Jewish spiritual values

How do we as Jews connect to God, Torah, a

Talmud Torah תלמוד תורה – making time in one’s daily life for the study of Torah

Torah Lishmah – תורה לשמה – studying Torah for its own sake

Kabbalat malkhut shamayim – קבּלת מלכות שׁמים – accepting the yoke of the kingdom of heaven.

Avodat Hashem עבודת השם – Living a life of spirituality in which we serve God, as defined by our Torah.

Ahavat Hashem -השם אהבת – Love of God. From our Sh’ma Yisrael, “וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת יְהוָֹה”, “and you shall love the Lord Your God.”

Yirat Shamayim – יִּרְאַת שָׁמַיִם – Having awe/reverence of God; not so much an action as an emotion or state of awareness. This term is synonomous with Yirat Hashem – יראת השׁם.

Emunah – אֱמוּנָה – Having faith in God; faith that God authored the universe and is involved in it. Ideally faith comes from rational thought, and not only a leap of faith. This word comes from the Biblical word meaning firmness, steadfastness, fidelity. From the root א – מ – ן. As a noun this root means faith/trust/confidence.

Bitachon- בִּטָּחוֹן – Cultivating an attitude of trust and reliance on God. From the root ב – ט – ח. As a noun, this root means security. As an adjective, sure/secure. As a verb, to trust/insure.

Hishtadlut/Hishtadlus – השתדלות – Doing what is in one’s own power. (For practical purposes this is more important than bitachon, based on our belief that “en somchin al hanes, אֵין סוֹמְכִם עַל הַנֵס ” we don’t rely on miracles.) From the root שׁ – ד – ל. As a noun this root mean “efforts,” as a verb it means “to make an effort.”

We have spoken so far of building our connection with God and Torah. Equally important is building our connection to other people. Jewish spirituality is not like New Age philosophy, which focuses on the self. Nor is it like Buddhist philosophy, which sees life as a cycle of death and rebirth (saṃsāra), with suffering, pain, ignorance, and bad karma. Thus Buddhism’s goal is for one to separate from the community, and even from one’s own self, to reach nirvana, a kind of existence in which one no longer has connections to others.

In contrast, Jewish spirituality wants us to strengthen our connections with other people with ideas like

B’Tzelem Elokim – בצלם אלקים – seeing all people as being made in God’s image

Ahavat Yisrael – אהבת ישראל – loving all our fellow Jews, כלל ישראל Klal Yisrael

A fundamental Jewish teaching is the Sh’ma Yisrael – “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” As Rabbi Micha Berger emphasizes, Judaism is not about the believer who believes alone. The statement is to each Jew, about all of Klal Yisrael.

When Ruth declares her intent to convert, she opens, “Your nation is my nation,” and only then, “and your God is my God.” (Ruth 1:16) Being of the community is itself an essential of the Jewish Faith, and joining Israel is part of being a believer….

This is why Shema has to begin with our joining with others. Judaism is not about having a one-on-one relationship with God, “to people gazing at each other”, but to work within the context of a community under a Melekh toward making the world a better place for everyone.

Books to help us develop Jewish spirituality

“Honey from the Rock”, Lawrence Kushner, Jewish Lights Pub

A clear and gentle introduction to the basic ideas of Jewish mysticism from a liberal Jewish perspective.

“Man Is Not Alone: A Philosophy of Religion” Abraham Joshua Heschel, 1951

“A profound work that reflects on how man can apprehend God and have an encounter with the ineffable, and the radical amazement that man experiences when experiencing the presence of the Divine. Major themes include the problems of doubts and faith; God’s oneness; man’s yearning for spirituality.”

Jewish Spiritual Practices Paperback, Yitzhak Buxbaum, 1999

Teaches us insights from the Hasidic Jewish path of spirituality, whose goal is d’vekut, God-consciousness. Discusses Jewish ways of experiencing spirituality in everyday life – while studying Torah, davvening, walking, working, even while washing the dishes. Yitzhak has translated hundreds of hasidic teachings of spiritual practices.

Mesillas Yesharim (The Path of the Just) Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, 18th century

Luzzato’s most influential work, widely learned in virtually every yeshiva since formal study of ‎musar texts was introduced to the yeshiva curriculum by the Mussar Movement of Rabbi Yisrael ‎Salanter. The aim is the perfection of character. Within each step, Luzzatto explains the step itself, ‎its elements, how it can be acquired, and what might detract from its acquisition.‎

Return and Renew­al: Reflec­tions on Teshu­va and Spir­i­tu­al Growth, Aharon Lichten­stein

“The process of repentance, teshuva, presents each of us with both challenges and opportunities… the process of renewing and reconnecting – to ourselves and to God – is a gift that can fundamentally repair us, our communities, and society at large [this book provides] a map of our spiritual lives as we embark on our journeys of religious growth.”

Widen Your Tent: Thoughts on Life, Integrity & Joy Hardcover, Micha Berger

We so often study a book yet skip its introduction. And yet, introductions are where authors lay out their view of the world, the grand “big picture” they see the work fitting into. In the introduction of his magnum opus, Shaarei Yosher, Rav Shimon Shkop (1860-1939) outlines his views of mussar and theological issues – What is the purpose of Judaism? The nature of holiness? What does it mean to be a good person, to be made in the “image” of G-d? How can I be happy with what I have? How do I grow my soul? How can I learn to understand and love other people? Widen Your Tent translates and explains this classic text for modern readers. Rabbi Berger’s goal is to infuse Jewish observance with love, Mussar and grounding in Jewish thought. To that end, he established The AishDas Society. Published in 2019 by Mosaica Press.

Chovat HaTalmidim: The Students’ Obligation, Rabbi Kalonymous Kalman Shapira, the Piaseczna Rebbe.

There are two English translations of this book, “A Student’s Obligation: Advice from the Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto” from Jason Aron Publishers, and also “Chovas HaTalmidim: The Students’ Obligation” from Feldheim Publishers. “It is filled with practical advice and concrete suggestions on developing one’s spiritual potential, impoving one’s character, and sensitizing oneself to the holiness present in one’s own soul. Reading this book is like being in the presence of a true master, a wise and benevolent spiritual guide who has taken a personal interest in one’s spiritual growth and destiny.”

This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation, Alan Lew


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