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.
Jewish Spirituality - Vol. 5
Re: Repairing the Relationship
Re: Removing Distractions
Re: Maintaining Spirituality
Re: Removing Distractions - Rush Hour
By: Mordechai Torczyner
I have received several requests for "back-issues" of this list, and so I am wondering whether I shouldn't just go ahead and put these mailings on to a web site. My hesitation is only that once it is on a site, anyone can get it; I don't have access to a site where I could implement security measures, such as a password or a "robots.txt" file to avoid the sweep of search engines.
Does anyone on this list have a problem with these posts appearing on a site? Please don't hesitate to say so; just e-mail me.
Subject: Repairing the Relationship
By: Elaina Goldstein
I've just read through Vols 1-4 and wanted to say that I continue to be
amazed by the incredible people in this community. I wasn't sure if I
would feel comfortable sharing what I am about to share but after being
so moved by the person who wrote Repairing the Relationship in Vol 3 I
decided to go for it.
Up until 3 years ago I had no clue what "real Judaism" was all about. I
was a workaholic, albeit I was trying to make the world a better place,
but in Washington DC -- in the midst of high power politics it became
very difficult. There was one moment that I can remember so distinctly
and I'd like to share that with you because I believe with all my heart,
mind and soul that it was what has brought me where I am today.
I was in disbelief about what was going on around me and I said to G-d:
"I am obviously a failure---I do not know what you want from me ---I
feel like I am losing my soul--- I give up please help me." Now I
didn't know what I know today about surrendering myself to G-d's will.
For that matter, I didn't even know that a mitzvah was a commandment
from G-d. I was taught that it was a nice thing one did for another.
Now all I can say to each of you out there on this list is that in my
wildest dreams would I ever have figured out, on my own, how to get from
that moment of shear surrender to becoming a Baal Teshuvah. G-d has
brought such incredible people into my life...he brought me here to
Providence...which with the help of so many people I have become an
observant Jew. He has given me moment after moment of feeling His
presence from my first sleep over Shabbos at the Barros' to discussions
I have had with Rabbi Manis Friedman on how to get to a deeper level of
understanding about the mitvot, Torah and Tanya I am learning.
At first I was very scared about the feelings I was having and I would
fight them --or should I say my yatzer hara would fight them. I
struggled ( and still struggle) with great anguish over changing a
lifetime of thinking a certain secular way. But through it all everyone
in my life kept telling me that I needed to keep working on my own
personal relationship with G-d and that Torah was truth.
Now when I feel that I might be slipping I start davening slower, I read
Tehillim everyday, and recently I just read through for the first time,
Duties of the Heart --The Gate of Trust. Hashem even gave me a special
opportunity to learn with Rabbi Friedman some of this material.
I'd like to end on a thought that Rabbi Torczyner once told me. I was
feeling that what I was doing wasn't good enough and was disappointed
with something or other---what R'T said was that Hashem wants us to try
and it is the intent of doing the mitvot that matters. This one thought
has gotten me over the hump on many occasions. From my own experience,
reaching out to Hashem, sincerely doing the mitvot because He wants me
to, and serving Him with as much joy as I can muster has allowed me to
feel G-d's presence and has provided me with a peacefulness I never
thought was possible.
Subject: Re: Removing distractions
I agree with Rabbi Torczyner that taking time to focus on "distractions" is a good idea, and helps us to highlight what the "essence" actually is. However, I think that for many people, an equally valid approach is not to remove distractions, but to turn things that might be distractions into opportunities (this sounds like a cliche, but I'll explain what I mean).
For example, for myself, the physical preparation involved in cooking meals for a holiday is a distraction, and I can minimize it by buying some ready made dishes, using disposable pans, etc. Other people may be able to turn the physical preparations into part of the essence of their holiday, by cooking together with other family members, focusing on new kashrus techniques or the laws of cooking on shabbos and holidays, or by just viewing the special holiday food as an essential part of the holiday atmosphere.
The question of talking in shul is slightly different, since it may manifest a disrespect for Gd when one turns away from prayer to greet another individual. However, many may view this not as a distraction from the act of prayer, but an affirmation of community. Recognizing that our prayer is public and that it is shared with friends in the community may strengthen the feelings that one has in shul.
One question along these lines. How do people view bringing children into shul -- distraction or essence? Children are part of the community, and having them (and their parents) participate in shul seems worthwhile. However, even the best behaved child will create some stir, if just by playing quietly and being irresistably adorable. Thoughts?
Subject: Re: Maintaining Spirituality
By: Scott Spiegler
This is in response to Elaine Saklad's post from
the 2nd edition of Spirituality.
> I need to build up my spirituality first, so that I
> can perform these tasks in a happy "Shabbos-dik" (or
> "Yomtov-dik") way.
I can definitely appreciate what I think Elaine is
expressing here. It is difficult to move from our
fast-paced lives during the week into a mode of
kiddusha when shabbos or yuntif comes, particularly
when its coincedence with the English calendar makes
for short weeks.
I wanted to share one technique that I have used (with
some success) that has helped me to shift gears, so to
speak, in situations like this. A lot of times, I find
that, when I am racing around during a week, a holiday
can come up quite fast and unexpectedly, even though I
am aware of its presence on the calendar. And, when
that happens, I find myself often 'not in the mood' to
engage the holiday, as either I should or it requires
(or both). There is a gap in terms of what I want to
do and what the holiday is requiring that I do. My
heart cannot connect to the kiddusha, as it were.
One approach that I have found useful in terms of
helping me transition from chol mode to kodesh mode is
based on a beautiful chidush I once heard from Rabbi
Yitzchok Kirzner Z"TL. He gave a mashal that related
to shidduchim. And, since I view the work of Torah
from a relational point of view, I saw this mashal's
application in my avodas Hashem when I cannot connect
R' Kirzner was talking about the topic of dating and
romantic love. The scenario he posed was- what if you
are dating someone and for various reasons, you do not
feel the desire to give to that person? Here, he is
not referring to the situation where there is no
physical attraction or emotional connection. In this
situation, he is referring to a date where the person
feels some connection to a person, but not one strong
enough to want to give to that person of his/her own
He made the observation that in a relationship in
which a person greatly desires another, there is a
natural propensity to want to give to the other. That
is, we can imagine that it is a natural feeling to
give to the one which we desire. And, as he said,
there is nothing wrong with it. It is perfectly normal,
understandable and even desirable. The question he
posed is- what do you do when you don't feel the
spontaneous desire to give to the other. Either there
is not a strong connection in the beginning or the
connection has faded just enough to cause you to loose
the desire to give.
In reponse to this question, he made the observation
that in this culture, people have a one-sided view of
romance. Meaning, if I feel something towards the
other, I give. If I don't, I don't give. However, the
Torah suggests to us another possibility. The Torah
claims- not only do I give to whom I desire- but also
(and this is the important chidush) I come to desire
the one to whom I give.
I found this statement profoundly wise. For sure, even
in the best of relationships, there will be times when
the desire to give, for a variety of reasons, will
wane. And, one question I am inclined to ask is- "So,
is there any room for movement in the direction of
giving now that I don't feel like giving?" This
question, for sure, has obvious implications for
interpersonal relationships (bain adam l'adam), but
what do you do in the case of G-d (bain adam
l'Makom)where there is a Divine mandate to be
connected? How does one want something that one does
Suppose it is Friday afternoon or erev some yuntif,
and I just don't feel like connecting to the impending
z'man kidusha? Here, I have an obligation to want
something which, at least in some normative sense, I
just don't want right now. Here is where I find
meaningful application to R' Kirzner's chidush.
I do concrete actions (fully aware that I am 'not in
the mood') with the mindset of doing it for Him. I
keep my focus on doing it, because He wants it done. I
don't try to get myself to desire it at all. I simply
respect where I am at that moment with no judgement or
self-guilting. I may do it with resistance (and that
is fine). The point is that I find some way to get
myself to do it, and I find that at some point there
is an emotional shift takes place in me. There is a
shift from 'I'm doing it for Him with not much
feeling' to more of a feeling that 'I am doing for
Him, because I desire a connection to Him'.
A note of clarification, this is something which I
have failed at many times and still fail at, at times.
But, it is also something that I have had experience
with in a positive, productive way. The more I
practice this bit of work- of doing something without
desiring it- the more consistently I come to desire it
over time. It is, for me, the essence of na'aseh
v'nishma and can be used for general connection to G-d
as well as for localized disconnects, as I think
Elaine was referring to.
This is something that I find meaningful and useful. I
hope it is helpful to readers of this list. I would
like to hear feedback about this approach,
particularly if others have tried it or something
Subject: Re: Removing Distractions - Rush Hour
By: Mordechai Torczyner
One more thought on removing distractions. I believe one of the central distractions (which keeps us from focussing on spirituality and on getting closer to Gd) is Time Pressure.
Let's take speech as an example of an act which could benefit from reduced Time Pressure.
I had a conversation with a friend this week, who pointed out that thinking about the act of speech before speaking drastically alters what comes out of our mouths.
Speech is an instinct, for most of us. We are taught at the earliest stages of our life to speak, to make noise, if we have a need or a thought to express. Speaking becomes as reflexive as raising an arm to get a glass of water; who thinks about moving the bicep, the tricep, etc? We reach out, and the glass is in our hand. This is also the way we speak - we don't think about moving our jaws, the jaws just move. Ditto for the tongue, teeth and larynx.
If we stop and think about it, though, then we break the act down in our minds, and we have a better chance of controlling the outcome.
It all boils down to time, and to the issue of rushing through an act. One of our chief distractions is the need to run from act to act to act, always on the run. If we allow more time for each individual act, we stand a better chance of thinking it through and finding greater meaning in it.
Have a good Shabbos,
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