From Healing the Hip to Strengthening the Soul

What do spiritual side development, learning pedagogies, a post high school year in Israel, and hip pain have in common? Perhaps you can come up with an answer, but for me it’s sparked the development of a set of useful ideas, strategies and specifics in a number of areas.

I’d like to present these ideas, strategies and specifics in short ~400 word segments. You can read 400 words in anywhere from 1 to 4 minutes, depending on whether your reading for skimming (400–700 wpm), comprehension (200–400 wpm) or learning (100-200 wpm), so it won’t take much of your time.

Let’s start with spiritual side development, since ultimately that’s what we’re here for. Over the past 2 years I’ve reconnected with a number of childhood friends, from my old non-observant neighborhood, via Facebook. Facebook has many advantages and pitfalls, but it’s re-connection enablement, has proven very valuable for me.

One of the friends, with whom that I’ve shared a number of dinners, is a non-religious family oriented, close-to-retirement teacher. He lives a full, simple, good life, having the time to do the things he enjoys most, including his fondness of reading, emailing and face-booking all things political. During one of our dinners he lamented that he felt that he had not sufficiently developed his spiritual side. He is not alone among this group of friends in this recognition and desire to develop a spiritual side.

I thought about his comment. Like most Baalei Teshuvas and Torah observant Jews, I have spent a significant portion of my life developing my spiritual side. I also knew where he was coming from, having been there myself, and I’m aware of the similar paths that many Baalei Teshuva have taken in their spiritual development. But it’s very clear to me that reading Strive for Truth in the subway, or spending a Shabbos in Monsey or Kew Gardens Hills, like I did back in the pre-BT day, is not what he, or most of my old neighborhood friends, need to develop their spiritual side.

I’ve been thinking about this question for well over a year. Despite the advances in “Jewish spiritual side” development tools and techniques spawned by the Outreach Revolution over the past 40 years, I can’t identify a tried and true path for Jewish people who want to grow spiritually, but are not necessarily on a path to full Torah observance in an observant community. (End of part 1)

13 comments on “From Healing the Hip to Strengthening the Soul

  1. “The Zohar and the Lubavitche Rebbe are not compelling sources of halachic authority for a lot of readers of this blog, including myself.”

    Ron,

    If the issue is halacha l’maaseh, whether you should meditate, or include it as part of a Kiruv program you are involved with, I agree. I was commenting on the statement “meditation has non Jewish roots”, and saying it’s not that simple.

    There is actually a halachic issue which has been discussed in recent years regarding Reiki and other forms of healing from Eastern religions which could be problematic. I don’t recall all the details, only that you have to know each thing you are discussing to determine if its permitted.

    But “meditation” is very broad, as R. Karsh said, Lamaze breathing can be considered meditation. I can’t say I’ve tried it(I’m not a woman, but I know there are different types of Lamaze excercises), but I don’t think anyone has banned slow or focused breathing whether for childbirth or to help concentrate before tefilah, to help going to sleep, as avoda zarah :)

  2. Ron, there’s no magic bullet for sure, but for the vast majority of non-observant Jews, we’re shooting blanks. Not even coming close, despite my contention that many of them are in fact interested in developing spiritually.

    I think the basic problem is that the shabbos-observance path, although great when it fits, as it did for many of us, is the wrong model for the majority of non-observant Jews who are unlikely to become observant in the near (or far) future. Unfortunately this path to observance is the only bullet we have in the gun, and because it is the basis for much funding and still is working, to some degree, on the college age population, we’re not like to research new ammo any time soon. (Not sure I like the bullet metaphor.)

    I’ll continue to have dinner, because he’s a friend, observant or not, but I’m not helping him with his spiritual development quest and that’s bothering me. So I continue to search.

    Does that make sense?

  3. The Zohar and the Lubavitche Rebbe are not compelling sources of halachic authority for a lot of readers of this blog, including myself.

    I’m not sure I understand this post. Mark, are you asking what the “magic bullet” of kiruv is? You know as well as any of us that there is no such thing.

    Are you asking what is a good way to “reach,” gently and incrementally, this particular friend? I would think that depends on a range of factors encompassed by information none of us has about him — and you do, and you’re still asking.

    I think you should keep having dinner with him.

  4. “I agree that meditation has non Jewish roots”

    According to the Zohar, it’s ultimately the opposite:

    From Aish.com:

    “Interestingly, after the death of Abraham’s wife Sarah, the Torah says that Abraham took a wife named Keturah. They had children together, and the Torah says: “Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac. But to the concubine children, Abraham gave gifts. Then he sent them away… to the land of the East.” (Genesis 25:1-5) The words, “Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac,” indicate the Isaac alone was the spiritual inheritor of Abraham’s legacy – which was the ability to continue the Jewish faith. The other children, however, did not go to the East empty-handed. According to the Zohar, the “gifts” refers to many of the mystical traditions of Abraham. Hence, the ancient eastern religions have their roots with Abraham.”

    R. Aryeh Kaplan writes in the introduction to “Jewish Meditation”:

    “Without a knowledge of Jewish meditative practices, an important link between East and West is lost. This omission is all the more significant in light of considerable evidence that the Jewish mystical masters had dialogue with the Sufi masters and were also aware of the schools of India…

    Even the Lubavitcher Rebbe issued a directive that Jewish forms of meditation should be explored.”

    Regarding the Chovos HaLevavos and Sufi religious conduct, R. Adlerstein wrote on Cross Currents(“Reciprocity and Specialness”):

    “Do I believe that, reciprocally, we can learn from other faiths, as some suggested? No, I don’t – at least as far as discovering truths that we would not discover in Torah. Am I inspired by the sincerity, depth of commitment and extent of spiritual longing in many, many non-Jews I’ve met? Certainly. (I am not alone. I can immediately think of at least one place where the Chovos Halevavos points appreciatively at aspects of Sufi religious conduct.) Could I be inspired by religious art, music, drama? Undoubtedly yes. But I think that it is forbidden under the rubric al tifnu el ha-ellilim. I am not prepared to sacrifice one iota of halacha, chas v’shalom, to engage people of other communities. Neither do I believe, however, that every contact means such sacrifice. It doesn’t.”

  5. I think that the key elements in this discussion are Torah, Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim, and that hashkafic approaches ranging from a committed MO to various Charedi oriented orientations are all fine , provided that they supplement, but do not supplant the above stated core committment. I agree that meditation has non Jewish roots, but what others call man’s responsibility to his fellow man begins with indepth study and analysis of a Mitzvah called Hashavas Avedah which the Talmud, Rishonim and Acharonin discuss and debate in Perek DElu Metzios in Bava Metziah, not in some fancy think tank in Aspen or Davos.

  6. Mark,

    First, good luck with your idea; I’m interested in reading all the parts.

    Isn’t the Mussar Institute also geared to your target audience(I don’t know much about them, but their website says “They have met in Orthodox, Reform, Conservative and non-denominational contexts”)?

    If you linked the Pardes retreat here, I will reference two other articles which people can find online(I imagine this of interest and discussed in the Kiruv world, eg, see “Letters to a Buddhist Jew” by Ohr Somayach faculty, which I have not read) :

    Rabbi Aaron Tendler(Jem Sem.org):

    “There is nothing wrong with meditation per se, references to it can be found in the Sifrei Kabbalah and even to a certain extent in Sifrei Mussar (Hisbodedus). People claim that meditative exercises can assist them in reducing weight, toning nerves and muscles, and improving their mental health, among other things… I also believe that since Yoga is so closely connected with Hinduism, it would not be proper to organize a group of people, even if they are properly doing these exercises and call it a “Yoga class or group”, rather it should be called a “meditation class or group”, or something similar.”

    Also see “Davening on Hot Coals” by R.Yehoshua Karsh. This is an excerpt:

    ” We are now moving from a technique that brings a sense of meaning to your tefillos, to one that will help you focus, and stay focused on them. And while the previous section dealt with teffilah that can be done outside of the formal structure of composed tefillah, the following technique is specifically designed to enhance your experience during formal dovening. This technique involves relaxation and full breathing, both before and during, your davening. Some people call this “meditation;” I call it “paying attention.” The minute you mention “meditation” or “breathing” to people, they get apprehensive; it sounds strange, and mysterious. It isn’t. It is simply applying stuff you have done many times; you just didn’t call it meditation.

    In the past when you read something interesting and realized only an hour later that your leg fell asleep, you were meditating. Women who practice Lamaze use it when they deliver their babies. People who suffer anxiety use it to relax. Some people call it self-hypnosis and use it to deal with pain or to remember lost moments. You’re going to use it because with a little practice, you’ll be able to deeply concentrate on anything you want to, for a significant period of time.”

  7. Thanks SOG for the quote and the reference.

    I’m not dismissing mediation at all and I think it’s very helpful in a variety of situations as long as a Kosher form is being practiced.

    I don’t think it’s a Jew’s primary approach to spirituality and the link that Anon posted above was a Jewish spirituality retreat with a meditation focus.

  8. I don’t have the information now, but there were two articles I’ve seen in the Frum magazines(I think “Family First”)about meditation simply as a relaxing tool, written from a Frum perspective.

    This quote from Shaya Ostrov in Klal Perspectives(Summer, 2012), “The Menuchah Principle In Engagement And Marriage”, distinquishes between relaxation and spirtuality(both are important):

    “Defining the Uniqueness of Menuchas Hanefesh

    Before I describe my own initiatives toward teaching menuchas hanefesh, it is crucial to make a distinction between menuchas hanefesh and other approaches that promote experiences of inner peace that have their roots in secular methodologies and even Eastern religions such as Zen or Buddhism. Mindfulness, meditation, reciting mantras, breathing techniques and learning to live in the moment-to-moment experience of life are all widely accepted as enhancing inner peace and tranquility. It is understandable why these approaches have proven effective in treating symptoms related to anxiety and borderline personality disorders, as they promote inner calmness and security.

    Cultivating menuchas hanefesh, however, is not a therapeutic approach. It is learning to access a state of mind that creates a comprehensive and deep, inner alignment between our neshama and Hashem,in a personal relationship that connects us to loved ones, to the meaning and experience of mitzvos, to Torah study, and to every other aspect of Torah life. It radiates though all our interpersonal experiences and expressions of Torah life. Menuchas hanefesh enhances marriage and relationships because the essence of our Jewish selves is guided by its quiet and gentle influence.”

  9. I think it fails to recognize and emphasize the G-d and mitzvos centered core of Jewish spirituality. It mimics non-Jewish spirituality practices, specifically mediation, which might be good for non-Jews, but is not the path for Jews.

    If you are interested in Jewish meditation, I like Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s Jewish mediation, but his focus is to explain meditation from a Jewish point of view with a practical emphasis on davening and performing mitzvos with more kavanna.

  10. Ilana, I’m working on it, because it’s a huge issue that would address the needs of many non-Observant Jews. I’ve talked it over with my Rav and he agrees with the problem and the solution path.

  11. Excellent observation! Let me know if you find the answer! Surely there must be something in between the” full court press” and the occasional Shabbaton.. perhaps here is your calling… finding that true path for Jews to grow spiritually without the trappings of an organization. You identify an important and perhaps until now ignored segment of the K’lal. Maybe a series of magazine or newspaper articles??

    For me, it was a series of books that propelled me onward: including Adin Steinhaltz’ Strife of the Spirit and Teshuvah. Zelig Pliskin’s Gateway to Happiness was another. But one has to be at least looking if they are to pick up these or other books.
    Don’t drop this thread of inquiry…. it needs a real response!

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