The Kibbutznik that found G-d in India

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Learn from Abraham to use Faith, not Logic.

A Rabbi Named Dotan

This week, I’d like to tell you about a modern-day Abraham. 

Rabbi Dotan Korati is a popular Chabad Rabbi in Israel. He is the Rabbi of “the College of Management” in Rishon Litziyon, and is immensely popular among young Jews; he is especially sought out to officiate at weddings.

But Dotan, I must say, is not a common Chabad name — and that’s because he had a very different history.

Finding G-d in India

Dotan was born and raised in Kfar Ruppin, a kibbutz near Beit Shean. He was a happy kid growing up, but as he reached his teenage years, something deep inside began to bother him. He felt like he didn’t belong; he didn’t identify with the values of the kibbutz, but he didn’t know anything else. As a result, he became somewhat of a problem child.

When he was 16 years old, he established a band and he was the singer. He would sing rock songs and write his own compositions as well. He called it, Hamiklat (The Shelter). He was looking for a shelter to escape everything that bothered him so much in his environment. But throughout all those years, nothing seemed to settle him.

At age 21, he found himself in India. His brother had previously traveled to India and married a local woman, so his entire family traveled there for a visit. After the family visit, Dotan stayed a bit to see the country.

While in India, he met a friend who was a little bit more into spirituality. This friend would hang out at the local Chabad Houses, and he tried to convince Dotan to join him. But Dotan was stubborn and cynical about anything religious. Whenever his friend would tell him something he had learned at the Chabad House, he would argue with him and try to prove that it was incorrect.

One day, during his trip in India, he got a mosquito bite on his leg. At first, he didn’t pay any attention to it, but for some reason, this bite swelled dramatically and turned into a terrible infection. It got so bad that he was no longer able to walk; he spent several weeks miserable in bed.

His good friend took care of him throughout this entire period, applying a host of medications which they had brought with them from Israel. But for some reason, nothing worked. One day, his friend told him, “Dotan, why don’t you pray to G-d to heal you?” Dotan started to argue, “Who said there’s a G-d? What’s the meaning of prayer?…”

That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. His friend put on his backpack and said goodbye. “If you’re not even willing to say a prayer, figure it out yourself. I’m out of here. I’m not going to waste my entire trip in India sitting next to you here.” He slammed the door and left the guest house.

A Moment of Truth

Dotan suddenly found himself alone. For the first time in his life, at age 20, he found himself talking to the Creator of the world.

“G-d, they say that you exist, but I’m not sure. If you exist, and if you see that I was left here alone and my only friend abandoned me, please have mercy on my parents who will miss me and my girlfriend will never see me again…” he was convinced that this was his end.

“I know that I never fulfilled any of your requests, but now I need your help. I’m asking for your graciousness — help me; please save me.” 

For quite some time, he prayed and poured out his heart to G-d. As he finished his prayer, his friend showed up. 

“Ah, so you didn’t abandon me…” Dotan said.

“You thought I would really abandon you? You’re my friend!” His friend replied.

“I just finished talking to your friend,” Dotan revealed.

“Friend? Which friend? Is there someone else there?”

“I just finished talking to G-d.”

His friend was shocked. “Who would have believed that Dotan would one day talk to G-d…” 

The next day, they met a Swiss tourist who was a nurse by profession. Her name was Priyah, which means prayer in Hindu. The nurse put strong medication on the wound, and within a week he was back on his feet. The next day, the nurse disappeared and they never saw her again. Perhaps it was an angel…

By that time, something inside him had changed. “There was one time in my life when I needed G-d, and he was there for me — so I want to be there for him.”

He decided to learn a bit more about Judaism. Throughout the rest of his trip, he was more open to visiting the local Chabads, where he would participate in the Shabbat dinners and in the classes. During one Shabbat dinner, as he enthusiastically sang a Shabbat song at the table, someone asked him if he was formerly religious. “No, I’m soon to be religious,” he replied. It was the first time he admitted to himself that he was on his way to becoming an observant Jew. 

It was a long journey, but today he is the real deal — a full-on Chabad Rabbi who spends all his time spreading Judaism to others.

Abraham 

In this week’s Torah portion, we read the story of Abraham our forefather. Abraham was unique in the fact that he was the first; he paved the way for all the Abrahams who came afterwards. He was born into a family and community of idol worshipers, but from a young age, he came to the conclusion that their beliefs could not be serious, and that their idols had no truth to them; he became convinced that there must be a power that controls creation.

On his own, he began to search for the creator of the world, and he soon came to the conclusion which we call monotheism.

But he didn’t keep his ideas for himself. He began sharing his thoughts with those around him. As Maimonides writes, he began engaging in debates with the wise men of his town, “and he overpowered them with his proofs,” to the extent that the king wanted to have him killed. (Beginning of Hilchos Avodah Zarah).

This is a very interesting point. He says that the death penalty wasn’t the result of Abraham breaking his father’s idols, as in the story that we normally tell. Rather, it was because he was an intellectual threat. He proved to them that they were mistaken, and that was unacceptable. 

The Change

By some miracle, he managed to escape and reach Charan, and that is where this week’s Torah portion begins. He is 75 years old, and G-d suddenly appears to him and tells him, “Get up and go to the land of Canaan.”

The Rebbe pointed out that there was a distinct difference in the way Abraham spread and monotheism in the diaspora, and in the way he spread it in Israel: 

In Ur Kasdim and Charan, Abraham tried to convince people that there was a G-d. He would invite them to fancy weekend retreats and engage them in intellectual debates to prove to them that G-d exists.

But when he arrived in the land of Canaan, he used a different approach. Maimonides says that “he implanted in their hearts” a belief in one G-d. He gave them the ability to have faith in G-d — in a way that is far deeper than any intellectual arguments. That was Abraham’s real contribution — that when you are stuck in bed in India with a bad infection and your last friend abandons you, it will occur to you that G-d is there.

Even today, there are many that continue the first approach — they try to convince you on an intellectual basis to engage with Judaism. They hold retreats where high intellectuals come and bring proof from science that there is a G-d and that the Bible is true etc.

But the Rebbe believed in Abraham’s approach: don’t focus on intellectual, focus on the experiential. Give a Jew the opportunity to wear tefilin or to light Shabbat candles; as soon as he does a mitzvah, he will feel that connection. That connection doesn’t need any explanation — there is already a paved path which will lead him in the right direction.

Each of us is Abraham. We all have the obligation to share that experience with the world. And let me tell you — it works!

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