“Rabbi, I’m not religious, I’m spiritual!” In the supermarket and in the sanctuary, I hear these words. They always leave me thinking…what does it mean in the modern world for a Jew to be spiritual?
Our Parasha this week provides us an outstanding answer. In Mishpatim, Exodus 21:1-24:18, we find the first set of laws in the Torah. These laws guide us in our personal, religious and communal lives. In the midst of criminal legislation and religious laws we are told to provide justice for the foreigner, the widow, and the orphan. As Jews we are commanded to care for those who have no voice in our society – those who have no power to advocate for themselves.
To answer the Jew who is spiritual but not religious, I point to our Parasha this week. The just society of which our Torah speaks is our obligation. It is also the Jewish path to spirituality. Our relationship with God is evident not only in our prayer and our study. We activate our relationship with God when we create the society that God and our tradition envision.
These ancient words have provided a spiritual path for Jews throughout our history. On a recent visit to Israel an archeologist shared with me a recent discovery dated to King David’s time (approximately 1,000 BCE). How exciting to read the words written on a clay shard found on the floor of ancient living room: “You shall…worship the Lord…Plead for the infant, the poor and the widow…Protect the poor and the slave, support the stranger.” The words of our Torah portion echo on that ancient shard. Even in the days of our ancestors, worshipping the Lord and caring for the powerless were a challenge posed for every day life.
God is present in our work for social justice. God is present in our work for the foreigner, the widow, the orphan, the refuge from Darfur, those who suffer in the mines of the Congo. Our work with Jewish World Watch is spiritual work.
Our Parasha this week teaches us that there are many paths to spirituality. The foreigner, the widow, the orphan, those in Darfur and in Congo are depending upon us to be both religious and spiritual. We are religious Jews – we are spiritual Jews – when we seek justice.