Jewish Spirituality
Volume 16

By way of preface:

Jewish Spirituality - Volume 16

Subject: Thoughts
By: Scott Spiegler

Hi all,

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 time together.

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 healthy familiarity.

> 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 and Yuntif.

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.

Kindly, Scott

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 to be added; there's always room for more people, and there is no fee!

  • Back to the main Spirituality page
  • Back to the Main Page