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
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 folks.it ain't the Jewish idea of
spirituality and it certainly ain’t 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? That’s 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
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.