Monday, September 04, 2006


I have started to notice a vague correlation between my posting and the number of hits that I get. Which is enough to inspire me to post even my musings are not really sufficiently fleshed out for this forum.

And on the subject of inspiration...I have come to the conclusion that I don't really believe in spirituality. What does that mean? Not that I don't believe in holiness or closeness to G-d. Not that I don't believe in moments that make you feel all warm and inspired. Not even that such moments don't have their religious uses.

But here's the deal- I don't believe in this whole spiritualization of Judaism. I went to a speech on kabbala where the speaker was listing things that can be spiritual- singing, dancing, meditation- and mitzvot. Which treats spirituality as the goal and mitzvot as a helpful means of getting there. I don't believe that. Spirituality- by which I mean a feeling of closeness to G-d - is all very well and good, but that's not the point.

The point of human existance, according to Judaism, is to serve G-d, emulate, and become close to G-d by obeying His commandments. Zeh hu. Warm mushy-gushy feeling does not appear on the list. (I am not referring to kavana, which is part of the mitzva and involves the intellect- intention and awareness- rather than the emotions.)

Of course, a feeling of inspiration is often quite useful, given that humans aren't all that good at the self-discipline thing and often need emotions to inspire them towards the correct actions.
But the emotion there works as a means to an end. And of course, somebody who is genuinely close to G-d may have a feeling of being so and thus feel spiritual. However, the spiritual feeling is simply a symptom, side-benefit, or result of the genuine closeness.

What's the nafka mina? If Person A goes and climbs a mountain and communes with the stars and recites poetry and gets the biggest spiritual high in the world and Person B spends six hours making food packages for needy families or checking a mountain of lettuce for bugs or building a sukkah and feels nothing, Person B has acquired more holiness. Now, if Person A's communion then inspires them to do useful things, then he can get as much or more holiness as Person B. And of course, it would be nice if Person B felt close to G-d, because 1) it will make it more likely that she will do these good things in the future, because humans crave that sense of closeness and 2) because her actions really are meritorious and a proper understanding of the world would involve being aware of that fact and it's good to understand the world properly.

BUT the spiritual high itself means nothing. It's not holiness, it's not sacredness, it sure as heck isn't righteousness. It's an emotional massage. It's a feel-good pill of warm fuzzies, whether it comes from your lovely mountaintop, or a Kabbalat Shabbat with songs and dances, or a group meditation. Sure, it feels nice. Sure, it makes you feel holy. But that's not the point. Your feelings- they may be totally off-base, they may be an accurate representation of reality, they may be a useful tool for gauging growth- but they're not the point.


Halfnutcase said...

warm fuzzies aren't the point? who'd a thunk it?

seriously though, your right it isn't the point. We're here to do and not to feel all warm and fuzzy, but so much as feeling warm and fuzzy helps you do other things, fine. That i think is also one of the complaints against chassidim though...

Richard said...

Because you admit that your musings aren't really fleshed out enough, I decline to poke at them. Just thought you'd want to know that.

Tobie said...

HNC- I know. This rant was mostly inspired by a weekend in Tzfat. Not that it wasn't nice, but the constant talk about spirituality and so forth started to wear at me.

Richard- but how can they become fleshed out without as many people as possible poking at them, tweaking them, attacking them, defending them, redefining them, and musing on them?

Miri said...

as previously discussed, I don't believe in holiness either.
hnc- chassidut was originally brought into the world as a means of inspiration for ppl to follow halahcha properly. the amei haaretz were drifting off bc after Shabtai Tzvi, there was a hole in a an area where they used to be able to connect to G-d, and they didn't have serious Torah learning as an option bc that was for scholars. so the Besht was trying to bring them back to G-d in a somewhat more emotional, more accessbile aspect.again, the point of chassidut was to be a means to an end,not the point itself.
and Richard- Tobie's right; ideas can only be fully fleshed out in a forum for public discussion. why else would we put our ideas out there to be poked at?

Richard said...

I see a handful of problems with me making comments on discourses like this:
- I don't have a sufficient background to make any compelling argument.
- I am forced to defend my position, whether or not I believe it. This brings me back to a discussion from the last shiur I attended: in the days of the great rabbanim, what one said was one's position; and moreover (from a different shiur), in some sense, one was what one did.
So by making comments, I would in a very real sense bind myself to that position; and since I tend to play devil's advocate often, I am setting myself up for a rather difficult time. It is not good to take a position just because someone else doesn't. However, I am working on the beginnings of a response post.

Mike said...

miri- Hassidut was intended to be a Judaism which eliminated the value of the elite. hassidut was a populist sect and for a while there was no great Torah scholars among them. After a few generations of marriage the movement corrupted itself adn became Rebbe worship. However, Hassidut was definitely meant to replace the scholar not to add to him.

Halfnutcase said...

the origional chassidim came to say, you don't know much so can't do the mitzvahs right, so if you really have nice warm fuzzies with hashem and cry out to him, your ok to.

in time this became what it is today, but this is what it origionaly was, and mind you this was better than the alternative for the uneducated, which was to be hated and pushed out of yiddishkeit alltogether.

sometimes i wonder about rav yosef karos decleration that the shulchan aruch was ment to be a compendium of the ignorant, if that had anything to to with it's popularity with the chassidim and it's subsequent enforcement on the entirety of orthodox judaism. (before that we essentialy followed the gemorah which is something else again).

this all comes from a chassid mind you, although an open minded one.

dbs said...

Such a Brisker!

Miri said...

Mike, and HNC- I never said chassidut was meant to add to the scholar. I said that it was created in order to bring the drifters back into proper halachik observance by making G-d accessible in a way that didn't involve intensive Talmudic study. thus, the point of the warm fuzzies was to bring them back to serious halachik observance; people who had warm fuzzies and were still michallel shabbat were not, I believe, generally smiled upon.

Shana said...

Nothing wrong with being a Brisker..I hang around enough of them at times to make that comment...Though it does have a problem in that it can't fully define its own system...

I thought I once had this conversation with you Tobie.

Ok, question:If spirituality's point is "a feeling of closeness to G-d," why does it not jive at the same time as the point of human existence, "to serve G-d, emulate, and become close to G-d by obeying His commandments?"

It seems that because you are not so concrete about the word holy, you end up with this slight problem in what you are expressing.

Then again, I could always point to the Raj exception, which is (in a cleaned up form):

"If a book contains falsehoods, why should I bother following its legal sections? It messes up history, it slanders...doesn't that make the laws suspect? How could it say it represents holiness under those circumstances?"

You're not quite at the emmet yet. But then again, nor am I...

I should start blogging again...
and I need your phonenumber

letmehaveaname said...

Shana- look, you are bringing in a lot of points at once. For example, questions about the accuracy or holiness of the TOrah are not really the issue at hand when we are talking about the relative values of spirituality and action.

As to the main point, spirituality is a feeling. And not necessarily a very trustworthy one because you can get just about the same sensations from drugs. And because there are tons of people who get a spiritual high killing innocent people. So spirituality is just an emotion, and , like all emotions, necessarily suspect. Becoming holy, on the other hand, is to genuinely be close to G-d. How to do that is a question, but I would prefer to rely on some more absolute and trustworthy system than my own sentiments.

Tobie said...

Sorry, that last one was me, Tobie. I am on a foreign computer and it is acting up.