From Buddhist Priest to Haredi Rabbi
Tamar YonahTamar Yonah hosts the most popular English speaking radio talk-show in...
Rosh HaShana Post: Something to think about.
Yitzhak Fanger was a typical secular Israeli guy. His story though, is anything but.
Yitzchak grew up in the center of the country and after graduating from high school, he went to serve in the IDF. His life took a very interesting turn a few years later, and I was interviewing him as he shared his story with me and my listeners on my radio show.
Rav Yitzchak Fanger
(This blog post is a repeat of one I wrote in 2007. I am re-posting it for Rosh HaShana. Listen to the audio interview from links provided below.)
After finishing his army service, Yitzchak was going to make his way out in the world. He decided to learn Reiki (a Japanese technique for healing administered by ‘laying on hands’). After taking courses and excelling in his new trade, his Reiki teacher urged him to go to the Far East to learn to be a
Reiki Master and return to be the top teacher in Israel.
Fanger listened to his teacher and traveled to India. There he pursued more learning and became heavily involved in Buddhism. He became a Buddhist priest and was encouraged to go for an extended stay at a type of monastery or solitary retreat for Buddhist priests up in the mountains. There, one was forbidden to speak, their task was to concentrate on mediation, yoga, and to try to reach nirvana. The only work they had to do at the retreat was gardening. Gardening was very important, as they grew their own food.
A few months went by and Yitzchak was well into his daily routine of meditation, yoga, gardening, - and not talking. One might imagine that it would be difficult not to speak for months on end, especially for a Jew from Israel. Yitzchak was getting antsy. He had an urge to talk, to hear his own voice, and the feeling was bubbling up inside him that he felt he was going to burst. The urge got so strong, that Yitzchak ran away, far from ear shot of the retreat and the other Buddhist monks. He arrived at a brook a distance away, and all of a sudden, words came pouring out of his mouth. He couldn’t stop rambling off speech. The amazing thing was, that the first words that he had spoken after months of silence, ---was his Bar Mitzvah portion from the Torah.
Yitzchak was shocked. Why did THOSE words come out of him? He didn’t identify with his Judaism, in fact, he hated the religious people, especially those from the near by city where he grew up, Bnei Brak. Bnei Brak was full of religious Jews and he had a prejudice towards ‘them’ and that place.
Yitzchak was now 26 years old, he had carved out a path for himself, and was happy about his experiencing this new spirituality. Judaism was a long way away, and had not thought about his Bar Mitzvah since he was 13. He was stunned that the words he read from the Torah on his Bar Mitzvah should be the first words out of his mouth after his long silence.
Yitzchak released the built up pressure from within him after his outburst near the brook. He headed back for camp, and decided to put the incident behind him.
One evening, a few days after the occurrence at the brook, Yitzchak was ready to retire for the night and crawl into his sleeping bag in the small room he was given. But he kept having a feeling that someone or ‘something’, was in his room. It was a bad feeling, and being an Israeli, he decided to himself, “Mishane makom, mishane mazal” – “change the place you are at, and you will change your luck/destiny”. And so, Yitzchak decided to take his sleeping bag from his room, and sleep underneath the stars that night. As he reached for his sleeping bag, a scorpion jumped out from the part of the sleeping bag where his head was supposed to be. He realized then, that he could have been killed by that scorpion, and that his instinct not to sleep in his room where his bag lie, was not just a fortunate premonition, but that someone, or something, was watching over him.
About a week later, in the evening, after practicing his meditation, the candle in Yitzchak's room went out. He went to search for more candles in his bag, when he found a card with Hebrew print on it. It was then that Yitzchak remembered that when he was at Tel Aviv’s (Lod) Ben Gurion Airport, a Hassidic Jewish man was passing out cards to people, and handed Yitzchak one as well. The card had some type of prayer, or text from the Torah on it. Yitzchak asked the man what he should do with it, and the man said, just keep it with you, it will protect you. So Yitzchak shrugged his shoulders and then stuffed it in his bag, quickly forgetting about it.
After finding the card in his bag, Yitzchak got an itchy feeling. It was then that a small still voice came from within him and said, “Why don’t you meditate on something in Hebrew, all the time you have been meditating on words in Japanese, try concentrating on the words on this card in Hebrew.”
He thought, "Ok, let's see what happens". He held the card and read one of the lines written there. “Shemah Yisrael, Hashem Elokaynu, Hashem Echad”. It was the 'Shemah' prayer (Hear oh Israel, The Lord our G-d, The Lord is One).
Meditating on this line, Yitzchak repeated it over and over again like a mantra. “Shemah Yisrael, Hashem Elokaynu, Hashem Echad”. ...Suddenly, he started to tremble, and a light bulb went off in his head. No, - it was more like an inner explosion. Yitzchak had a burst of spiritual enlightenment. He had found a treasure! “Yes, of course!” he said. “Yes, The Lord is our G-d, the Lord is one. YES! YES! YES! I want to know more about this. This is truth!"
Yitzchak looked at his surroundings, the bare wooden hut where he had spent so many months, the foreign looking landscape and geography. It was not where he was supposed to be. No one here, not one of these monks, could teach him about G-d. He decided that the very next morning, he was going to pack his things and leave immediately for Israel. Home.
After arriving in Israel and back at his parent’s house, Yitzchak was hungry to learn about Judaism and what the Torah said. He saw an advertisement in the paper that there would be a lecture given on Judaism, with ample time for questions and answers.
Almost immediately after his return from India, he found himself listening to a rabbi explaining basic Jewish concepts and a little bit of Jewish mysticism. But Yitzchak’s hunger wasn’t satisfied. He went the following weekend to a Shabbat program held at a hotel, for Jews who wanted to learn more about G-d. Yitzchak was a person who needed logic and scientific explanations. He liked the way in which the rabbis were explaining and proving through intellectual discourse, the existence of G-d.
The lecture schedule went from first proving that G-d existed, to the revelation at Sinai, and then to the conclusion that if A was true, and B was true, then C was also true, and that we must observe the Torah and mitzvoth (commandments) that G-d gave us.
Yitzchak made a decision after that weekend, and his past quest for truth and enlightenment… that he was going to become a ‘baal tshuva’, a returnee to Judaism, a religious Jew.
When he broke the news to his parents, his mother went ballistic. “You’re going to be religious and then you are going to leave me”, she cried. “How can you do this to me”, she sobbed. Yitzchak reassured her that there was no reason to cut himself off from his family just because he wanted to be religious, and that she was imagining things and should calm down. Ironically, the fact that he came off the plane in orange pajamas with a bald head didn’t seem to phase anyone, but the fact that he would start wearing a Yarmulke on his head put people into a stir. <grin>
Soon after, Yitzchak rolled up his sleeves and went to work. He opened up his own Reiki center and school for Reiki. He taught students, lectured around Israel, and took in private patients. He was indeed THE rieki master of Israel, and he was doing very well financially. He bought a nice car, a beautiful home, and one day, his mother, who was doing his bookkeeping, called Yitzchak on the phone and told him that according to her latest calculations, Yitzchak was a millionaire! Things were going very well for Yitzchak. He was keeping the Sabbath, wearing a kippah, keeping more and more mitzvoth, and he was content. Things were wonderful, and his business was thriving.
One day, after lecturing to a group of Haredi women about Reiki, and hoping that they would want to sign up for his courses he gave, he ran into trouble. After his presentation, one of the women from the audience came up to him and asked him if this ‘reiki’ was ‘kosher’. Yitzchak, answered her that of course it was kosher. After all, one doesn’t eat reiki. What could be wrong with it?
The woman said, just to be sure, if you want us to sign up for your courses, please go to our rabbi and ask him to give you a letter that this ‘reiki’ is kosher, then we’ll be willing to do it.
Yitzchak did as the woman asked. He made an appointment with the well respected rabbi and asked him for a letter saying that reiki was ‘kosher’. The rabbi wanted to know exactly what reiki was. Yitzchak explained that reiki was based on the idea of an unseen "life force energy". This energy force would flow through him to his patient, as he concentrated on the word – ‘Rei’ which means "God's Wisdom or the Higher Power" and Ki which is "life force energy". So Reiki is actually "spiritually guided life force energy." The rabbi, understanding that many of the eastern and oriental healing methods were based on avodah zarah, -calling on foreign gods, and therefore 'reiki' was ‘unclean’. He told Yitzchak that he was unable to give him a letter saying that this was kosher.
Yitzchak did a double take, then leaned towards the rabbi and said, “But rabbi, you don’t understand, this reiki is my profession, it’s how I make my living. You HAVE to give me a letter saying this is kosher. The rabbi repeated that he was unable to give a stamp of approval for this, as it stemmed from avodah zarah, (idol worship) and thus was not kosher.
Yitzchak was floored. He was stunned beyond belief. He went home in a daze. His world was spinning out of control, and he was feeling sick to his stomach. As he opened up the door to his home, he threw himself on his couch and started to cry like a baby. He was heaving sobs from the depths of his soul. He was broken. He was bewildered, and he did not know what he was going to do. On one hand, he was the reiki master of Israel, a millionaire, and his years of learning and practicing reiki had become his identity. It was WHO HE WAS. Yitzchak was a reiki master. What would he be without it?
On the other hand, Yitzchak had a deep belief in G-d now. He had discovered the truth and he wanted to cling to G-d, Torah and the commandments. What should he do?
After his sobs subsided, Yitzchak Fanger lifted his eyes towards the heaven, and said to G-d, “My G-d, I have never asked you for anything. But I am asking you for something now. I am telling you with firm conviction, I WILL GIVE UP my reiki. But I want a promise from You, that YOU WILL NOT GIVE UP on me!”
With that, Yitzhcak picked up the phone, and dialed his mother. “Ima”, he said, “Right now, I want you to cancel all my appointments, cancel all my lectures, cancel all my courses, and all my patients. I am closing down my reiki center.”
A scream came on from the other end of the phone. “Yitzchak, are you mad? You are a millionaire! You are so successful! You cannot mean it!” But Yitzchak stood firm.
I broke into Yitzchak’s story, because I told him his mother may have been upset as well, because in essence, he was firing her. He laughed and said that everything had worked out for the best.
I asked Yitzchak how he was doing now, years later. He told me, “Tamar, I am a millionaire today. I have six children, each worth more than millions to me. I have a wonderful loving wife, we live a religious life and we are so very happy. And do you know what, Tamar? My parents are very happy now as well. They see how well I treat my wife, how wonderful she treats me and the children, and they are so happy. In fact, my own children do not know that my parents are not religious. Whenever my parents come to visit us, my mother comes with her hair covered, and my father puts on a kippah. In addition, my parents had their kitchen kashered, (made their kitchen kosher) so that whenever we go to visit them, we can eat there. Yitzchak added to me as an aside, “And you know what? My beautiful wife just happens to be from Bnei Brak, the city that I had so much hatred for.” Things are looking up, and Yitzchak’s younger brother has also now returned to Torah and mitzvoth as well. His parents couldn’t be happier.
Yitzchak Fanger learned much from his experiences. Today, he is a Haredi rabbi. He is now trying to develop a system that uses some of the basics of reiki, and yet does not call for concentrating on foreign names of god.
I was very impressed and touched by Yitzchak Fanger,, and how everything turned out for his family. What made the biggest impression on me was his sacrifice for his beliefs. This man, who was a self made millionaire through his expertise and hard work, gave it all up for Hashem (G-d).
What strength that took, because it wasn’t only the money he gave up, but his identity, how he defined himself. What strength and commitment that took, what utter faith in G-d. And I ask myself, and ask all of you who are reading this….
What are we willing to give up for G-d? What do we have in our lives that needs changing, or giving up, to help us serve G-d better?
Are we partaking in bad habits that hurt our health and service to Him?
Are we engaged in frivolous activities that are taking us away from what we should be doing?
Should we stop smoking, kick the TV out, stop visiting the pubs and night clubs? What is it that we need to do this Rosh HaShana, from now on, to make ourselves at least as worthy as this once secular guy from Tel Aviv?
What are WE willing to give up for G-d?
Wishing you all a sweet, happy, and healthy new year!
Listen to this interview:
From Buddhist Monk to Haredi Rabbi: Part 1
To listen click HERE.
From Buddhist Monk to Haredi Rabbi: Part 2