2014 Religious Trends
Jewish Spirituality Versus Jewish Ritual
Editors' Note:This article is part of the Public Square 2014 Summer Series: Conversations on Religious Trends. Read other perspectives from the Jewish community here.
In the last decade, numerous books have been released on the intriguing topic of Kabbalah and its philosophies. However, little has been done to convey how Kabbalah relates to functional Jewish practice. While Kabbalah has been applied to personal transformation, psychology, and the monthly calendar, the practical path by which we live this lofty consciousness through the specifics of Jewish life has yet to be explained. If anything, it seems the average Joe and the average Jew assumes just the opposite—that the specifics of Judaism get in way of the lofty Kabbalistic ideals.
To Be or Not To Be
One of the greatest difficulties in explaining Judaism as an attempt to counsel humanity toward fulfillment, self-actualization, and spirituality, is people's mis-sense of self and of soul.
In the Western world, we have been fed an illustration of the spiritual experience. We imagine the spiritual seeker at the top of a mountain about to float away into the clouds, being blown along by a gentle wind. The words "soul" and "spirituality" have been redefined on the backdrop of Western society and culture. The West's version of the spiritual experience has come to be equated with their vision of utopia—the path of absolutely no resistance.
However, Judaism's picture of the spiritual experience begins quite differently.
One of the ways we refer to God is as the Rock; that does not sound too flowy.
In fact, one could make the claim that the Rock-view of spirituality is diametrically opposed to the Flowy-view of spirituality. Rock-spirituality is assertive whereas Flowy-spirituality is passive. Rock-spirituality is choice-based whereas Flowy-spirituality simply goes with the flow. Rock-spirituality is to be proactive whereas Flowy-spirituality is to be acted upon. Rock-spirituality is to be sturdy and stand strong against the winds of change whereas Flowy-spirituality is to be blown away with the wind. Rock-spirituality is control of self whereas Flowy-spirituality is loss of self.
In short, Judaism's take is that spirituality is accessed when you make a conscious and directed free will choice. This is the human side of your self. This is the soul side of your self.
This is an implementation of the human spirit.
The question then becomes what do you do with your free will choice? What do you do with your human spirit? In which direction are you going to move?
That is where Judaism comes in.
Judaism is all about one's relationship with self, others, and God.
Based on the participants involved, every relationship has ways by which it can flourish and ways by which it can be shattered.
That is to say, every relationship has a Torah; every relationship has an "Idiot's Guide To My Relationship with X"—a handbook exploring what builds the relationship up and what brings the relationship down. In our relationship with God, the Torah is that manual. The Torah puts forth what we can do, and what we can avoid doing, in order to facilitate as great a relationship, association, and affiliation with God as possible.
Rabbi Eliyahu Yaakov Deutsch is a sought after international speaker on Kabbalah, relationships, parenting, and life. He is the author of several books, most recently Halacha by Choice: The Kabbalah of Jewish Life.