GOOD MORNING! Oftentimes people ask me, "Where is the spirituality in Judaism?" People want to transcend the mundane, to connect with God, to be transported in a feeling of spiritual ecstasy. Some flock to Kabballah, but Kabballah is the icing on the cake and icing alone is not only insubstantial, it is not filling and can make one sick if he eats too much. So, where is spirituality in Judaism? Spirituality is IN the mundane. The trick is to raise the mundane and by doing so, you raise yourself.
I used to live in Israel. One time while riding on an Egged Bus (that is the name of the bus company) I noticed how grumpy the driver was and what misery he was spreading to everyone who boarded his bus. I figured he saw each passenger as an intrusion; if there were no passengers he could just drive his route in peace. I made up my mind to change his perspective.
"You know," I said to the driver, "you are doing a wonderful thing!" "What do you mean?" grumbles the driver. "You are helping a lot of people -- you help a woman to take her son to the doctor, a man to visit his elderly father, the soldier to return to his bases, the little boy to go to school; you have a wonderful job -- just by driving the bus you can do so many acts of kindness!" "Gee," the bus driver said, "I never thought of it that way. You're right!"
And then I explained to the bus driver that our Torah (in Israel most of the bus drivers are Jewish in the Israeli bus companies) the Almighty commands us to "Love our neighbor as ourselves" "To emulate the Almighty" "To do acts of kindness." You are already fulfilling these mitzvot through your actions, imagine the pleasure you will have if you focus on the fact that you are fulfilling the Almighty's will! With just a little bit of focus you can raise the mundane to the ultimate in spirituality -- doing the will of the Almighty! And the driver said, "You're right! Thank you!"
Most Jews are familiar with the blessing over bread "... hamotzie lechem min ha'aretz." It is surprising to many that there are blessings before and after every type of food. There is a blessing over fruits from the ground, fruits from a tree, flour products like cakes and cookies, and a general blessing "... shehakol nih'yeh b'dvaro" (that all things should be according to His word). Why do Jews make blessings before and after each type of food?
On one level, the blessing before the food is requesting permission from the Almighty to eat the food and the blessing after eating is to give thanks for the food. I think this is easy to relate to -- in my home if a child doesn't say "please" when asking for a food to be passed to him, he is often ignored until he remembers his manners. If the candy man in the synagogue gives my child a lollipop, I make sure that my child says, "Thank you" to the man. On a basic human level, we realize the importance of manners, of showing respect and appreciation. This also applies on a spiritual level with regards to our relationship with the Almighty.
On another level, the blessing itself raises the spirituality of the act of eating. Instead of responding to animal-like need to eat with an animal-like response of "wolfing" down food, we stop to focus that there is a God who created this world and everything in it for our pleasure. The blessing itself teaches us this every time we say it (if we focus on what we are saying). Every blessing starts out with the words "Blessed are you, Lord our God." In Hebrew each name of God is different and conveys a different meaning. We are commanded to focus on the meaning of the each name of God when we make the blessing. The first name "Ah-do-noy" means "He was, is and always will exist." The second name, "Eh-lo-hei- nu" means that "He is the Master of all creation and Master of all possibilities."
Every time a Jew makes this blessing, he is reminding himself that there is a God Who created the world, Who loves us, Who has the power to help us. The blessing connects one to God. It takes the mundane and makes it sublime. All it takes is focus.
So, if you want spirituality, find out what the mitzvot, commandments of the Almighty are; purchase the book The 613 Commandments by Rabbi Chill. There is every possibility that you are already doing many mitzvot! Also, if you would like to raise your level of spirituality through making blessings, get a copy of the NCSY Blessing booklet or look in the Artscroll prayerbook. (All of these are available at your local Jewish bookstore or by calling toll free to 877-758-3242.)
Portion of the Week
The Jewish people had received the Torah on Mt. Sinai and were ready to enter the land of Israel. There was a consensus of opinion amongst the people that we should send spies to see if it was feasible to conquer the land. Moshe knew that the Almighty's promise to give the land included a guarantee to conquer it. However, one of the principles of life which we learn from this portion is: the Almighty allows each of us the free will to go in the direction he chooses. Even though one man and the Almighty is a majority, Moshe by Divine decree, sent out the princes of the tribes (men of the highest caliber) to spy out the land.
Twelve spies were sent. Ten came back with a report of strong fortifications and giants; they rallied the people against going up to the Land. Joshua ben Nun and Calev ben Yefunah (Moshe's brother-in-law) tried to stem the rebellion, but did not succeed. The Almighty decreed 40 years of wandering in the desert, one year for each day they spied in the land of Israel. This happened on the 9th of Av, a date noted throughout Jewish history for tragedy -- the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain amongst them.
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
When the spies gave their evil report of the Land of Israel they said, "The Land ... is a land which devours those who dwell in it" (Numbers 13:32). What homiletical interpretation may we learn from this verse?
Rabbi Yitzchok of Vorki taught that this verse can be understood to mean that the Land of Israel is a land which devours those who sit in one place. That is, in Eretz Yisroel, the Land of Israel, it is especially important to keep rising higher and higher in spiritual levels. Those who try to stay in one place will not only not rise higher, but they will start deteriorating.
It is a lesson in life that one never stays on the same spiritual level. Either one is on the way up or he is on the way down. This may be our ultimate choice in life -- do we choose to ascend, to raise our level of spirituality or do we let the law of entropy bring us down?