Spiritual Competition

My rabbi mentioned this last week in synagogue. What does it mean to be spiritually competitive? You can pray longer, more fiercely, and adhere to the rules more than the next person? Your sleeves are longer, your hair more covered, your house more kosher? The notion of being more-more-more sort of cancels out the notion of spirituality, don’t you think?

In the reference last Shabbat, it was to look at the story of the Tower of Babel, seemingly out of place in the middle of the chapter on Noah and the flood. In between the horrible reckoning of ruining the world except for Noah’s family and the carefully selected animals, and the mandate to “be fruitful and multiply,” is this story of the building of a tower.

It struck me, first, that the Torah says all people spoke the same language and basically got along. A good thing, right?

And then it says that because of this, God dispersed the people all over the world, among lands and languages.

Hmmm…why not celebrate that all people understood one another (metaphor) and worked together (to build the tower)?

It seems that the reason for the tower was to climb closer to God. That once all people were united, they believed they could reach God, rather than fear/respect God, and so they set out to physically, literally connect.

Which led God to think, hmmm, they’re too drunk on power (pun intended for anyone who knows this parsha); I’ve got to knock them down a peg to realize what it means to be human.

And so we were forever scattered over the earth, to walk among our segment of people and speak our particular language, forever running into communications conflict (metaphor) with the rest of the world.

It’s a powerful notion. My Rabbi, Aaron Bergman, followed this notion of spiritual competition with the following words:

“Spirituality is not far from you; it is in your mouth and in your heart. You already know enough to be spiritually connected.”

So basically we don’t have to go far, or climb high, or pull out tricks and maneuvers, to connect with God. From where we stand, with the language we speak, we have exactly what we need to do so.

I can live with that. And I agree with it besides.

I’ve never believed in the notion of an intermediary or a distance between us and God. It’s not turning our faces skyward and begging to be heard. It’s that quiet internal voice that knows.

If we believe, as I do, that God lives in each and every creature, then we can access the idea that we are godly in our very existence – without having to do much. And when we strip away the superficial and the worries and the human-ness, we get close to God.

So easy.

Tomorrow night, I will walk around the neighborhood with my kids in the cold snow-flurry night as they collect Halloween candy. And then we will traipse home, our bags and bellies aching with sugary overload, to sit down at the table to a Shabbat dinner – where we bless the candles, and the wine, and the homemade bread, and give thanks for being who we are, in this group called family together, on a beautiful quiet night.

 

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