From Hangover to Happiness
Finding deeper meaning in the most unexpected places.
I awoke in a daze, a cloud of hangover resting heavily in the back of my head. Fumbling towards the bathroom in the dark, my foot struck a sleeping body in the hallway, sending me hurtling forward in the pitch black, knocking over a half-empty beer bottle as I fell to the ground. The sun had just started to creep through the windows of the cramped apartment and I already had enough of this Tuesday.
Arriving at work with my hangover still pounding in my skull, I realized that something had to give. I wasn’t happy, I wasn’t fulfilled. There had to be something more than this.
I had the Wall Street job of my dreams, trading on the floor of the NYMEX and writing for my favorite financial newsletter. I had more friends than I could keep up with during happy hours and plenty of dates. I could be found at restaurants, nightclubs and secret speakeasies that required a password to enter, but I wasn’t really there.
I could be found at nightclubs and secret speakeasies that required a password to enter, but I wasn’t really there.
I started making excuses not to go out, breaking dates to bury my mind in mindless distractions: video games, movies, the couch potato lifestyle of abject comfort. This was not the solution to my problems. So I decided to call an expert: my sister.
Although she is younger, I look up to my sister in many ways. She’s always dedicated to a cause, looking at the world as a sick patient that she must treat with holistic, organic medicine. She knew my situation well and knew that I was unhappy. I asked if she could invite me to something in her world that could tap me into the deeper parts of life.
She told me that she was arranging volunteers for a healing conference in a hotel near Penn Station and asked if I wanted to join up. I accepted even though I had no idea what a healing conference was, but it sounded intriguing and figured at least I’d meet some new people.
Walking into the conference hall, I was greeted by a drum circle of hemp-clothed, dreadlocked hippies making ohm noises and smiling broadly. This was out of my comfort zone, but they looked happy. I spent the day sheepishly helping to check tickets and move heavy objects.
I knew that this wasn’t going to be my scene, but I was interested in speaking to these people and learning about their philosophies on life. My friends were busy chasing very different goals: money and thrills. These people were chasing self-improvement, enlightenment and world peace.
Afterwards, I asked my sister if she could recommend some books that aligned with this movement. The next day she showed up at my apartment with five books. Three were on meditation, one was a book of philosophical quotes, and one was called The Kybalion: The Three Initiates. This book would change my life.
Through the Looking Glass
The Kybalion is the handbook for the Freemasons society, a secretive club which includes successful politicians and businessmen as members, from George Washington to George Bush. The book started out simply but elegantly, and I immediately connected to it.
The book gave a cohesive context to the seeming chaos that I saw all around me. It stated that “All is mind,” that the universe is an enormous mind that contains everything. According to the book there were three kinds of creation. The first construction from external materials, like building a table out of metal and wood. The second is birth, which combines elements of a male and female to create a child, using no external materials but still depending on preexisting matter. And the third is the creation of a thought, which takes no external materials and no prerequisite. Our universe was created like an idea in a mind, meaning that there was a “thinker” who created it from nothing.
I felt the book was giving me an inkling into understanding why we are here. My quest began.
This resonated with me. I felt the book was giving me an inkling into understanding why we are here in the first place, and that we are here for a purpose. The universe wanted us here. My curiosity was piqued. I started researching Freemasonry and learn more. I felt like I was on quest, exhilarated with the potential for meaning.
My boss at the time was a Modern Orthodox Jewish man. We had never talked about spirituality or religion, but we had a mutual respect and we talked about the state of the world and deeper concepts regularly. I showed up to work the next day, Kybalion in hand.
I placed the book on his desk, looked him straight in the eye and said “Read this. I want to hear what you think. This book explains the world.” I was anxious for someone I respected to read the ideas and tell me that he believed them, too. Really, I needed validation so that I could commit to my new worldview. He told me he’d get back to me the next day.
The following morning he told me, “I read it and I didn’t like it. Try this one.” He handed me Genesis and the Big Bang, by Dr. Gerald Schroeder.
I was dumbfounded. The Bible conjured thoughts of boring Hebrew school classes, Southern Baptists and holy wars.
I looked at the book with disdain. What was this, some book about the Bible? I was dumbfounded. The Bible conjured thoughts of boring Hebrew school classes, Southern Baptists preaching the gospel and holy wars. I didn’t want to read it.
For a few days I left the book on my desk, glaring at it from time to time. Finally I read the introduction and it wasn’t what I expected. The author was a nuclear scientist who had worked on the Manhattan project. He had a PhD from MIT. I decided to drop my prejudice and read the book.
I devoured the book in two days. His math and science were intricate and mind-bending, but what really blew my mind was how similar the ideas were to The Kybalion. This was a “something from nothing” creation of the Universe that was all encompassing, and he explained how it perfectly linked up with the Torah. And this was coming from an MIT scientist.
The Kabbalah Connection
I was still apprehensive but my mind was opened just enough to recognize that maybe I didn’t know everything about the Torah and that perhaps I owe it to myself to learn more about it.
I did more research and discovered that The Kybalion had a lot to do with Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism. I found that Freemasonry is based on the construction of King Solomon’s temple, the Beis HaMikdash, the Jewish holy temple. This increased my curiosity.
It was unsettling to think that Judaism might resonate with my inner spiritual compass.
I had to dig deeper but I was also scared. Judaism made a claim of Divine revelation and contained a whole lot of commandments that touched on every aspect of life. If it would resonate with my inner spiritual compass – and could even be in synch with science – what would that mean for me? Would I have to give up my Big Macs and Friday nights? It was unsettling.
Another coworker of mine at the time had begun to keep kosher and observe Shabbat. We began discussing these ideas, sparring about the existence of God and His interaction in our day to day lives. I wanted to explore my Jewish roots, but I still had a strong resistance to the notion of a Superior Being telling me what to do. I wanted to understand what I was doing as I was doing it, not just be a robot following orders from a group of people that I still viewed as antiquated.
I decided to make a compromise that made sense at that time: I’d join a pro-Israel advocacy group called Fuel for Truth Bootcamp and strengthen my Jewish identity that way. It was safer and it would give me a chance to meet other young, likeminded Jews. The group met Wednesday nights in midtown Manhattan and brought in politicians and experts to speak. There was kosher pizza. It was a start.
It felt great to dedicate time to doing something meaningful. Wednesday nights became the highlight of my week, and I enjoyed bonding with a group of idealistic people who yearned to do something meaningful as well. I really connected with Josh, an outspoken architect who was the only one who wore a kippah. We became fast friends.
My First Shabbat Experience
Josh invited the Bootcamp group to a Shabbat dinner that he was hosting. I told him that I’d love to come and asked if I could bring anything. He told me to pick up some beers.
I showed up to his apartment in a t-shirt and shorts, beer in hand. His roommate Hesky welcomed me in.
I looked around at a long dinner table that filled the entire apartment surrounded by 20 chairs. There were place settings for everyone, with a challah covered in the middle. Josh thanked me for the beer and put it in the fridge and rushed to do a zillion things in the kitchen.
People began knocking on the door and Josh welcomed them in warmly. They brought bottles of wine, challahs, side dishes, desserts. Each guest seemed to have known Josh forever but I later found out that half of them were new acquaintances. A handful of people from the Bootcamp arrived together not knowing what to expect, like me.
Once everyone had found their seat, Josh poured a kiddush cup full of wine and sung a beautiful blessing, then poured some wine into each guests glass. We all drank and then he told us to wash our hands. I thought he must be a germophobe, but I quickly realized that this was a pre-meal ritual. I must have looked lost because the man behind me gently explained how to pour water over each hand twice and told me the blessing to say word by word.
The meal was warm and meaningful in a way that I hadn’t experienced before. Nobody used their phones and the conversation jumped from one meaningful topic to another. The wine flowed but it served to bring us together, elevating the evening in a way that was new for me. The whole Shabbat scene was foreign to me, but it felt so comfortable.
It was my first genuine exposure to the spiritual power of Shabbat.
I was struck by the hospitality shown to all of the guests by the hosts and the level of connection and respect there was around the table. The typical games people play seemed strikingly absent. There was no cynicism and negativity. People were down to earth and real, creating a positive vibe that was surprisingly refreshing and new.
It was my first genuine exposure to the spiritual power of Shabbat and my soul, thirsty for meaning and hungry for connection, was satiated like never before.
A guest gave a two minute talk about the unified nature of the universe and how Jews are all brothers and sisters, part of the same family. Something clicked -- the deep hospitality, warmth and respect I was experiencing was the kind shown between family members. By the end of the evening, I felt like I had known these people my entire life.
As I left the meal with another Bootcamp friend, cabs zooming by, I was startled to remember that New York City churned on outside. The city was the same but I felt different somehow, revitalized. It was an experience that I never realized I was craving.
That Shabbat experience was a subtle, but very real turning point in my life. The Friday night bar scene had lost its luster and I recognized the path I wanted to take (which included joining my boss’s family for an entire Shabbat in Long Island) even though I had no idea where it would ultimately lead me.