Spirituality – Do We Possess It?


Moshe Ben-Chaim


A friend was describing for me his concept of “spirituality”. As is the case with all concepts, a true idea must be reasonable, and Torah ideas, well, must be found in Torah. The questions are: What is meant by “spirituality”? Is his idea (presented below) truth? And is it part of Torah?


My friend’s position is that there may be two people with identical Torah backgrounds, (which I disagree can ever be measured) and although identical in wisdom, each will choose divergent paths: one to righteousness, and one to wickedness. He posited that since their learning was identical (although he has not proven this) the cause for their different paths is from another source, he suggested “spirituality” was that source. This is why, according to him, each selected different life-courses; their spiritual natures were different.


If this is so, my friend suggests something outside one’s own free will is causing his sin or merit. In such a case, neither could be rewarded or punished. This is a problem according to Judaism, as reward and punishment forms a fundamental tenet. It is also one of Maimonides’ 13 Principles. When questioned whether someone can be spiritual without having knowledge, he acquiesced that knowledge is indispensable to spirituality - contradicting his previous position.


But we must ask: what does he mean by “spiritual”? What component in man is being spiritual?


There is a discreet number of faculties man possesses, and in every faculty, there is a limit: Man has five senses, and no more. Each sense functions only so far. For example, strength is a faculty of man, and this very faculty has a measure, i.e., man cannot lift a house. Another faculty is vision, but man is limited, and cannot see molecules, nor in complete darkness, nor distant objects. Not only in man’s physical make up is this so, but also in his non-physical make up, i.e., his instincts and his intelligence. An example: man’s mind is limited, and can only ponder matters connected to sense perceptions. Therefore, man cannot read another person’s mind. Another person’s thoughts are not perceptible by the senses, (only by that person’s intellect) so we cannot mind-read. Similarly, I cannot determine what is in a closed box. Without the aid of vision there is nothing perceptible about the box’s contents. Vision cannot penetrate a solid, opaque substance, and prevents any knowledge of the contents.


We conclude thus far, that man has a limited scope of function: he cannot act outside of his limitations, and his areas of function are confined to either the five senses (physical), or thought and emotions (non-physical). It may be accurately said of man that he is both physical - having limited affect on the physical, and that he also is a thinking creature, partaking of wisdom which is not physical. Man has no other capacities.


So the question is, what is “spirituality”, and if this is a true idea, in which of man’s faculties does spirituality belong? We must first define spirituality, then, see if it belongs to man’s workings. Additionally, do we see such a concept in the Torah?


Returning to my friend’s opinion: two people with identical wisdom may “know’ something is evil, yet, one selects to act, and the other to abstain. My friend ascribes this difference to different levels of “spirituality”. But I must disagree.  We already demonstrated all of man’s capacities, and have not detected any ‘spirituality”. There is nothing available to man other than his physical capacities, or his intellectual and emotional capacities. “Spirituality”, used as my friend suggests, invents a new capacity in man. He says that aside from wisdom, emotions and senses, there is something else.


But let us think into the matter ourselves: why did these two people select different paths? It would appear that there are two possibilities why someone knowingly does that which is evil: 1) He does not view the act as evil, or 2) One knows clearly that something is wrong or evil, but he justifies it, as when one says, “I must steal, how else will I eat?” In the first case, lack of knowledge is the reason why he sins, and in the second case, again it is a lack of knowledge, as justification means one “distorts wrong into good based on subjective morality.” In both cases, one is not in line with good values due to a lack of knowledge; he either is ignorant of that knowledge, or he allows his emotions to distort his knowledge. What is the cure? In both cases, a clear understanding of the evil will eliminate his option to do evil. So one becomes more in line with the good, or as I will define “spiritual”, when he becomes perfected, when he gains or clarifies his knowledge. I have no issue using the term “spiritual”, but it must refer to something real in man. Being spiritual is: being in line with truth. It is not separate from man’s intellect.


Maimonides’ principle that “in accordance with one’s knowledge is his love of G-d” underlines man’s primary goal of drawing closer to G-d. Maimonides teaches that this is achieved only through increased knowledge. My friend’s position was in disagreement with Maimonides. My friend felt that aside from knowledge, there is something called “spirituality”.  I still fail to understand to what he refers. Man functions by his emotions, or his intelligence, and through the senses - he has no other faculty. To suggest there is yet another aspect of man called his “spirituality” is baseless. If however my friend would say otherwise, that spirituality is in fact man’s use of his intelligence to draw close to G-d, then he has said something accurate, as this is in line with what we see is within man’s abilities. In his scenario, the cause for each person selecting a different choice is not due to a new creation called spirituality, but it is due to the varying levels of intellectual clarity. When man sees something is 100% evil, he cannot do that act. It is against man’s nature to harm himself. If in truth, two people had the same level of knowledge, and the same clarity, they would act the same. But you may ask, what if one had stronger emotions, would this not enter the equation? The answer is of course yes. In such a case, the one with stronger emotions would have to work on his emotions, subjugating them to his intellect. Then, these two people would not be the same.


Free will is denied when we suggest spirituality refers to another, imagined part of man. Reward and punishment as well cannot be a correct system, as man has not selected evil or good through his intellect, but this thing called spirituality.


In truth, man selects the good or the evil as outlined in our Torah, based on his knowledge and his emotions. There is nothing else in man. With greater knowledge, man naturally draws closer to that which he sees as “truth”. G-d designed us for success, not failure. Therefore, our intellects are more powerful than our emotions. As Maimonides stated, “In accord with one’s knowledge is his love for G-d”. This means his love for truth, and his avoidance of evil.


To accurately state that man is more “spiritual” than another, means that he sees more truth than another and acts upon this truth. Nothing can function outside of its design, man included. Man’s mark of distinction is his intellect, his soul. “Spirit” can only refer to what man possesses.