“Observance and Spirituality”

by Rabbi Shelomoh Danziger
Published in Jewish Action, Summer 1998/5758

In his article “Observance and Spirituality,” Rabbi Shelomoh Danziger aptly describes the lack of awe or spirituality during davening in shul, and then demonstrates how often mainstream rabbinical approach is out of touch through the balance of his article.
Nothing Rabbi Danziger writes is incorrect, nor does he misquote nor make a mistake in logic; his basic understanding of how to begin addressing the issue is simply off-base: Who do you know, that grapples with feeling a sense of God, yearns to provoke a feeling, often doesn’t, but can overcome these obstacles by “thinking of the ineffable, revered Name?” And to make matters worse, he seeks to justify his approach by quoting a passage of Talmud that the vast majority of people who struggle with kavanah couldn’t even find, let alone understand.
Spirituality will rarely be found in envisioning four letter names and conjuring up abstract concepts. Rather, spirituality is about sensitivity in the everyday. Spirituality rests upon a person’s ability to find what is unique and sacred during their daily routines. It’s about seeing God in our children’s eyes, or appreciating a sunset in quiet, or even thanking God when a quick visit to the restroom is quick. Sure for some, it can and may exclusively be by understanding a Tosafot…but for most people, it’s not.
The rabbinical challenge, therefore, should be to help the laymen step back from their routine in order to appreciate what they have; to help inspire sensitivity and hakorat hatov [gratitude]. When we begin along this path, we can help people channel their emotions through mitzvot and tefillah.
In Shemot Rabbah, we learn that Moshe’s greatness, in part, was that he noticed that the “bush was not consumed.” At first blush, that doesn’t sound leadership worthy until we realize that a burning bush in the desert may not have been any less uncommon than a stalled car on the side of a highway; not a big deal. But Moshe noticed that this bush was different, he displayed a unique sense of sensitivity that enabled God to choose him as our leader.
When we can begin to sensitize ourselves to all that we have, and can reach a point of thankfulness for the clothes we wear or food we eat, spirituality may follow.
Jeffrey Korbman
Highland Park, New Jersey

Rabbi Danziger Responds:
I heartily agree with Mr. Korbman that spirituality can and should be experienced through appreciating the blessings we enjoy in the daily routine of our lives. The clothes we wear, the food we eat, the look in our children’s eyes, the quiet beauty of a sunset, the healthy functioning of our bodies — all these and more generate a sense of gratitude to the Creator in a spiritually sensitive person. Indeed, many of these even evoke a berachah [blessing]. (I would add the celestial serenity of the slow movement of a Mozart concerto, without a berachah, of course.)
However, my article was not about spirituality in general, but about “Observance and Spirituality” — how to spiritualize our religious observances, our study of Torah, our mitzvos and our tefillos. I was exhorting those who are strongly committed to these observances, and who are familiar with the religious concepts that lie at their base, to turn these observances into experiences.
Too often we stress some aspects of the Torah at the expense of other aspects. “The Torah of Hashem is temimah” (Psalms 19:8). Temimah means “complete,” or as Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch translates, “all-encompassing.” It encompasses the simple everyday experiences enumerated by Mr. Korbman, as well as the more abstract concepts of that relate to the Divine Name. Thinking of the meaning of the Divine Name that we use in tefillah is certainly a minimal requirement. It is improper, as it is incorrect, to refer to this as “envisioning four letter names and conjuring up (emphasis added) abstract concepts.” It is true that many of us are unaccustomed to deal with abstract concepts. However, Torah monotheism teaches the Ultimate Abstraction, to which every Jew and Jewess, on his and her level, must learn to relate in love and in awe.

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This article was featured in the Fall 1999 issue of Jewish Action.
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