Spiritual and Religious?
by Jhos Singer
This week’s Torah portion, Bechokotai (Leviticus 26:3-27:34) closes the book of Leviticus, thus ending the long stretch of instructions to and about indigenous Judaism’s most elite class, the kohanim or priests. The priesthood was responsible for upholding and maintaining all of the religious and ceremonial activity of the entire community. They were the undeniable leaders of the ancient Jewish people.
Anyone who has been around me for long knows that I bristle at the idea of spiritual leadership. That is to say, that in our modern world, spirituality has evolved to be something quite personal, no longer tethered to grand rite or ritual, and certainly not something that needs leadership. People constantly tell me that they are “spiritual, not religious” and honestly, I don’t really know what this means. In this week’s Torah portion, there was no separation—rituals were designed and expertly executed by a highly trained class of the community whose sole purpose was to create an experience that brought the people closer to God. The ceremony was spiritual, and spirituality was ceremonial.
After chapters and chapters of detailed information about the duties of the priesthood—their vestments, the proper vessels and implements, the correct patterns and actions for the sacraments, and the exacting physical requirements to which each priest had to conform—the Torah basically puts the true spiritual power in the hands of the congregation.
“If you will follow my decrees and observe my commandments and do them, then I will provide your with rain in it’s time, and the land will give its produce and the tree of the field will give its fruit. Your threshing will last until the vintage, and the vintage will last until the sowing; you will eat your bread until you are satisfied, and you will live securely in your land.” (Leviticus 26:3-5)
Ultimately it is the common people and their behavior that determines the circuitry between the Divine and the Material worlds. It is their commitment to living a tuned-in life and their acceptance of a sacred covenant, that matters. Because, like today, spiritual connection is something each and every one of us has to develop, foster, and tend individually. We are naturally dialed up to feeling God’s presence in the natural world, in the emotional realm, in art, in meditation. But how easy is it to experience Oneness on cue? That said, does skillful facilitation qualify as spiritual leadership?
Our task at Chochmat HaLev is to provide our members and allies with an environment where each worshipper is able to find their own spiritual equilibrium; a space in which they can hear the still, small voice within, guiding their choices and actions towards integration between their spiritual and physical knowledge of our world. It is a great opportunity to be part of a community whose express purpose is to nurture collective spiritual experience. We are blessed to have an incredible staff that work together on every aspect of fostering community. From the chairs and sound system to the garden and gates; from the music and davennen to balancing the books and getting the contracts signed—ours is a team effort. Not unlike the priesthood of old, our staff has rites and responsibilities to carry out thus ensuring that the stage is set for each member of the community to embark on their personal spiritual journey.
As we slowly wend our way from Pesach to Shavuot, we hope that each person who had found a handhold on their path at Chochmat HaLev will support the ongoing effort to maintain a spiritual, religious, community in our midst.
As the Torah teaches, never underestimate the power of your practice.