Sunday, February 07, 2010


It Didn't Work!

by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths

From the way he looked, I would not have thought that he would be so eager to put on tefillin. He was from Berkley, California, and, I must say, he looked it. He was very warm, outgoing, a loving guy, and as you can see from the picture, on the colorful side of things.

I put tefillin on him, had him say the prayers, and then sent him to the Kotel to pray for his family. He was really happy. He almost skipped as he hurried to the Kotel.

He came back a few minutes later, but he wasn’t smiling. “How come it didn’t work?” he wanted to know. “When I was here the last time, 25 years ago, I had the greatest experience of my life. I used to tell people about it all the time. Now… this time… nothing!” he said, with a frown. “I have thought about that experience all these years. I couldn’t wait to come back and have it again. But nothing! Nothing happened!”

I tried to explain, “Whenever you have such a spiritual experience like you had, it is a sign that you have come up to a higher spiritual level. But, the next time you come up to that same level you do not have a noticeable experience, because you have already been there. You are used to it. That higher level is now not higher for you. To have another experience like you had, you have to grow to an even higher level than where you were.” My explanation didn’t help at all.

I saw that he was saddened by what happened, or better yet, what didn’t happen, so I continued. “Look at how you have been living your life since you had that experience. You didn’t change at all. If you don’t follow what He showed you, then, how can you expect to have those kinds of experiences again?

He jumped a little when I spoke. Then he pointed a finger at me and said, “You are in the right place!” He meant that I had answered his question correctly, and he understood that I told him the truth.

Just last Shabbos, a girl asked me the same question about her visit to the Kotel. Spiritual life is more than having amazing experiences, although, I wish we would all have them every day. Some people are never blessed to have even one such experience in their entire lifetimes. But, if you are fortunate enough to have had one, then you better pay attention to what that experience showed you. The guy from Berkeley should have grabbed on to the truth that he saw and changed his life right away, but instead, he went right back to the same old lifestyle that he had been living. He should have come to the Kotel the other day eager to help put tefillin on others, instead of needing someone to help him put them on him.


  1. In my experience, the focus has to be reversed. If you go looking to get something and you strive with all your might to feel and experience, it eludes you. BUT, if your focus is to GIVE, rather than receive, it comes and it comes with almost no effort. But one must be sincere in his intent and desire to give rather than to receive, to be a blessing rather than to get a blessing.

  2. a very insightful piece. you have only a few moments to try to make significant differences in people's lives. ii wouldn't underestimate the berkeley guy. he looked at you and said 'you're in the right place'. this is quite profound.

  3. Even Noachides, after eschewing their former avodah zarah (idolatry), must grow from one level to the next; increasing from one strength to another. If I may, for the benefit of the Noachide readership, if not that of others, I'd like to quote a blurb from Reb Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi's book, "First Steps to a New Jewish Spirit":

    "All growth happens in stages. First, you grow through the stage of 'the land of milk and honey,' when the world sings and supports the newly born [HaShem]-spark in you. The feeling is intoxicating. Some people are so addicted to this phase that they move from one spiritual path and leader to another, hoping to avoid the next phase, when the path becomes discipline. Like a child in toilet training, they rebel against the external authority and boundary-setting that the discipline phase requires. Thank [HaShem], this phase does not last forever.

    In the next phase, you are filled with excitement and enthusiasm as you tune in to all the symbols of the tradition. Each one resonates with meaning for you. In this phase, you like to communicate and interact mostly with those who share your symbol system. This love for the people with whom you share grows vast and powerful and urges you to work toward the establishment of a holy community. And there is more growth ahead as you move toward the maturity of the soul, the phase in which you live in intimate closeness with the Beloved."


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