When you start working in a new organization or company, you will need an orientation of what it does, and what your role is. Well, when we enter this world, the biggest of organizations, we need an orientation with the same purpose. We need to know what this organization is, what our role is, how we are related to others, etc. An orientation will help us live our life much more easily and successfully.

When I was growing up, I craved for such an orientation to life, but I was disappointed. As nobody gave me a satisfactory orientation, I took the initiative to orient myself. I began to ask questions to everyone I met. Some of the questions amused them, but some others angered them. At the age of five, I asked my older sister if the Sun rose because of our morning prayer, which was as regular as the Sunrise, and it certainly amused her. But when I asked my mother why a girl is different from a boy, it angered her. As I grew up further I began to ask more serious existential questions. Soon I found that the people around me were as ignorant as me, which made me turn to books. I became a voracious reader hoping to find bits of wisdom from each of the books I read. I had to spend years before I could formulate a set of answers to my questions.

If reading helped me to collect bits of wisdom, it was writing that helped me to organize them, and continue my search further. I remember writing a full length book in my early twenties with the title “The world, a family”. It was a very good exercise which helped me read and write further, but I have lost the manuscript . In my thirties, when I was a school teacher in Ethiopia, I started writing a book that answers the basic questions of life. I named it “The Questions of Life and Death” and continued working on it even after reaching the US. For a few years it stayed within the hard disc of my computer before I had a chance to read it again recently. I was amazed to find that I was fully in agreement with everything in there in spite of the knowledge I have acquired over the past decade. I also realized that the questions answered in this book are timeless, and that this book would be of tremendous help to any young person struggling with similar existential questions.  That is how I decided to publish this book under the title An Orientation to our Life.

This book consists of a few questions about life and my own answers to these questions. It takes the form of a conversation between a teacher and his students. I have created a setting that is common for the three major Semitic religious traditions in the world. The conversation happens in ancient Alexandria before Christ in a Jewish Synagogue between a Rabbi and some young people. This pre-Christian Judaism is the original river from which the three separate tributaries of present-day Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have originated. The Rabbi answers the questions of the young people with the help of the first three chapters of Genesis, which consists of the Hymn of Creation and the story of Adam and Eve.

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How to use this book

1. You can read this for yourself

2. You can lead a Bible study using a chapter, or all participants may read a chapter from here first, and then have a discussion based on it.

 

Table of Contents

The Setting of the Stage
1. Why do we Live?
2. How should we Live?
3. Where are we?
4. Who are we?
5. Are we the Chosen People?
6. Why do we Live Together?
7. How can we Mend Broken Relationships?
8. How can we Identify Good from Evil?
9. How can we Think of God?
10. Can we Challenge Death?
11. Does God Exist?
12. Is Sex Good?
13. Where will we Go: To Heaven or Hell?
14. Why are there the Rich and the Poor?
15. Why do we Suffer?
16. How do we Gain Knowledge?
Worksheet: Introducing the Book
Worksheet: General

 

A Sample Chapter from the Book

2. How should we Live?

Today I was the one to begin the discussion with a question.

Esther: Rabbi, last week we discussed the most important question about our life-- why we live. We concluded that we live because our creator wants us to live. This leads us to the question I am asking today. How should we live our life? Or, in other words, how does God want us to live?

Rabbi: You are definitely right. Why leads to How. I must warn you at the very beginning that we don't have an absolutely correct answer for this question either. Only God knows the answers of why and how about our existence. I can only tell you how our ancestors answered this question. They believed that we are like the trees in God's garden. Like a farmer, God plants us and waters us. We belong to God, and we exist for some purpose only God knows.
This metaphor helps us further to answer the question of how. When a farmer plants a seed in the soil, he has a dream of that seed. He wants the seed to sprout and to grow to become what it is supposed to become. Each living seed has a potential. If you plant a coconut, it grows to become a coconut tree. If you plant a mustard seed, it grows to become a mustard tree. If a plant or a tree stops growing for some reason, it makes the farmer very upset. On the other hand, the sight of a fruitful tree fills the heart of a farmer with joy.

I understood what the Rabbi was going to say. I interrupted the Rabbi.

Esther: So you are saying that we have to grow to our full potential and be fruitful.

Rabbi was happy to hear what I said.

Rabbi: Exactly. That is the dream of God about us. God wants us to grow and be fruitful.

Hearing this, Ezekiel joined the discussion.

Ezekiel: Rabbi, what is our potential? How much can we grow?

Rabbi: We are like coconuts. It has an outer shell, and it has the real coconut inside the shell. This body of ours is our shell. The real I exists within my body. My body stopped growing by the time I was twenty years old, but the inner one, the real I, has never stopped growing. I know what you are going to ask me now. How much will the inner one grow?
Our ancestors believed that we are the image of God. This statement was not about our outer shell but about the real one within. The statement that I am the image of God means that I am a representation of God or I am a copy of God. It might also mean that I am a child of God because a child is a copy of his/her parents. By stating that we are the image of God, our ancestors meant that we have the potential to grow until we become like God. 
Hearing this we looked at each other with surprise. The Rabbi continued.

Rabbi: Yes, we all need to grow until others see God in us. We have to become walking Gods. The invisible God should be made visible through us.
This should be the ultimate goal that drives us each and every day of our life. Nothing should deviate our attention from this goal. People are easily deviated by other goals such as a comfortable life, acceptance of other people, and wealth. All these are good as long as they serve as stepping stones to the absolute goal of growing up to God. But they are all evil if they become goals in themselves. A plant needs water, manure, and sunlight to grow. They are all good if they help the plant to grow. But if the goal of a plant's life is to have a lot of water or manure or sunlight, it won't grow to its full potential or be fruitful. 

Ezekiel: When you say that God becoming visible in us must the goal of our life, you are comparing our life to a journey. It is easy to get lost if we don’t have our eyes fixed on our goal. I understand that having our eyes fixed on our goal is the most important thing we need to be careful in our journey of life.
Rabbi: Thank you, Ezekiel. In order to have our eyes fixed on our goal, we must have the ability to see…. with our inner eyes. A lot of people in our world are blind... I mean their inner eyes are blind. They cannot see beyond the temporary pleasures, social status, and wealth. Their inner eyes get blinded by negative feelings such as anxieties, guilt feelings, hatred, and jealousy. We need to give a daily shower to our mind to keep it clean so that we can fix our inner eyes on our true goal of life.
Coming back to the metaphor of a seed, we cannot grow to our full potential unless we have the freedom to grow and unless we have the basic necessities satisfied.  We have the responsibility to keep our mind free from all that binds it, and to keep our mind open to receive enlightening thoughts.

Today's discussion gave us a clear idea of how we should live our life on earth. Each day of our life, our life needs to be driven by the single goal of growing up to God. We all were excited to learn something so important.

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