - Editor: Jerry Katz
Open Secrets is a collection of
letters by Rami M. Shapiro to his son, Aaron Hershel.
Shapiro has turned the writings into decades-old hand-written letters
from the fictional Reb Yerachmiel ben Yisrael to Shapiro's fictional
great-grandfather, Aaron Hershel. The twist in time, place, and
participants gives the book a timelessness, a striking Judaic modernity,
and human interest when we realize these letters would not have
been typed or sent by e-mail. It was the old days. You had to find
paper, ink, a nib for your pen, an envelope, you had to walk a mile for
a stamp and a mail box, then you waited a month for the letter to arrive
and another month for a response. I call it oy-mail.
In the selection below, Shapiro talks about
Judaism as being the inseparable qualities of tikkun (right action)
and teshuvah (right attention). This is basic nondual Judaism.
Spirituality & Health: The Soul/Body Connection,
by Frederic and
Mary Ann Brussat
"Rami Shapiro has been a
creative explorer within Judaism for years. But a while back, he
experienced a period of dryness and desolation. He went to his spiritual
mentor, Reb Zalman Schachter Shalomi for counsel. The response was not
what he expected. He was told: "You have completed your work among the
Jewish people. Whatever you had to say to them has been said. The reason
you are feeling lifeless is that you are repeating yourself. Your present
world is an echo of your past. It is time to move on…I am suggesting that
you offer a Judaism for people who wish to learn from it as they do from
Buddhism or Sufism. I am telling you to create a Judaism for everyone, not
just the Jews."
Shapiro took his advice and came up with this soul-stretching work in
which Reb Yerachmiel ben Yisrael, a fictional elderly Hasidic master from
Eastern Europe, responds to the author's great grandfather, Aaron Heschel,
who has many questions about Judaism, God, creation, humanity, evil,
Torah, Shabbat and the Holy Days, intermarriage, soul, spirituality,
prayer, dreams, finding a teacher, and much more. These letters, which
have emerged from the Shapiro's imagination, as a whole make a fascinating
and edifying presentation that consistently opens our hearts and minds to
the tremendous spiritual riches of Judaism for all people.
"Repairing the world by bringing our attention to each moment and engaging
that moment in a godly manner" is at the hub of Reb Yerachmiel ben
Yisrael's vision of Judaism. It's all about the practices of tikkun and
teshuvah. For this sage, evil is not the opposite of God but a
manifestation of God. We experience it as the universal experiences of
accident, sickness, old age, and death. And we bring it about when our ego
divides the world and brings on separation, hatred, and fear. What is the
antidote to evil? "Tilling the soil of self and selfishness; letting in
the breath of life that awakens the self to its true nature as a being
created in the image and likeness of God whose purpose is to serve life
through love. Unless and until the self is broken open before the Greater
Unity of God there is no hope for real compassion, justice or love." Now
there is something that mystical Christians and Muslims could agree to and
put into practice.
One of the most helpful and healing passages in this paperback is Reb
Yerachmiel ben Yisrael's understanding of the Torah, which he calls the
Jewish people's diary of its early encounters with God. The following
letter helps us put into proper perspective some the dark passages in the
Scriptures that have disturbed us for years:
"Torah is not from God, but from human beings. It contains divine wisdom,
but also human folly. The wisdom is the voice of God's love, and speaks
for the principle of l/chayyim. The folly is the voice of human fear, and
speaks for the principle of death, violence, division, exploitation, and
the rest of the madness that we humans can inflict upon one another.
So, for example, when Torah says we are not to take advantage of the
powerless — the widow, the orphan, the stranger, the blind — it is
speaking from love of life; this is divine revelation. But when it
commands us to murder the Amalekites, then it speaks from fear and is no
longer a revelation. . . .
Please do not imagine that I am suggesting you ignore the ego's Torah, the
Torah that speaks from fear. This would be a terrible error. All of Torah
is to be studied, but for different reasons. Study the Torah of Love to
learn how to act. Study the Torah of Fear to learn how not to act. Both
Torahs speak to you because both love and fear are part of you. Honor the
first by imitating it. Honor the second by recognizing it in yourself and
then controlling it.
Why study the Torah? Study Torah because it mirrors the whole spectrum of
human truth and behavior from the most sacred to the most sinister. Study
Torah because you can see in the violence of our ancestors the evil of
which you yourself are capable. Study Torah because you can see in the
saintliness of our ancestors the spiritual heights to which you can
aspire. Study Torah because you can see in the sorrow and repentance of
our ancestors the way to correct error by living justly and with
Be sure to read carefully the sections in this book on religion. Shapiro
presents a sturdy interfaith perspective and rightly puts the accent not
on belief or the forms of religion but on spiritual practice:
"Things are very different when we look at the wisdom teachings of the
different religions. For example, Torah says that peace comes to those who
are just, kind, generous and honest; who rest on the Sabbath, and curb
their desires by keeping kashrut and giving tzedakah. This is not a matter
of faith. This is a claim that can be tested. Live the way of Torah and
see if the claim is true.
"Christians say the same about taking Jesus into your heart. Moslems speak
similarly about adhering to the teachings of the Prophet. Test them and
see. Not that you have to enter into every religion personally. Look to
its followers. If they are kind and loving, their claims that their faith
makes them so are true. If they are violent and fearful, the claim that
their God brings love is obviously false."
Open Secrets beautifully fulfills the challenge offered by Reb Zalman's
charge to Shapiro — to share with the wider world soul-stretching riches
of Judaism -- its keen insights into human nature, wonderful rituals, and
diverse spiritual practices."
Curled Up With A Good Book,
Barbara Bamberger Scott
author of this book is a poet, essayist and seeker, whose yearnings to
reach beyond the confines of his religion and distill its teaching for the
guidance of others has produced this charming work.
Reb Yerachmiel ben
Yisrael speaks for Shapiro as a kind of evangelical alter-ego, a fictional
character brought into being so that the author could say what he wanted
to say, first to his son, after his Bar Mitzvah, and then to a broader
audience. The fictional Reb makes himself real to the reader – “Maybe I am
beginning to ramble in my old age,” he tells his epistolary friend.
The teachings are neither new nor radical. They are both opinion and holy
writ. They are, as a Christian might say, sermons. But they are grounded
to bedrock in the Jewish faith. He expresses his views on everything from
Zionism - “If our Zionist brothers and sisters hope to build a homeland
that is without…messianic vision and light, then I would say it is not
enough” - to the difference between Christianity and Judaism - “Jews do
not see the eating of the fruit of knowledge of good and evil as the fall
of humankind, but as its first step toward fulfilling its destiny.” And of
his own religion, “I am bored by labels. I owe allegiance only to God,
Torah and Israel.”
“…Each choice builds upon those that preceded it. No choice happens in
completely free space…we are not free to be anyone we wish. We are free to
be only who we are…this pattern is our destiny. At first we may create it.
In the end it creates us.”
If you are unfamiliar with the esoterica of Judaism, you may find this
guidebook to faith somewhat daunting, though the author has kindly
included a glossary of Hebrew words relevant to the text. You can,
however, read it as pure philosophy and appreciate the insights of the Reb,
as I did, without worrying over the “myths” as the author would call them.
No matter what your religion, this book will speak to your spirituality if
you learn, as the Reb advises, to listen."
"A slender volume
of "letters" from a fictional 19-century Hasidic master to a questioning
student who's moved to America. Originally written by Rabbi Shapiro as a
Bar Mitzvah gift to his son, the letters are pithy and colloquial:
("There, I said it. So? Flog me.")"
discussion of weighty religious issues is Open Secrets: The Letters of
Reb Yerachmiel ben Yisrael, written as a series of letters from a
fictional Hasidic master to a student who has moved to America. A leading
voice in contemporary Judaism, Rabbi Rami Shapiro weighs in on the nature
of reality, why God created the world, returning the mind to the present,
and other topics not usually associated with the Jewish faith. "The past
and the future are beyond our reach," teaches the Rabbi. "If you repair
your world and your soul you must do so by entering fully into the present
moment." Shapiro seeks to offer a Judaism for people who wish to learn
from it as they do from Buddhism or Sufism: "a Judaism for everyone, not
just the Jews."
Press, October/November 2004, by
"You ask me of
God: to define the Nameless, to place in your palm the ultimate secret. Do
not imagine that this is hidden somewhere far from you. The ultimate
secret is the most open one. Here it is: God is All. . . . What we truly
are is God manifest in time and eternity. Know this, live well, and be
This moving volume consists of a fictional collection of letters from a
19th-century Eastern European rabbi, a composite of several genuine
hasidic rabbis. They address such subjects as God, death, the soul, good
deeds, and whether all religions are true. About duality, one letter says:
Some would argue that God is a divine spark inside each being. Others
would argue that God is above and outside Creation. I teach neither
position. God is not inside or outside. God is the very thing itself! And
when there is no thing, but only empty space? God is that as well.
Picture a bowl in your mind. Define the bowl. Is it just the clay that
forms its walls? Or is it the empty space that fills with soup? Without
the space, the bowl is useless. Without the walls, the bowl is useless. So
which is the bowl? The answer is both. To be a bowl, it must have both
being (the walls) and emptiness (the space).
It is the same with God. For God to be God, for God to be all, God must
manifest as being (Yesh) and emptiness (Ayin).
Yesh is the manifestation of God that appears to us as separate entities
-- physical, spiritual, and psychological. Ayin is the manifestation of
God that reveals all separation to be illusory: everything is simply God
in differing forms. God is All, there is nothing else (ain od).
These letters beautifully express the meditative teachings of the Hasidic
philosophy, particularly that of avodah be-bittul (the annihilation of all
separate existence), in a way that is relevant to all peoples.