The Seven Yearnings of Highly Human People

by Sharon Rosen Leib March 28, 2018


irwinIrwin Kula is a rabbi for our times. His book “Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life,” first published in 2006, remains exceptionally relevant in our turbulent, chaotic Trump era.  Hard to believe he wrote it a dozen years ago – proof that yearning endures.

A seventh generation rabbi, Kula, 60, serves as co-president of Clal, The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, an organization “committed to making Jewish a public good.” Rabbi Kula has worked with leaders from the Dalai Lama to Queen Noor and organizations around the world inspiring people to live with greater passion, purpose, creativity and compassion. For many years, Newsweek has listed him as one of America’s “most influential rabbis.”

His book describes seven basic yearnings shared by all humans – regardless of religion, nationality, ethnicity, tribe or political orientation.  He defines these as truth, meaning, “the way,” love, creativity, happiness and transcendence.  Kula uses his broad rabbinical education and experience to explore these yearnings through the lens of Old Testament stories and ancient Jewish wisdom.  This approach yields spiritual insights accessible to all – although most easily understood by Jews with prior knowledge of the sacred texts he references.

Rabbi Kula keeps his writing refreshingly honest.  He avoids coming off as holier or more spiritually enlightened than thou by revealing his own personal messiness. He shares how he dropped acid as a teen, upset his wife and closest friends by being chronically late, yelled at his teenage daughter for invading his space and flirted with an attractive younger woman.  Too much information?  Some readers might think so.  But I distrust spiritual leaders who represent themselves as moral paragons.  Kula’s bracing honesty makes him relatable and an ideal spiritual leader – especially for his fellow Baby Boomers.

In these Trumpian times, Kula’s first chapter on Truth deserves our undivided attention. He writes, “Anyone can find a partial truth, no matter how small, in an opposing position … At the very least, every person has the right to be heard.” Sadly, many of my highly educated, liberal Baby Boomer peers would rather take a frigid shower than dine with someone who voted for Trump. How are we ever going to ease the partisan pressure threatening to explode our democratic values if we refuse to break bread with people on the opposite end of the political spectrum?  As Kula says, every one (even gun-loving NRA devotees) deserves to be heard.  We all yearn to be understood.  By following Kula’s advice, we can avert irreversible alienation by opening our ears (the windows to our brains), dropping our arrogance and listening to opposing viewpoints.

In his chapter on Meaning, Kula reasons that disagreement is a gift.  “Wouldn’t life be richer if … [r]ather than dividing us, arguments would be about finding connection?” he writes.  This inspired me to wish for a world where NRA supporters and hippie peaceniks like me could bond over how much we all love our children rather than debate the legitimacy of AR-15 assault rifles.

I felt validated reading The Way section. Kula writes, “There’s no more humbling experience than parenting.  The times of not-knowing far outweigh the certainties.” Amen, brother Kula.  He acknowledges what many parents don’t want to admit to their kids – we don’t really know what we’re doing.

Some of my other favorite nuggets: “forgiveness is rarely achievable in some fairy tale way;” “creativity demands that we have high tolerance for failure;” and “Blessing is a gratitude practice – when we pause to recognize the gifts we’ve been given, it’s amazing how much happier we are.”  I could go on, but I encourage you to read Kula’s book and discover what speaks to you.  I guarantee something will.  He’s got plenty of wisdom and insights about love, sex, death, work and rest to enlighten and inspire even the most jaded and dejected readers. Α

Rabbi Irwin Kula will hold a lecture and book signing at the JCC on April 15.


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