Friday, August 04, 2006

Jewish Meditation

In memory of Yehudis bas Alexander Ziskin. To dedicate a future Table Talk, please send an email.

The world has changed a little bit since we returned to America from Israel six years ago. One of the changes that I am sensitive to is the increase in existential challenges to the Jewish People (some would say that this is not so new).

Soon after I had arrived to Silicon Valley in 2000, I found myself in the office of a certain prominent venture capitalist. My goal was for him to study with me, and thereby become a role model for others.

His objection: "I don't know what we have to talk about, Rabbi, you see, I don't believe in God."

"That's OK," I retorted with a straight face, "I don't either."

His nonplussed expression told me that this was not what he expected to hear from a rabbi.

I explained: "I'm sure whatever you mean by God I don't believe in either."

A similar common objection to studying that I often hear is this:

"No thanks, Rabbi, I'm frankly not interested in organized religion."

To which I have the same retort: "That's OK, I'm not either."

Let's face it: most Jews have had at best a cursory Jewish education. If you are one of those, how can you make an intelligent choices about anything Jewish? Is it possible that a 3,300-year-old tradition has something for you? If you decide not to study as an adult, you are effectively choosing not to peek inside a room that may contain....?

Here's an example. Try posing this quiz at your table:

What's the main reason to go to synagogue?

A) to pray
B) to socialize
C) to be a good Jew
D) to meditate
E) to give the kids a Jewish experience

In my humble opinion, the correct answer is D (see Ch 1 of my book).

One small example is the Shema Yisrael (Ch. 6). This little piece of liturgy is by all measures a meditation, not a prayer. When you learn the details of how the Torah says to use it, I think you will agree! (maybe I'm wrong; let me know).

The Torah doesn't say anything about going to synagogue. If that helps you in a meditative way, all the power to you. But if you can accomplish that level of kavana (mental and emotional focus) better at home, then that's the best place for you to practice your Judaism.

Of course, the first thing to do is to study. I would like to challenge you and your dinner table to find out what the Shema really means (Ch. 6) and how it is used meditatively.

It is also something like the Jewish People's mission statement. In this day and age, when we are under fire around the world, whether you are wearing your Judaism on your sleeve (or head) or not, the Shema is a private way to declare that you're a member of the Tribe.

Shabbat Shalom.

(Our condolences to the Seattle Jewish community on the not-random murder of one of their beloved leaders last week; in Baltimore, a molotov cocktail thrown at the JCC-Baltimore Hebrew Univ. complex on Wednesday, but has not grabbed national headlines because the police haven't labeled it a hate crime.)

If you would like to help Israelis in dire need, there are many opportunities. See last week's Table Talk. There are also organizations housing refugees from the North in hotels, getting their kids into summer camps, etc, and funds are badly needed.


Neil said...

But if everyone decided he could meditate better at home and therefore stopped going to shul, then no one would ever have a minyan.

And therefore there would never be kaddish, kedusha, torah reading, etc.

Rabbi Seinfeld said...

True, so we'd better make sure that our shuls are conducive to the kind of deep practice that Jews are seeking!

jake said...

i've had this feeling for some time and i'm glad to see it expressed by the rabbi. there is a unique satisfaction that comes from davening with a minyan, but i feel that is not an experience available to all or at all times. sometimes i get much more out of praying alone because of the frenzied pace of some services (everybody seems to be going there in order to get out of there as quickly as possible), disruptive socializing, occasionally hostile or unwelcoming attitudes, etc... of course one can do both by setting aside some prayers or tehillim to say at home, but i would agree with the assertion that we are not doing enough to make our shuls as conducive as they could be to meditative prayer.

Lucia said...

Does belonging to a tribe mean to ignore the suffering of other tribes? Is the commandment to look after our fellow tribe-men/women higher than that of fighting against injustice towrds fellow men/women that don't belong to our tribe? What happens when that very injustice is caused by our own tribe? Where are the prophets of today?

Rabbi Seinfeld said...

Lucia, in my opinion tribal membership in a Jewish context means we're humanity's S.W.A.T. team. We're the special forces, the pinch hitting squad. If we don't care about all of humanity, we've got a problem. The Torah requires justice towards all people. Any Member of the Tribe who doesn't know and believe that needs to have his head fixed.

KundaliniRZA said...

I believe Every monotheistic religion today has had books sent from the One true God and I quoted proofs below from the Holy Quran (which is said to be the last book God sent) to prove my belief.
This meditation session was made to break the illusions that one religion is better than the other.