Divre Harav – February/2022

In the coming months, it is my wish to contact each member of Ahavas Israel and offer to engage in a spiritual checkup. Spirituality concerns making a connection with something higher than yourself. The essence of spirituality is seeking meaning in your life that transcends you as an individual, seeing yourself as a part of something larger than yourself. A Jewish spiritual assessment is an exercise in which you explore your personal set of values, the most important values within Judaism, and the relationship between them. It is not a judgement. It is a snapshot of where you are right now, to be compared to where you want to be five years from now. It uses language of mitzvot and Jewish practices as a starting point coming from Torah, because that’s what unites and drives us as members of a Jewish community.

When I contact you, I hope you’ll join me for a conversation about your spiritual checkup. The goal of the conversation would be to engage in the questions, “Where are you religiously?” “Where do you want to go?” And “How can I/Congregation Ahavas Israel help you get there?” If the thought of doing this kind of spiritual work interests you, please call me to set up a time. If you think you have nothing to learn from such an exercise, I’d ask you to consider, what would you lose by giving it a try?

I have a list of specific questions to guide our conversation. If you wish, you may think or journal about them in advance.

  • Where do you have Shabbat in your life? Where do you need it?
  • How can you experience mindful eating?
  • What do you give of yourself?
  • How can you be mindful of your speech?
  • How are you engaging in Talmud Torah, what Jewish books are you reading and studying?
  • How do I approach difficult issues?
  • Where are you in your life-goals and relationships (including your relationship to Judaism)?
  • Where would you like to be in five years?
  • How has your practice of Judaism helped your spiritual life?
  • How can Ahavas Israel help you get there, or facilitate or further your goals?
  • A time I felt close to God was when:
  • A time I felt distant from God was when:
  • The Jewish practices/teachings I especially value are:
  • The Jewish practices/teachings I have trouble with are:
  • My general feeling about coming to services is: 
  • I feel connected to our congregation and the Jewish community. True or false. Please explain.

Note: In last month’s Divre Harav, I accidentally omitted Esther Bookbinder from the list of those supporting our Shabbat service and the weekday morning Zoom minyan. I apologize to Esther. To any others whom I omitted, please know that it is not a deliberate slight, just my imperfect memory.

Psalm 134

“Who stand nightly in the house of Adonai …” (134:1)

For those who want to build a strong spiritual core, there is no substitute for doing the hard work of prayer, study, and meditation, along with taking care of their physical self with good nutrition and exercise. This is a daily regimen of spirit-building, training themselves to be aware of their place in the world as beings created in the image of God. Goodness and connectedness do not come naturally, but only over time do they develop an innate sense of what is right and true.

Men’s and Women’s Spirituality

Divre Harav/Words from the Rabbi – August/September, 2010

During my visit to Camp Ramah earlier this summer, I was dovening with the boys’ cabins of my son’s aidah.  For this minyan, the girls were dovening elsewhere.  Periodically, the staff wanted to give both the boys and girls a single-sex prayer experience.  One of the male counselors asked the boys, “How do you connect with God differently than the girls?  How is boys’ spirituality different than girls?”
The campers mentioned things like praying with tallit and tefillin, and wearing a kippah.  Afterwards, I mentioned to the counselor that the campers who grew up in egalitarian congregations probably couldn’t really relate to the question.  The answers that were given came from non-egalitarian campers who would have thought that girls would never wear kippot, tallit, or tefillin.
I was and continue to be stumped by the question.  Is there any way in which my religious expression is uniquely male?  There is an underlying spirituality in the ritual surrounding athletic experiences, but God blessed me with a body that lacks the size, height, strength, and coordination for team sports (other than chess!). I can’t help thinking about poet Robert Bly’s turn to male drumming circles, but somehow sitting around a fire shirtless beating a drum and being attacked by mosquitoes doesn’t do it for me.
The religious life committee has scheduled a number of women’s Rosh Hodesh gatherings.  Rosh Hodesh, the celebration of a new month, is a religious moment that even in egalitarian congregations continues to be associated with women’s spirituality.  With the demise of the Sisterhood, the Religious Life committee thought that there should continue to be some women-only outlet for religious expression at Ahavas Israel.
The camp experience made me wonder whether there ought to be a male-only religious program as well.  I have never seriously considered such a program, for the simple reason that my own spiritual sense has never indicated a need for a men’s group.  Are there others in our community who would like a periodic male minyan or men’s study group?  I’m sure that the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs has resources and materials that would support this kind of group.
If an Ahavas Israel Men’s Spirituality group would be meaningful to you, and if you have a suggestion as to what form it might take, I am open to suggestions.
As we approach the fall holidays, I wish each of you a good new year.  May your prayers flow from your lips with sweetness, and may all of your needs – physical, emotional, and spiritual – be fulfilled.