APPLYING SPIRITUAL GROWTH TO LIVING ONE’S LIFE LIFE
Recently, a friend who had read most of my posts asked how my spirituality and my relationship to the prayers and the texts affects my day-to-day life. How does this change my life, my behavior, my relationship with the world? I have paraphrased his question a bit, but that is the gist as I remember it. This is something I have thought about before and have even talked about some back in the days I got a weekly chance to teach in the daily minyan (pre-covid).
This is a very fair question. We get so wrapped up, sometimes, in rituals, rules that seem to have no practical reason, the act of prayer and other seemingly arcane matters that we lose sight of the fact that we are human beings who live mundane lives. If the ritual things we do are to serve some greater purpose, then we need to find a way to see them as relevant to our lives or affecting the way we live.
I like to think that the root to the answer to this great and cosmic question lies in the traditional, and textual, understanding that we are all created in the “image of God”, b’tzelem Elohim, however one understands that concept. This concept makes us all equal in the eyes of our Creator and responsible to and for each other. For me, it creates a sense of relatedness, of family ties.
There is a lot in the Torah and the rabbinic literature about what one can and can not do or wear or eat. There are rules about when one can engage in certain activities, from work to procreation. There are even rules about which shoe to put on first. I think the point of many of these rules and regulations is to make us think about our relationship to God, our indebtedness to God and to ponder upon just what it is God wants of us even doing the most mundane tasks, thus adding an element of kiddusha even to our most worldly acts.
This mindset, in conjunction with the idea of “the image of God” leads me to the consideration of my relationship not only to God but to God’s other children, the rest of humanity. In addition to the kind of ritual minutiae above, there are many laws concerned with interpersonal behavior. For instance, the last six of the “Ten Commandments” or Ten Utterances, with their prohibitions against murder, theft, adultery etc. are just the beginning. The laws concerning social behavior continue in chapter 21 of Exodus, immediately following the Ten Utterances. Most notably chapter 19 of the book of Leviticus contains an immense code of morals and ethics, including the injunction “Thou shall love your neighbor as yourself” a reminder that none of us is more important that another, that our lives and property, our humanity and dignity are all sacrosanct. The portion deals with integity and honesty in business and personal life. This chapter is part of a weekly reading in the Torah cycle called Kiddoshim (holy people) which starts with God telling Moses to command the people “you shall be holy because I, the Lord [in whose image you are created] am holy. These are but a few references. There are many more refences in the Torah, other biblical books, the Talmud and religious literature through two millennia that reinforce the importance of the person-to-person relationship and the rules we need to follow.
In short, my spiritual journey has led me to a sense of nearness to God, and a desire to study our sacred texts. Prayer and study bring us closer to God (korban, the word used for the offerings in the Tabernacle and the Temple, has the same root as the word for drawing near and that’s the point.
From this I have learned that it is important to God and my relationship with God that my relationship to and my behaviors toward my fellow humans be typified by honesty, compassion, kindness, integrity and respect. Not only is my fellow created in God’s image thus deserving my consideration, I am created in God’s image and I must treat the world as I would want God to treat me. As the great Rabbi, Hillel put it “what is hateful to you, do not do unto your fellow. The rest is commentary, go study”. It is my hope that my own journey is making me a better person; not better than anyone else, just better than I otherwise might have been.