FROM PORK RIBS TO PARADISE
by Ariella Bracha Waldinger
On December 24th, 2012, my husband and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary in the Holy City of Tzfat, Israel. Our wedding was anything BUT your TYPICAL Jewish wedding. In fact, from the perspective of a religious Jewish life, the circumstances of our meeting, wedding and married life was completely “OFF THE DERECK”.
My husband and I met quite “by accident” on a Friday night at a hotel that showcased jazz music. It was not a place I frequented, but my twin sister and I decided to go this particular night. My husband-to-be was on his way to his favorite Chinese restaurant to get PORK RIBS, one of his favorite foods. He decided to stop off to listen to jazz for a bit before proceeding to the restaurant. It wasn’t a place he frequented either, but the idea came to him. We met in a very humorous way and began dating. We had both been married before, so we were cautious at first, but after 10 months of dating, we felt the pull of destiny to wed.
We chose to get married during our planned vacation in Montego Bay, Jamaica. I wore a gorgeous white wedding gown with a beautiful, picture perfect, wide brimmed hat and he, handsome in his black Tux with a brilliant red bowtie and a diamond stud in his ear, stood on a hill overlooking the sparkling azure blue Caribbean Sea. It was truly like something out of a movie. We were married by a Jamaican justice of the peace. After the brief ceremony, my husband, (my hero) picked me up and carried me into the ocean. With water swirling around our feet, we looked out into the vibrant expanse of the glorious, brilliant, blue ocean waves. We felt mesmerized as the water drew us into its power, majesty and vastness. We stayed there awhile, as if in a spell, captivated both by its beauty and the love that enveloped us. Looking back, I believe the water symbolized a future forecast of a new world of Torah that would, in the not so distant future, draw us into ITS power, majesty and vastness. It would beckon to us with its truth, nourishment and wisdom.
My husband and I were both immersed in the American mindset of eat, drink and be merry and we lived well. We enjoyed theater, symphony, art, travel, great food especially PORK RIBS, barbecued and slowly savored…finger lickin’ good you could say. The allure of personal gratification (represented by the pork) was ever present in our lives. The meaning and purpose of life as a Jew was the farthest thing from our minds. This is not to mean that we were without values, but the core values of Jewish life were absent.
The pig/pork is a perfect analogy for the lifestyle in which we had immersed ourselves. To” pork out” is to eat ravenously, gorge oneself or become fat. Pig is a derogatory term used towards people who overeat or stuff themselves. Domesticated pigs feed continuously and then sleep for many hours. A pig loves to wallow in the mud. A pig cannot raise its head upward to look at the sky.
We were gorging ourselves on worldly pleasures, wallowing in the mud of self absorption, over eating, over spending, over doing. As a result of our “pigging out,”we couldn’t lift our heads up to see the sky (representing G-d and His world). Our spiritual senses had been dulled by the steady demands of the animal soul. We had become enslaved to the “GOOD LIFE”. We were feeding our senses at the expense of our soul and creating a spiritual health hazard.
The bible identifies a kosher animal as one that has split hooves and chews its cud. A pig symbolizes hypocrisy, as it extends its feet to exhibit (kosher) split hooves while concealing its treif character….it does not chew its cud. The pig appears in the Bible as a powerful symbol when nations want to dishonor the G-d of the Jewish nation.
In the Chanukah story for example, Antiochus sacrificed a pig on The Holy Altar of the Temple and then proceeded to pour its cooked broth over the holy texts of the Jews. He then commanded the high priest and the Jews to eat the flesh of the pig, representing a blatant disregard for Jewish beliefs and values.
The dietary laws of kashrut are fundamental to the Jewish religion because they are a reminder to us of our constant devotion to G-d. Keeping kosher transforms the mundane act of eating into something holy. The Greeks (during the Chanukah miracle) were attempting to sever that bond by forcing the unclean, non kosher flesh of the pig upon the holy nation. The Greeks understood very clearly that eating kosher meat was extremely important to the Jews as a spiritual practice, because it heightens our spiritual connection and keeps us committed to our Tradition. Since my husband and I had not been educated with religious, Jewish values, kashrut had no relevance or meaning in our lives.
The epic journey of our escape from the clutches of gluttonous consumerism and self absorption (PORK RIBS) to the FREEDOM of PARADISE began with a sudden spark of a spiritual awakening that appeared like a shooting star in the dark of the night. From a seemingly meaningless, simple conversation about G-d and Judaism, we unexpectedly discovered that something significant was missing from our lives. This “simple” discussion was like an opening, the size of a needle, into our spiritual sanctuary, allowing us to see for the first time how diminished we had become by the self-centered lifestyle we were living. We felt a hunger for something other than PORK RIBS.
We came to understand that when one’s mind becomes filled with thoughts of money, ambition, competition, titles and acquisitions, there is little room left for wisdom. Truly, the desire for material gain and acquiring stuff is a source of inner sadness because the more you have, the more you feel you need and this sense of lack causes real pain. The ego equates being with having. Many people appear to be condemned to a life of chasing after things in the vain hope of finding their self-worth and sense of self .This desire for acquisition is in its essence an inner cry from the soul to find itself and actualize the gifts inherent within it, but the cry is often muted. My husband and I allowed ourselves to hear the cry and we responded to it.
Now that we were awake from our spiritual slumber, we decided to attend a synagogue/shul and from that experience began a study course to learn about our Jewish heritage and traditions. We pursued the learning of Torah like a spirited bird returning home to its nest. As we began to taste the savory wisdom of Torah, we instinctively began to be repelled by the after taste of our past choices and behaviors. As the richness of The Torah began to permeate our soul, our taste buds awakened to a hunger for a Kosher life. As we tasted and delighted in the beauty and deep wisdom of the Torah, we began the process of refining and defining ourselves in order to actualize our true potential. Operating from a place of greater wholeness, we knew without any doubts that The Torah path was the way to experiencing a fulfilling and purposeful life.
The shift from “Pork Ribs to Paradise” was a shift from slavery to freedom. Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, chief Rabbi of Ramat Gan says that the key to understanding the terms “slavery” and “freedom” is “FREE WILL”. He says, “Whoever is capable of criticizing himself, controlling himself, and acting out of full, free and independent awareness, is the free man.” Without realizing it, we had become enslaved to passionately embracing and feeding our animal soul (Pork Ribs) while neglecting our G-dly soul (Paradise). Once we saw our reflection in the symbolism of the pig, we chose to get out from under the weight of the hefty hog of materialism, self centeredness, and gratification that was crushing our true life force. An inner craving propelled us to move forward into the bliss….the Paradise aspect of returning to our true identity as a part of the Jewish nation with the Torah as our guidebook. We slipped out of the muddiness of an undefined value system and swam into the crystal, clear waters of Torah.
And so it was that we returned to the traditions and religious practices of our forefathers and mothers and fully embraced a Torah observant life with all the gusto we had previously reserved for eating PORK RIBS. Once we began to exercise our free will to choose G’d’s Will, then we were ready to enjoy the spiritual pleasures (PARADISE) of leading a life rich in value and meaning.
We moved to a beautiful, spacious new home in the Jewish community and began to truly integrate into the Torah way of living. It was richly rewarding and deeply meaningful but ultimately, our souls were not getting the pure nourishment they craved. We had visited Israel many times since our return to a Torah life and each time we left Israel, we felt like we were being torn away from G-d. The power, beauty and significance of the Land held us in a tight embrace, like a long-lost love. The Kedusha inherent in Eretz HaKodesh which penetrates the soul, is completely absent outside the Land. We felt this void on a deep level.
And so it was, we once again assessed the fatness of our lives…..the big house, the huge bedroom (bigger than a tiny apartment in Israel) with a gorgeous cherry wood, king size, 4-poster bed, the large walk in closet filled with stunning kosher fashions and saw that the pig had stealthily returned in a “kosher” disguise. We caught it in the act before it wreaked havoc in our lives and returned it to the farm.
We were ever so comfortable in our lives but not truly content. We hungered for a greater spiritual wholeness, as the living force within us tried to express its purest self in a land not ours. What was standing in the way of our destiny to actualize our deepest soul potential? Intense, emotional conversations ensued until we reached our ultimate decision implemented by the wisdom of HaRav Kook, who wrote, “True Jewish life is being Jewish in Eretz Yisrael”.
Finally when we could no longer pretend or ignore our inner soul needs, we summoned the courage to arouse our commitment to THE KING OF KINGS and open a file to make ALiyah.
The teachings of HaRav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook ZT’Zl, in his extraordinary sefer, “LIGHTS ON OROT” ERETZ YISRAEL, with commentary by Rabbi David Samson and Tzvi Fishman, helped affirm our decision. The Rav states “In the diaspora, Jewish nationhood is shattered.” We lack the Divine spirit which fills Klal Yisrael when the nation is living its full, sovereign life in Israel. Our true life is as a Klal, and not a collection of individual Jews. He goes on to state from sources that, “The soul of the Jewish people, the Torah, and Eretz Yisrael are one.” Zohar, Leviticus, 73A, Nefesh HaChaim, 4:11, Chofetz Chaim, Parshat Bo.
And so with heavy hearts at leaving our beloved families, but with a deep humility for the privilege to live in THE HOLY LAND, and a hunger to feed our souls real Jewish soul food, we boarded the plane to our ancestral inheritance. Once our spiritual connection had been awakened and heightened, we felt we had no other choice than to follow in the footsteps of our holy ancestors and return home to claim our personal inheritance and build up our souls and our nationhood.
These soul stirring words from the book, “My Grandfather’s Blessings” resonated with an inner longing to move into the Freedom of living an authentic Jewish life in our Jewish homeland. “Freedom is as frightening today as it was thousands of years ago. It will always require a willingness to sacrifice what is most familiar for what is most true. To be free, we may need to act from integrity on trust, sometimes for a long time. Few of us will reach our promised land in a day. In the course of any lifetime, there are times when one has to sail into the unknown without map or compass. These are times of discovery. I have seen many people spread their sails and catch the wind. There is a grace in life that can be trusted. In our struggle towards freedom, we are neither abandoned nor alone. The most important part of the story is that whenever anyone moves towards freedom, G-d Himself is there.”
And so we moved into freedom and we are privileged to savor the taste every day in our sovereign Jewish homeland. We are connected with the sparks of all the souls that have come before us. We have embraced our life in PARADISE …. ERETZ HAKODESH and we feel alive in a way we have never felt before. Our souls are fully sated with contentment with the life we lead in our Beloved Promised Land. Our life goals are in sync with our soul needs and we have plugged into our national aspirations as a people. We are in our natural habitat and have recovered our true identity. We are able to share all the talents and gifts of our past experiences and careers with the Klal. All of our life endeavors from the mundane to the spiritual are ways to manifest the Divine ideal of living in the Holy Land and we are privileged to do this every day.
We believe that true happiness and success as Jews depends on the fighting spirit of each person to shift from “Pork Ribs to Paradise”…..from” Slavery to Freedom” and return home .Your material life might never be on the same level it was before aliyah because it will not need to be. Attachment to things will fall away when you no longer seek to find yourself in them. Your sense of self worth will become bound up with your soul life and the life of the Klal and YOU WILL BLOSSOM IN UNIMAGINABLE WAYS.
We believe we were ultimately capable of offering our “PORK RIBS” as a sacrifice to G-d and from that action, we were aroused to dedicate our lives to a cause greater than ourselves…the cause of building up our nation in our National” Paradise”.
YOU CAN DO THE SAME! EXERCISE YOUR FREE CHOICE!
With Blessings of great success in all your endeavors!
We are both very proud to know you, Ariella Bracha, and your devoted partner, our friend Avraham!