If we would feel spiritual hunger the way we feel physical hunger,
we would solve the whole problem of life.
Getting to Know Your Self: The Gateway to Recognizing Your Inner Strengths
by the author of Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh
I've been thinking about spiritual hunger quite often lately. Is it a residue of my visit to Uman where I spent an intense week doing not much more than praying, learning Torah, crying and trying to connect with God, coupled with just enough eating and sleeping to sustain my body? Or is it a function of living in Israel, where the spiritual aspect of life is just so loud?
No matter. Here I am, thinking about how to notch up the percentage of my day in spent in God consciousness. According to a lesson I received from the brilliant and remarkably personable Jerusalem-based teacher Yehudis Golshevsky, in Chassidut, there are only two mindsets. A person is either attached to kedusha (holiness) or to shtuyot (nonsense). There is no neutral space in Chassidut. I was very struck by that lesson, even as I continue to argue against it in my mind. Surely some things in life are pareve - neither advancing our relationship with the Divine nor detracting from it.
I certainly came to Israel in order to grow closer to God. Yet, sometimes, the daily challenges of living here distract me from that goal. Getting from place to place on public transportation instead of hopping in my car. Earning enough shekels to sustain ourselves. The frustration of not being able to communicate easily with the health care system, the store clerk, the government. Trying to acculturate while feeling very much like an immigrant. Trying to balance the ridiculous and the sublime aspects of living in the Holy Land. These are the quintessential conundrums of religious olim. And they are mine as well.
I had a dream recently that I met with a therapist and I told him that all my troubles, whatever I feel I lack, are spiritual in nature. I know this is true. After nearly 3 ½ years in Israel, it's time to get serious about the next chapter of my spiritual story.
Years ago, I lived alone in an apartment in a not very Jewish area of Baltimore. Often, I would drive down a certain street on my way home. One day, I noticed an office building off to my left with a sign identifying it as belonging to a utility company. Now I knew that building did not just go up overnight. It had been there the whole time. I had just failed to notice.
And that's something like what I feel now. The depths of Torah have been here the whole time. I just wasn't paying enough attention. Too wrapped up in daily challenges, or shtuyot, or whatever.
For me, my success in adjusting to life in Israel can be measured by how heightened my spiritual hunger is.
When I was new to Jewish life, new to Jewish practice, I was busy twirling a lot of new plates. There was so much to learn. When I moved to Israel, that became true again. But at a certain point, then, as now, I'd mastered just enough to move to the next phase of growth.
So now, I'm in the process of cracking something open. I'm exceedingly drawn to spiritual people. Something inside me races with excitement when I hear someone else speaking about God like a genuine Presence. I'm learning more spiritual material. I'm feeling the press of needing to talk to God more often and in greater detail. I'm attending more shiurim (Torah classes) and appreciating more fully how deep, how penetrating, the Torah actually is. Learning Torah like this shines a light on, and opens up for me, awareness of some of the multiple levels of reality on which the world, and God, truly operate. I have too often been oblivious.
This intensified hunger for the metaphysical is elusive and difficult to describe. I'm not sure I've adequately captured it here. I generally know when I'm in the territory of God consciousness. And often, I know when I'm not.
You'll have to excuse me now.
I have to go talk to God.
I have to go talk to God.