In a previous post, I spoke about the idea of sensing the holiness of Eretz Yisrael, and quoted the story I heard about the Rizhiner. In it, the rebbe implied to his chossid that the lack of sensitivity to the holiness of Eretz Yisrael was due to a certain lack of spirituality akin to a person who is dead.
So what do we do if we don’t feel it?
And by the way, even if we ‘feel it,’ do we really? My wife once mentioned to me that when she was in seminary, one of her Rebbeim (who happens to be extremely spiritually in tune) turned to the girls and said to them that if he would blindfold them and plug up their ears, then bring them to rechov Ben Yehuda and the Kotel (lehavdil), they would not be able to tell which place was which.
It’s clear that even if we do ‘feel it,’ it is quite likely that it is completely emotional and/or psychological.
So what is the correct approach?
I would like to share a true story with you, and I have changed the identities of the people involved and some of the minor details. I heard this directly from the people involved, so even if it seems a little ‘far out,’ I truly believe its veracity.
A family friend, David, was going through a mid-life spiritual renewal. He had experienced a number of different things that took him in his new direction, and although he started late, he felt that it was better late than never. While he had been growing in ruchniyus, his wife Sharon had lagged behind somewhat. She still wore pants and did not cover her hair, and preferred a good movie to a discussion of Rebbe Nachman’s stories. Nevertheless, he did not pressure her, and their marriage remained solid.
At a certain point, David had decided to go on a spiritual Shabbaton retreat, and naturally assumed that his wife would not be interested. He booked a room for one.
At the same time, he was involved with spiritual healing, and a couple came to him who had been trying to get pregnant for a long time, and they had finally succeeded. Despite their success, they were nervous about the strength of the pregnancy, and came to him for help.
As David worked with them, the fetus actually began to communicate with him, via the fetus’ mother. The fetus told them that it had tried to come into the world a number of times, but each time had been unsuccessful for whatever reason. This time, however, all would be well. The fetus then began to speak to David about his spiritual journey. He was quite surprised when he was questioned as to why he was not including Sharon in his spiritual growth. He responded by saying that he did not think she was interested at all. The fetus recommended that he invite Sharon to join him on the retreat. Still a bit doubtful, David assured the fetus that he would indeed do so.
Apprehensively, David asked Sharon if she would come on the retreat with him. Sharon smiled and said that she would love to join him.
And so began their journey together, each one growing at their own pace, but growing together nonetheless.
Sometimes we look at ourselves and think that we are not capable of sensing spirituality, that our physical side is just not interested, and that we are spiritually inept. Sometimes our physical side seems downright defiant when it comes to anything spiritual. If we look down on that part of ourselves, however, we do ourselves a great disservice. We do not give ourselves the chance to grow.
If we leave ourselves some emotional space, however, allowing it to be okay if there are times where we lack spiritual connection, we release the emotional pressure that would otherwise prevent any potential growth from taking place. Once the pressure is off, we can check in once in a while on ourselves (or the ones we love, for that matter) and offer the opportunity to come along for the spiritual ride. Doing otherwise just creates needless barriers and stunted growth at best.
In fact, if we see others who may not be on our spiritual level as being inferior to ourselves, we just pull ourselves down with a festering pride that is the greatest enemy of spirituality and is just a trick of the yetzer hara. This is especially ironic if our perceived advantage is nothing more than a psychological game we are playing with our own minds.
Looking at ourselves and others in a positive light – acting as a non-judgmental model, without making demands – this is what will ultimately see success.
I believe that this is why the Jewish people do not try to make converts, in fact, we push them away. Judaism is the only religion with such an approach. This shows us that the only path to true spiritual growth is by choice. Coerced growth is false. We act as a ‘light unto the nations.’ When people are drawn to our light and are sincere in their desire, we accept them.
This is the Torah approach to spiritual growth, both in guiding oneself along that path, as well as helping others. If we apply force to ourselves or others, it will only lead to destruction. If we look down on ourselves and others, even if it is only in our thoughts, it is impossible for us to cover up our true feelings. It is always apparent from how we hold ourselves and interact what is going on inside our minds. At best, this just causes a sense of that same pressure, albeit in a covert way.
The only truly effective path is to change our thoughts and attitudes, and know that if we are sensitive and are proper models, we can begin a healthy spiritual ascent both for ourselves and others.