Parashat B'shalah

The Source Of Spirituality

The glorification of God in the Song at the Sea provides us with several models of attaining spirituality.

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Provided by the Orthodox Union, the central coordinating agency for North American Orthodox congregations.

"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 Spirituality?

What is the Jewish understanding of this concept, and what are the means to attaining this phenomenal experience?

A brief verse from the Shirah (song) in today’s parashah provides some insight: "This is my God, 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 spirituality--an unparalleled closeness to God. The manifestation of Godliness was so clear that every Jew, even the humblest, could literally point a finger and say, "This is my God, and I will glorify Him."

Let us reflect on three definitions of the word ve’anveihu--"and I will glorify Him." Rashi interprets this word to mean, "I will build Him a sanctuary," from the root neveh--home. It expresses Israel’s longing to build a resting place for the Shechinah, God’s presence.

Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, zt"l, once explained that Shechinah is related to the word shachen, neighbor. This Name of God conveys an overwhelming closeness to God. What an uplifting spiritual feeling we might attain as we enter our synagogues, imagining that we have entered God’s Home!

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (19th-century Germany) interprets the word ve’anveihu, "I will make myself a sanctuary." The greatest of all sanctuaries, he writes, is the human being who makes himself holy.

"Ner Elokim nishmas adam--The candle of God is the human soul."Judaism teaches that since each of us isendowed with a measure of Divinity--a soul--each 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 ve’anveihu with the root naveh--beauty. "This is my God, and I will adorn Him with beauty." How? By beautifying the mitzvot (commandments). I will acquire a beautiful Sefer Torah, build a beautiful succah, possess a beautiful new lulav, adorn myself with beautiful tallit and tefillin.

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Rabbi Solomon Freilich

Rabbi Dr. Solomon Freilich is rabbi of Congregation Brothers of Israel Mount Vernon, New York.