OU Torah Insights Project
Parshat Beshalach- Tu BShevat
"Spirituality" has become a centerpiece of our contemporary vernacular. New books intending to help people find more meaning in their lives, to infuse their lives with spirituality, appear regularly. Even medical doctors, psychotherapists, and health care professionals have adopted spirituality as a modality for therapy.
What is the Jewish understanding of this concept, and what are the means to attaining this phenomenal experience?
A brief verse from the Shirah in todays parshah provides some insight: "This is my G-d, and I will glorify Him." These words were uttered by the entire Jewish nation at the crossing of the Red Sea, as the people experienced the highest level of spiritualityan unparalleled closeness to G-d. The manifestation of G-dliness was so clear that every Jew, even the humblest, could literally point a finger and say, "This is my G-d, and I will glorify Him."
Let us reflect on three definitions of the word veanveihu"and I will glorify Him." Rashi interprets this word to mean, "I will build Him a sanctuary," from the root nevehhome. It expresses Israels longing to build a resting place for the Shechinah, G-ds presence.
Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, zt"l, once explained that Shechinah is related to the word shachen, neighbor. This Name of G-d conveys an overwhelming closeness to G-d. What an uplifting spiritual feeling we might attain as we enter our synagogues, imagining that we have entered G-ds Home!
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch interprets the word veanveihu, "I will make myself a sanctuary." The greatest of all sanctuaries, he writes, is the human being who makes himself holy.
"Ner Elokim nishmas adamThe candle of G-d is the human soul." Judaism teaches that since each of us is endowed with a measure of Divinitya souleach has the potential to become a sanctuary. There is a Divine spark lodged within every Jewish heart. When that spark is ignited, the heart overflows with love, warmth, and a spiritual energy. What an optimistic view of the potential of Jewish spirituality!
Our Sages also identify the word veanveihu with the root navehbeauty. "This is my G-d, and I will adorn Him with beauty." How? By beautifying the mitzvos. I will acquire a beautiful Sefer Torah, build a beautiful succah, possess a beautiful new lulav, adorn myself with beautiful tallis and tefillin.
Adding an aesthetic dimension to mitzvos expresses how deeply we cherish the mitzvos. Who is not touched with emotions of spirituality upon entering a traditional home on the Sabbath Eve to see a family around the table, upon which rests a beautiful, glittering candelabra, a shiny Kiddush cup, an embroidered challah coverthe entire Sabbath decor! Beauty evokes spirituality!
Moreover, the great Talmudic Sage, Abba Shaul, teaches that the summit of Jewish spirituality goes beyond the realm of the aesthetic and reaches into the orbit of the ethical. The mitzvah to refine our character and to develop into caring, loving, sensitive and ethical people is also learned from the word, veanveihu. By dividing the word in twoani vehu, I and Himwe derive that the highest spiritual achievement is to emulate G-ds attributes. Just as He is gracious, compassionate, kind and forgiving, so, too, we must be gracious, compassionate, kind and forgiving. We must become G-dlike. Imitatio Dei is the foundation of Jewish ethics.
The summit of spirituality is reached when, after internalizing these ethical traits, we reflect them in our thoughts, in our speech, and in our actions. While outer beauty is aesthetically appealing, we must develop an inner beauty that issues from the heart. Each of us who follows the G-dly way becomes a beautiful Jewa sheiner yid.
Is it not remarkable that one Hebrew word from the Torah contains so many diverse and rich nuances? This is the greatness of the Torahthe source of all spirituality!
Rabbi Dr. Solomon Freilich
Dr. Freilich is rabbi of Congregation Brothers of Israel Mount Vernon, New York