Jewish Spirituality
Volume 5

By way of preface:

Volume 5

Jewish Spirituality - Vol. 5

Mordechai Torczyner

Re: Repairing the Relationship
Elaina Goldstein

Re: Removing Distractions

Re: Maintaining Spirituality
Scott Spiegler

Re: Removing Distractions - Rush Hour
Mordechai Torczyner


Subject: Administrivia
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
By: Anonymous

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 to kiddusha.

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 free will.

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 not want?

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 similar.


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,

Mordechai Torczyner

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