Plowing a “Gonzo” Road through the Rabbinate

Rabbi Niles Goldstein is the author of The Challenge of the Soul: A Guide for the Spiritual Warrior, an approach to spiritual learning as seen through his eyes as a black belt martial artist. He is guest-blogging all week for MyJewishLearning and the Jewish Book Council.

rabbi niles goldsteinI recently had my ninth book published, The Challenge of the Soul: A Guide for the Spiritual Warrior. While I wrote the book primarily to help other seekers find strength and hope during times of trial, it is a very personal work. It is also filled with some powerful echoes from my previous book (or, rather, manifesto), Gonzo Judaism: A Bold Path for an Renewing Ancient Faith.

In my dual roles as both an ordained rabbi and a black belt martial artist, I have spent the past 15 years trying to bring my sometimes audacious, no-holds-barred approach to my own spiritual journey, as well as to my teaching, lecturing, and writing in my congregation and around the country. When I earned my black belt in karate just after rabbinic ordination, I had learned not only a specific set of combat skills but a wide array of tools that would help me in my vocation as a religious teacher and counselor — commitment, patience, humility, the power of repetition and practice, empathy, the ability to channel my strength in positive ways, self-sacrifice.

I had also learned to confront — and grow from — some of those darker aspects of my restless soul, the fears, insecurities, wounds, and anger that resided in hidden places within me.

challenge of the soulFighting taught me how to teach. And learn.

On the surface, Judaism and karate might seem to represent completely different, even oppositional disciplines. With time and experience, however, I have learned how each has complemented the other in my own life. For me, the two fields are deeply interconnected, complimentary expressions of the same inner path. Judaism has made me a better martial arts practitioner, and karate has made me a better rabbi. In The Challenge of the Soul, I explore how this phenomenon has worked, and in the blog entries that follow in the days ahead I will be writing about some essential concepts and principles that I think are critical to each of our unique spiritual journeys. I hope you have a good read — and a gonzo road ahead of you, one that helps push you along the way and past those forces that try to impede your progress.

Rabbi Niles Goldstein’s book The Challenge of the Soul: A Guide for the Spiritual Warrior is out now. Come back all week to read his guest blogs on MyJewishLearning and the Jewish Book Council.

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