What is Jewish Spirituality? A recent conversation with a few congregants helped to shine a light on the spiritual quest many in our community are pursuing. Some of you have shared an interest in Eastern traditions of meditation and mindfulness and asked whether there is a place for such practice in Jewish life. Absolutely! We are not the first generation of the Jewish community to contemplate our purpose on earth, our connection with others, the nature of God, and the journey we take.
In our Jewish tradition, mystical thought can be traced back at least as far as the days of the classical rabbis in the Talmud. Medieval Jewish thinkers continued to develop Jewish mysticism and the 18th century Hasidic thinkers revived and continued to shape Jewish mystical theology. (My use of the term “Hasidic” does not refer to modern day Ultra-Orthodox Jews, but to the original tradition of Hasidic philosophy in 18th century Eastern Europe). Authentically Jewish and bound to Jewish practice and mitzvot (sorry, Madonna), mysticism offers a powerful message and path for Jewish seekers today.
What is Jewish mysticism? In our yearning for depth, Jewish mysticism explores the way in which divine light fills the earth. It teaches that:
every human being, every moment in time, and every sphere of reality are imbued with such light—no matter how concealed it may seem at present or in the life of any individual. As Jewish mystics have taught us for centuries: There is no place in which God is not present” (Tikkunei Zohar 57). A corollary theme is that a deeper-than-usual human awareness is the critical vehicle by which to recognize and experience this light (Jewish Mysticism and the Spiritual Life: Classical Texts, Contemporary Reflections, ed. Lawrence Fine, Eitan Fishbane, Or N. Rose).
In the quest for such awareness, we can turn to many aspects of spiritual practice within the rituals of Judaism. Shabbat services, Torah study, visiting the sick and biting into challah, can all be approached with intension and experienced as spiritual practice. And meditation, or mindfulness, is one such spiritual practice.
The topics of meditation, mindfulness and spirituality will be a topic for learning and discussion this spring. Every year, between the holidays of Pesach and Shavuot, it is traditional to engage in a study of something from Jewish tradition, customarily the learning focuses on the verses of Pirke Avot, the Ethics of the Sages chapters found in the Mishnah. But any topic can be pursued for this journey. The purpose of the study is to recognize that with Pesach we celebrate the liberation from Egypt and with Shavuot with celebrate revelation, the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. The Jewish people is not freed without reason; redemption comes with a purpose. Or purpose is Torah and our countdown to Shavuot is our preparation for it.
We invite you to join together for learning and spiritual preparation for Shavuot, in a new way this spring. The practice of meditation appreciates the importance of time and the importance of stillness. The deep contemplation benefits from an investment in time. And meditative reflection appreciates the stillness of the body, which can then lead to the stillness of the mind. Although we do not devote extensive time to still meditation in our Shabbat evening service, we would like to offer a way for interested congregants to wed meditative experience with Shabbat service prayer.
So for several weeks this spring, we invite you to a meditation experience that will take place immediately before the Friday evening service. For these four weeks, please join fellow interested congregants in the chapel at 5:00 pm. There, a congregant will offer a teaching from Jewish mysticism and lead a brief 15-20 minute discussion about the teaching. Then, participants can reflect on the teaching and discussion in silent meditation. Following the meditation and a few minutes to continue to greet each other, please join the congregation in the sanctuary at 5:45 pm for our Shabbat service. We have scheduled these meditation evenings for April 19, 26, May 3, May 10. Please contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) to let me know if you are interested in participating.
Meditations teachings will be come from Jewish Mysticism and the Spiritual Life: Classical Texts, Contemporary Reflections, ed. Lawrence Fine, Eitan Fishbane, Or N. Rose. This week’s session will include reflection on Rabbi Gordon Tucker’s chapter: “Taking in the Torah of the Timeless Present.” Feel free to purchase the book and read to prepare, or to just drop in.
In our quest for awareness, may we discover new ways to experience Divine light.