Spiritual Stubbornness

The Sages of Judaism state that one is to make his Torah "permanent," and his [financial occupation] temporary. They go on to tell us how to do just that: Designate times for Torah.

The Sages are trying to convey to us how to get a handle on life. They are telling us to set aside a specific time in our day for what life is really all about. Even if most of my day is occupied with the means to get to my end goal, I am not to lose sight of the ends while dealing with the means. Rather, I am to make sure to designate an untouchabletime in each day to be directly involved with what really counts—a meaningful conversation with my spouse, quality time with each child, and, most of all, time for introspection, Torah, and God. That is, there is a certain value to such disciplined consistency in all of life's domain in which we invest time and effort, but this is a mere reflection of the domain in which our time and effort is most deserving of being placed due to its overriding meaningfulness and importance—Torah and the spiritual realm.

A Stiff-Necked People
After the Jewish people did the sin of worshiping the golden calf, God tells Moshe (Moses) of His plans to annihilate this "stiff-necked people." God's complaint is that after all He has done for them and all they have seen with their own eyes, how can they take to idolatry? Interestingly, Moshe's response in defence of the Jewish is to simply do nothing more than repeat God's criticism. Moshe retorts that, indeed, the Jewish nation is a "stiff-necked people."

Obviously, this prompts the question, why would Moshe attempt to defend the Jewish people with the same line of argument that God used to prosecute them!?

One approach to this is that it seems Moshe is saying that although the Jews messed up, the mess-up came from a good spiritual source—stubbornness.

Of course, when a person is wrong he must acknowledge it and change his ways. Nevertheless, the capacity to stick to one's guns in the face of adversity and to have a clear path that you follow no matter what gets in the way is a spiritual trait. Living a life in which the physical obstacles do not affect your reaching the place truth leads you is to live above the physical, to live beyond its grasp.

Blazing a Trail
According to Kabbalah, the individual who personified this way of living was Yosef (Joseph). Yosef was forced out of the holy enclave of his father, Yaakov (Jacob), and into slavery in Egypt. Throughout the ups and downs of Yosef's journey, he found himself in many different scenarios in which he experienced assorted spiritual challenges. At the lowest point, he was in an Egyptian jail with no hope for release, and at the highest point, he was second-in-command of the Egyptian empire. With all the opportunities available to leave the spiritual path of the Torah that these (as well as other) scenarios presented, Yosef still managed to overcome his base desires, inclinations, and possible rationalizations, in favor of continuing a Jewish lifestyle even in the most difficult and challenging of circumstances. This is the ultimate in expression of personal freedom, inner strength, and true spirituality.

In fact, it is in the merit of Yosef's self-mastery and righteousness that the sea splits for the Jewish people when they leave Egypt years later. The Oral Torah explains that the sea only split upon "seeing" the bones of Yosef being brought out of Egypt with the Jewish people by Moshe. This is because water has no form of its own and "sways" in stride with the container that holds it, taking on the shape and identity of whatever container it occupies. Therefore, water is the staple of that which is passive and "blows with the wind." However, Yosef is not "blown" by the wind. Instead of "swaying" in stride with his inclinations and desires, he blazes a trail right through them, living beyond them and implementing his spiritual principles to do the right thing. For this reason, Yosef's bones "blaze a trail" through the sea, and the sea "makes room" for, and "sways" in stride with, Yosef's bones.

Moderate Extremism
To use stubbornness in this correct manner means to act in accordance with one's principles and beliefs even when he doesn't feel up to it; to act spiritual even when one is not inspired and not in the mood. The person who acts in an elevated manner only when he feels high is set in his spirituality. It has not gotten to his core. He acts on a whim and when that whim is gone, so is he.

This is where the concept of designatingtimes for Torah takes hold. While Torah learning is always spiritual, the manner in which one learns Torah is not always spiritual. To be spiritual, first and foremost, means to rise above the pull of one's physical side and the autopilot of one's natural inclinations and actively make an independent choice, as opposed to following one's momentary mood and desire. When one establishes for himself a daily designated time for Torah learning or takes upon himself a certain amount of Torah learning to accomplish each day, he is spiritually blazing a trail through his day and through his natural inclinations. The spirituality of his day is not going to be dependent on what his day will bring or how he will feel at the beginning or end of it, rather, this individual rises above all that, commits, and follows up on his dedication of self to the learning of Torah and the priorities of his life.

11/10/2011 5:00:00 AM
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  • Eliyahu Yaakov
    About Eliyahu Yaakov
    Rabbi Eliyahu Yaakov is a sought after international speaker on Kabbalah, relationships, parenting, and life. His newly released book, Jewish By Choice: A Kabbalistic Take on Life & Judaism, recently hit #1 on Amazon's Best Seller list.