Jewish Spirituality
Volume 19

By way of preface:

Jewish Spirituality - Volume 19

The answer is "Chiddush" --
Subject: The answer is "Chiddush"
By: Mordechai Torczyner

We have asked this question before: How can we avoid falling into the rhythms of daily life, which lull us to spiritual sleep?

We have come up with a few answers, and in the most recent mailings we have suggested that one should be particularly leery of the pitfalls of over-familiarity. We recognize the need for familiar practices and rote, as this helps us become comfortable and adept at the Mitzvos. On the other hand, this same familiarity can defeat our attempts to concentrate on the meaning behind these Mitzvos.

Some posters have hinted at the idea that we should try to bring something new into our service. I found a statement by the Chasam Sofer (Chiddushim on Maseches Shabbos 140b), regarding a different topic, which I think bolsters this point:

-- quote begins [translation mine]

It appears that we may find merit for the popularized custom of creating too many novellae [in Torah study], each person building altars for themselves here and there.

Our great ancestors saw that, due to our great sins, forgetfulness was becoming ascendant and it was becoming impossible for a person to establish his learning. However, a person would remember everything via novel ideas regarding each folio and page. People remember shocking ideas; experimentation testifies to this, and I know it regarding myself.

In that case, novellae are an aid against forgetfulness even if the novellae are not entirely correct.

-- quote ends

The Chasam Sofer's core idea is relevant to spiritual struggle, too [see also Berachos 29a]. One aid to our struggle is to find new and innovative personal meaning in our Mitzvos. We develop our sensitivity to Gd by finding new understandings in these practices.

In practice, I think we should use the Chasam Sofer's comments on Torah study as a model. How are novellae on Torah born?

Here are some examples:
1. We develop questions based on perceived problems within sources, and then we try to solve the problems.
2. We relate the Torah's terminology in one instance with a similar terminology elsewhere, and we try to find the common ground between the two.
3. We ask questions about why someone mentioned in the Torah would do X or Y.
4. We find similarities between events in the Torah, and we try to explain the linkage.
5. We try to find meaning in the Torah's juxtaposition of laws or events.

I believe there are parallels between these methods of Torah study and the methods we can employ to find new spiritual meaning. I leave the actual exploration of these parallels as an exercise for the reader; you are welcome, as always, to submit your discoveries and thoughts.

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