A Burial Highlights Our Collective Spiritual Sensitivity

Divisions have always been a factor among the Jews, and our times are no different, but at our core we’re all children of Abraham, partners in the covenant, possessing spiritual sensitivity, and destined to help the world unite and collectively connect to Hashem. An event last week brought this message home.

Through Facebook, I keep in touch with friends with whom I grew up. Our neighborhood synagogue was Conservative, but many people intermarried, although they have not lost an awareness of their Jewish heritage. Last week, a friend’s mother passed away and they asked me to officiate at the funeral. The oldest son recently had a conversation with the mother about whether she preferred a cremation or a burial. I’ve seen this before, and Rabbis have told me that the main reason that they consider cremation is because it is less expensive and because they were never taught the reasons behind Jewish laws and customs. When the spiritual concepts behind a proper Jewish burial are explained, many will pay the extra money to provide this for their parents.

At the advice of my Rav, my focus was to provide a proper burial for the mother, which primarily included a Tahara, a pine box casket, and the actual burial performed by the immediate family and myself. I emphasized the tremendous final act of loving-kindness they were performing and that struck a very deep spiritual and emotional chord.

In the eulogy, I spoke very briefly about the body, the soul and its immortality. I pointed out how the strong loving-kindness traits of the mother shaped her soul, and paralleled the primary spiritual traits of Sarah and Abraham. Every word was true and they clearly saw the spiritual connection between them, their mother and all the Jewish people. And this message can be made clear to almost all Jews that I know, observant or not, since they are spiritually sensitive and full of loving-kindness.

The collective soul of the Jewish People is the second highest of the five levels of the soul. Every Jew is a part of that collective soul and we immeasurably improve as individuals and as a people when we sensitize each other to our spiritual traits, specifically loving-kindness. In the merit of the loving-kindness of the deceased and her family, may we internalize this message a little more and help each other grow spiritually and connect to Hashem.

The Real Response to the Pew Report – Spiritual Proactivity

A FFB friend emailed me recently because he was very disheartened by the Pew Report and the potential loss of so many thousands of Jews. He wanted to know how I thought Kiruv played into the picture. I told him I thought that Kiruv has been very successful with the 60,000 – 100,000 families that have become observant. In fact many of us who read Beyond BT have been beneficiaries of that success. However I don’t think that our existing mindset will be successful at reaching out to the millions of Jews who are far from Torah and mitzvos. Let me explain why.

The primary role of the Jewish people is to be the spiritual leaders of the world. We’re here to lead the entire world towards connecting the physical world to Hashem. We lead by example. When the world sees clear evidence of the Jewish people’s connection to Hashem, we will assume our primary role as spiritual leaders.

However the vast majority of Jewish people have little spiritual connection to Hashem. How can we lead the world, if we as a people are not spiritually connected. It seems clear that Jews that are spiritually connected need to lead in connecting the Jews as a nation to Hashem. The problem is that even Jews who are regularly observing mitzvos are not achieving high levels of connection.

Let’s look at ourselves. We keep Shabbos, daven, learn, say 100 brachos a day, and observe many mitzvos, but can we honestly say that we and our peers are really connected. That fact becomes clear when you talk to a truly connected person. We’re doing the mitzvos, we’re fully observant, but we’re not achieving great results. It’s scary, but it’s true.

So let’s stop blaming this group, or these community deficiencies, or whoever is the scapegoat of the day or week. Let’s each look inside and take charge of our own spirituality. The purpose of the mitzvos is to connect us to Hashem, let’s focus on connecting as we do our mitzvos, pray, learn Torah and say our 100 brachos a day.

If we become spiritual proactive, and deepen our connection to Hashem through our Torah and mitzvos, the Pew Report will have served its real spiritual purpose.

From the Waters of the Shiloah – Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School

Many veteran Chozrim B’Tshuva grapple with the problem of “plateauing”. The epiphanies and ecstasies of our journeys beginnings become ever-fading memories nearly lost in the mists of time. We yearn for those tempestuous days when every Torah thought was revolutionary and every insight was likely to generate a paradigm shift wherein one conceptual world view is replaced by another. Such insights fast-tracked our spiritual growth, empowered us to make major lifestyle changes and fueled our passion for Torah, Jewish community and our integration into K’lalYisrael. As months turned into years and decades we found ourselves confronted with the same sort of enthusiasm killing rote-Mitzvah-performance and been-there-done-that Torah study that dogged our FFB brethren. Now as we gray about the temples we’ve “arrived” as solid/stolid, well-established members of the Torah middle class. Yet in quiet desperation we ache for some miraculous elixir that will jump-start our growth and ascent.

The Izhbitzer Rebbe, HaGaon Rav Mordechai Yoseph Lainer OBM was the scion of a great Rabbinic dynasty and a leading disciple of the Chasidic schools of Przysucha (P’shischa) and Kotzk. In time he formed his own school. As a Rebbe-Chasidic Master in his own right he groomed and mentored such towering intellects and soaring spirits as Rav Leibeleh Eiger, Rav Tzadok-the Kohen of Lublin, his sons the Bais Yaakov and Rav Shmuel Dov Asher-the Biskovitzer and his grandson the Radzyner-Rav Gershon Henoch, the Ba’al HaT’cheles zecher kulom l’vracha.

Chasidic folklore has it that when Rav Mordechai Yoseph first visited Przysucha the Rebbe Reb Binim challenged him to…“see who’s taller”. Standing back to back, the strapping Rebbe towered over his diminutive neophyte disciple. Still, the Rebbe Reb Binim graciously conceded “Now I’m the taller one. But you’re still young. With the passage of time you shall grow” clearly implying that, ultimately, Rav Mordechai Yosephs level would exceed his own. That the student would grow taller than the mentor.

It was the Rebbe Reb Binim who first nicknamed Rav Mordechai Yoseph the Mei HaShiloach – “The Waters of the Shiloah”. This refers to the Silwan Brook that, by tradition, flowed slowly and deliberately through the Bais HaMikdash Courtyard. This flattering moniker is the Hebrew cognate of “still waters run deep”. The Rebbe Reb Binim said of Rav Mordechai Yoseph “He is like the waters of the Shiloah which flow unhurriedly and reach the deepest depths.”

The Rebbe Reb Binims assessment of the Izhbitzer was both apt and prescient. His Torah insights, and those of the school that he formed, eschew superficiality. While firmly anchored in Torah and Chasidic tradition the Torah of the Izhbitzer school is ground-breaking and, often, radical. An Izhbitzer insight turns everything we knew, all of our conventional Torah wisdom, on its ear. Not by overturning the apple cart but by digging more deeply and, as in the game of Boggle™, by shifting our vantage point. By turns genuine, profound, authentic and revolutionary the Divrei Torah of the Izhbitzer school have the power to help those of us who have flat-lined spiritually rediscover our red-blooded beating hearts and those of us on autopilot along the broad, well-traveled Torah information super-highway blaze new trails and ascend the roads less traveled.

This series, concentrating on the Parsha or the Jewish calendar, will attempt to draw still waters that run deep from Rav Mordechai Yosephs wellsprings for imbibing by the English speaking public. It is hoped that the refreshing Mei HaShiloach will serve (Mishlei 25:25) “As cold waters to a faint soul, so is good news from a far country” to recapture our youthful ardor to ascend for life.