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A Different Kind of Spirituality

A Different Kind of Spirituality

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I stand in shul praying. Today is Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days of the year. But it could be any other day I'm in shul, or for that matter any time and place when I find myself in the middle of prayers or some other spiritual obligation.

I am surrounded by my children. My girls are at my side and my infant is in her carriage in front of me. I begin reciting the prayers, beseeching G‑d for a good new year, asking for health, for livelihood, for success in raising my children, asking for a stronger connection with the Almighty, for Him to be a greater and more deeply felt presence in my life. For all the things, great and small, that we ask for in our daily audience with our Father in Heaven.

As I mouth the words that flow so readily to my lips, my leg is in perpetual motion, rocking my newborn's carriage back and forth in the aisle before me. Meanwhile, one forefinger is pointing in my young daughter's siddur (prayerbook) indicating to her the lines the cantor is reciting. The other arm is worming its way through the snack bag we prepared for my youngest son to give him something to nibble on so he is occupied through the long service. And my eyes are alternating between scanning my siddur and keeping a watchful gaze at my infant, ensuring that the pacifier remains embedded in her mouth lest she decide to practice her newly discovered baby vocabulary and compete with the cantor.

All this while trying to meditate on my prayers -- trying to establish a deeper awareness of and connection with G‑d, trying to escape the material clutches of this world, trying to transcend the bounds of physicality.

At some point the realization hits me that, under the circumstances, my prayers don't seem all that spiritual, or all that connected. Nor very real, and certainly not transcendent.

My mind wanders back to those days, years and decades ago, when praying meant starting at the beginning and remaining focused until the conclusion, without any interruptions. I remember back to a time when my mouth read the words and my mind concentrated.

No leg rocking. No finger pointing. No snack bag rummaging. No constant eye scanning.

Just prayer. Just communicating with my Father in Heaven. Standing erect and in humble concentration, just me and my Maker.

I'm uttering the same words now. I'm asking for the same requests now, too -- for health, for happiness, for success, for livelihood, for wisdom and understanding, for direction and meaning, for protection from pain or suffering, for goodness in our world. But back then, before the obligations of family and children became such an integral part of my life, they were said less hurriedly, and with much greater concentration.

My daily schedule was also filled with more acts of spirituality. Preparing for Shabbat or a holiday meant studying more, reciting extra Psalms, delving deeper into the commentaries on the weekly Torah reading.

While I still try to make these activities a part of my life, preparations nowadays are more about how many chickens to defrost, which kugels to bake, and about ensuring that all the buttons are sewn on my children's holiday clothing.

Have I lost my spiritual focus and connection? How much more meaningful were those long-ago prayers and preparations!

I thought about this as I stood in shul, mouth and limbs in auto mode. But then, as I continued saying the prayers, still asking for those very same things but now holding my gurgling, smiling infant daughter to my shoulder, suddenly the meaning of the prayers grew so much more significant, to the point that their prior worth seemed almost shallow.

Cradling my daughter's tiny body in my arms, I prayed: Dear G‑d, I need life, health and strength! Sure, I have always asked for these things. But now I need them. A day less, a day more, a year less or more, does it really matter? Yes! For this little one, I need health and strength. I need wisdom, guidance, happiness, sustenance and prosperity, peace in our world -- for her, for all of them.

For the six precious souls that you entrusted to me.

Myself, I can make do with a little more or a little less, with a larger house or a smaller one, with one outfit more or less, with a little more or a little less understanding, happiness or spirituality in my life. But dear G‑d, for the sake of these little ones (and big ones) I now need it all.

How much more urgent and pressing each of the words uttered became! It was no longer a matter of me speaking to my Creator. On my shoulders, together with my infant daughter, I felt the weight of all my children, all their needs, all their wants. Dear G‑d, I prayed, for their sake, make it a good day, a good week and a good year. Open up Your infinite treasury of goodness for them and for all of us.

It's true that as each new child is born my life becomes more hectic and my prayers become more rushed or more condensed. But these same prayers now carry an entirely different definition of "want" and "need." It's true that my day now contains many more mundane acts and perhaps fewer minutes of spiritual pursuits; but these acts aren't really mundane at all.

They never were. Because every mundane act for them is a spiritual pursuit for me.

You see, my focus is not about my needs anymore -- neither material nor spiritual. It is all about them. And another's needs, whether big or small, whether spiritual or material, is anything but mundane.

In fact, what can be more spiritual?

Chana Weisberg is the editor of TheJewishWoman.org. She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of five popular books.
Artwork by Sarah Kranz.
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ruth housman marshfield hills, ma February 4, 2011

Happy Birthday, World! It's my birthday and whatever has been leading me to Chabad, has drawn me this moment, to this loving piece about Mothers and motherhood.

I was thinking this morning about the shema and how in such simplicity there is meaning beyond, meaning, and how I learn more about the personal meaning as I traverse my life. There is a shining one ness to all life, and to feel that deep connectivity is difficult to share, the joy of it. And yet, I believe we all have the impulse to share,

I want to thank Chabad for bringing me a place where it is more than all right to discuss these matters of soul.

I believe that in the mundane, in our everyday lives, every day, we experience that deep One ness contained by the Wonder of it, the One der, and that to be able to celebrate and share this is a great gift.

We need each other. If G_d was lonely and so created a world, I know this world is infused with love, and that we are fused to what's Divine and that what's to be divined at day's end, is LOVE Reply

singingmidwife Charleston, WV August 2, 2009

Whoever will be a servant becomes the greatest. Mothers give and sacrifice, but there is a holy offering when these sacrifices are made for love's sake. This encouraged me as a mother of many. G-d sees us, knows us, and loves us. Reply

Anonymous Chevy Chase, MD USA October 19, 2004

Spiritualty article This was a good article, real and on point. I have been saying for years that it is hard to be Spiritually uplifted when you have young children. The author is correct, you just have to look at your conversation with G-d in a different way during this period in your life. You may not be able to pray formally in Shul for the length of time you used to, but you speak differently and about different things.

This is another rational reason why Judaism does have time or place contraints on women. Our focus is with our young now. Reply

Sara October 18, 2004

We always hear about people who are always seeking to find spirituality in every aspect of their lives. Your article on the other hand, as well as your entire approach in life as a whole, indicates that spirituality is everywhere, we just have to open our eyes and minds to want to believe it. Thank you for writing, yet again another intriguing article. Reply

Natana Kulakofski Worcester, MA October 18, 2004

Now I Feel Better About My Own Davening bh

I often find myself davening for more kavanah in davening. Before I read Chana's article, I really and truly thought I was lacking in the kavanah department. As a widow and single mother of three working a 40-hour week and still clinging to strict Shabbos observance, the highest level of kashrus, etc., I find myself rushing through my davening, pausing only at the end of shmoneh essrei to offer my personal pinyonim for my children and for myself.

Before I read this article, I thought most of my davening was for naught, not to be counted, because not every word was uttered with the utmost concentration. I find it difficult to concentrate when I am weary, when I am in a rush because I'm davening mincha on my 10-minute afternoon break, etc. But this article gives me hope, hope that the Avishter really is listening and taking note of my prayers, hope that my davening has worth even though it is rushed. Reply

Anonymous October 17, 2004

Thank you for helping me realize that something that has always bothered me about davening with children doing their regular things, bothers others too, and that there really is a deeper meaning to it all. Reply