By way of preface:
The "Jewish Spirituality" mailing list is an outgrowth of several conversations in which people told me that they felt "alone" in their quest to develop their relationship with Gd. I knew they weren't alone, just from my own interactions with other people, and so I extended an invitation to the Jewish community of Rhode Island to join in a weekly mailing list exploring issues within their relationship with HaShem.
Many of the messages posted on the list reflect people's personal struggles and sensitivities. As a result, some of the people who post remarks on this list opt to do so anonymously; they send me the e-mail, and I drop their names. The list is "blind cc'd," as well, so that no one knows who else is on the list. Our goal is that the members of this list should draw strength and inspiration from the words of their peers, and thereby continue to develop as Jews.
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Jewish Spirituality - Volume 16
By: Scott Spiegler
My apologies for the hiatus in posting to this list. I was away on
vacation and then started a new job, but now I am back and wanting to
share reactions to recent postings. Here is the first...
> Familiarity is the great enemy of every feeling of holiness and elevation. When a
> man stands facing the most elevated and lofty state, and sparks of holy fire are
> ignited in his spirit, familiarity steals into him and extinguishes the holy embers,
> one after another, until the fire is wholly crushed.
This sounds to me like a weaker version of the addage, "Familiarity
breeds contempt". Though I would want to make the distinction between
familiarity of this kind and familiarity which lends itself to trust and
comfort. For example, I may play the guitar and, by virtue of devoted
practice, may be familiar with the instrument, so that I trust where the
notes are and feel comfortable finding my way around the fingerboard. I
would say that this kind of familiarity is a good and valuable thing.
Likewise, in an interpersonal relationship, the other person may be
familiar to me in a positive way, in that we have spent much time
communicating our beliefs and aspirations and feel a trust in and ease
with the other as a result of those common understandings. On the other
hand, seeing that other person daily might cause me to take this person
and/or the relationship for granted. Early in the relationship when
things are new and fun, I might relish the opportunity to spend time
with them. Later, however- when the relationship is more established, I
might feel bored or a loss of interest, if we had been spending too much
I think there is a fine balance that needs to be struck between not
having a relationship be overly familiar to the extent that my desire
for it is diminished and not spending enough time in it to develop
> Even natural feelings, like friendship, are crushed and annulled by familiarity.
This is precisely where my mind went, when I started to read this
excerpt. I felt inclined to generalize the question to all kinds of
things with which we are in relationship. Does not a certain kind of
familiarity dampen love/romantic relationships? What about familiarity
with respect to time? Is not part of the specialness of Shabbos and
Yuntif determined by its infrequency with respect to ordinary days
(chol)? I mean, right in the word Kadosh (holiness)- we learn of the
notion of seperateness, removed from the mundane. I think G-d is telling
us that part of what makes the holy feel holy is its being set off from
the commonplace. Shabbos is embued with kedushah, and I would say that
part of our ability to experience its special holiness is through its
infrequency relative to the other days of the week. I wonder what our
sense of Shabbos would be if it were 6 days a week with 1 day of chol.
So, I am thinking that G-d created the paradigm of Shabbos in this way,
amongst other things- to communicate to us that what is holy must also
be not ordinary.
It does seem that a certain kind of familiarity can damage our
appreciation of places, experiences and people. And, yet, we are obliged
to maintain, for example, romantic love for our spouses always, not
just on anniversaries or other special occassions. That is not to say
that we achieve this all the time. When the kids are sick and the couple
exhausted, it is, to say the least, tricky to feel the same way towards
your spouse as during easier times, but we are obligated to work at it,
I believe. And, we are obliged to see G-d (or at least seek G-d) Monday
through Friday (assuming they are not Yomim Tovim), not just on Shabbos
So, I want to ask the question- "How do we manage this issue of
familiarity and the ensuing risks of disdain that may arise from it?" I
am interested in hearing others thoughts on this. One thought I have is
that we need to use our minds in some way, to refresh the context.
Perhaps, when our romantic relationship feels too familiar, we might
recall those moments when it was not. For instance, at those moments,
we try to conjure up an image in our mind of the time when we first fell
in love with this person. Or, we can conjure up special images of nice
moments spent together and then re-view that person looking at them
through the new 'filter' rather than the one we previously had on.
Perhaps, regarding Shabbos- when we are caught up in the mundane
activities of the week, we recall that niggun or vort that we heard on
Shabbos and renew (read, make new) our connection to the present moment.
In that way, we can re-energize the experience and ourself with this
piece of Shabbos that we are remembering. We can, symbolically, import
a taste of that Shabbos recollection to the present.
I think also that this question relates to the observation that, while
we can have peak experiences in life that energize and motivate us in
positive ways, we cannot remain in those peak experiences
forever. We can stand atop the mountain for only a limited time. I've
heard it said, 'We cannot stay on the summit forever, but we can
remember...' (in the mind's eye and in the heart) and visit that spot
that made us feel elevated- 50,000 feet above the ground. And, with that
recreated mental image, we can revitalize the moment and change our
relationship with the mundane.
Those are thoughts I have about this issue. I really would welcome
hearing others thoughts and reactions.
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