An email I sent to Rabbi Michael Shire, after reading his article on spirituality and Jewish education (link below). I think it complements my previous post (link also below):
Dear Rabbi Shire,
I read your article on “Nurturing the Spiritual in Jewish Education” with great interest.
I am in complete agreement that the “spiritual” is a critically neglected element in Jewish education.
Part of the difficulty might be that “emunah” isn’t simply a body of knowledge that can be learned as a “subject,” in the manner of “biology,” etc. Rather, “emunah” is a skill that needs to be explained, demonstrated and practiced.
Although “emunah” might begin with learning certain “ideas” about G-d or, more traditionally, with aggadot about G-d, mere learning itself remains only “information” until it’s internalized and brings about a change in the viewpoint and consciousness of the student. “Da lifnei mi atah omeid” is written on the aron of many synagogues, but we must understand that “Da” — “Know” — means “know as a direct personal experience.”
I’ve written a recent piece about that topic:
Almost two years ago, I wrote a post about Jewish education as spiritual education:
My blog is essentially about Jewish spirituality as a learnable “practice.”
It’s interesting that Newton himself believed that in describing the laws by which the universe apparently works consistently, he was demonstrating the inevitability of a Creator of those laws. (How different the effect of his work has been!) Einstein believed no differently: “”God is a mystery. But a comprehensible mystery. I have nothing but awe when I observe the laws of nature. There are not laws without a lawgiver…” (Hermanns, William; 1983. Einstein and the Poet: in search of the cosmic man. Brookline Village MA: Branden Books, p. 60), although elsewhere, he denied a belief in “hashgachah protis” (i.e. he believed in an “impersonal” G-d, but not in One who cared about individual lives). Even so, one might bring the study of Newton’s laws to Jewish education in their original spirit — the orderliness is in indisputable sign of intent; intent compellingly suggests a Creator. But this can be only a “beginning.”
I recommend Rabbi Morris Lichtenstein’s “Jewish Science and Health” as one possible textbook for a curriculum on “emunah.” As his wife (and chief student) later wrote: “…G-d cannot be perceived through the mind alone. If you would know G-d, do not seek merely to prove His existence, but turn to Him with your heart; affirm your union with Him, affirm His responsiveness to prayer, pray to Him; if you actually turn to G-d … speak to Him in your heart, you will be astonished to find how close He is to you, you will feel His nearness, you will have found G-d.” (from: Applied Judaism; “Can We Prove That G-d Exists?” (essay); p. 96; originally part of “How Shall We Find G-d;” Jewish Science Interpreter, June, 1940; p. 4).
Rabbi Shalom Arush’s “The Garden of Emunah” and “In Forest Fields” (a book more specifically about hitbodedut as taught in Breslaver Hasidut) are others (“in addition to” rather than “instead of”).
As the rabbis said, “If you wish to know G-d, study aggadah” (Sifre, piska 49), I might add “The G-d Idea in Jewish Tradition,” a translation of a work by Rabbi Israel Konowitz anthologizing all the aggadot pertaining to G-d, as still another.
We best begin the work of integrating “emunah” into the standard Jewish educational curriculum by developing and constantly improving our own. It starts with ourselves; with our own demonstration of the peace that “emunah” brings. But as educators, we must also find a way (or ways) to systematically convey that to students of various age levels.
Rabbi Eli Mallon, M.Ed., LMSW