Body And Soul Religion

Thought and internal spirituality still require physical action in order to deepen one's religious experience.

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From actions one is aroused to worship God with great feeling and to embrace the Divine. (Source: Itturei Torah, translation mine.)

Clearly, the Yehudi doesn't think that Pharaoh was all that concerned with the Israelite's spirituality--this is a parable about contemporary concerns. I understand the Yehudi to be addressing those people who want a purely internal spirituality, going deep inside themselves, spurning the physical world. The Yehudi, speaking through the character of Moses, seems to be suggesting that the proper way to deepen one's inner life is to align it with your physicality, your embodied being.

An example that comes to mind is ritual action, something often derided by those who seek a purely internal, detached kind of spirituality. (Think of the negative connotations of the word "ritualistic.") A simple ritual is making a blessing before eating, which can help bring us to feelings of awe and gratitude.

One might think that the best thing is to go directly to the proper feelings, and bypass the ritual, but I think it doesn't really work that way. The action of the blessing can bring us to a depth of emotion and spiritual understanding unreachable by thought alone; sometimes we don't even understand, on a spiritual level, what the ritual is all about until after we've done it many times.

I think I've quoted before one of my favorite teachings from another tradition: "It's easier to act your way into right thinking than think your way into right acting." Of course, a certain amount of intellectual preparation is crucial for Jewish practice, but I think the Yehudi reminds us that religious growth can't happen only "from the neck up." It happens when we bring physical and spiritual together, when we bring our whole being into the quest, when our actions in the social and religious realms become entirely aligned with our higher goals.

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Rabbi Neal J. Loevinger

Rabbi Neal Joseph Loevinger is currently the rabbi of Temple Beth-El in Poughkeepsie, NY. A former student at Kolel, he served as Kolel's Director of Outreach from late 1999-2001. He was ordained in the first graduating class of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies of the University of Judaism, and holds a Master's of Environmental Studies from York University in Toronto.