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April 24, 2013
Jewish World Review
In quest of spirituality
Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
A short but profound meditation on human potential and pathways in realizing it
If a person took upon himself the vow of a Nazirite, the Torah (Bible) says ...
He shall not come near a dead person. To his father or to his mother,
to his brother or to his sister he shall not contaminate himself to
them upon their death, for the crown of his G-d is upon his head.
Ralbag explains why the Torah forbids a Nazirite to come near the dead.
reason why a dead body contaminates is because it represents the defectiveness
of the physical, and the Nazirite should avoid the physical things to
which he may be attracted.''
Rabbi Henoch Lebovitz comments that to the contrary, being confronted with human
mortality motivates a person to spirituality, as King Solomon says, ''It is better to
go to the house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for that is the end of
all man, and the living should take it to heart'' (Ecclesiastes 7:2). We find repeated
references in the Talmud that the contemplation of one's mortality discourages a
person from physical indulgences. Why, then, does Ralbag say that the Nazirite,
who takes a vow of abstinence in his quest for spirituality, should avoid contact
with the dead?
Rabbi Lebovitz explains that there are two paths whereby one can strive for spirituality.
One way is to focus on man's sharing of physical drives with lower forms of life,
and that when he indulges in gratification of his bodily desires he is acting out his
animalistic traits. The Midrash states that when G-d admonished Adam for his sin,
Adam wept, ''Now my mule and I will be eating from the same trough.'' This is a
humbling awareness that should motivate a person toward spirituality by distancing
him from physical gratification. The second way is to realize the holiness of
the Divine neshamah (soul) that he possesses, which is inseparable from its source
in G-d. The realization of his potential for Godliness should motivate a person
toward the pursuit of spirituality.
Both approaches are valid, and each has its place. The ethicists cite the phrase,
''His heart was high in the way of G-d'' (II Chronicles 17:6) as meaning that
although pride is vanity, one may be motivated by pride to become more spiritual.
Awareness of one's Godly component should make a person reach for the stars,
because there is nothing spiritual that is beyond his grasp. As Maimonides says,
''Every person can be like Moses'' (Hilchos Teshuvah 5:2). The dignity of man
should make him pursue perfection.
The Talmud tells of a young man who had beautiful long hair. Seeing his
handsome reflection in the water, he feared that he might be drawn to physical
indulgences. He promptly took a Nazirite vow, which would require shaving his
head. ''I swear that I will cut this hair in the service of G-d'' (Nazir 4:2). One who
accepts Nezirus for such a purpose is the ideal.
A Nazirite who is so dedicated to the achievement of spirituality should focus on
the Godliness of his neshamah. He should be thoroughly absorbed in the spiritual
greatness that is within his reach. There is no need for him to concentrate on his
lowly physical component and be distracted from his potential greatness (Chidushei
HaLev, Bamidbar p. 31).
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Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D. is a psychiatrist and ordained rabbi. He is the founder of the Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Pittsburgh, a leading center for addiction treatment. An Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, he is a prolific author, with some 30 books to his credit, including, "Twerski on Chumash" (Bible), from which this was excerpted (Sales of this book help fund JWR).
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