I had just completed my last year of college, and was now all packed and ready to spend a year in Israel. Anyone who knows me closely knows that I am extremely practical and always thinking in terms of building foundations for the goals I want to accomplish in life. Going on a “spiritual” journey was never on my radar. In fact, the world spirituality would bring to mind the kind of “heebie-jeebie” fluff I always shied away from. However, here I was, at a place where a year abroad on the other side of the ocean made complete sense.
In sync with my practical personality, I became interested in psychology in college. Though academically I’ve tried what feels like ‘everything under the sun,’ I had a hard time focusing on subjects that didn’t apply to making the most out of life or relationships. While I was in college, I participated in a program, through the R.A.J.E. Beit Abraham Center, that promised to give me a free trip to Israel. The speakers in the program offered unparalleled systems of emotional intelligence and life insight that over time I’ve come to really appreciate; this kind of experience looked and felt different from the way I ever considered my Jewish identity.
So you may wonder why identity matters much at all? In fact, isn’t religious or cultural identity just a topic we discuss on show-and-tell day at school before going on with our merry lives? If that had continued being the case for me, it would have meant missing out on incredible experiences. My teacher, Rebbetzin Tzipporah Heller (from Neve Yerushalayim, where I studied in Israel) speaks about the different pleasures in life. Firstly, Rebbetzin Heller mentioned the physical pleasure of indulgences such as food, before speaking of the aesthetic pleasures we get from exploring all the beautiful places in the world, and lastly delving into the spiritual pleasures that we crave, ones which go much deeper than the others. Spiritual pleasures include all the qualities we love and admire in others or develop in ourselves that extend beyond the physical.
Furthermore, a spiritual journey is one that creates a space to ask some of the most important questions in life: Does everything happen for a reason? Is there a purpose? what happens to a loved one when they pass away?
What’s unique and fascinating about Jewish wisdom is that it provides explorations into spiritual questions such as these in ways that don’t require one to put intelligence on a shelf. It allows one to pursue spiritual questions with the space for intellectually solid, scientifically encompassing, and historically evident considerations.
The spiritual journey doesn’t require one to believe in the magic of an object or the claim that God can be bottled up and all figured out– God in His entirety is not human limited by misguided pursuits that consume our lives. The journey studies God to the extent that His essence as a living, feeling, non-physical, unified consciousness has been revealed to us historically in ways that defy statistical chance to show that we’re never alone.
“L’CHAIM,” “to-life” is a popular Jewish phrase and an encompassing one. We believe in making the most of each moment in life. In the midst of my daily life in the heart of New York City, I take moments to pray to say thank you for all I’ve been given, moments to unplug for Shabbos- let go of control, and toast to the week, and moments to learn Torah (central Jewish text) that provides refreshing insights that deepen self-knowledge. Through my spiritual journey, I’ve expanded my network to include young professionals who change the world in remarkable ways, and find time to attend Torah classes in between that inspire personal development in all aspects. I chase dreams during the day knowing that I end the night reciting the Shema, a saying that comforts and bears witness that nothing happens at random and at the core all is for the good. And when you know there’s good intent in the workings of the world, every circumstance becomes an exciting opportunity of growth– to come closer to the person you’re inspired to be. This is the kind of spiritual journey that I’ve never stopped going on. This isn’t the kind that subjugates, but rather the kind that outlines ways in which you can soar. It’s kind of like zip-lining; one has to first strap on the right gear in order to fly. That is how I see all the mitzvot that Jewish traditions have been holding onto for over 3000 years; no matter where we find ourselves in life and in the world, they always outline the way for us to fly.