Jewish Spirituality

Posted by Aryeh Ben David on August 25, 2003
Topics: Spirituality

There are two widespread stereotypes of spirituality: 1) of spiritual behavior, and 2) of the goal of spirituality.

Often I ask a group of students, “What does a spiritual person do? What does a spiritual person look like?” I inevitably receive answers like: “they are mellow, they meditate a lot, or do yoga, they sing, they dance, they’re probably vegetarian or vegan, they wear flowing clothes, etc.” Then I ask the group “how many of you fit into these categories?” and rarely a hand goes up.

Then I ask the students, “What is the goal of becoming more spiritual?” Again, the answers usually revolve around the stereotype of “being at peace with oneself, achieving nirvana, calm and serenity.”

Unfortunately, maybe tragically, these pervasive characterizations are terribly limiting. They cause, consciously or subconsciously, most of the people I meet to conclude that because they do not fit into these stereotypes, they are simply not spiritual beings. These prevailing stereotypes exclude most of them, perhaps most of us. I cannot count the number of times that people have said to me, “I’m just not a spiritual person.”

Finally, I ask the participants, “Do you think that you have a soul? Virtually all of them respond affirmatively. “Well,” I ask them, “what does this soul do? What does it occupy itself with? Does it ‘just sit there,’ or is it active in any manner? Does it ever, did it ever, communicate, somehow, to you?” Inevitably, the same people who had commented previously that they were not spiritual beings are now talking profusely about an experience that they’ve had which they attribute to their soul.

Jewish spirituality involves listening to the voice of our soul. Jewish spirituality does not culminate with personal inner peace, rather it gives inner clarity to understand how to act and contribute to the community and the world.

Jewish spirituality understands that every human being is a spiritual person, and that this spirituality should be the motivating force of his or her life and action.

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