Towards an Authentic Jewish Spirituality

By Yoel Qeren

What is Jewish spirituality? As with all Torah concepts, exile has clouded our ideas of what spirituality is and what purpose it serves. True spirituality is a personal experience of the ethereal universe and ultimately, of God Himself. In its highest form, Jewish spirituality is prophecy, and prophecy in its highest form will bring about the resurrection of the dead. Our sages tell us that this is the true goal of authentic Jewish spirituality. They called us “B’nei Nevi’im”, the sons, or spiritual heirs of prophets. That is who we are meant to be.
Prophecy was once the driving force behind the nation of Israel, its leaders and its military. That was its purpose, to guide the nation according to the will of Hashem. Needless to say, we are a far cry from this lofty ideal today. However, it is our duty, as a nation reconstituted on its ancient homeland, to begin moving back toward this original spirituality, back toward the prophetic ideal.
To begin moving in this direction, we must take small steps. First and foremost is the study of Tanakh. This in and of itself is a great spiritual endeavor. Its pages are a window into the world of the prophets. We can see how they prayed, how they spoke, and the message they brought to Israel. From them we learn of the profound spiritual effects of music and that in addition to communal prayer, one must make time to speak directly to our Father in heaven. The importance of these concepts was recognized throughout history by such luminaries as R’ Nahman of Breslov, who brilliantly expounded on the spiritual benefits of music and meditation, and taught his disciples to engage in free, unscripted conversation with God every day.
Next, we must immerse ourselves in the words of our sages, who imparted to us their knowledge of prophecy and its purpose. From them we learn that the prophetic experience exists on many levels. Our sages tell us that every dream is one sixtieth of prophecy. Stop and think about that for a moment. Something as mundane and routine as a dream is actually a small taste of the loftiest spiritual state attainable by man. Even though actual prophecy may seem out of our reach, we must know that it is always with us. And if we train ourselves to think, act and pray in a manner consistent with the way of the prophets, we may gain small glimpses, small flashes of light and clarity that can change us for the better.
Lastly and perhaps most importantly is the necessity of having a continual connection with the land of Israel. Prophecy is intimately connected with this land, and eretz Yisrael is the only aspect of Jewish spirituality that is tangible. The land itself is holy and unlike other aspects of qedusha, it can be touched, smelled, tasted. When you touch the land of Israel, you touch and experience holiness. The physical and spiritual planes are united here like nowhere else on earth. Yet they are united in a way that is simply and easily experienced.
Do not confuse this with the awe of creation that one might experience upon seeing a beautiful mountain or river. This is also a profound spiritual experience, but it can be found anywhere. The land of Israel is different. It is overflowing, not only with natural beauty, but also with an overpowering sense of history and purpose.
When one drinks from the same springs as prophets and kings, when one climbs to the caves his ancestors lived and even died in, he begins to feel a sense of continuity and connection with those who came before him. It is almost as if they are standing beside him. Their words come alive, echoing through the hills and valleys. The lines between past and present, between physical and spiritual, begin to blur.
It is at this point that a Jew begins to grasp who he truly is. He begins to understand his relationship with his maker and his people. He attains a clearer vision of his purpose in this world and where he should be headed. These are small yet vital steps toward the ultimate goal of restoring prophecy.
Immersion in Tanakh and Hazal, connecting with eretz Yisrael and engaging in honest, heartfelt prayer; this is the way of our fathers. It will do for us what no red string or swinging chicken can. This is authentic Jewish spirituality and like a fiery chariot, it waits to carry our nation to new heights.