Finding the Courage to Complete What You’ve Begun

As the founder and leader of Nashuva, a Jewish spiritual outreach movement based in L.A., Rabbi Naomi Levy, a former JWI Woman to Watch, has counseled scores of people struggling to find meaning and uncover answers to life’s essential questions. And with her new book, Einstein and the Rabbi: Searching for the Soul, released this month, she extends her caring counsel and wisdom to the rest of us. Using stories drawn from her own experiences, she leads us on a quest to rediscover our gifts and sense of purpose and become our best selves.

Levy’s inspiration for the book came when she stumbled across a quote from Albert Einstein about the interconnectedness and unity of all existence. Her interest piqued, she learns that the quote came from a letter Einstein wrote to Robert S. Marcus, a grieving father and a rabbi. She undertakes a three-year journey to uncover Rabbi Marcus’s remarkable story. The unfolding of that story is woven into the fabric of this insightful and life-changing book.

Excerpted from EINSTEIN AND THE RABBI: Searching for the Soul. Copyright © 2017 by Naomi Levy. Excerpted by permission of Flatiron Books, a division of Macmillan Publishers. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Photo of Naomi Levy copyright Jay Lawrence Goldman

Photo of Naomi Levy copyright Jay Lawrence Goldman

On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, Jews recite a phrase in Hebrew over and over again:  “Hayom harat olam.” It is usually translated as, “Today, the world is born.” It sounds like a very joyous phrase…

The true translation of the phrase is not “Today the world is born,” but “Today is pregnant forever.” This is not a happy phrase. It feels more like a curse. What exactly does that mean?

When I learned the actual meaning, …I suddenly flashed on a memory of myself being nine months pregnant and holding my dear friend Helene’s newborn baby in my lap. Let me explain.

Helene is from Brooklyn, I’m from Brooklyn. Helene went to Yeshiva of Flatbush high school, I went there too. She was very close to my older brother David when I was growing up, but then we lost touch.

Years later Helene and her husband Rich were visiting Israel, and she decided to look up her old friend David, who lives in Israel. They began catching up and David said, “Hey, by the way, you went to Cornell? Guess what? My little sister Nomi went to Cornell too.” Later when David learned that Helene had moved to L.A., he laughed and said, “Guess what? My sister Nomi moved to L.A. too and she’s a rabbi there.”

Helene was amazed at how closely our lives had paralleled one another—well, except for the minor detail that she went to medical school and I went to rabbinical school. But we’re both in the healing professions.

The next thing I knew, Helene came to one of my prayer services and we reconnected. It was such a comfort to know someone in L.A. who shared so much history with me.

One day I called Helene and she said, “Nomi, how are you doing?”

I said, “To tell the truth, I am really nauseous, but it’s for a good reason—I’m pregnant!”

She laughed, “Guess what? I’m pregnant too!” We both started laughing.

Month after month we compared stories, and month after month we grew bigger together and shared dreams and prayers and anticipation.

Helene was due two weeks before me in July and on July 2nd she birth to a beautiful baby boy who they named Michael. A couple of days later I went to visit her. She looked so happy, so natural, like she was born to be a mother. I looked like a Butterball turkey. I was huge and I was ready to pop. All of a sudden Helene put her newborn son on my pregnant lap. And I freaked out! I know I was smiling on the outside, but there was just no way in the world to cover up my panic.

Here’s what was going on inside of me: “Oh my God! What was I thinking? I don’t want this. I don’t want a baby. I’m not ready to be a mother. I don’t even like babies! My life is fine as it is. Please make me stop right here, right now. If only I could just be…Pregnant forever.”

Trust me, pregnant forever is not a healthy state of mind. It is a state of a permanent un-living, of life being held back. I think Jews pray this phrase every New Year because it comes as a warning.

Every single one of us, somewhere in our lives, …are pregnant forever. There is something we’ve already conceived that is pleading with us, “Let me be born.” Maybe it’s a creative endeavor—a book, a painting, a poem, a song, a script, a story, a business idea. Maybe it’s a career shift. You’ve been privately dreaming about it and exploring it, but doing nothing about it. Maybe it’s the words, “I’m sorry,” or the words, “I love you,” or the words, “I forgive you.” They are formed inside your mouth, but you haven’t gotten up the courage to actually speak them.

Pregnant forever is not a blessing and so many of us suffer from this frustrating affliction.

Maybe it’s a departure you’re holding onto, a break up. You know it’s time to go. You know it’s time to stop pretending everything is fine when nothing is fine.

Maybe you’ve already created something but you’re just too scared to let it be seen….

What is keeping you permanently pregnant? What is it that holds you back? For some it’s a fear of judgment. For others it is a fear of the judge within, that familiar voice that says, “This is no good. I’ve got no talent.” For some of us it’s a fear of responsibility: “I’m not ready to take this on. I’m not ready to make this shift.” For some of us it is the ego’s hubris that keeps us permanently pregnant: “I’ve got all the time in the world to make this happen. I can do this tomorrow.” For some of us it’s the body’s inertia, a lack of will.

Some of us are pregnant forever because we are comfortable being pregnant forever. We like the current routine, it’s easier to live with the status quo than it is to make a change….

So many voices stop us up, but the soul’s voice cheers us on. Why? Because the soul can’t fulfill its mission alone. It needs us to act. The soul is intimately familiar with the world of potential, it descended to this realm so that it could know the meaning of the world fulfillment.

Today is pregnant forever! And you are the one who gets to choose what will remain in a state of eternal potential and what will break forth into life.

You’ve been blessed with the potential to improve the world, but nothing will come of your remarkable gifts unless you first learn to turn your potential into action.

So take a moment right now, and hear your soul asking you, “What am I holding on to right now that I need to give life to?” Can you see it? Can you see what you are pregnant forever with?

We are not doomed to remain stuck forever. There are ways we can strengthen our resolve to act.

I’d like to offer you five tools that can help you move from potential to action:

Pray. Simply talk to God about your longings. Ask for the strength to break through, and listen for an answer.

Talk to others. Opening up to family and friends or a trusted mentor may release a burden from your soul and may be a terrific motivator to act. Tell the people you love what you’ve been sitting on and not hatching. Ask for their help. Ask for a pep talk.

Honesty is another critical factor. Look at your life and see the places you’ve left in suspended animation. Take the time to come face to face with your unfulfilled potential.

Listening and seeing are pivotal factors on your path. Be receptive to those moments of grace—to words that might resuscitate your momentum—an article in the newspaper, a book, a movie. Listen to the voice of your soul rooting for you to take even one step forward.

The final suggestion is perhaps the hardest of all: Feel the Pain. We must do something most of us spend our lives trying to resist—we must seek to feel discomfort….Sometimes it’s your drive and your courage that gets you going. But more often, things as they are have to get painful enough so that you can’t live in a state of permanent pregnancy anymore. You just can’t! We become aware of a deep aching within our souls, a knowledge that we are living well beneath our own potential. And once we allow ourselves to experience that pain, it gets to be too much to hold back the change that needs to come.