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Quest For TRUTH vs. truth

My Personal Journey

by: Shmuel ben Shlomi

In this essay I want to approach a subject that for me has been the central goal of my entire life. At the writing of it here in February 2022 - Adar 1 5782 I am Seventy-Three years of age. From my earliest years, before the age of Three I have been on this quest. This adventure has been the real reason for my existence as a human being on planet Earth. And, while I have gotten side-tracked from time to time, getting caught up in other earthly and sometime selfish endeavors, the underlying drive in my life has been the uncovering of TRUTH — Not the truth or a truth about this or that — but TRUTH!

I was fortunate enough to have been raised by a mother who had great insight and an intuitive gift I have rarely found in others over the years. She saw in me from my early infancy something uniquely different. I can remember her telling me early on that when she looked into my eyes from the moment of birth she knew I was an “old soul,” a seeker. That was confirmed to her over a short time once I became self-aware and observed the world around me and from Nine months of age when I started walking to very shortly after that began conversing with her she could tell by the questions I asked that I was already searching for answers, not with the general “why’s” of how this or that worked or what was this or that thing’s function and reason for its purpose.

To quench this thirst for answers to the big question of WHY from age One she began reading to me, not from your standard children’s fairy tale books but from her own extensive library of books meant for adult consumption. By age Three she had taught me to read on my own so that I could immerse myself into the mental ramblings of some of the greatest writers and thinkers in humanity’s history. Philosophers such as William James, Plato, Socrates, Descartes, and poets like William Edmund Logan, Lucretius; storytellers like Homer and Mark Twain. I even read many of the works of early psychiatric pioneers like Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. And, of course, there was the Bible.

By age Four and Five she introduced me to the theosophical and spiritual writings of seer Edgar Casey, Madam Blavatsky and others. By the time I entered kindergarten at age Five I was already well ahead of my classmates when it came to my reading skills and my ability to apply critical thinking to just about any subject. However, my math skills were found very lacking indeed and would be an area I would not succeed in until much later in my life when I entered the field of Nuclear Medical Technology at George Washington University. Even then I barely passed quantum physics and applied scientific notation by the “skin of my teeth.”

This drive to discover TRUTH has at times become a burden in life. Not so much a curse but more like a treacherous journey. At my current age I have learned to come to terms with and have found peace with the knowledge that it is a road well traveled and one that never ends and only offers small morsels of enlightenment from time to time.

When I was younger and always in a hurry and add to that impatient, this scant scattering of knowledge as to what is TRUTH could become very discouraging leading to bouts of depressive frustration ending with me saying to myself “To hell with this, I’m going to go on with my life and ignore this inner push and drive to know TRUTH!” However, that internal force would rise to the fore once again pushing me further down the road of discovery.

I searched every where to find TRUTH. My first stop along the highway was the truck stop called philosophy. Having been introduced at such an early age to the great minds of the past, some of which I mentioned earlier, I again took a deep dive as a teen and young adult and researched even more of those thinkers including the more contemporary ones of my own time in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Many of these “giants” were controversial then and some remain so in the early years of the 21st Century. I became fascinated with their thoughts and how those thoughts found expression in the works of artistic minimalist like Saul Bass, science fiction writers like Robert Heinlein and Gene Roddenberry with his positive and hopeful view of the future. I became inspired by the writings and speeches of men like John. F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. as well as one woman who not only provoked me into opening my mind up to “reality” but also provided me with the ability to see beyond what only looks to be true and apparent but just below the thin veil of hypocrisy new information can be gleaned through objective investigation. That woman was Ayn Rand.

Yet, with all those early years of philosophical excavation many treasures were found but that elusive TRUTH was not. To be sure many truths were unearthed but not the ultimate prize.

By the time I was in my late teens and early 20’s the war in Vietnam was raging full bore and I, like many of my contemporaries found myself serving in the military. It appeared I had a natural talent for code so was trained in spy craft. Nothing quite as exotic as James Bond or The Avengers; but that kind of spying on "the enemy" that is meticulous and quite tedious at times sifting through all the muck in transmissions to find that one small nugget of golden intel that would mark a target, save lives or even destroy lives. This kind of attention to detail only added to my abilities to search out clues and hints to finding TRUTH; but then in 1970, while stationed in the Philippines I got sidetracked, big time. To tell this part of the story will require me to give a bit more background.

I am a Jew. However, being born and early raised in a small backwoods country town in Southern Missouri did not allow for any opportunities to be properly indoctrinated into Judaism. Plus, the fact that my mother converted to a tepid form of Christianity called the Disciples of Christ and my father, wanting nothing to do with his “Jewishness” totally rejected anything even remotely religious in nature.

My mom and dad divorced when I was Two. She met and remarried by the time I was Four. The man she married was far from Jewish. A good sort at heart but one who later developed a serious drinking problem which led to all kinds of problems in the home. He was a nasty, angry man when drunk, which over time became frequent. He lost his job in the small Missouri town we lived in and was forced to move us to the “big city” of St. Louis within just a year after marrying my mom who was now pregnant with my brother to be. St. Louis is a town filled with Jews and synagogues up the yahzoo but it was not to be for as my parents were so caught up in just trying to make a living for us they neither had the time or energy for those kind of pursuits.

However, as fate would have it my step-father (who stayed sober while at the workplace) was very good at his blue collar job as a boilermaker so was promoted with better pay rather quickly and my mother got an entry level administrative job at the world’s largest chemical company headquartered in St. Louis (which allowed her to climb the corporate ladder rather high to Executive level). Financially things were beginning to improve so like all upward mobility people in the mid-1950’s we moved to a more prosperous neighborhood consisting of a mixture of Jews and Christians, most of which were doctors, lawyers, judges, pharmacists and high-level railroad personnel. It was a really nice neighborhood and the perfect place for an inquisitive youth like me to grow up in. I had access to libraries in school, the public libraries were close by and the man who owned the duplex we lived in was a bevy of knowledge and experience in life (he was a railroad conductor for decades). The tales of his adventures going across country in those trains kept a young lad like me embroiled with visions of glory and excitement. He became my very own living, breathing Mark Twain. Plus, he introduced me to gardening, something I still love to do today.

While living in that idealistic setting (apart from the bouts with my drunken step-dad) I never gave a great deal of thought to the concepts found in religion per se. I did examine the various different disciplines of religion, including Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Theosophy and Hinduism but none made much of an impact on my life as far as my search for TRUTH was concerned. Besides, by my late teens I had met what I thought was the girl of my dreams — my first love and crush — and became engulfed in this new distraction that placed the needs of my emotions and body over that of my mind and soul.

After graduating from High School Vietnam came a calling so that brings us now to the final full year of my service in the U.S. military standing in a new barracks on the Philippine Islands. I had just arrived the night before flying into Scott Air Force Base. Before this I spent a year and a half in the deserts of Pakistan (called West Pakistan then) at the foothills of the Himalayas. Now I am in the tropical jungles of the Far East. The night I landed at Scott a fellow airman onboard, who had been stationed there before invited me to join him to go down to Angeles City, the town right outside the main gate of the base. Being up for anything to quell the boredom I was feeling, instead of checking in to my unit as I should have, I went with him. We hit some clubs, rounded up a couple of girls and spent the hours before curfew drinking and dancing. As curfew drew near he took his girl and went his way and I took my “date” and we went back to her place. We spent the entire night doing what young people my age in a tropical island do. Eventually we were both rung out and with her sleeping next to me I was laying awake in the dark, staring at the ceiling wondering, “Is this all there is to life?” As entertaining and physically satisfying that night had been it wasn’t the place where I would find TRUTH.

As the sun rose and the curfew was over I left the girl at her place and found my way back to the base and properly checked in to my company barracks.

Keeping in mind the deep thoughts I was having the night before lying in that bed with the girl what happened next should come as no surprise to anyone who has been there, done that. The barracks assigned to me was an old World War II leftover, an open bay structure with no privacy whatsoever. The bunks only had about two feet between them and one locker per bunk. My bunk was right next to the general walkway to the latrine, so whatever privacy you might get in this situation was non-existent for me. I unpacked my duffel and pushed everything into the locker provided. The last thing I took out was a copy of a new English translation of the Bible given to me by a friend of the family while on leave before heading out to this deployment. I threw it on my bunk and headed to the latrine. When I returned a man was sitting on his bunk (which was the one closest to mine) and was reading it. He introduced himself to me and said he’d heard about this translation but had yet to see one. I told him he could have it if he wanted it. Instead of taking it he asked me a question: “Have you ever read it? Do you know what it is about?” I answered I hadn’t read that translation but I had read the Bible and knew much of its contents. He then went on to relay the story of Jesus, which I’d heard before. But, keeping in mind my searching question the night before — “Is this all there is to life?” Suddenly what he was saying to me struck a chord within my emotions and I began feeling a warmth flow through my body starting at the crown of my head and slowly moving to the tip of my toes. When it was done I felt totally pure and clean and found myself on my knees before this strange airman saying a prayer and asking this Jesus to come into my life. I instantly thought I had found TRUTH. I began reading that newly gained Bible and absorbed it like a sponge. Within just a few days I finished the entire Christian Bible - what they call The New Testament and could recall nearly all the words of Jesus verbatim as well as all the doctrines and teachings of a man named Paul. I was hooked.

This airman, named David (of all things) took me to his church which was located just outside the main gate of the base. It was a Pentecostal Assembly of God church and the pastor and his family were very welcoming to me. They took me under their wing, taught me their version of truth and I became a bonafide missionary for Jesus going whenever and wherever possible into the jungles preaching and teaching the gospel (Greek for good news) to village inhabitants as well as overbearingly and obnoxiously so to my fellow airmen.

As my tour of duty was beginning to wind down the after glow of that conversion experience was just beginning to ebb. As I got closer to the inner circle of how things moved and worked within the Pentecostal movement my trained critical thinking mind began to do the one thing no Christian should ever be tempted to do — Question things. I only had six months left on this enlistment and begged to be able to serve it out there in the Philippines because I felt I needed time to sort out these religious questions I had in a familiar setting. But, the Air Force powers that be had their own agenda and wanted me back in the States for a higher purpose. I’m not bragging here but it seems I was pretty damn good at my job at filtering out all the rubbish and noise that comes with code interception and they wanted that ability back in Texas at Kelly Air Force Base where the codes that were unable to be deciphered were delivered to be found and broken by keener ears. I suppose they thought I had one of those keen ears. So, with only six months to go, I found myself packing up my duffel and heading to Texas.

Once I got settled in to my new barracks at Kelly (private room this time) there was a knock on my door. On the other side of it was a middle-aged man, a retired Air Force vet. He was “witnessing” in the barracks and asked if he could take a moment of my time. I told him I was already a Christian. He asked me my denomination and I told him Assembly of God. He then went on to tell me about his group called The Navigators. They are a sort of Campus Crusade for Christ outfit except for military targets instead of college ones. It sounded interesting as the approach of The Navigators was more geared to the intellectually minded and not so prone to allowing one’s emotions to get in the way of serving Jesus. I was intrigued. Could this be the outlet that would hone my efforts to find TRUTH? So, what the hell — I gave it a shot. That lasted about a year and then I was out of there as, like with most of these kinds of groups they can come off as a bit controlling and cultish in their dealings with those within their rank and file.

My quest for TRUTH however remained unabated. “Broke, busted, disgusted” and depleted I left Texas and headed back to family in St. Louis. By this time my mom and step-dad were divorced and both remarried. This time mom hit the jackpot and got a really good man that I am proud to this day to acknowledge him as a very decent human being. My mom is now gone having strewn off her mortal coil at age Eighty-Seven and the man I came to really love as a father is still alive and well and will soon be celebrating his age Ninety-One birthday. Anyway, I returned to the fold and they welcomed me and made room for me, a Twenty-Three year old man, with no job and no apparent income into their home until I could “get my feet back on the ground.” I did that rather quickly and decided perhaps I will find TRUTH in my service to others. What better way to do that but in medicine, aiding and helping the sick? I got a job as a medical technician, a phlebotomist. Applied to nursing school and within a year was in training to be a Registered Nurse at a reputable nursing school out of the St. Louis branch of Missouri University.

I didn’t totally ignore my religious life as a Christian but it certainly was placed on the back burner — way back there. I was just beginning to enter my third year of training and by this time I was a total burnout. I went to school eight hours a day, five days a week, worked as a graduate nurse at a hospital four days a week switching between eight hours evening and night shifts while also tutoring some of my fellow students who were having difficulty on the weekends. Does the old adage burning the candle at both ends come to mind?

I distinctly remember sitting in a lecture one day while the professor was droning on about something and it all sounded like something out of a Charlie Brown cartoon. Remember those scenes when Charlie would be in class and the teacher sounded like “Wahwahwah!” That is exactly how what the professor was spouting sounded like to me. I knew I was done. This part of my life was over. I immediately got up from my seat, walked into the Dean’s office and said “I quit!” She couldn’t believe it. I was on her Dean’s list of great students. However, no matter what she said I couldn’t be convinced to stay and I walked out that day back to where I was Three years earlier — “Broke, busted, disgusted and no one could be trusted," not even myself.

Here I was. I had an apartment I could no longer afford. A relationship I was in was falling apart and my future medical career I aborted like an unwanted fetus. Yet, inwardly I knew I was on the right track. All this chaos around me but within me was complete calm. That is a sign of one of two things: I am mad as a hatter or, I’m somehow getting more in touch with TRUTH. At that point in my life I wasn’t quite sure which I was but either way life goes on and the journey must continue.

With no prospects ahead that I could see I did what any sane and financially depleted person would do — I went back into the military, the Navy this time because the Air Force wouldn’t give me what I wanted — a medical career. They wanted me back in intelligence to continue being a NSA spy — no thanks! The Navy, however, was a willing partner in my medical endeavor. They sent me to Navy Corps School. I became good friends with the Commander of the school since I was older than every other student and had two years of formal nursing training under my belt. I also tutored those falling behind as I had done in nursing school and she got a class in which not one student failed to complete the training. She used whatever influence she had and got me orders to serve in Washington D.C. where I wanted to go, and of course the dispensary I would work at was on a classified Marine facility, once again my old security clearance classification came in handy.

While stationed in D.C. I met my future wife and we wed. One of the students I had tutored was also stationed in D.C. and had a job in the detailing office at the Naval Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. He had been so grateful for the help I gave him with his lessons that he called me one day with an offer to go to a Class A medical school for a brand new field of medicine called Nuclear Medicine Technology and wanted to know if I was interested. I immediately said - “Yes.”

While that decision would become one of the most important in my life (apart from asking my wife to marry me) I really had no idea what I was in for. The Navy worked through the George Washington University School of Medicine for this training. However, unlike the non-military students who normally take this training over a period of Four years, the Navy required that the exact same course be completed in One year. That meant taking classes Five days per week for Eight hours per day including night courses with no spring, summer or holidays breaks of any kind, as well as pulling normal watch duty once a week. That scholastic year was the most brutal and trying year I had ever academically experienced. That with the fact that I was in a new marriage as well as having to do math that began with trigonometry — Holy Crap! At the start of the school year in 1976 I was Twenty-Seven years old and I hadn’t done any real advanced math since high school and even then it took me all four years including summer school to just past two years of Algebra and Geometry and here I am on day one of training kicking it off with Trig. Needless to say the next year was a real bear, but my wife and I prevailed, graduated and I ended up with a very successful and satisfying career in Nuclear Medicine with a specialty in Nuclear Cardiology that lasted for Forty years (now retired).

Apart from the career aside my search for TRUTH continued and by the late 1980’s had moved into speedo mode. Still thinking this TRUTH was to be found in a religious endeavor I found a new outlet for that quest…..Messianic Judaism. As in the past, I put everything I had into that “path of enlightenment.” I learned all I could find about the movement. Came into contact with many of its founders of the day including the Chernoffs in Philadelphia, The Wolfs in Ohio and many more. I became very active with the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America. Started a small bible study in my home which over time became a Messianic Jewish Synagogue. I attended the International Alliance of Messianic Congregations and Synagogues Rabbinic Yeshiva where upon graduation became an ordained “Messianic Rabbi.”

Learning Hebrew in the rabbinic yeshiva turned out for me to be a double-edged sword. My inquisitive mind and being one to rarely take things at their face value began to cause me to ask questions — the very thing that has always gotten me into “trouble.” That nagging “why” never leaves me — I have since learned that is a good thing and my one saving graces.

When I started learning the Biblical texts in their original Hebrew the teachings within Christianity made less and less sense to me. In fact, most of it sounded downright pagan in origin and not Jewish at all, certainly not the Jewishness of First and pre-First Century Israel and Judaism. It was at this time that I became familiar with two Jewish groups which the leaders within the Messianic Jewish movement found troubling because they would always show up at our conferences, set up booths and interact with the participants coming to the conference. These two groups were Outreach Judaism founded by Rabbi Tovia Singer and Jews for Judaism, a group that came about as a response to the Christian missionary efforts of Jews for Jesus.

It was also about this same time that something divisive was brewing within the Messianic movement and being promoted by several of the important leaders of it — Pentecostalism was rearing its ugly head among members of the messianic synagogues. This became the last straw and the breakaway point for myself and a few other rabbis in the movement. We saw this for what it really was, an invasion of nothing more than runaway emotional and disruptive outbursts. It needed to be reigned in but the leadership was either impotent to do so or willing participants. This one thing caused a major split within the movement with good men like Rabbi Chaim Levi feeling forced to move away from it to form his own branch and some like myself to leave the movement altogether and begin the process of returning to my Jewish roots. So, without any regrets or consternation my wife and I closed down our synagogue, I gave up my ordination and returned to the task of unearthing TRUTH.

What are those Jewish roots I was endeavoring to return to? Were they the place I would find TRUTH? Did my lifelong expedition find its resting place at the feet of Rabbinic Judaism?

At the writing of this essay it has now been Twenty-Four years since we left Messianic Judaism and began our exploration into Rabbinic Judaism. What have I learned thus far? TRUTH is not to be found in Rabbinic Judaism. Does this shock you? Yes, there are many truths to be found within the teachings of the rabbis and sages of our long 3,300 year history since the giving of the Torah and Talmud. I have come to learn and appreciate that there are some truths to be found in just about every religious expression of humankind, even the pagan ones. But TRUTH Itself lies in none of these. No religion, no philosophy, no science and no amount of emotion or logic houses TRUTH.

What, if anything, have I learned for myself concerning TRUTH? IT lies within myself, within yourself. IT has been there all along. IT has never left, is always assessable to the open mind and one who is willing to travel down IT’s road of discovery. TRUTH is not something you learn. IT isn’t something you feel. IT isn’t even something you experience or even think. IT isn’t what you believe or have faith in. TRUTH is what you know! Not a gnostic version of knowing but something beyond the ability of any language to express. IT is similar to love - you know it when you have it. And that has to be good enough.

There are many roads to knowing TRUTH. For the Buddha it was meditation, contemplation and enlightenment. For the Christian it is the beatitudes and other sayings of Jesus. For the Hindu TRUTH is reflection on Brahman (divinity) and for the practicing Jew it is learning and following Torah. Not one of these, however, are TRUTH in and of itself but are the myriad of pathways to TRUTH.

All these paths to TRUTH will leave one wanting if it is only the path that is embraced. However, Knowing TRUTH brings about a true peace that passes all Understanding. To put it as simply as I can because that is how I have to integrate a truth — learning brings understanding — Knowing brings fulfillment.

I am Seventy-Three years of age. I have found TRUTH as a result of Knowing IT. My search for IT is over. Now the real journey of immersing myself into an eternal relationship with TRUTH has just begun. May your journey be as enlightening and fulfilling for you.

Shalom to you all!

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