Jewish Spirituality: A Brief Introduction for Christians

Review & Commentary

One thought on “Jewish Spirituality: A Brief Introduction for Christians

  1. Review

    In his introduction, Rabbi Kushner invites his readers "to explore with me some of the rich and varied expressions of the Jewish spiritual imagination. It is a tradition that may at times, for Christians, feel strangely familiar and will, for Christians and Jews, always challenge you to see yourself and your world through a new lens."

    The author defines spirituality as "religion experienced intimately. It’s the core, the distilled essence of organized religion. Spirituality is where you and God meet – and what you do about it." He is clear that he does not accept a distinction, made in some Christian thought, between the spiritual and the material or that the spiritual realm is higher and more desirable than the material world. In Jewish thought there is no such distinction. There is only one world that is "simultaneously material and spiritual." Rabbi Kushner writes, "Jewish spirituality, therefore, is an approach to life in which we strive to become aware of God’s presence and purpose – even and especially in what might strike the casual observer as gross or material things."

    The first expression of Jewish spirituality is an invitation to "wake up and open our eyes to the myriad beautiful, mysterious, and holy things happening around us every day." To wake up and open our eyes is to pay attention. Judaism has a unique way of remembering to pay attention called a "berachah or a blessing" which begins "Holy One of blessing, Your presence fills creation," and then adds words appropriate for the occasion, any occasion like waking, at a meal, driving to work, making a telephone call etc. If we pay attention, we "will discover that wonders and mysteries are hidden everywhere." And if "we look closely, we can find God’s presence hidden everywhere because God created everything." Finally, because God’s presence is hidden in everywhere, "all things are connected to one another."

    The second expression is the realization that "All human beings are joined to one another, and that ‘all-joined-togetherness’ is an important part of God." The Shema (Deut.6:4) which proclaims that God is One, also reminds us that "everyone and everything is connected – that it’s all One." The Torah, the five books of Moses (the first five books of the Hebrew Testament), is "the sacred story and way of God and the Jewish people." It is for the Jewish people a "blueprint for creation" that "all parts of the world would fit together." The author writes, "The Torah, the source book of Judaism, is like an orchard; it conceals many wonderful and delicious surprises. More than that, it tells us everything we need to know and do. By telling us how to live, Torah gives us life."

    The third expression of Jewish spirituality is "doing what we believe God wants us to do." There are the commandments of Torah, which are instructions on how to live as individual Jews and as a people. But in Jewish spirituality, the author stresses, "perhaps the most important task in life is to find what is broken in our world and repair it." We are all agents of God called to fulfill the will of our Creator and Torah tells the Jewish people "how to mend creation." The author writes, "The idea is simply to serve God with all your heart, and sometimes, in devoting yourself to that holy service, you are rewarded with losing yourself."

    The fourth expression of Jewish spirituality is to recognize that the most important statement we can make of God is that "God is One" which reminds us that all of creation in all its myriad forms are "manifestations of one great underlying unity." Prayer is one way of connecting ourselves to God and "since God is the One through whom everyone and everything is connected to all the others, prayer joins us to all creation." This points to the Sabbath which, the Rabbi writes, is a reminder to "myself to savor how sweet it is to simply be where I am, remaining in the present, opening my eyes to the wonder and miracle of creation."

    The heart of Jewish spirituality can be characterized as a way of returning home. The way is described by the Hebrew word ‘teshuva’ which is usually translated as repentance but also means ‘return’ "as in going back to who you are meant to be, returning home, returning to your Source."

    Christians and anyone else who accepted Rabbi Kushner’s invitation to explore some of the expressions of Jewish spirituality will find this eminently readable book a treasure of wisdom from one of America’s most creative and respected teachers of the Jewish tradition.

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