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?
BS"D - בסיעתא דשמיא