Posts Tagged ‘spiritual’

 

A Spiritual Vaccine for 5781: Act, Engage, Trust, Hope

Posted on: September 11th, 2020 by Hayim Herring No Comments

A pandemic that has wrecked untold suffering and rapid, unprecedented loss of life, broken political systems, suspicion of the other, social isolation, and despair: that summarizes the mood of many since March. We’ve had to shut ourselves in and shut our loved ones out for fear of infection. A Zoom seder was a novelty, but the thought of Rosh ha-Shanah online makes us nostalgic for lengthy tefilot. Even if we’re able to daven at socially safe services, the sight of a Shofar covered with a KN95 mask will be unsettling. How can we maintain our faith until researchers develop a safe, effective vaccine? Here are four practices rooted in Rabbinic texts that I’ve adopted in preparation for the yamim noraim and the days that follow:

Act: Speak Little and Do Much/ אֱמֹר מְעַט וַעֲשֵׂה הַרְבֵּה (Pirkei Avot 1:15)

Very few statues have been dedicated to critics; it’s the creators, those who act and lead the way to change, who are honored. The warning, “If you see something, say something applies to public safety situations. But we’ve generalized this advice and often reflexively post our annoyance with a person or issue without thought to the aftermath. To build immunity against making gratuitous comments, I will criticize a bothersome situation only when I can work to remedy it, alone or working with others.

Engage: Don’t Separate Yourself from the Community/ הִלֵּל אוֹמֵר, אַל תִּפְרֹשׁ מִן הַצִּבּוּר

(Pirkei Avot 2:4)

I’ve used creative license to incorporate this value into my life as it’s a challenge for someone with autoimmune or certain other medical conditions, and those whose age puts them at greater risks for COVID-19 complications. My social bubble is small, but I’m engaging with the community as a Biden-Harris “call-crew” volunteer. Last year, I thought that I would be knocking on doors in my neighboring swing state, Wisconsin. Instead, the campaign’s sophisticated system is my key to voters’ homes. I’m one of a motivated multitude of callers who don’t want to be bystanders to the 2020 election results. This campaign’s outcome will be consequential for America, the American Jewish community, and the State of Israel. By engaging in some political action, I feel like I’m inoculating myself against political apathy.

Trust: Judge all people favorably/ דָן אֶת כָּל הָאָדָם לְכַף זְכוּת (Pirkei Avot 1:6)

The ancient sages who spoke these words must have been peering 2,000 years into our contemporary culture. Does it feel like people increasingly give others the “detriment of the doubt” and don’t extend the “benefit of the doubt” to them? You might believe so if you remember when disagreements were fruitful and when leaders viewed a compromise as noble. You can’t compromise with people who are anti-Semitic and racist or support hostile views on gender and sexual orientation. We should challenge statements that diminish the innate Divine worth of another person. But learning how to have a respectful disagreement on a significant issue is a skill that we need to reacquire. Divergent viewpoints help clarify our thinking. We may learn that “the other side” has some ideas that are not so crazy, and the other side may realize that we’re also not insane. We may find areas of agreement that are the basis for joint action. To build my immunity against being narrow-minded, I’m doubling down on my commitment to trust that I can learn more about others whose ideas differ from mine, provided that they do not disrespect the godliness that everyone shares equally.

Hope: Did you hope intensely for salvation/ צָפִיתָ לִישׁוּעָה (BT Shabbat 31a) (Heschel’s translation)

Hoping for a better world does not mean waiting for it to emerge. Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “To wait is to stay in readiness, to live a life of expectation” (Israel: An Echo of Eternity, p.96). A continuous strand that runs through Jewish history in tragic and joyful times is living life in a state of active, anticipatory hope. In practice, that means attempting to maintain spiritual and religious practices even when our hearts make carrying those routines heavy. It can also mean performing work or volunteering for causes that won’t bear fruit until decades from now and investing more in what is most important: relationships with family, friends, and community. In 5781, I’m committing to finishing a first draft of a book with my friend and colleague, Rabbi Jeffrey Schein, tentatively titled, L’Dor va-Dor in a Digital Age: Reimagining a Jewish Intergenerational Community.

Life has taught me the meaning of faith or emunah: with God’s help and the help of family and friends, we get through the worst difficulties, even when a crisis envelopes us in a thick fog confusion. Emunah doesn’t shield us from pain, but it makes it more bearable. I’ve also learned not to judge people for what they can and cannot bear. No one voluntarily chooses to live with anxiety, depression, hopelessness, and fear as constants in their lives. We’re doing the best we can in what often feels like a Hollywood apocalyptic movie, but this is life now. I hope that you’ll share your ideas on maintaining your spiritual health in the year ahead.

 

Cross-posted to the Times of Israel blog.

Spirituality and Pornography: Hard to Define

Posted on: April 13th, 2009 by Hayim Herring 25 Comments

One of the primary goals of the synagogue or minyan (prayer quorum), is to create a spiritual community. Pardon the comparison, but in thinking about how to define the term spiritual, I remember the words of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart who said of pornography, “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced [by it] but I know it when I see it.” Words like spiritual and spirituality are vague words as well, but while challenging to define, you know them when you feel them.

However, I think that we have to hold ourselves accountable to some precision in defining these words. Otherwise, spirituality risks becoming a trite term – the opposite of what it’s supposed to be. So here is my attempt to simplify a complex subject. Spirituality has two components.  The first one is separation and the second is elevation. Or to understand the term as a mathematical equation: spirituality = awareness (or separating out one moment from another) + positive action (or elevating our choices). 

Although not all choices are equally consequential, every moment of our lives presents us with choices. Living life spiritually means having a constant awareness of the mundane and the extraordinary; that is, we separate ourselves from animals, which act by instinct, because of the awareness we bring to our choices and then intentionally choosing the more elevated path for each choice before us. We use this ability to discipline our baser instincts so that the phrase, “I’m only human,” isn’t an excuse for mediocre behavior but a stimulus for us to strive to do that which is good, beautiful, wise, compassionate, just and caring.

Living spiritually is not something that comes naturally to most people, and needs cultivation and practice from the time of childhood.  And, living a spiritual life requires the reinforcement of a community of people who share similar aspirations. In the ideal world, over time, rabbis should become experts at cultivating a community of spiritual individuals.  That takes a tremendous amount of personal practice and periodic time away from the congregation.  It requires the ability to discern what is ultimately important and to keep in perspective what feels critical at the moment.  It also takes a congregation which values the rabbi’s ability to cultivate spirituality.

In this post, all I want to do is try to simply define what I mean by spirituality.  In the next post, I’ll comment on some of the challenges in developing a spiritual community. But please comment on this definition and help bring clarity to a vague but essential issue for rabbis and congregations.

Thank you!

Rabbi Hayim Herring

Image from Flickr.com  alicepopkorn

Wanted: More Spiritual Dreamers!

Posted on: March 23rd, 2009 by Hayim Herring 13 Comments

Before the current economic crash, we were in the middle of a tremendous generational transfer of wealth. The majority of that wealth circumvented the synagogue community. Why was that the case? One of the reasons was that major funders considered synagogues to be too parochial and uninspiring for their tastes.

Imagine the challenges which synagogues now face. Synagogue list serves have been abuzz with stories about staff cuts, salary freezes, and impending synagogue closings. Rabbis are really going to have to work harder to articulate inspirational dreams even to maintain the support of their current community, let alone funders with greater financial means, who could offer budget relief.

I have no hard data on this, but it often feels that rabbis don’t dream expansively enough. Perhaps our training doesn’t sufficiently encourage us to create compelling narratives about Jewish life, or maybe it’s that synagogues tend to be risk adverse and push back against big dreams, or maybe it’s just the times in which we live — but where are the spiritual visionaries of today who will cultivate the most noble aspirations that we have as a people?

Let me cite a couple of examples of what I mean by big dreams:

The synagogue will become a microcosm of a just and perfected world. All people who walk through its door, regardless of status and ability, will be treated with the dignity to which they’re entitled because they’re created in the image of God. All synagogue staff members will respect one another and the members of the community they serve. Instead of looking for people’s flaws, members of this community seek to shine the light on the unique contributions that each individual has the potential to offer.

Another example:

The synagogue will become a model of a diverse, multi-generational community. While few places in society today enable individuals from different generations to meaningfully and regularly interact, all aspects of synagogue life will truly embody the phrase, “from one generation to another,” l’dor va-dor. By doing so, the community will be an evolving repository of Jewish wisdom and help all people enrich the passages of life.

Clearly, each congregation must envision its ideal picture of its community’s future. A significant part of the rabbi’s work is to lay out the possibilities of a big dream and then empower the congregation and staff to work together on achieving it. While I’m fully supportive of getting every member of the congregation to light Shabbat candles and study Torah daily, those are not big dreams—they are discrete Jewish practices that don’t point to larger meaning and purpose in life.

As a people, we have a history of knowing how to dream with great imagination. Reclaiming that capacity is going to be one of the most important roles for contemporary rabbis if we want vital institutions. So rabbis—please share your big dreams for the Jewish community or your congregation (or other institution) here. And others—let me know what you wish your rabbi would dream!

Rabbi Hayim Herring

image from flickr.com muha…