Cultivating Jewish Spirituality

From The Editor: Spring 2023

I must confess. I am deeply torn about spirituality. I have gone through extended periods during which I experienced deep and profound connection with God. Music, tefillah, mind-expanding Torah-study, cloudless starry nights, awesome thunderstorms, staring at a single flame, witnessing a birth, being present at the moment of death, and running a marathon in Jerusalem have each inspired me to sense that I was in the immediate, intimate, and terrifying presence of God. As a shaliah tzibbur leading tefillah on Yom Kippur I have been transported into worlds I cannot describe.

And then there are the dry spells when I feel nothing. My creativity and energies are channeled into meeting deadlines, paying bills, producing on demand, juggling work and family, managing conflict, and making sure that the proverbial buses run on time. My tefillah is rushed, and even when I try to focus there is too much going on for me to even think about the words, not even to dream about feeling God’s presence. I sometimes wonder how I got to the end of the tefillah—I don’t remember saying any of the stuff between the opening and closing lines. And when I see people experiencing what looks like a spiritual moment, I am torn between envy and cynicism. Is it real?

I suspect that I am not alone. Many people I meet have moments that they can describe as profound spiritual experiences. Those moments are often so rare that they can actually recall the few times that they happened but those moments can be so exquisite that they sustain them for long stretches of time. And then there are those, like some of my current students, who share that they have never had a spiritual experience. Never.

Is spirituality innate? Do some people “have it” and others not? Do people experience different kinds of spirituality? Does spirituality require a sense of the divine? Can it be taught, encouraged, cultivated?

And what do I do as an educator? Do I try to draw students into my spirituality or encourage them to find their own paths? What should I do during my dry spells—do I just give up, try harder, or fake it? Can I be at all effective if I am not authentically there?

Again, I suspect that I am not alone. Reading through the many dozens of submissions we received for this issue of the journal provided me with a multifaceted mirror—I kept seeing my reflection through multiple different prisms. And then there were the angles I had never considered—could I see myself doing what these thinkers and educators promoted so passionately? Could I see my interactions with others as a vehicle for experiencing spirituality? Could I sense godliness in literature or art? Could I encounter God through lenses I had never considered before? Did I have the capacity, the depth, the staying power to follow through, or would the exigencies of daily life take over again?

It is with these thoughts that we share with you this journal. We hope that it does for you what it did for me—inspire, provoke, shake up, inform, challenge, and affirm your practice. And maybe our students need some of that too.




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