“Isn’t feeling close to G-d as important as keeping Jewish laws?” “I live a secular life but I’m connected to G-d.” “I don’t keep Shabbat but I talk to G-d every day, I ask and I pray.” “I talk to G-d all the time but really there are some mitzvoth that it’s high time to abolish!” “Me and the Creator are in direct contact. I don’t need mitzvoth or Torah learning for this”.
These are quotes from many people from celebrities to mere mortals like the rest of us. You may also hear a different tune altogether from atheists, but there are far fewer of those. Statistics in Israel show a staggering 80% believe in G-d though far less are actually religious.
When it comes to connecting the dots between having a relationship with G-d and keeping His mitzvoth you will meet all types of people; some who see a connection to mitzvoth and some who don’t know what you want from them when you mention the word mitzvoth. I once met a brilliant academic woman who described at length how G-d laughed at her plans and changed totally around. “I thought I didn’t want children and G-d sent me twins from a natural pregnancy without fertility treatments. They were born at the time I least preferred but G-d knows what is best. Each switch He did on me was for the best!”
This woman totally believes in G-d and even in His divine providence looking at her and playing a direct role in her life but she also eats on Yom Kippur and takes her beautiful G-d given twins to the beach every Shabbat of the summer. If you were to delicately ask her if her relationship with G-d is a two way relationship and if she does anything for G-d she would be totally shocked by the question: “What do you mean? G-d wants me to be a good person and I am! I pay taxes, raise fine mannered children, recycle my garbage, I don’t use throw away dishes, I give to the cancer society… what more do you want from me?”
Some people who are connected to G-d have a different relationship than this academic woman. They embrace religious symbols, may read Psalms when riding on a bus or waiting for it to come, they will wipe away tears when a Torah scroll is donated to a synagogue and will happily post pictures and share impressions of their latest visit to the graves of holy people in Europe. They just cringe when they hear the word halacha-“Jewish law!
Separating Challah? An emphatic yes! A musical Selichot experience asking G-d for forgiveness with musical accompaniment, just tell me when! You’ll see endless posts about G-d and how they even ordered new Mezuzot for all the doorposts of their house. But ask them about Shabbat or modest clothing “That’s not our thing! What, do I look ultra-orthodox to you? I am a simple Jew that loves Judaism/ G-d/ Jews/ Tradition… etc.; cross out whatever is not relevant or leave them all intact. The very question is offensive to them…
There’s a third group, also claiming a strong relationship with G-d but though few in numbers are the most vociferous. These people use every opportunity to share their wisdom with you and explain to you they are actually more religious than ‘the Rabbis’, that religion twists G-d’s true intention and mitzvoth are an arbitrary collection of non-obligatory customs that only fools cling to and fulfill instead of dealing with real issues like ‘Tikkun Olam’. If you continue to listen you will discover that Tikkun Olam includes being nice to animals and Israeli co-existence with the Palestinians. Feeding a hungry non-Jew is Tikkun Olam, feeding a hungry Jew is a crime; ‘let that parasite go to work!’
How do you explain this phenomenon of people that constantly talk about G-d and always ‘talk to him’ but don’t bother trying to understand what G-d may expect from them? How is it possible that ‘spiritual people’ can cry at the grave of a righteous person and go home and watch a Shabbat soccer match? How is it that someone can sing emotionally in prayer and then preach against Judaism and explain why mitzvoth are superfluous?
Spirituality can lead me to go totally off!
Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz the Mashgiach (Spiritual Mentor) of the Pre War Mir Yeshiva in Poland said that the disposition to spirituality is a disposition like any other. Boldness, desire, curiosity, etc. are all character traits of a person and so is spirituality. It is part of our spiritual toolbox that G-d equipped us with at birth. Spirituality isn’t better or worse than any other trait or desire. A man can use it as a ladder to climb up to G-d and do His will or he can use it to create his own new religion as he sees fit and it may cause him to go according to how he feels instead of what G-d expects from him.
The Neilah Prayer on Yom Kippur is a sublime experience, but on Purim morning no matter how much you will concentrate and cleave to G-d saying the Neilah prayer, you’ll get nowhere; chances are it will take you away from doing the other mitzvoth of the day like listening to Megillat Esther, the Purim meal, gifts to your friends and giving to the poor.
Traveling to the graves of the righteous can definitely be uplifting but it’s not meant to be a substitute for other mitzvoth or obligations of the Torah or an excuse to run away from living life’s challenges according to the Torah! Connecting to the prayers in the Siddur is good but connecting to the laws of the Torah is as important!
The Zohar teaches us: “Israel, the Torah and G-d are all one.” This triangle can’t be broken. Do you want to come close to G-d? This closeness is attained through the Torah exclusively. Our generation is not the first one to ask “what does G-d want from me exactly?” We’re also not the first generation to be seduced to make up substitute answers like: “G-d wants me to be happy, raise children to speak nicely, be productive citizens and give charity occasionally.”
But the Prophet Micah addressed this question over 2,400 years ago: “Man will tell you what is good and what does G-d want from you?” And he answers: “only to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your G-d.” The Radak explains ‘do justice’ means all laws between one man and another. ‘Love kindness’ means doing above what he has to do but according to what G-d wants him to do. “Going modestly with G-d” is the essence of all man’s obligations to G-d; to believe in His oneness and to love Him with all our wealth and our souls.
The holiday of Shavuot which we just celebrated isn’t just the holiday for cheesecakes; it’s the holiday of receiving the Torah. This is the holiday that relives the fact that G-d revealed himself before all of Israel with great sounds and lightning and gave them the Torah. We can’t take one link of the chain out and judge it on its own merit. G-d, Israel and the Torah are one and inseparable. Do we want to come close to G-d? We have no other recourse but to connect to the greatest gift He ever gave us; the Torah!
Speaking to G-d is a wonderful thing but make sure to take out your earplugs so you can hear what G-d has to tell you!