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Reaching for the fourth level of life

Rabbi cultivates spirituality on several levels

1:28 PM EDT, October 21, 2012

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Meet another member of South Florida's many-sided faith community. This week we're talking with Rabbi Moshe Heyn of Temple Israel, Miami.

Q: How did you get into your vocation?

A: It was somewhat circuitous. I grew up in Baltimore in a secular family. My temple experience was anything but spiritual. It was like a country club experience.

When I was 19, I became vegetarian, practicing yoga. I hitchhiked across the country and ended up in an ashram in the San Francisco bay area. I spent 10 years practicing various forms of spirituality.

At the end, I realized I was not born Buddhist or Hindu, I was born a Jew. I realized Judaism was in fact a spiritual path.

Q: Do you have an overall philosophy of ministry?

A: We all have a purpose in life. It involves development on the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual levels. Most of us spend a lot of time tweaking the physical — food, clothing, shelter — and the emotional level. These levels are important and necessary. But they must lead us to the fourth stage, spiritual development. It's aided by prayer and meditation and ongoing cultivation: heightened awareness, greater sensitivity, reverence for life.

Q: How do you cultivate that in a synagogue?

A: We have a huge body of literature and spirituality that's profound. We go to Hasidic and Kabbalistic traditions. But ultimately, there's tremendous power in the symbols of our traditions: the prayer shawl, the Torah, the shofar on High Holy Days, and the sukkah in Sukkot. And prayer for us is a form of meditation, and a way of elevating us to the divine.

Q: That's pretty heady. How can you do all that and get down to the business of social action?

A: The synagogue is structured like that. We need a solid physical base and a connection with the community, and a grasp of the sciences and social justice issues. If we're not grounded in those areas, we can't go to the next step. The nice thing is that people at each level can feel connected to the spiritual. It transcends but includes all those other dimensions.

Q: Do you have a motto, or a favorite scripture verse?

A: Baruch ata Adonai – "Blessed are you, O God." That's the start of probably 99 percent of all [Hebrew] blessings. If one could fathom the meaning of those words, that in itself would be a tremendous blessing.

-- James D. Davis

Do you know someone we should profile? Tell James D. Davis, Religion Editor, Sun Sentinel, at 500 E. Broward Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, FL 33394. You may also e-mail him at JDDavis@Tribune.com or call at 954-356-4730.

Rabbi Moshe Heyn

Title: Spiritual leader at Temple Israel of Miami since July.

Past job experience: Past spiritual leader of Shir HeHarim, Brattleboro, Vt.; former chaplain, pastoral care professional, Cincinnati.

Education: Degree in history and Hebrew studies, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee campus; master's degree in Hebrew letters and ordination at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Cincinnati.

Personal: 52. Born in Baltimore.

Family: Married to Alexandra, a cancer researcher at Sylvester Cancer Center, University of Miami. Four children.

— James D. Davis