Today is December 17, 2018 -

Getting Stuck in Jewish Spirituality

Published in Institute for Jewish Spirituality by Aryeh Ben David
Posted on August 30, 2018

Jewish educational leaders and their communities have become very good at the first stage of Jewish spirituality – connection. The time has now come to move to the second stage – calling.

The First Stage

When I ask people for their first association with ‘spirituality’, the most common response is ‘connection’. They speak of connecting with something beyond themselves, whether with nature, history, a people, a transcendent being, or even the depth and fullness of the present moment.

Spirituality begins with pausing and noticing.

According to the Midrash, Abraham’s generation did not see what he saw. Moses too was the only person to pause and behold the burning bush, even though it was visible to all who passed by. Abraham and Moses noticed, and they followed up by asking themselves questions. Abraham asked: “Could this mansion be glowing and not have an owner?” Moses asked: “Why isn’t this bush burning up?” Abraham and Moses noticed, stopped, reflected, and then articulated their astonishment. This led to their personal connection with God.

But connection was not the end goal. God caught their attention – in order to talk to them:

“God called to Abraham and said: ‘I am the owner of the palace’”[1]
“God saw that Moses turned to see, and God called to him from within the bush and said, ‘Moses, Moses!’”[2]
Despite the Biblical paradigms of ‘calling’ being the end goal of spirituality, today we’re entirely focused on just the ‘connection’ piece. Connection is dominating the Jewish spiritual scene and language today. Being spiritual today means kavannah (intention) in prayer, mindfulness practice, and connecting to the transcendence of each moment. You’re spiritual if you meditate, journal, and spend reflective time in nature. In our time, a spiritual experience is entering into “a state of being” – being connected to God. The Torah and the Hasidic masters would call this a state of d’vekut (connection).

This spiritual approach is quite appealing: these practices can bring a person to a deeper state of calm, serenity, and fullness. In Heschel’s words, spiritual connection can lead one to a life of wonder and radical amazement. Spiritual connection is also rewarding: it can lead to greater self-worth, gratitude, love, and compassion.

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