Saturday, June 19, 2010


I Am Committed

by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths

A fairly new baal teshuva (returnee to Torah) came up to me at the Kotel. He is learning at one of the many yeshivas that stress the physicality of the Torah, and pretty much ignore its spirituality. Sadly, this is the general rule in today’s yeshiva world, and it is the main reason that so many young Jews look elsewhere for spirituality.

I asked him if he was having a good time…. Was life good for him?

“I am committed to having a good life.” He sounded as if he was repeating a sincere, and stern promise that he was convinced he had to make.

“’Committed?’” I asked. “People who are committed are usually committed into insane asylums!” My answer startled him. “If you are doing something loving and enjoyable, you do not have to make a formal commitment. You know that you are going to do it because you love doing it. Apparently, the Torah is being presented to you as if it is some kind of burden, or like a medicine that tastes bad at first but promises to make you feel better later.”

If you do a mitzvah the way it is intended to be done, the experience is enjoyable right from the beginning.

The next day, I was standing waiting for the mikvah (immersion in water) to open Friday afternoon and a young man, much more learned than the one I just mentioned, was also waiting there. “Where are you learning?” I asked him.

He told me that he was learning at a yeshiva a few blocks from my apartment. “Oh, the rabbi there is a wonderful person,” I said. “And the learning is very good, too. But if I could change one thing over there, I wish that they would not only stress the physicality of the mitzvahs, but would also bring in the spirituality.”

He was immediately defensive. “I did not even know that there was physicality to the mitzvahs?” he said.

“You know… black leather boxes, square, the letter shin on the sides, and black leather straps,” I prodded him.

“Why do you say that I do not learn the spirituality of mitzvahs?” He said almost angrily. “You do not even know me!”

“Okay.” Then let me ask you, what would happen if G-d announced that that stone over there would be holy? What would be different about it?”

“Why, there would be rules about it, laws that we have to follow. We would not be able to use it except as the Torah dictates.” he answered.

“But you are proving my point,” I went on. “You are only giving me the physicality of G-d making the stone holy. What about the spirituality? What would be different about it?”

He was getting hot. “It would be holy and we would love it, and admire it, and treat it with great respect.”

“Okay, if that is true, what is the blessing that you make on your tefillin in the morning?”

He recited the blessing, without Hashem’s Name, very quickly.

“Wait a minute. What do those words asher kididshanu (which He sanctified) mean?” I asked.

“Who has separated us.” He fired back at me, getting hotter all the time.

“Why is it that when G-d sanctified the stone it became holy, special, loving, but when he sanctified you, you became separate?”

Now he was angry, “You don’t even know me, and you are speaking evil gossip about my yeshiva.” He yelled and went on to say a few more choice words in his frustration.

What’s my point? Thirty percent of the Buddhists in America are Jews. Do you wonder why?


Anonymous said...

C'mon Gil, it's forbidden to cause someone to get angry like that. That will only repel more people away from spirituality.

Anonymous said...

this was a mistake: you aggrieved him which is forbidden.
suppose you would've approached both young men differently, asking them what they loved about learning and saying 'yasher koach' for their devotion. they would've warmed to you and then you could've engaged in a fruitful discussion of the spirituality of mitzvos citing various commentators etc.
i hope you see both of these young men again and apologize.
there are different approaches for different jews. shlomo works for some, litvish yeshiva words for others.
please do not approach our holy brothers like this!
ahavas chinam(baseless love) is building the third temple...not this.

Dove said...

What do you think about the Chassidim in Emanuel who would rather go to jail than to let their children go to school with Sephardic children?
Isn't this also the wrong approach to learning Torah?

Anonymous said...

dove, that is not what the amanuel thing was about! read the information. ashkenazim and sefardim were marching there. it has to do with not wanting the gov't to determine standards.
akiva, i suggest you ask gutman and remove this piece. it only foments lashon hara and negative press about haredim.

Anonymous said...

re emanuel:there are sfardim and ashkenaz together here!

Anonymous said...

more detail on emmanuel: it is not is a vicious anit-charedi guy (lelom) trying to defame charedim

s said...

you have a good point that people should also teach about spiritually besides physical things.
Like the above said, it's probably better to have a nice discussion with them so they listen and might consider it

Anonymous said...

this post serves no construcitve person. infact, it creates divisiveness and is bad for the image of yeshivas. please take it down,, lshem shamayim

Shiloh said...

Gutman, your arrogance is amazing. You and others like yourself are the exact reason Jews are Budists, Jews are secular and Jews that can't stand to be around the religious. You wonder why I cannot be part of your derech, look at the results it brings.

Crazy Smade said...

If a lowly Noachide could humbly bring up a story regarding the Baal Shem Tov, I'd like to do so, not that R' Locks needs defending or that I'm correctly interpreting his concern or that anyone else needs my two cents worth, because I'm just a worm.

That said, I don't want any Jew out there who disagrees with R' Locks to think that I'm rebuking them, because both sides in this issue seem to be taking a stance for the sake of Heaven:

The Baal Shem Tov once arrived in the town of Konstantyn in Volhynia with his disciple, Rabbi David Forkes, and they stayed at a certain person's home. The Besht asked the shochet to come and show him his knife, to inspect it before they ate what he slaughtered. The shochet did not come promptly, however, and in the meantime the Baal Shem Tov began to pray Minha with the other men present. While this was happening, the shochet arrived but did not want to wait for the Baal Shem to finish his prayers. He angrily demanded that the householder's wife give him the chickens to slaughter immediately. She gave them to him, he slaughtered them, and left. When the Baal Shem Tov finished praying, he said, "Hasn't the shochet come yet?" "He came, slaughtered the chickens, and left," they said. The chickens were still lying there in the pan being salted. The Besht looked at them and said he would eat them, but Rabbi David Forkes said he would not. The Baal Shem Tov was not strict about this. He later said to Rabbi David, "Don't be too strict and punctilious about the mitzvot or your pious customs, because it's only a trick of the evil inclination to make you anxious and depressed." Unlike some of his contemporaries, the Baal Shem Tov did not lay great stress on stringencies in doing the mitzvot. He remarked to Rabbi Pinhas of Koretz, another of his close disciples, who was also present then, "I try not to be overly stringent in doing the mitzvot. In fact, this thought saved me when I was younger."

Taken from "The Light and Fire of the Baal Shem Tov" by Yitzhak Buxbaum, pp. 193-194; see also, ibid., pp. 92-96, the story of "Two Thrones."

I guess what I'm saying is that one should find a proper balance between "spirituality" and "physicality," in order to avoid being tricked by the Yetzer HaRa. I think this applies to Jews and Non-Jews, but ... I'm just a worm. The more I learn ... the less I know.

Anonymous said...

no noahide is 'lowly'. that was a great story.
the key here is hakarot hatov: seeing the good, with a good eye.
the whole interaction could've been a tikkun, if the bochers/students would've been seen in a positive light and then discussed sprituality.

Crazy Smade said...

Talk about "spirituality" in my neck of the woods and all you'll get is blank stares, an invention to church or a Thorazine vacation from the men in white suits.

I must have done something really horrible in this or a past life. Why else would HaShem doom me to live in the land of the walking dead. Oh well.... His will be done. What else can one do?

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