The process of growing in a spiritual sense is multifaceted and intricate. Humans are delicate beings and as more aspects of our lives change, the more we may try to impede or slow down that change. It is inevitable. It is human nature. For most our lives, we become accustomed to a routine, a repetitive narrative, and a familiar self-perception. When the routine is disrupted, it signals a consequential shift in how we are to cope with foreign experiences. It begins at birth: what rightful person would ever want to leave the warmth and support of the womb? It is this first action of personhood that is the framework for living a life where one can overcome arduous obstacles and take control of their destiny.
All throughout our development, we are given many opportunities to expand our horizons, to go out into to the world and devour the competing philosophies that explain the human condition. In these bursts, our knowledge grows as does the appreciation for the infinite cosmologies that occupy the ether of human potential. But, to truly build up our continuing mastery of spiritual development, we have to first break the incorrect foundations within us that continually hold us back. In our intellectual pursuits, we must challenge truths to reach higher truths, provoke our own inner paradigms and mental models, and reach new heights with a perspicacity for knowledge that should never be satiated in full.
Being spiritually creative is a pretty easy sell. But more imperative to the soul is the mandate to be spiritually destructive. A significant contradiction, no? No! Breaking down old norms and revitalizing intellectual pursuits keeps us grounded, dilating our minds for novel ideas and new experiences. Rav Kook explained the value:
There is a holiness that builds and a holiness that destroys. The benefits of the holiness that builds are visible, while the benefits of the holiness that destroy are hidden, because it destroys in order to build what is nobler than what has been built already. One who understands the secret of the holiness that destroys can mend many souls, and one’s capacity for mending is in accordance with one’s understanding. From the holiness that destroys there emerge great warriors who bring blessing to the world… One whose spirit cannot reach out to the wide horizons, one who does not search for the truth with their whole heart, cannot tolerate spiritual destruction but neither to do they have any edifices they have built themselves (Orot HaKodesh 2:314).
The pursuit of holiness is tantamount to a life well-lived. This is not only true for our inner world but also for all revolutions. A previous societal model has to be destroyed in order for a new and more advanced model to emerge. Pain and loss is involved in drastic change whether it occurs slowly or rapidly. But we feel this in miniature throughout our lives: the interests of a nine-year old can’t be the same interests as a thirty year old. In that gap of time, a new person emerges, invigorated from past experiences but ready to face new ones, hopefully with deftness and cunning.
Looking broader, it is for this reason that the Israelites needed forty years wandering in the desert to transition from being slaves to being a free people. To destroy the old slave mentality requires a fetter being broken; no small matter. And this is what God asks of us each day. Each of us must retreat to the desert to reflect and transition but then emerge in to our own promised land to live with our new truths.
In my own life, I strive to embrace significant stages in my spiritual development. Over the last few decades I have tried to cultivate each paradigm shift, recognizing that each came with sadness accompanying the joy; not always pleasant but necessary. When we reach a new understanding of Divinity, human interconnectivity, and the dynamism of spiritual maturation, then and only then, can we celebrate our elevated consciousness. We may mourn that the previous relationship with God and the cosmos is now dead, never to be recovered. But we must also rejoice! The world is filled with a new light and there is no choice but to carry on. We must destroy inner worlds in order to build new ones.
Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the President & Dean of the Valley Beit Midrash, the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek, the Founder and CEO of The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute and the author of nine books on Jewish ethics. Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America.