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TITLE: Spirituality and Holiness
Author: Rabbi Saul J. Berman
Spirituality and Holiness


Spirituality and Holiness


The meaning we assign to words impacts on our thoughts, our feelings and on

our behavior.  So the question of what associations we bring to the word

"spirituality" clearly impacts on our attitude toward it, and whether we

will move toward it or way from it in our lives. 


If the word "spirituality" evokes in our minds' eye something flaky, new-age

and disconnected-from-reality-some emaciated feminine figure floating a few

feet of the ground with eyes fixed on some point in the unseen distance-then

it is not likely that we are going to work on making room for spirituality

in our lives.  But there is another set of associations and images that we

can connect with Jewish spirituality, and they relate to the central

striving in the Torah-a striving for "kedushah," holiness.


In the pagan world, holiness was an attribute of temple and priesthood.  One

of the great radical steps that the Torah took was to shift the concept of

holiness out of temple and priesthood into the real world.  In Torah,

holiness is an aspiration of every individual within every dimension of

normal life.  That is what the Torah means when it says "kedoshim tihiyu"-Be

Holy-when it speaks of the Jewish people as a goi kadosh-as a whole nation

that is holy.


But what is holiness and what is spirituality in relation to that holiness?


Holiness is the process of making every aspect of normal human life into an

expression of G-d's values-our time, our places, our goods, our bodies.  We

do that by consciously investing our action, our speech and our feelings

with those values.  Spirituality, in turn, is the consciousness that we

bring to the attempt to invest such meaning our lives. 


Holiness can sometimes exist by accident.  But ideally it exists in

consequence of spiritual consciousness.  That is, spirituality is the

investment of our conscious intent to so transform our daily lives that

G-d's values speak in and through our daily lives.



Transfer of the Holiness of the Temple in Jerusalem into Other Settings


As I said, in the pagan world, holiness was constrained to the temple and it

was the exclusive domain of the gods.  In Torah, holiness emerges from the

temple and becomes, as it were, the property of the people as a whole. 


Let me illustrate that.


The Temple in Jerusalem was the center of the holiness of the Jewish people.

It was the place out of which holiness emanated and within which the people

could learn what it meant to conduct a holy life.  They could learn about

holiness of place, about holiness of person, about holiness of objects,

about holiness of time. But when the Second Temple was destroyed, the sages

faced an extraordinary challenge.  On the one hand, they could have allowed

the tools through which holiness in the Temple was taught and conveyed to

essentially disappear from Jewish life in the hope that someday the Temple

would be rebuilt and then those tools would become meaningful and accessible

again. After all, that is what happened when the first Temple was destroyed.

But instead, they attempted to take the tools of the transmission of

holiness in the Temple and transfer them into other settings-the home and

the synagogue.


The synagogue had already emerged as an institution of Jewish life even

while the Temple in Jerusalem was still standing and, in fact, many of the

objects and actions of the Temple in Jerusalem were transferred into the

synagogue. For example, we have the shulchan, which is in place of the altar

and is where we offer our verbal sacrifices; the aron kosesh, which  is

representative of the ark in the Temple in Jerusalem; the nair tamid,

representing the fire of the altar and/or the fire of the menorah; prayer,

which was was a facet of the Temple service; the priestly blessings; the

institution of separate areas for men and women; and we have the Torah



Even so, the synagogue was not the primary setting into which the elements

of the Temple in Jerusalem were transferred.  It was, rather, the home-on

Shabbat.  It is there, and at that time, that we engage in a complex

reenactment of virtually all of the elements of objects and actions of the

Temple in Jerusalem.


We light a minimum of two candles because there were two constant fires in

the Temple in Jerusalem-one in menorah and one on the altar.  In the

blessing of the children we parents act as Kohanim, as it were, by extending

the priestly blessing to our own children.  The use of wine for kiddush is

connected to the wine libations in the Temple in Jerusalem.  We use challah

because of the showbreads and in fact there were two columns of showbreads

in two columns of six. We put salt on something because salt was used in the

Temple in Jerusalem on all the sacrifices.  The fact that we eat meat at the

meal is reminder of the sacrificial practice of the eating of the offering.

We wash the hands because the priests did so when they would enter the

Temple in Jerusalem.  The table itself, which we decorate and beautify

because of its association in our minds with the altar.  We sing zimirot

because the Levites in the Temple in Jerusalem sang. 


The sages thought it was so vitally important to preserve all of these

actions not simply for the sake of the preserving a sense of the historicity

of the Temple in Jerusalem. It was because the sages understood that these

were the vehicles through which we could create the kind of the spiritual

consciousness that alerted us to the values that were being transmitted by

these actions in the Temple in Jerusalem.  It was all a matter of the

awareness of the meaning and purpose of the behavior which could then shape

the way in which we would then bring holiness into our lives. 




Spirituality in the Context of Temporary Withdrawal from Human Activities


Why do we stop eating on Yom Kippur? People are opften taught that we want

to be like angels, who do not eat. Supposedly, then, we want to heighten our

spirituality by not eating-by not focusing on our physical beings.  But

think back for a moment to this past Yom Kippur, wherever you were at say at

around 4:30 in the afternoon, around the middle of mincha.  By then you had

been fasting for twenty-two hours already.  How are you feeling? Were you

feeling free of your body? Did you feel your spirit soaring into the ether,

making some kind of a spiritual connection to G-d that otherwise would not

have been accessible to you? Is that how you were feeling at that time of

Yom Kippur?


I'll tell you how I was feeling.  I was feeling lousy.  I don't like to fast

to begin with It makes me feel very uncomfortable and my stomach was telling

me things that I didn't want to hear and my lips were dry and cracked.  I

had spent a lot of time on Yom Kippur teaching and so my mouth was really

dry and I was very uncomfortable and weak and very conscious of my hunger

and my thirst.  My soul was not out there unconnected to my body.


I'm sure others of you experienced that as well. So if G-d wanted us to

achieve this truly spiritual surge on Yom Kippur and be sort of disconnected

from our bodies by flying out there someplace with Him, there would have

been a simple way to do it.  G-d should have told everybody should go home,

have a light bite, a quick shower, brush your teeth, change clothes, use a

little bit of deodorant and come back to shul refreshed for Mincha and

Neilah.  Then you won't be thinking about your body at all and maybe then

you'll be out there someplace.


But He didn't tell us to do that. So maybe there's something else going on

here. Maybe the description that we've been offering is really not a

particularly Jewish description of spirituality.  Indeed, Jewish

spirituality is deeply seated in the body, not outside the body.  The

purpose of the hunger we experience on Yom Kippur is not to make us forget

about our bodies.  Hunger doesn't make you forget about your body; it makes

you think about it more.  The purpose of that hunger is to make us tune in

to our bodies and to begin to ask ourselves certain kinds of questions. 


When your stomach tells you on Yom Kippur afternoon that its time to be fed,

what you need to begin asking yourself is: If today were not Yom Kippur,

what would I eat? Where would I eat it? With whom would I eat it? Would I

make sure that when I satisfy my own hunger, that the hunger of others who

need food is satisfied at the same time ? That is, the hunger we feel needs

to raise for us the questions of whether we satisfy our hunger in consonance

with our values.  That's the spirituality that that hunger is intended to

produce.  It is consciousness of the values that we need to bring to the

satisfaction of our bodily needs.


More generally, whenever the Torah instructs us to withdraw temporarily from

any activity-whether it be Yom Kippur and the withdrawal from eating; or

whether it be the laws of neidah and the withdrawal from sexual relations;

or be it the laws of Pesach and the withdrawal from the eating of chometz;

or it be the Shabbat and withdrawal from productivity-whenever the Torah

instructs us to temporarily withdraw from any activity, the purpose of that

withdrawal is not to forget about the activity and not to negate the

activity.  These are the most essential activities in all of our human

physical existence.  Our consumption, our productivity, our sexual

relationships.  These are at the core of our physical existence, and the

Torah wants to make our physical existence filled with the values that

represent it as holy. 


Spirituality is the consciousness that we bring to the process of our

awareness that our physical existence can be an expression of our most

fundamental values and expressions of our consciousness of G-d's presence in

our lives.  G-d's presence in our lives makes demands of us.  It demands

that we relate to ourselves and the world with G-d's values of holiness.

Spirituality is the consciousness that we bring to that process.



Spirituality in the Context of Shabbat in the Home


So what happens us to on Friday nights is that we need to be conscious of

those values through the tools that the Torah and the sages provide us with.

When we drink wine and we eat meat on Friday night, we need to be reminded

of the fact that our physical existence needs to be elevated-that our

physical existence needs to be the expression of the values of holiness that

we bear.


We mentioned before that we light two lights so that fundamentally we are

reminded of those two fires in the mikdash-the inner fire in the menorah and

the outer fire at the altar.  But what is so significant about those two

fires? Why was it essential for the Torah to insist that there be constant



The midrash gives the answer that  on the first day humanity is created, G-d

gives them a gift-the gift of fire.  It is a gift because fire is the

essential tool for the transformation of the world.  And humanity is the

vehicle of the continuation of that transformation. 


In Greek mythology, by contrast, humanity got fire when Prometheus stole it.

He had to steal it because the gods didn't want humanity to have fire

because they didn't want humanity to become their competitors in the

productive transformation of the world.  And when Prometheus does steal

fire, the gods punish him eternally.  But in the rabbinic perspective,

humanity doesn't have to steal fire; fire is the gift of G-d so that

humanity can become G-d's partners in the process of the transformation of

the world. 


So there we are on Friday night, waiting to enter into Shabbat.  And the

very first thing that we do is that we remind ourselves of this

extraordinary gift that G-d gave us-the capacity and the challenge to

transform the world.  But in order to transform the world, we need to do it

with consciousness of the values that need to be implanted in the world

because the purpose of the transformation of the world is not just so that

we should make more big things.  There is a purpose to our transformation of

the world.  That purpose is to introduce into the world precisely those

values of holiness of which the Torah is the bearer.


And so we start the Shabbat by reminding ourselves-by being conscious of

that divine gift of the power to transform the world and we know we are

going to spend the next twenty-five hours thinking about the values-thinking

about the quality of holiness that we then bring to the world when we return

to our productive roles.  And that's why one of the ways we mark the return

to our productive roles subsequent to Shabbat is the fire of havdolah,

because that then is the beginning of the use of fire as torch-as

instrumentality for the transformation of the external reality based on the

values that we have been working on over the course of the Shabbat.  So the

issue at stake in the behavior is the consciousness of its inner meaning and

its value.


We have the two challot because of the two columns of twelve showbreads.

Why twelve? Obviously, anything that is twelve you instantaneously think of

the tribes.  So why should the tribes be represented through breads? The

duty of feeding.   It was the awareness of the responsibility of the feeding

of the Jewish people, that is, of the physical maintenance of the well-being

of the Jewish people.  If one of those twelve breads was missing, you could

not proceed, because our responsibility for the well-being of the Jewish

people is for the whole of the Jewish people. That is where the

consciousness of the wholeness of the Jewish people comes in-that we can't

afford to take one of the loaves, as it were, of the Jewish people and cast

it aside and say, "Well we don't care about those.  They don't matter." We

can't do that because that would make our wholeness deficient.  So there we

are.  We are sitting there with those two challot and we're reminded of our

notions of Jewish responsibility


We sing on Shabbat because we want to remember that the Levites sung. On one

level, it was important because, after all, the experience of the Temple was

a deeply physical experience which engaged all of the senses.  Sense of

taste through eating of the sacrifice; the sense of touch through the

placing of the hands on the sacrifice, which is why many people have the

custom of placing their hands on the challot just to engage that sensory

perception of the sense of touch before they make the baracha.  And the

sense of hearing. 


You why did the sense of hearing have to be experienced through singing?

After all there were other things to hear.  Because  the Levites who sang

were the Levites who had the good voices.  They didn't put every Levite up

there.  Part of the issue of the Temple was the awareness of human gifts and

the question of how human beings use their gifts.  And the Levites' singing

was a reminder that every person has some distinctive gift.  And the real

challenge in life is to find the way to use that gift in a fashion that

furthers holiness-in a way which furthers the values that we want to see

produced in the world.  So sit at our tables and we sing, and in that

singing we need to be reminded that its not only the gift of voice, but the

multitude of possible gifts that we have that we need to bring and utilize

in ways that increase holiness in the world. 


We pour salt because they poured salt on the sacrifices in the Temple in

Jerusalem.  There were two reasons for this. In antiquity, salt was a dual

symbol.  It was the symbol of eternity because it never spoiled and

therefore G-d refers to his covenant with the Jewish people as brit melach,

as the covenant of salt because it is an eternal covenant which never

spoils.  And so we are reminded of the eternity of our covenental

relationship with G-d.  But salt was also the symbol of hospitality, and

thus serves the purpose of reminding us within the context of that eternal

covenant of the sense of hospitality-of our responsibility toward others in

that fashion.


Wine is necessary because it produces joy, and we need always to remember

that joy is not the opposite of spiritual experience.  That true holiness

doesn't require depression and sadness.  That true holiness can indeed only

be achieved in joy. 


Not a single one of these acts is just random.  They don't come from

nowhere.  Every one of them is borrowed from the Temple in Jerusalem in an

attempt to help us preserve in our consciousness-in our spiritual experience

of Shabbat- the awareness of the values that make for holiness.  This is the

fundamental network of values that make for holiness. 




Spirituality in the Ancient Productive Process of Agriculture



The term I think is most appropriate to describe the spirituality we have

been talking about is kavanah, because kavanah is precisely that spiritual

consciousness which leads us toward holiness.  Kavanah is the spiritual

awareness of the purpose and meaning and values that reside within the

religious system.  So it is kavanah is fundamentally that dimension of



But kavanah exists not only in relation to ritual acts. Another whole realm

into which the Torah attempted to shift holiness was the realm of normal

human productivity.  And the Torah provides us with a model of holiness in

the context of what most Jews did in antiquity, which was agriculture.  The

Torah spells out for us in the context of people's productive engagement

with agriculture the way in which we can achieve a level of spiritual

consciousness that moves us toward holiness.


It is interesting what the Torah does which each of the pieces of the

overall agricultural process-plowing, sowing, reaping, making sheaves,

threshing, grinding, kneading and, ultimately, baking. 


Specfically when the farmer is ready to begin his productive process by

plowing. the Torah says to him.  "Wait a second. Before you start plowing

you have to think about the animals you are going to use to pull your plow."

He has to be careful that he doesn't use animals of different species

because they would be of different strengths and one of them would get

injured in the process.  And so before he even begins his own productive

process, he has to have the well-being of animals in mind. 


Then says the Torah: "Before you start sowing, there's something you have to

be thinking about.  You can't mix diverse species of seed." The farmer has

to be reminded symbolically that G-d is ultimately the creator of species in

the world, and that people have a responsibility to preserve species in this

world-species that G-d created. You have to be conscious of the fact that it

is really in G-d's world that you're working.


Then says the Torah, "Before you start reaping, you have to think about

separating off a corner of the field that you are not going to reap, but

leave for the poor.  If what you did before is not going to remind you, this

will remind you-both of your responsibility to the poor and that it really

doesn't belong to you in the final event.  It really belongs to G-d. 


Then says the Torah to the field owner: "Before you send your workers out

into the field to cut down the crops, make bundles and tie up the bundles,

there is something you have to brief them about. You have to remind them

that as they are tying up the sheaf, if a couple of stalks of the grain get

left out, that they cannot turn back and pick those up and tie them up in a

bundle also.  They have to leave those for the poor. And when they go back

to pick up the bundles and realize that they missed one, they have to

remember not to go back for it because that is also for the poor.  


At every step in this process, the Torah says, "Wait a second.  Before you

engage in your productive process, you have to stop and think for a moment.

You have to be conscious of the values that you as a Jew bring to the

productive process."  You have to be aware that, yes, it's your productive

process But there are animals in this world and you have to be concerned

with their wellbeing and it is G-d's world and you have to not mess up the

world that G-d created.  And there are poor people in this world and you

have to worry about those poor people.  And you have to be sure that you and

your employees are all aware that its not just yours,


Thus we see that the system was set up to provide the kind of spiritual

consciousness of the farmer that would assure that at every stage of the

productive process in which the family was engaged, there would be a

consciousness of the fundamental underlying values that they wanted to

achieve in the world.  And the dimension of spirituality was the dimension

of that capacity to feel the presence of G-d, to feel the presence of his

values being played out in one's life.



Spirituality in Modern Productive Processes


The truth of the matter is that agriculture is not the only context in which

there is a potential for spiritual consciousness, and therefore we confront

a great challenge. There is a need for spiritual consciousness in whatever

area any one of us is engaged in the use of our productive energies-whether

it be at home and the development of the home as a tool for the continuity

of the Jewish people or  whether it be in the paid workplace-in a factory, a

law office, a doctor's office or an accountant's office. Wherever we engage

in our productivity, there is a there is need for spiritual

consciousness-for consciousness of the values that we need to be utilizing

in the process of our attempting to better the world.  That's what the

productive process is all about.  If we are not able to bring that

betterment to the world through our productive process, then we feel that

our lives are meaningless.  Everyone of us has be able to feel that the way

in which we expend our productive energy is a way that betters the

world-that betters people's lives.  We need to be able to bring the values

of Torah to that process.  That is the spiritual consciousness that the

Torah attempts to encourage us to evolve.


What I'm trying to suggest is really very simple.   It is that the Torah has

a set of goals for us.  Those goals are the incorporation of holiness in the

whole of our lives.  But the holiness that the Torah wants us to incorporate

into our lives is not the holiness of the departure from our physical

existence.  The holiness that the Torah wants us to achieve, rather,  is the

holiness of our bodily existence and all of its productive energies.  In

order to produce that holiness, we need to be conscious of the values that

characterize and make for that holiness.  Spirituality is that process

through which we engage in the conscious effort either to be aware of those

values or to be so aware of G-d's presence in our lives that we want to

emulate Him. 


For example, why is a certain kind of davening capable of producing a

spiritual awareness? Because if in that kind of davening you can be more

aware of G-d's presence in your life, then you can become more aware of how

to shape your life to reflect G-d's presence.  That is the spiritual power

of that moment.  And it is that spirituality that we need to seek.  We need

to seek it in the things that are available for us easily-like in the things

that the Torah and mitzvoth and the chachmim and the wisdom of the Jewish

people provided us with through the centuries.  Where our consciousness of

spiritual purpose can deeply enrich the way in which we act and in turn

shape the values that we then bring to the rest of our endeavors. 


We need to bring that spirituality to, and in, our daily lives.  We need to

think more.  We need to be more spiritual in our productive lives, which

means that we have got to stop more often and ask ourselves, "What are the

values that I am attempting to implement in this aspect of my productive

life?  What is it that I'm really trying to achieve here? What are the

values in my relationships to other persons? What are the roles in my

relationship of my understanding of my property and what's mine and what's

not mine? What are my values in the relationship to my awareness of G-d's

power?"  All of those are the pieces that we need to stop and think about.

That's the process of bringing spiritual consciousness into our real lives

and thereby moving toward the greater achievement of holiness.


Is this too much to expect? Is it too much for us to live our lives that

way? After all, the demand of spirituality makes a high demand of

consciousness in our lives.  It demands that we study.  It demands that we

think.  It demands that we talk to people more clearly and more openly about

the values that we have and want to achieve.  Is this too much? After all,

we live in a deeply materialistic world-one which promotes the kind of

thinking that tends not to encourage that kind of stopping for a moment to

think about the meaning of what it is that we're really doing.  Is the

marketplace too crass for us to be able to bring our standard of

spirituality into it? 


Well.  I'm reminded of one of my favorite divrei Torah of Rav Nachman of

Bratzlav, who used to say in his distinctive figurative fashion that there

are two Hells reserved for sinners in the world to come.  One is the Hell of

fire, which is reserved for those who sin sins of passion, and the other is

the Hell of ice, which is reserved for those who sin the sin of willed

weakness.  We cannot afford to sin the sin of willed weakness.  On the

contrary.  We need to will ourselves to have the strength to bring that kind

of spirituality into our religious lives and into our daily existence in

ways that will build the holiness of the Jewish people and ultimately,

through us, the holiness of the world. 


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