I would like to live a more spiritual life, but Judaism just doesn’t turn me on. All it offers is endless restrictions and laws – you can’t go to the beach on Saturday, you can’t eat cheeseburgers, you have to say the same fixed prayers over and over again… Rabbis try to paint a rosy picture of Judaism, but I am longing for freedom from the shackles of material life, not enslavement to a straitjacket of laws.
Ironically, the commandments of the Torah, the real pathways to freedom, are seen as the greatest barriers to t’shuva. People seeking lofty spiritual horizons feel constricted by the details of Jewish law. They seek to escape the world and its material demands. They long for a life of spiritual retreat and pure contemplation. Thus the commandments of the Torah, with their focus on perfecting practical life, are seen as barriers to their goals. While separation from one’s usual world of endeavor may be helpful in the early stages of t’shuva, spiritual nirvana is not the end of the road. G-d did not create man to reject life and sit alone on an isolated mountaintop. Rather, man’s goal should be to uplift all of the world to the Divine harmony set forth in the Torah. A person’s eating should be holy, his married life should be holy, his comportment and speech should be holy, even his business should be conducted in a holy, “spiritual” fashion. All of these things can only be achieved when a Jew is versed in the details of Jewish law and practice. Only then can he align his life with G-d’s transcendental plan for Creation. Only then can he free himself from the shackles of sin and false notions of spirituality. For example, in order to enjoy the free-flying sensation of paragliding, a person can’t simply jump off a cliff. If he does, he will crash. First, he has to learn all of the detailed rules of paragliding – how to tie the cords, how to adjust the harness, how to control the winds. He has to learn what to do, and just as importantly, what not to do. If he pulls the wrong cord when he wants to ascend, he could end up plummeting into the water. Before he can experience the freedom of flight, he has to master all of the rules of the sport. Otherwise, he is embarking on a course of disaster. 1. See “The Art of T’Shuva,” Chapter 15. 2. Orot HaT’shuva, 8:4.