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Monday, 7 April 2014

Can you be spiritual without being religious?


Beitzah 7

Today’s Life Yomi is dedicated in honour of the birthday of Justice Eric Macklin, by his wife, Sharon and children, Arna, Leah, Rachel and Zev.  Biz 120 in good health!

“Formal religion is so ridiculous,” Cathy said to me, “I’m a spiritual person.   I don’t get bogged down by materialism.  I really feel one with my inner self, my soul, you could say.  Why would anyone need strict laws to be a spiritual person?”
“How do you know what spirituality is?” I asked her.
“What do you mean, rabbi?” she looked at me incredulously, “If I am in touch with my soul, then clearly I’m spiritual.  I tell you, religion is just for people who aren’t spiritual!”

Can you be spiritual without being religious? 

The Rabbis taught, “Animals that mate during the day give birth during the day.  Animals that mate at night give birth at night.  Animals that mate either during the day or night give birth during the day or night.”

The Talmud offers chickens as an example of a species which mates during the day, bats as night-maters, and human beings as day or night procreators.

Previously we learned that one must wait until after Yom Tov ends to eat an egg that was laid on the festival.  Rabbi Mari the son of Rav Kahana teaches, “If one checks a chicken nest before the onset of the festival and does not find an egg, and arises the following day to find an egg, it is permissible,” since it must have been laid during the previous day because chickens only lay eggs during the day.

Why didn’t he see it when he originally looked?  Either he didn’t look properly or the chicken began to lay the egg and then momentarily retracted.  Even though the final laying might have taken place overnight, since the process began during the day, it is considered to have been laid before Yom Tov and permissible. 

Rabbi Yossi ben Shmuel quotes Rav’s exception to the rule:  While it is true that chickens, having mated during the day, only lay their eggs during the day, what about unfertilized eggs?  If there is no rooster present, a hen will warm itself with earth and lay an unfertilized egg, even at night.

So how do we know whether the egg was fertilized or not?  Ravina explains that whenever there is a rooster in the vicinity, we can rest assured it is fertilized.  

How close is considered to be in the vicinity?  Rav Gamda quotes Rav’s teaching that the hen must be able to hear the rooster’s crowing during the day.  Rav Mari ruled that this distance could be as far as the length of sixty houses, even if a river intervened, as long as there is a bridge to cross the river.  The Talmud adds that this would even include a precarious rope bridge, because a hen will go to incredible lengths to mate with a rooster.

When the Torah speaks of love, it is a metaphor for our relationship with the Almighty.  Our Sages tell us that the giving of the Torah was the day G-d wedded the Children of Israel, so to speak.  And so the lengths to which this hen will go to find her mate should impress upon us how far we must go to seek our Husband in Heaven.

Just like this chicken, many of us feel that we can lay our eggs independent of our mate.  We can look within ourselves and be spiritual beings.  But such spirituality is unfertilized – we try to lay the egg, but we cannot help retracting, we seek but we know not what we seek.

The Talmud tells us that we are wavering because we are hearing the voice of the rooster calling us.  At night, when we are not encumbered by the vicissitudes of life and work, we hear the voice more clearly.  We may lie in bed thinking, ‘Why am I here?  What is my purpose in life?’ 

The challenge is to listen out for the crowing of the rooster even during the day.  Amidst all our business, the craziness of life, we must stop to ‘smell the roses’ and ask ourselves what G-d wants of us.  Certainly, some of us are more ‘spiritual’ and are already in tune with our souls.  Others of us need to listen more carefully. 

But at that point, all become equal.  We are tuned in, but have yet to find what we are searching for.

Seeking the Divine often entails travelling great ‘spiritual’ distances.  Sometimes it means traversing “sixty houses” – inhabited, familiar territory.   Other times, it means “crossing rivers” – overcoming great challenges and obstacles.  On rare occasions, all you have is a flimsy “rope bridge” – it seems as if there is very little connecting you with the Almighty.  But even then, you should not be deterred.

We all know how difficult it is for most people to find their mate in this world.  If it is challenging to find human love, then how much greater must the challenge be to find Divine love.  If it were easy, everyone would be spiritual, focused, and one with the One above. 

Being spiritual is just the first step.  Figuring out what do with your spirituality is the great challenge of life in this physical world. 

Life Yomi dedications don’t cost a penny!  To dedicate a day of learning in honour of a birthday, anniversary or yortzeit, all you need to do is commit to sending the Life Yomi of the day (or another Life Yomi teaching of your choice) to 18 (chai) people!  You needn’t provide us with the names of recipients; all we need is the honouree’s name.  For more details, please email rabbi@familyshul.org.