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April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review

Not fully human

By Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski


Metallic Robot Androids One With Human Eyes from Big Stock



Reconsidering man as a spiritual being


http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | There has recently been a great increase of interest in spirituality. There are generally reasons why a certain phenomenon occurs at a particular time in history, and the reason for the upsurge of interest in spirituality is not difficult to determine.

Until relatively recently in history, life was a difficult ordeal. As late as the turn of this century, epidemics decimated entire communities, childhood diseases claimed the lives of many children, new mothers died in childbirth, infant mortality was high, and tuberculosis truncated many young lives. The average life span was under 40. Work conditions were strenuous, with many hours of hard physical labor required to earn one's livelihood. Travel was time consuming and arduous, and communications were fraught with lengthy delays. Climatic conditions were often virtually intolerable, and although one might warm up with a pot-belly stove or at the fireplace, there was no escape from torrid heat.

The genius of science and technology in this century has been spectacular. Immunization has eliminated epidemics and many childhood diseases. Antibiotics have cured the lethal childbed fever, and there is not a single tuberculosis hospital in all America! Work conditions are quite comfortable, with much of the labor being done by machines, often controlled by electronic devices. Jet flight gives one access to remote lands within hours, and the telephone permits immediate contact around the globe. Microwaves reduce cooking time to minutes, and efficient furnaces and air-conditioning allow one to live in comfort, while entertainment is brought into the home via the media. Many of the miseries and distresses of just several decades ago have been eliminated by human genius.

Obviously, mankind is still unhappy. The incidence of alcoholism and drug addiction, especially among young people, indicates that all the comforts of modern living notwithstanding, mankind is nevertheless discontented. Psychiatrists and psychologists are not at a loss for patients who are dissatisfied with life. Let us therefore reflect: What is there that human genius can do, either technologically or scientifically, that can make mankind happy?

While there is now hope that a cure for cancer will soon be found, will that great achievement really eliminate mankind's doldrums? I know that it is politically incorrect to say this, but let us realize that prolongation of life is not an unmixed blessing.

There are now states that deny payment for certain medical procedures after 80, and the single greatest concern that occupies both the executive and legislative branches of government is what to do about the social security system and runaway Medicare costs. Let's face it. The cure for cancer will be hailed as a marvelous medical accomplishment, which it certainly will be, and many individuals will be most thankful for this medical breakthrough, but society as a whole will be hard pressed to support the care necessary for the ever-increasing population.

Insofar as technology is concerned, just what are we lacking that could give us happiness? Digital television? Computers with a more rapid download? Copiers that will duplicate more quickly? Perhaps you can think of something that I cannot. I believe that we have come to realize that while science and technology have indeed provided greater comfort, and have made life much easier, they have not and cannot give us a reason for life or an ultimate goal in life.

The phenomenon of the 60s and its aftermath may be due to the reasoning that the unprecedented marvels resulting from man's genius have obviated the need for anything transcendental. Science and technology had so revolutionized life with their amazing feats, that they would no doubt soon solve all humans problems, hence the motto among the young visionaries that "G-d is dead." But alas! The next few decades demonstrated the limitations of science and technology, and people have come to realize that the search for happiness must be directed elsewhere, hence the interest in spirituality.

The drug epidemic on the one hand and the flight to cults on the other indicate the depth of dissatisfaction that prevails today. These desperate attempts at finding some comfort or purpose in life are by no means limited to people who feel disenfranchised and who despair of the opportunity to advance themselves. Drug use and cultism are prevalent among the affluent of society who lack for nothing. One cannot come to any conclusion other than that there is a disillusionment with the material world, and people are groping for anything that promises them relief from a feeling of futility, which results in the increased interest in spirituality.

DEFINITION OF SPIRITUALITY
Spirituality is a frequently used term, but one which is rather difficult to define; indeed, spirituality may mean different things to different people. What I am about to present is a definition which I have been using in my work. It is certainly not the final word on the subject.

Let me first state what Jewish spirituality is not.

Spirituality is not withdrawing from society and isolating oneself as a recluse, eating the bare minimum to remain alive and sleeping on the ground, spending the entire day in prayer and meditation. During the time of the Second Temple there was a sect of Essenes who separated themselves from society to devote themselves totally to prayer and study of Torah. They rejected anything that provided physical gratification, and they therefore abstained from eating meat, drinking wine, and getting married. This is not the type of spirituality the Torah advocates.

We are permitted to eat meat and drink wine judiciously, and we are required to marry and have families. We should work and engage in commerce. In short, we are to lead normal lives, but all the activities of normal living should be within the scope of spirituality.

The Torah states, "You shall be holy people unto Me" (Exodus 22:30), and the Hebrew lends itself to the interpretation of the great Chassidic master, Rabbi Mendel of Kotzk (d. 1859): "You shall be humanly holy." We are not expected to be angels. To the contrary, we are supposed to be human, but spiritually so.


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A wealthy chassid once boasted to his Rebbe that he has a separate house where he resides only on Passover, and no leaven, forbidden on Passover, ever enters the house.

In this way he is absolutely certain that he is in complete compliance with the Torah requirement to be free of all leaven on Passover.

The Rebbe was not at all impressed. "What you are doing is actually contrary to the wishes of the Torah. The point is precisely to have leaven all year round, and to dispose of it on Passover. Not having the need to search after leaven and clean the house thoroughly defeats the purpose."

What the Rebbe was referring to is the symbolism of leaven as representing the yetzer hara, the drive to gratify our physical impulses. We know we have a yetzer hara, and we must work diligently to rid ourselves of it. Not to have leaven, i.e., a yetzer hara, is to be an angel. We are to be holy humans, not angels.

DEFINITION OF HUMANITY
Before tackling spirituality, let us try to define a more elementary term: humanity.

You may say that this is hardly necessary, since humanity has been adequately defined in science. In Biology 1 we learned that the human being is Homo sapiens, a classification which is universally accepted. If you were told that you are a Homo sapiens, you would in all likelihood say, "Yes, that is what I learned in high school." You would not be offended by this term.

Perhaps your acceptance of this appellation is because it is in Latin, hence it sounds rather sophisticated and quite innocent. But let us see what it means when translated into English.

Homo refers to a genus, a family of animals of which man is a member, and he shares this genus with other hominoids, such as monkeys, gorillas, baboons, orangutans, chimpanzees, etc.

Man is distinct from the other members of this group by being a species of Homo which is sapiens, a term which essentially refers to intellect.

Homo sapiens thus means "a baboon (or ape) with intellect," and I am sure that none of us would find this term complimentary.

While intellect is an important and distinct trait of man, it is not the only feature which distinguishes him from animals. There are a number of other traits which are unique to man, and therefore, along with intellect, comprise the definition of man.

Allow me to list several of these.

A human being has the capacity to learn from the past. Animals may indeed learn from previous experiences, such as to avoid things which were injurious to them, but they are certainly unable to learn from the experiences of past generations.

Suppose a race horse runs the Kentucky Derby and loses by just a neck. This horse sires a foal which grows to be a fine race horse, and eventually runs the Kentucky Derby. Learning from the past would mean that this second generation horse can study the race its father lost to discover where he had erred, and by avoiding this mistake this horse now wins the race. We will all agree that this is something which is not possible for any animal to do.

Learning from the past is therefore a uniquely human trait, and is therefore part of the definition of man. A second feature that is uniquely human is the capacity to think about the goal and purpose of one's existence. It is safe to assume that animals do not reflect on the purpose of their existence, and while some people may not do so either, they nevertheless have the ability to do so, an ability which animals lack. Even if one does not arrive at any conclusion about the purpose of one's existence, the very capacity to give this thought is unique to man.

One might perhaps challenge with, "How do you make such assumptions about animals? Perhaps they do have these capacities, but we are unaware of them." To this I respond, how do you know that animals are not sapiens? Perhaps they have the equivalent of the dialogues of Plato of which we are unaware, just as they are undoubtedly unaware of human knowledge. Inasmuch as no one seems to challenge the scientific assumption that intellect is unique to man, I assert the same right to assume that animals do not have these other capacities which are therefore uniquely human.


Let us continue. Man has the capacity to volitionally improve himself. It is unlikely that a cow, for example, ever thinks, "What must I do to become a better cow?" Only a human being can reflect on and implement self- improvement.

Animals are born essentially complete, and change only by growing larger and stronger. There can be some rather radical changes, such as when the lowly caterpillar becomes a beautiful butterfly. While this is certainly an improvement, this is not something which the caterpillar decides to do volitionally. A caterpillar is certainly not capable of saying, "I am afraid of heights, and I do not wish to become a butterfly and be up in the air. I prefer to remain a caterpillar and remain safe on solid ground."

It is programmed into the caterpillar's genes that at some point in its life cycle it will spin a cocoon and emerge a butterfly, whether it wishes to or not. Hence, even the caterpillar is born complete, and cannot make any volitional changes. This is something which only a human being can do. Furthermore, regardless of one's genetic composition, a person can make salutary changes in himself.

An animal does not have the capacity to delay gratification. Whatever an animal desires, it will attempt to get. A human being may have a desire and the means to achieve it, but may postpone it to a more appropriate time. He may very much desire to embark on a scenic cruise to a beautiful place and he may have the money to do so, but he may decide to postpone it until he is free of certain obligations. This trait, too, is uniquely human.

A human being can reflect on the consequences of his actions. "If I do this now, what will the consequences be in two weeks, or six months, or two years?" He may decide to abstain from something he wishes to do because although he could gratify himself for the moment, the long term consequences of his action are deleterious. This is something an animal cannot do.

Man has the capacity to control anger. When an animal is enraged, it promptly acts out its anger. A person may suppress his anger, and reflect upon whether he wishes to express it at all, and if so, when and how to do so. He may even assess the provocative act and conclude that there is no reason for him to be angry because the person who committed the provocative act did not realize what he was doing or to whom he was doing it. Animals cannot do this.

A person has the capacity to forgive. Even if someone did harm him, and even if this was done intentionally, a person may forgive the offender if he so wishes. Man may decide to "forgive but not forget" or may even try to dismiss the entire incident from his mind, whereas animals may or may not forget, but it is highly doubtful that they are capable of forgiving.

Man is the only living creature that can be considered truly free. Animals, even in the wild, are not truly free because they are under the absolute domination of their body and cannot make a free choice. If an animal is hungry, it must look for food. No hungry animal can decide, "I'm going to fast today." The ability to defy a bodily desire is unique to human beings.

There is only one thing that can prevent an animal from fulfilling a bodily drive, and that is fear of retribution. Suppose a hungry jackal is foraging for food and spies a carcass which would satiate his appetite. The carcass, however, is being feasted upon by a huge, ferocious tiger. The jackal makes no attempt to partake of the carcass, not because it does not wish to take what is rightfully the tiger's property, but because it knows that if it attempts to do so it will be killed by the tiger. The fear of retribution overrides the desire for food.

People may sometimes quell a desire because of fear of retribution. A person who works in a financial institution which turns over many millions of dollars each day may be very shrewd in the use of computers, and may be able to transfer sums of money to his own account, becoming very wealthy fairly effortlessly. He is very greedy and has an inordinate desire to be rich. However, he considers that the auditing team undoubtedly has someone who is computer-crime savvy, and if these transactions are traced to him, his ill-begotten money will be taken from him, he will be fined $50,000, and given a 15-year prison sentence. Inasmuch as this is too great a risk to take, he forgoes his greed. In this case, he suppresses his desire only because of fear of retribution, a trait which he shares with lower forms of life.

When is suppression of desire uniquely human? When there is no possibility of detection and retribution, yet the person suppresses a desire and restrains himself only because it is morally and ethically wrong.

This is something which animals cannot do. Except when there is fear of retribution, animals are not free to choose whether or not to fulfill a craving, hence they are under the tyranny of their bodies and cannot be said to be truly free.

Only man has the capacity to make choices based on morals and ethics, hence man is the only being that can be considered to be truly free, and this trait is therefore one of the defining features of man. There are other features which can be found only in man, which we will be discussing.

Let us take all the traits that are unique to man and group them together. The sum total of all these are what I refer to as the spirit. The spirit is thus comprised of all the features that are distinctly human and that therefore separate human beings from animals. Unless we extend the term sapiens to include all these, we fall far short of a proper definition of humanity if we understand Homo sapiens as referring only to intellect.

There is no way one can deny that every human being has these capacities, hence every human being has a spirit. We believe that the spirit was instilled in man by G-d at the time of man's creation. Those who do not believe that G-d created man must nevertheless agree that man has a spirit, but they may contend that these features were somehow developed in the process of human evolution. That man has a spirit is thus independent of one's belief.

Man may or may not put these capacities to use. If he does, he is implementing the spirit and can therefore be said to be spiritual. There can be varying degrees or levels of spirituality depending on how much one exercises these uniquely human capacities. Spirituality is thus nothing more than the implementation of these capacities, hence spirituality can be seen as being synonymous with humanity. To the degree that a person is lacking in spirituality, to that degree he is lacking in humanity.


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Many of us can recall that as children we were often admonished, "Be a mentsh," or "Act like a mentsh." Although we walked upright and verbalized words and concepts, we were not yet a "mentsh." What was being asked of us is that we develop those traits that are the hallmark of a human being, the spiritual traits that elevate him above the level of Homo sapiens. Those who attended a cheder where Torah was translated into Yiddish will recall that the translation of naaseh adam was "Let us make a mentsh." G-d did not merely wish to create "man." Rather, He wished to create a mentsh, a spiritual human being.

As can be seen, we have thus far not included religion in the definition of spirituality, hence we may refer to this as a definition of generic spirituality. We may now move on to an analysis of Jewish spirituality, which is how a Jew should exercise his uniquely human capacities.

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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 dozens of books to his credit, including, "Twerski on Spirituality", from which this was excerpted (Sales of this book help fund JWR).

Previously:


Transformation in the true reality: The Battle Between Body and Soul

Man's mission: We are alive, obviously, for a reason. What is it?

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