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Practical Spirituality

Jewish spirituality is broken. This manifests in several ways. It starts with theology. When we talk about
God, we lack a shared referent. We don’t mean some old guy up in the sky watching over us. We also
are Jews, so we know we don’t mean Jesus as a human manifestation of the Divine. (As an aside, the
Pew study shows that the one belief shared by Jews is that we aren’t Christian. This is a disaster for
Judaism because we are defining ourselves by what we aren’t rather than by what we are.) So then we
don’t really know what we mean when we say God. As a result, many people are suspicious to identify
themselves as believers in something so poorly explained.


In addition, we allow ourselves to be imprisoned by liturgy rather than liberated by it. The prayerbook is
a dense and layered document composed over a thousand years. It is an effort by the Jewish people to
engage with God, to invite a conversation or encounter with that which is beyond the self. And yet, by
the nature of any such effort, it is flawed and incomplete. It speaks for the Jewish people, but not
necessarily for any particular Jew. When it becomes printed in prayerbook it runs the risk of becoming
fossilized, an archeological excavation of what once. It becomes dead letter, denuded of wonder.


Finally, our senses have been dulled. We have experienced so many Jewish holidays or prayer services
without encountering real awe that we no longer see where it might. Even if we attend, we are checked
out before we even arrive.


Spirituality means an encounter with awe and wonder leading beyond the self. It can occur in nature
when we are overwhelmed by great beauty. It can occur in the midst of a storm, seeing the sheer power
of the natural world. That feeling which is awakened isn’t the storm or the beauty we see. Rather, it
serves as a trigger to awaken something in the self that reminds us we aren’t alone in the Universe. That
moment of wonder, or awe, or deep connection, reminds us of meaning. It awakens a feeling beyond
cognition that we matter and are part of something magnificent (and terrifying) and awesome.


Jewish spirituality takes the tools of Judaism, namely blessing and mitzvot, to serve as regular triggers
for that encounter. When it is working, Jewish spirituality comes from outside cognition, from before
cognition. It touches us on the boundaries of how we see and conceive of the world and invites us to
encounter something else beyond the way we normally see and experience reality. Some mystics talk of
another world -meaning, a new way of seeing and encountering our lived experience.


Judaism believes in world repair, tikkun olam. I will be teaching the next six weeks a series on Practical
Spirituality. I intend to show how the tools of Judaism can be used to awaken a sense of awe and
meaning. I want to share ways that I engage with the prayerbook and my mitzvah life to hopefully
inspire others to find their own spiritually nourishing paths.


I will also share a summary each week as well for those unable to attend. I have found Jewish spirituality
to inspire and enliven me. It regularly awakens joy and purpose. It fills me with gratitude and with
healing. I want to try and share some of what is working for me, in the hopes that together we can
repair these broken spiritual pathways and forge them anew. Then, together, we can encounter awe,
wonder, healing, love as we share in an elevated awareness that transcends words and cognition.

Shabbat Shalom-
Rabbi David Booth

Sun, February 5 2023 14 Shevat 5783