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Can a Person Be “Good” Without Being Spiritual?

Can a Person Be “Good” Without Being Spiritual?

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Question:

Is it better to be an observant Jew (e.g., keep Shabbat, eat only kosher) but be a bad person (e.g., unkind to your fellow man), or to be a good person who is not as observant?

Answer:

We have all met people of great character who are not religious, and lowlifes who present a pious facade. Some concentrate on having a good relationship with G‑d, while others would rather focus on having good relationships with fellow human beings.

It is not up to us to judge who is better—that is G‑d’s business. But we do have to decide what is right for our own lives. Are rituals meaningful if not accompanied by kindheartedness? Is goodness missing something if it is humanistic rather than divine-based?

From a Jewish perspective, you can’t really have one without the other. Ritual without human compassion is hollow, and kindness without spirituality is limited.

If someone is able to serve G‑d—pray fervently, eat kosher, observe all the festivals—but nevertheless doesn’t act kindly to others, then that is dysfunctional religion. If you really love G‑d, then surely you should also love His children! Such a person’s service is empty.

But by the same token, one who is kind and caring but has no spiritual connection may be a very nice person, but lacks a vital element—the soul element.

From a purely “humanistic” perspective, I am me, you are you; we can love each other, but we will always remain distinct and separate. If I am kind to you, then it is “me” going out of my way to be kind to “you.” But from the soul perspective, we are all one. Our bodies may be separate, but our souls are deeply linked, because we are all part of the one divine source. So the kindness I show you is as natural and innate as the kindness I show myself.

All Jewish rituals are means to become more sensitized to this soul-reality that unites us.

Yes, there are religious lowlifes. But imagine how much lower they’d be without religion.

And there are secular saints. But their kindness would be infinitely deeper if they became more aware of the soul dimension, and practiced the actions that make it real in our lives.

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
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KarenJoyceChayaFradleKleinmanBell March 23, 2016

Definition of Spiritual What is spiritual is, here, connected to traditionalism and ritualism. It is not the same.They are not connected. A person who follows all 613 laws to the letter because it is commanded is doing so purely on a superficial level. The deeper level, spirituality, does connect ALL human beings together no matter to what group they belong. I am seeing this on my facebook site, where I have gotten nearly 3,000 people from all over the world to show love and concern for each other, even though in the world, they may be bitter enemies. So, I speak from experience that it is not true that we are separate people from others not like us. We do share a "soul". There is innate goodness and spirituality even in our atheists on the site, although they would deny it. Their actions and words speak more loudly than denials. These are good people, and G=d loves them the same as He loves us. Yes, even an Imam on that site calls me his "mom" and respects me dearly. No one there tries to convert. Just lv Reply

David Newark March 23, 2016

fasting brings you closer to God Reply

Paul Bourgeois Halifax, Canada November 15, 2014

Mitvot = Study, prayer, action Torah Mitzvot is both ritual and ethical. There are 613 laws, some of them about eating, dressing, praying... and some about how to treat your parents, your wife, animals, the stranger within your community... the list goes on and on, but if someone does not act with kindness towards others, if someone slanders or holds a grudge or takes revenge that is breaking a mitzvot just like eating a cheeseburger is breaking a mitzvot.

Torah is a guide for living.

I am a weak, confused, lost person. I worry about how others see me and don't know how to act towards them. I find Studying Torah makes me better. It gives me strength. Prayer gives me focus and direction, takes me outside of myself, gives me wisdom and strength about how to act. Otherwise I would be lost.

Does this mean that a stronger more together person than myself can live without Torah. I don't think so. I think a strong capable person has the capacity to live within Torah exceptionally well and do some wonderful thing Reply

dave September 6, 2014

I know a goodly number of so called "religious" people who do not have a spiritual,or compassionate bone in their body. Conversely I know a lot of very spiritual,generous,compassionate people who have never set foot inside a hose of worship. Do I think the two to be incompatable? No. But neither do I believe they are they inexorably connected. In fact I don't think they have very much to do with each other at all. Spirituality is a gift from God. Religion is a man mad entity,created by men to use as a tool to a)control others through shame guilt and a lifetime of trying to be good,and as a vehicle to create God in their own image to fit some socio political agenda. Just Ask Pat Robertson. Reply

Terri Cohen Fieldhouse January 1, 2014

Being One with G-d when a person is truly one with G-d Blessed Be He they have no shadow on the Ground . Reply

Anonymous Henderson, NV December 31, 2013

Can one please G-d only if religious? Let's understand what religion is........tradition, a sense of G-d or not......or a belief in one's self and acts.....or a belief in what their parents and ritualistic traditions have taught. True religion is knowing G-d, seeking G-d, loving G-d and loving our neighbor as if it were our own selves. Rituals and traditions are only expressions of what we almost believe, but true faith in G-d is actually believing even without traditions and rituals. We are to obey His written word inspired by Holy men of old, whom G-d used to express His love for us, and His concern for Hid people. All of us need to delve deep into Torah wholeheartedly and embrace all of it as truth, obey all the teachings and the spirit of the law.....because no one who has ever lived who are from Adam's race has ever been able to keep the law of Moses. It was given to Moses to prove to G-d's people that no one can keep it, and if we were to be able to keep the law, G-d would not be necessary, would He? Reply

Anonymous December 30, 2013

Doing Good Doing good is futile in the eyes of G-d if the doing is to get recognition and adoration from people here on earth. Winning the smile of G-d should be our delight. Everything we put our hands, feet and thought into should be to please G-d. As I live on and on, I can say with certainty that when I have done good for G-d's sake, I don't have to worry ab out pleasing others. G-d's opinion of me is all that matters. Reply

Helen Australia December 29, 2013

An extra dimension Although I am a Jew I do not believe that rituals from religion lead to spirituality. Rituals keep unity and differentiates us racially from others. I believe we are all the same. However from all ethnic and religious or not some people are more spiritually evolved. Not eating Kosher food does not make me less closer to G_d than a Hassidic Jew. When there is a concept of difference between humans, people can fall into the trap of superiority. I have seen this with too many of my fellows Jews, boasting of being the chosen people by G_d, hence being better than others. Every human has its own value at their own point of spiritual evolvement. If we are privileged to be more evolved, our duty is to extend our love, compassion and spiritual knowledge to anyone who needs it, without a religious banner. G_d has become restrained by religion of all kinds. Truth is everywhere, not only in Judaism.
Open your hearts and soul and it will come to you. Rituals might restrict the soul. Reply

Shoshana PA December 27, 2013

Bigotry 1st Yochanan I commend you on your continued dedication to better your relationship with G-d and battle such a fierce opponent successfully. B'H! On a separate note, a very good friend of mine has struggled with the fact that her son is homosexual. She is not Jewish but I found a great Chabad article on the issue which has helped her a lot. Torah also forbids bigotry; I admit I am struggling with extending kindness toward such people who do not see the soul beneath homosexuality, addiction and many other struggles. We are not supposed to judge, and yet I find myself judging the judges! I'm working on it :) I just can't stand seeing bigotry paining souls so deeply they may go so far as to take their own lives. Perhaps, as a mother, I want to protect everyone from such attacks. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA December 27, 2013

People who are not spiritual, in our standards, can still be spiritual in their standards. If they do good, tikkun olam, they are like Noahide people. I would rather live next door to a person who does good and is not spiritual, than live next door to a spiritual person who is mean, nasty, and treats people like they are worthless or worse. Reply

Bob Freeport, IL December 26, 2013

Can a person be good without being spiritual It is very simple, yes. In Bereishis, Hashem saw that it was "good." I rest my case. Reply

Feigele Boca Raton FL December 26, 2013

In Some Ways Yes Being observant and doing charity is a double mitzvah in that the person is honoring G-d’s wishes. But would that same person do charity if they were not religious? Does the act of charity come from their heart or from fear of G-d’s judgment? On the other hand, a person who is not observant but do not hesitate to give charity just following their heart and own conviction that this is the right thing to do, then I believe that this person has the same merit as the religious one who also does it from his heart, otherwise, he is more deserving since they are not following any requirements from anyone. Reply

Anonymous December 25, 2013

re: Kleinman and Bell's post We are not allowed to mistreat our children But they are also not allowed to mistreat us. Do you care only about how the daughter in Fiddler felt, but not at all care about the previous generation? That smacks of an ageistic orientation.

In the movies, it is all black and white. At least in Fiddler it is. In real life, it's more complex. Parents might suffer from a child turning his/her back on the faith that generations gave their lives for, while still struggling to maintain a relationship without compromising one's own values.

Intermarriage leads to the dissolution of the Jewish People. Judaism is universalist by maintaining certain separations. Without those separations, Judaism would never have had the impact it has


Even if you come from an imperfect family, you need to develop goodness on your own, without laying blame on family or community. The laws of Torah are perfect, but people are not. Spirit of law must unite with actual observance, for there to be a healing Reply

Steve E Abraham New York December 23, 2013

thoughts in our head Is there a difference when, giving something to a poor person, what is in the giver's mind at that moment?.......... If I give a sandwhich to a hungry person, and if an orthodox observent Jew gives a sandwhich to a hungry person, is there a difference? Reply

Yochanan California November 29, 2012

Becoming "good" one day at a time through Ha Shem As a person who once tried to be spiritual and religious and was a secret sexaholic, I know that I never meant to do bad or to hurt my family, yet it happened. Today I stand free from the negative behaviors that destroyed my family and career, one day at a time. My connection to Ha Shem is stronger, more real and better than before. Did I become more observant? Yes, but that did not liberate me, it was the knowledge that I was powerless over my addiction, but there is One who is all powerful. By drawing closer to Him, I have become a "better person." It has become a natural outgrowth of my sobriety. True spirituality from the heart does the miraculous to the soul. My marriage was lost and so much more, nevertheless much has been gained. Today the inside and the outside are much closer than ever before, thanks to G-d. Reply

Anonymous November 27, 2012

Are people born good ! To be short, the name we give to our Maker is G-d. G-d means good. Without G-d, we have our own conscience but without the guidance of G-d and His desires for our lives. A person can have a better conscience than others, but without G-d, no one can be "good" because "good" only comes from above. Our self righteousness characaters are never enough. They never will be. There is only one who is absolutely perfect and all in all. We need to live for Him and give our lives to Him so that He can make us good. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills November 26, 2012

it seems to me that if you love anyone or anything with all your heart and soul and all your might, you are fulfilling the most important commandment, and since we're all One, and since we're all part of Divinity, whether we perceive this or not, we're all doing it, and what matters is just THIS. so an atheist can do it, too! Reply

Daniela Israel November 26, 2012

And good to animals? I don't think that anyone (myself included as I am only a vegetarian for a year and slowly moving away form animal products) can claim to be a fully good or kind or even religious person - and certainly non evolved, when they allow and take part in (by buying and eating and continuing by law to allow it) the death and torture , the raping of a skinning alive of animals for pleasure and greed and money. Sorry, but we were created last to remember that we should be humbled by and before nature and have respect for everything we were given- and god lives in everything- so by continuing cruel actions and rationalizing them in anyway- we are desecrating god and everything surrounding the art of do unto others. I would not like any other race, species or creed to decided whether I should live or die, be raped to reproduce or tortured. It would be a great gesture on the side of Judaism and organizations like Chabad to discuss this and amplify the need for real kindness to animals as well. Reply

Dee Melbourne, Australia July 21, 2011

Atheists My fiance had a work colleague who was an atheist, but she lived a good life. She did volunteer work and counselling with homeless people, drug addicts and rape victims. Her life was cut short at only 30 years of age by stroke, and the coroner said that perhaps she even would have survived if her new drug addict boyfriend hadn't been too spaced out to call an ambulance. They ended up naming a ward of a hospital after her. I am a religious person (Catholic) but I felt saddened by the fact that I have not done anything for my community, and none of us know the day that God will take us. Reply

DONNA RINKER Ogden, Utah/US June 6, 2011

can a person be good without being spiritual there is always a catch, isn't there---you did say at the end SPIRITUAL! Reply