Balance and Growth, Growth and Balance

A “mantra” of Kiruv organizations (institutions aimed at leading unobservant Jews into (usually) orthodox lives) has long been לעולם יעסוק אדם בתורה ובמצות אף על פי שלא לשמה, שמתוך שלא לשמה בא לשמה (….sh’mitoch s’lo lishma bo lishma), “One should engage with Torah and Mitzvot even without intention and understanding (literally, not for the sake of God’s name) because performing them in that manner will (eventually) lead to performing them for the right reasons, i.e. for the sake of God’s name. (This, or slight variations, appears multiple times in the Talmud and Zohar.) With greater faith in our earlier sages than I find justified in many of today’s leaders, I’d say that this principle is at best misapplied much more often than it is applied properly.

Of course, we all need to start somewhere and that usually means slowly, tentatively, without much understanding and, inevitably, with many mistakes. The finest musician cannot pick up a score for music he’s never before heard and, even with superb sight-reading skills, give more than a superficial run-through. The technique and the notes might come easily if he is sufficiently facile, but to perform it with the power to move an audience comes only after much work discovering a deeper and deeper understanding of the inner music. One thousand repetitions, without the player listening in, exploring, “mining” for deeper meaning and then further refining it will only produce, at best, a boring and mechanical experience.

Likewise, our emotional, intellectual and spiritual engagement with God doesn’t miraculously develop because of mere mechanical repetition of our prayers and studies. We need to continuously monitor our progress and explore new directions to cultivate it. We also need to navigate the at-times-painful decision whether to retreat and change directions when we’re stuck or to keep forging ahead along the same path because we’ve possibly merely approached but not yet reached our next step. Perhaps this is the hardest part of the entire process, not least owing to the ultimate impossibility of truly measuring our progress ourselves.

Of course, no one can see inside of us and tell us if we’re feeling closer to The Creator. On the other hand, it’s far too easy to give into the narcissistic solipsism so popular in modern western thinking that “if it feels good it must be right”. Even though our great prophets, sages and mystics down the millennia describe their ecstasy when they momentarily achieved devekut, direct connection to God, all too often our reading list is highly incomplete; we ignore their descriptions of the lifelong struggles to reach it.

Having never reached these profound states myself, I can’t tell you how you can. But I can point out some traps I’ve both personally encountered and studied. They fall into two major classes which, not surprisingly, are discussed in our tradition. The first is endlessly recycling, day-after-day, year-after-year our initial, entry-level practices. We become experts at Torah and Mitzvot lo lishma (rote) because we refuse (or are discouraged) to grow. Dulled by endless mechanical acts, we fear any deviation from our baby steps, and usually there is no one to even guide us further.

The mirror of this trap is the endless search for ecstatic, “mind-blowing” thrills. With no fear or awareness that chasing our immature ideas of “spirituality”, often leads to quick, dead-end highs that have nothing to do with our unique road-map of Torah (after all, Judaism isn’t the world’s only spiritual tradition even though it is the spiritual path “fine-tuned” for our Neshamot, souls). Merely labeling whatever feels good as “Judaism”, we’re dishonest with ourselves, no matter how idealistic we are. Seduced by “spiritual” intoxication, we have no reason to change (or really grow).

With endless emphasis on cycles, yearly holidays, weekly Shabbatot, daily prayers and mitzvot, we lull ourselves into merely “going around in circles”, whether mechanical/rote or free-form/roll-your-own.

Rather, Torah demands the spiral, constantly moving higher each iteration as we search for and develop our individual/unique relationship with God. We need both bravery and faith. Each time we pass over familiar ground, daily, weekly, yearly and longer cycles, we must let go of our previous understandings and experiences, no matter how hard-earned and satisfying they were. We need find a way to bring our familiar words and rituals, our road-map, at least incrementally higher. We seek nothing less than the admittedly unattainable goal of complete merging with The Creator, even while we gratefully accept much less…..just as long as it’s a little more than yesterday, than last year….

We need neither get stuck in an eternal lo lishma nor fall to the hubris that we can begin lishma based entirely on our own yet-unschooled intuition. We can balance timidity with אהבה, Ahavah, love, self-indulgence with יראה, Yirah, awe.

Not saying it’s easy….

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3 Responses to Balance and Growth, Growth and Balance

  1. Mr. Cohen says:

    I realize that this is a minor point, but I humbly suggest that:
    אהבה be transliterated as Ahavah, and
    יראה be transliterated as Yirah.

    REASON: Hebrew words that end with a silent heh (ה)
    should be transliterated into English so they end with a silent H.

  2. Mr. Cohen says:


    Patronising the Palestinians
    by Pat Condell, 2013 January 3

    Well, a happy New Year to everyone; I hope we all get what we want this year.
    And for my part, I would like to see a change in our racist attitude in the West, towards the situation in the Middle East, if that would not be too much trouble.

    Because right now, we patronize the Palestinians, by holding them to a lower standard of behavior, as we do with all Arabs, because we are racists. We would never admit this of course; we would not want our racism to be perceived as racist, because then we would have to own-up to it, and that might short-circuit our poor, deluded, hypocritical, racist brains.

    Because we are racists, we choose to ignore the fact that they deliberately target women and children, while hiding behind their own women and children, which is a war crime, and they do it ALL the time. Yet we know there is not a hope in Hell that any of them will ever be tried in The Hague, because we have given them a free-pass on indiscriminate barbarism. We do not believe they are capable of civilized behavior, because we are racists.

    Being racists, we choose to ignore the thousands of Iranian rockets that come out of Gaza every month, until Israel finally retaliates to protect its people, and only then do we start huffing and puffing, and calling-in ambassadors.

    Israelis get no credit AT ALL for carefully avoiding civilian casualties, even though it is not in dispute that that is what they do; we just ignore it. When, if the Palestinians would behave like that, we would trumpet their virtues from the rooftops, and shower them with Nobel Prizes. But they do not behave like that, because we do not expect them to, and they know that. They know they can blow-up Israeli civilians ALL-day-long, and the free-world’s racist double-standards will NEVER hold them to account.

    On the contrary, we actively encourage their delinquent culture to become even more delinquent, by consistently indulging and rewarding its delinquent behavior with political support and billions of dollars; and then we will wring our hands, and wonder why nothing changes.

    The Palestinians are victims, yes, but of their own insane and bloodthirsty leadership. And of a religion [Islam] that has such an iron-grip on it population that a mother will actually celebrate the death of her child in its cause, and dissent from it can literally cost you your life.

    Yet we pretend that the influence of this religion is absolutely zero, and that this is actually a political situation. We maintain the ludicrous fiction that the Arabs are fighting for justice and civil rights, when we can see the kind of justice and civil rights that have been delivered to the people of Gaza, under the religious jackboot of Hamas.

    We choose to ignore the fact that Arabs in Israel have more rights than they do in ANY Arab country, and that there are Arab Israelis in government and in the army, because these facts are inconvenient to our Liberal-racist-prejudice, and they shatter the carefully-nurtured propaganda myth of the apartheid state.

    Beings racists, we choose to ignore the history of the region, and the fact that every time the Arabs feel strong enough, they attack Israel unprovoked, with the intention of committing religious genocide. And they make no secret of it. We know the [Palestinian] refugee situation only exists because the last time they did this, they told Arabs living in the West Bank to move out and promised them they could return when all the Jews had been killed. They are still waiting, and the agenda has not changed.

    And the agenda is NOT territory or justice as we so dishonestly like to pretend. The agenda is religious blood vengeance, fulfilling Islamic scripture and wiping-out the Jews: ALL of them! Islamic-Jew-hatred, as mandated by the Koran, which was around long-before the State of Israel, as drummed-into the children, and is broadcast every day in the Arab media, is the root-cause of this problem. And for us in the West to pretend otherwise is as irresponsible as treating a bullet-wound without removing the slug; we are just messing-around with the symptoms and making things worse.

    Nothing is going to change in the Middle East until we pay the Arabs the compliment of holding them to the same standard as everyone else. And that means cutting-off the money-supply and telling them bluntly, that it is time to drop this infantile Bronze-Age blood-vengeance-crap, and move into the 21st-Century, because we are all waiting for them. If we do not do this, if we carry-on indulging their primitive caveman-hatred, by treating this as political problem, and not a religious one, then we are effectively underwriting permanent war in the Middle-East; because whether we like it or not, Israel is certainly now the front-line between Islam and civilization.

    And we should know by now that there is no compromise with Islam; you either win, or you lose; and if you lose, you lose everything, especially if you are Jewish. And the Palestinian leadership have made it crystal-clear, that as long as there is ANY level of Jewish autonomy in the Middle East, NOTHING that Israel concedes will ever be enough to satisfy them. They do not want peace at any price; they want to drive the Jews, ALL of them, into the Sea. And they never stop telling us that. We have no excuse for pretending not to hear.

    It is written right-into the Hamas charter; it runs through every speech they make.
    And according to the leader of Hezbollah:
    Quote: “It is an open war until, until the elimination of Israel,
    and until death of the last Jew on Earth, unquote.”

    How many times do they have to say it, before we finally snap-out of our patronizing, Liberal-racist, stupor, and start listening?

    Pat Condell is an atheist, who was born in Ireland around 1950 CE, and raised in England as a Roman Catholic, and educated in Church of England schools.

    ***** THE END *****

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