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.
My apologies for not sending this e-mail out yesterday, when it was supposed to go out. I actually hope to send out the weekly e-mail on Fridays from here on out, as this will give people a chance to print it out and think it over during Shabbos.
My initial e-mail advertising this list drew two strong responses:
1. This is just what I've been looking for!
2. I'm in, but what exactly is this group for?
It seems, then, that some of us know exactly what this is about, and some of us are still wondering.
Before going into the goals of the list, I'd like to spend a minute on the "who." Specifically, who is on this list?
The list is "blind cc'd" in order to preserve anonymity for people who are more comfortable that way, but here is a demographic breakdown, which I feel is important:
We have 15 e-mail addresses on this list. This includes families and singles. It includes professionals and teachers, social workers and students. It includes people who identify themselves as "Modern Orthodox," "Centrist Orthodox," and the community colloquially identified as "Black Hat." It includes men who go to work with Yarmulkas and men who don't, women who cover their hair outside their homes and women who don't.
As you can see, we are not a group which fits into a single pigeonhole, and I think this is a vital point. All of the people on this list are trying to answer the question of "How may I draw closer to Gd?"
The purpose of this list is to pool our collective and diverse abilities in pursuit of the answer to this question. Ultimately, the way for one person to draw closer to Gd is different from the way for another person. Nonetheless, there are ideas we can share, and from which we all stand to benefit.
So here's the format I would like to follow (suggested changes are welcome!):
I would like to present a catalytic quote, or a thought, in the weekly e-mail. The thought would have something to do with the issue of finding Gd in our lives, and sensitizing ourselves to Him. People could then mull over the ideas involved, perhaps discuss them with their families and friends, and then respond with comments and ideas.
No one has to respond; I simply feel that everyone has a great deal to contribute, and should have the opportunity to do so. If you wish your e-mail to be anonymous, please indicate that in the e-mail.
I hope to archive old issues on a web site, likely on the Ohave Shalom website as a matter of convenience.
If you wish to submit a thought for the weekly "catalyst," please send it right along.
Here is a thought to get us started; I hope to send out the next e-mail on Friday, with your responses:
This is an excerpt from an article by Rav Moshe Weinberger, from the Orthodox Union's "Jewish Action" magazine. The article is titled "A Modern Experiment in Chassidus A Long Island congregation fashions its own foray into Chassidus," and it appeared within the past year. (I cannot recommend the entire article highly enough.)
As a child of Holocaust survivors and raised in the terrible shadow of their pain, I was profoundly drawn to the writings of the Rebbe of Piaseczner, Rabbi Kalonymos Kalman Shapiro. This brilliant tzaddik, scion of one of the great dynasties of Polish Chassidus, continued to teach, encourage and inspire the remaining Jews of the Warsaw ghetto until he was taken to be killed in Treblinka in November, 1943. Some of his Torah teachings from those last days were miraculously discovered beneath the ashes of the demolished ghetto and were later published as Aish Kodesh - "Holy Fire."
Our beis medrash is named Aish Kodesh after the last sefer of the holy Rebbe, Reb Kalonymos Kalman Shapiro of Piaseczner. The Rebbe was truly a holy fire sent to warm the hearts and illuminate the minds of a broken generation. In the depth of the darkness, he remained steadfast in his unshakable faith in the immortality of Knesses Yisrael. Our generation has been resurrected from the ashes of Auschwitz and Treblinka, yet we have fallen into a state of spiritual numbness, a life of cold prayers, empty mitzvos, rote learning, and an overall sense of spiritual alienation. The Baal Shem Tov spoke of a time when there would be "double concealment." That is to say, besides the concealment itself, there would be a lack of faith that there was a truth concealed; the fact of concealment would itself be concealed. In the Holocaust, Jewish bones were crushed under the weight of hester panim -- divine concealment.
In our "enlightened" times, Jewish souls are deceived by the delusion of "double concealment." Too frequently, we offer lifeless prayers in the midst of animated personal conversation and drag ourselves through the details of Orthodox Judaism. We have forgotten the purpose of life, while observing its regulations. We have lost our sense of divine yearning and subsequently have stopped yearning ourselves. We proceed cheerfully with the business of establishing institutions and supporting more Jewish causes, not realizing that the essence of Judaism eludes us.
Rav Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev once gathered all the Jews of Berditchev in the main synagogue, rose to the bimah and called out: "Jews, do not forget there is a God in Heaven!" To this end our beis medrash was established -- to stop the inertia of apathy, to tear away at least one mask of concealment and call out "There is a G-d in Heaven!"
In his work, Tzav V'ziruz, Reb Kalonymos Kalman writes: The human soul relishes sensation, not only if it is a pleasant feeling but for the very experience of stimulation. Sooner sadness or some deep pain rather than the boredom of non-stimulation. People will watch distressing scenes and listen to heartrending stories just to get stimulation. Such is human nature and a need of the soul, just like all its other needs and natures; so he who is clever will fulfill this need with passionate prayer and Torah learning. But the soul whose divine service is without emotion will have to find its stimulation elsewhere: It will either be driven to cheap, even forbidden, sensation or will become emotionally ill from lack of stimulation.
Our Weekly Jewish Spirituality E-mail
E-mails are generally sent out on Friday mornings, Eastern Daylight Saving Time. You need not live locally to be added to this mailing list. Please send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org to be added; there's always room for more people, and there is no fee!
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