Although most of my fellow students in high school were in fact Jewish,only a handful attended the local synagogue, and almost always for social reasons. Some learned the art of feeling guilty from at least one of their parents, and donned the yarmulke inside the solemn sanctuary on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Really, they couldn’t wait until it was over, but at least they were yotzei. I wasn’t one of them…my parents never went either.
The word “spirituality” was a corny word, and either conjured up images of shaved heads, flowers and tamborines, or gurus on mountaintops (like the ones in Ziggy cartoons, if you’ve ever seen.) Sometimes it evoked pictures of insanely angry preachers who seemed to be attempting to create their own violent thunderstorms at the pulpit, despite the weather being quite nice outside. And once I even thought about the dalai lahma, and wondered if he ever felt he was too old for this stuff.
After I became frum, I realized that spirituality doesn’t just turn on like a switch. There’s no program, and “dveikus” seemed to be a bit subjective. Would I ever experience it? What was it? One day, I came to the realization of what spirituality means to me.
I was at a bris, and I was listening to the new father trying to tie a complicated vort about the parsha into the subject of bris milah. He had his work cut out for him. In the end, it seemed a bit forced, but after, he concluded by showing how we always need to thank the A-Mighty for what we have. I was thinking about his speech, and realized something amazing: Almost every shmooze, vort, speech, words of chizuk etc. which I have ever heard, no matter what the subject, no matter how lumdish or simple, has always included something about thanking H-Shem for something, in some form or another! It’s interesting that even after listening to so many Rav Miller tapes that it took so long to really click. Spirituality and dveikus is about sincerely coming to the realization that every single thing that we possess is a chesed from Above.
It sounds corny until you start feeling it. (Yeah, count your blessings, blah blah….) This is why sprituality is so, so hard to achieve…because by nature, humans don’t like to thank or feel indebted to others. We hate to admit that it wasn’t me who landed the million dollar deal, or dunked the full court shot, or made a friend out of someone I admired. And we take everything for granted, of course. We are warned about this in the Torah a few times, because it’s something we’re meant to work on our whole lifetime. So I decided to work on this everyday.
The best advice I ever heard which changed my life significantly, was to thank H-Shem in the bracha of Modim for two very specific things for which I should thankful, and try to make it different every day. It’s really hard, but with practice, and by forcing myself to think of two, it gets easier, and it changed me. It could be from any aspect of life: Thanks for making my son’s doctor appt. end up well, thanks for the new suit, thanks for not letting me trip on the ice on the way to shul, thanks for the cop pulling me over at 11PM when it was dark so that nobody could see me, thanks for letting me be inspired by the divrei Torah at the speech last night. (Here’s where Rav Miller’s tapes come in, for every idea including working toilets to steps,to level pavements etc.etc(!) And thanks for letting me be part of Am Yisroel, a nation full of special people, including a shopkeeper who enters his competitor’s empty store, answers his phone and takes an order so that “my brother shouldn’t lose out.”, and a fifth grader who won’t announce where he went on Chol HaMoed so that his classmate, who couldn’t afford to go anywhere, doesn’t feel bad, and a Bar Mitzvah bachur who lains in a terrible voice on purpose so not to embarrass his friend who really does have a bad voice. So spirituality is subjective, especially when it comes to thanking for the extremely challenging stuff, each person on his own level and time frame, because it does take time.
The greatest expression of thanks is completely bowing down, but we can’t do that today, at least on a regualr basis. But there’s twice a year that we can, and this is personally when I feel my most intense deveikus. During mussaf on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we get to fall on a paper towel (or a real towel if you remember it from home). I don’t say the correct nusach, though. Instead, I budget my very short time and think about the biggest things for which I can thank. I wait for this the whole year.After the final bowing, I’m almost sad, but I try to remember the experience when I bow my head at Modim during the rest of the year. It’s humbling, as it should be, but it’s wonderful. It helps me in ahavas H-Shem, it drives me to do mitzvas, to work on my pathetic middos, and to sweat over a difficult gemorrah or contradictory Rambam (but not for long, so I still have a ways to go.)
This is what spirituality means to me, and no matter how many setbacks I have, at least I truly believe I’m heading in the right direction.
Thank you for this food for thought and Avodat Hashem.
“a fifth grader who won’t announce where he went on Chol HaMoed so that his classmate, who couldn’t afford to go anywhere, doesn’t feel bad”
That is very holy. Great post, Ross.
Beautiful post Ross. Thanks.