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Rabbi Daniel Freitag

The following is an article that Rabbi Freitag originally wrote for a teenage audience. Despite the casual tone and perhaps flippant dismissal of other religions, its lesson speaks to us all.

There has been a very strange movement recently in some Jewish circles. This movement involves the inclusion of Buddhism into Judaism. Some folks have written books about their "enlightening" experiences when sitting and meditating in front of pictures of seven-armed tattooed women. Others, of their great spiritual advances due to "koans", these are those far-out riddles that you've heard like, "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" (Maybe they are mistaking dizziness and confusion for spirituality.)

Now before we discuss how completely ridiculous this whole idea is, we have to understand something. What exactly is "spirituality"? When we hear that word, we imagine some dude sitting somewhere with a drugged out look and a spaced-out smile who always says smug, smiley things. Sort of like Barney on drugs. ("I love you, you love. Whoa. Far out."). We need to understand the Jewish idea of spirituality. If this were what spirituality was, then anything that gives you vague "fuzzies", is spirituality. To some it is wearing crystals, to some it is prozac, to some it is pagan witchcraft, and to some it is LSD. No one is better than another and none are excluded, not even drinking 3 six-packs of beer while watching 10 hours of football, and believe me, this is what gives many men lots of "fuzzies" each Sunday.

So with this definition of "spirituality" then of course bowing down to a rock with a beer belly (the rock has the beer belly, not you) is also a valid form of "spirituality". But ain't the Jewish idea of spirituality and it certainly ainít Judaism. If there is one thing that we stand for, more than "Tikkun Olam", more than the Ten Commandments, it is that there is one and only one G-d and worship or connection to anything as a substitute is, frankly, abhorrent. I'm usually an easy going fellow, and I try not to say such strong words, but there is no other way to say it.

I don't want to mislead you. If you or a friend get something out of meditation, whether it is a sense of tranquility, a clear head, etc. I don't want you to think that it is wrong. There is nothing inherently bad about meditation. As a matter of fact, for many folks it is very good. But let's find Jewish ways of expressing this technique. There are a good number of books about Jewish meditation by Aryeh Kaplan. But I digress, the point is that we need to realize that Judaism is not an "open mike night" where anything goes. When God gave us the Torah, he gave us a great gift. Let us find what it has to offer before we find our "fuzzies" elsewhere.

So, what exactly is spirituality? If it isn't just having long hair, wearing sandals and hanging out in a tree. And more importantly, what does the Jewish concept of spirituality have to do with steak?

Judaism isn't like many other religions in many ways. One of the more significant ways in which Judaism differs is in its attitude toward physical pleasure. Many other religions, including Christianity and Buddhism, make the claim that physical pleasure hinders one's ability to be a really spiritual person. In Buddhism we find a concept of a "monk", some dude who lives on a hill in Tibet and sits all day and spins prayer wheels. Christianity has for it's "holy" folk, vows. Vows of poverty, chastity, etc. The overall idea is to limit connection to the physical world.

But we disagree. See that big juicy steak sizzling on the grill? That's one big hunk-a spirituality just waiting to happen. Hear that music that's making you move onto the dance floor? Thatís the spirituality boogie.

Let me share an interesting piece of Talmud with you. The Talmud says that if someone sees a kosher food that he has never tasted before, and he does not eat any, that when he gets to heaven he will be expected to answer why. Now why is that? The answer is plain and simple. When God created this world and put us in it, He created pleasures for us to enjoy. Now we don't have free reign over it all, we can't abuse it, but we certainly can enjoy it.

But there is one rule. We have a law in Judaism that before we have any pleasure in this world we must make a blessing. Now what is this blessing idea? We praise God? What's that about? I mean, does God really need my praise? Of course not. What we are doing is focusing on the fact that God gives us awesome stuff. When you eat a big ol' juicy piece of grilled steak and you say "MMM-mmmm!!", it becomes a spiritual experience when you add to it the statement "you make some good eats God!, Uh-Huh!". We are held accountable for not trying out different foods only because they can enhance our appreciation of the fact that God made a myriad of different means of enjoyment for us. God could have made a world with tasteless food that merely kept us alive, but no, He made it tasty. Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch, one of the greatest Rabbis of the previous century was planning a trip to the Alps in his later years and when someone asked him why he was going he responded, "When I get up to heaven, God is going to ask me, 'Well, did you see my Alps?' , so I want to say yes."

Spirituality in Jewish terms is creating a relationship with G-d. Not on our terms, but on His, and one of the most significant ways that we accomplish this is by sanctifying the mundane things in our lives by using them to gain a greater connection to G-d. As long as we realize that all of the pleasure in this world is a gift directly from God, and it helps us gain an appreciation for God's care and love of us, then a triple scoop, chocolate-cherry, banana split with sprinkles, nuts, and a cherry on top is a big ol' Spirituality Sundae!

Copyright © 2000 by Rabbi Daniel Freitag and Project Genesis, Inc. We welcome your comments.



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