The obstruction of soul searching

The problem of Jewish outreach systems today
The problem of Jewish outreach systems today

Have you ever met a Jewish anti-Semite? it may sound weird, but its quite an often occurrence. They come in all sects stripes, colors, and hats. I’m referring to those who bring Jews closer to Torah or the outreach worker who tries to coerce others to follow him. This seems to be a trend which is common and very misleading. It is a process which disguises itself under spirituality but stumps one’s very ability to spiritually grow.

The question which we need to ask is why do we feel the need to convince someone that our way of Judaism is the proper path? Is it self-validation?  If the wandering Jew chooses a different path does it mean that they have rejected you? Perhaps it’s just a question of money, since, after all, each member of a synagogue is an asset and every synagogue needs financial comfort. But what does it do for the wandering Jew?

Let us not kid ourselves we are not talking about whether to keep the Torah or not. This is not about the Shulchan Aruch, which is binding on all Jews. We are dealing with people who assert themselves over the path which our souls may need to take. Many times, a Jew will wander into a Sephardi, and Chabad or Ashkenazi Synagogue to learn about G-d the infinite and Almighty. But then the wandering Jew will be coerced into thinking that there is only one way to G-d through this Gaon or that Rebbe, Tzadik, or Mekubal. That’s the problem.

Obviously, I am not knocking the great outreach programs that are done for the sake of heaven. The concern is when a Rabbi in Kiruv outreach or even non-outreach will impose his own personal path upon those who come to him. The wandering Jew is a Pikadon, a borrowed object in the hands of a Rabbi merely to learn about the many ways of the Master of the Universe, not a pedestal or commodity to boast with.

Many in outreach take a position of ownership on those they have taught. But let’s not forget these Jews came to learn about G-d. Jews who have had self-sacrifice to Torah should be allowed to eat all the fruits of Judaism in order to find the path of their own soul. We need to offer others all that Torah Judaism has to offer. The Baal Shem Tov taught that the Holy One, blessed be he, sends a soul down to this world for a lifetime of 70 or 80 years, and the ultimate purpose of its mission here is to do a favor to a fellow Jew in some material matter. How much more so in a spiritual matter! Yet we often hear the negative comments such as; “this one doesn’t learn Chassidut or that one is against Kabbalah, this one only learns Mussar and or that one only learns Halacha. All because they are from a different background.

Rabbi Elijah Hacohen of Izmir (1650-1729), wrote in his famous work Shevet Mussar that when a person holds back from their souls delight in a specific area of Torah study it could cause them to fail in their mission here on earth.

The personal path of a person should always be removed from the decision of others. The only cue to look at before becoming a follower or an adherent or a certain sect is the feeling that your soul belongs there. That is healthy Judaism and a healthy Torah perspective.

It’s not easy to find and follow your soul’s path. It can be a shaky road and it may seem like you are traveling alone. But this is only because you are are looking into your own soul and not what other people are doing. Many will try to divert you to a mission which is not yours. You can sit back and go with the flow, but know in advance Judaism doesn’t look favorably on spiritual cowardice.

People try to make others in their own image when it comes to following spiritual paths. It may come from an overzealous desire to give what we know to be good to a lack of trust in others. The early Sages naturally switched among different spiritual paths, guided by their Torah knowledge. An example of this is found in those who follow the customs of the Arizal. Although he was Ashkenazi, he prayed in a Sephardic prayer book. When the High Holidays came he went back to the Ashkenazi. In this strange practice, he would explain that “the early Ashkenazim founded their songs and Piutim according to the secrets of the Torah” (Shaar Hakavanot).

This idea allows one to admire the outlook of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach of blessed memory.  He was extremely successful at bringing Jews back to their roots and touched the souls of countless individuals. Even today, his recorded spiritual tunes and deep stories inspire Jews from all walks of life. Often, the soul-searching Jew would ask him which sect they should seek. He would answer everyone with another answer. To some he would say “Brother you should look at Breslov” and to some others “Brother let me know what you think of Chabad.” Sometimes he would point them to the nearest Lithuanian/Ashkenazi Yeshiva. There was no personal agenda involved. Perhaps he understood this idea since he also migrated to experience other paths. So how could he not afford others the same rich experience? They say the highest form of kindness is to help others help themselves.

I was told of a tale where a Chabad Rabbi went to eat at a restaurant in Manhattan and out of nowhere, a Breslov Chasid came over and gave him a pamphlet of Breslov teachings. Before the Breslov Chasid turned away to leave, the Chabad Rabbi asked him “why do you do all this stuff?” The Breslov looked at the Chabad Rabbi and said: “why do you?” Doesn’t Chabad do the same all over the world? And with that, he smiled and quickly walked away.

Would the Chabad Rabbi be happy if his student decides to become Breslov? Would the Aish HaTorah Rabbi be happy if his student decides to become Chabad? Would the Litvish Rabbi be happy if his congregant, after being trained in Torah, decides to open the Sephardic Synagogue to pray in the tongue of his fathers? Or will they be branded as going off the path?

We can really learn from our father and leaders. How did so many European Jews begin to pray in a Nusach Sephard prayer book if they hadn’t followed their hearts to different pathways? If we were all commanded to remain stagnant in our ways the Magid of Mezrich wouldn’t have left his home to follow the Besht nor would Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, (the Baal HaTanya) to follow the Magid and become his follower and Chosid. The same is true for all the other students of the Baal Shem Tov or Magid of Mezrich who all formed sub-Chassidic sects of their own. By no means were they stagnant or restrained. They were alive and embraced what they felt was holy and took the path that ignited their souls. The bottom line is; don’t be biased, share what you have and let others decide.

Obviously, the Shulchan Aruch is binding. We are only talking about the nuances that do not go against the Shulchan Aruch.  So, if a person was brought up with certain customs, then, by all means, follow your Minhag. But if you weren’t brought up with any customs then choose your own though diligent Torah research.

It’s not easy to find and follow your soul’s path. It can be a shaky road and it may seem like you are traveling alone. But this is only because you are are looking into your own soul and not what other people are doing. Many will try to divert you to a mission which is not yours. You can sit back and go with the flow, but know in advance Judaism doesn’t look favorably on spiritual cowardice.

“Rabbi Yehuda said; be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, run like a deer and be strong like a lion to do the will of your father in Heaven” (Avot,5).

 

 

 

About the Author
Gershom Francis has been a powerful Judaic studies instructor for over a decade. In addition, to taking the role of teacher and principal, he is known for his profound knowledge of Jewish philosophy and Mysticism.
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