Closeness to G-d Through Yoga?

Rabbi Yaacov Haber

Parshas Netzavim

I just read an article in this week’s Jerusalem Report. The article reported that the religious committee of a certain Reform Synagogue in Michigan approached their Rabbi. They told him that there is an overwhelming desire in the Temple to learn more about spirituality. Without missing a beat the Rabbi knew exactly what to do for his spiritually starving congregation. Together with the Board of Directors he decided to retain the services of a Yoga teacher that would teach a class to the community once a week.

I remember so vividly, about 9 years ago, when a Buffalonian now living in India , while visiting his family came to see me. His name was Irving Weinstien, but he called himself by some Indian name. He was the National Director of Hari Krishna Education, a job I guess similar to mine at the OU. He was a highly intelligent, deeply spiritual man interested in only the loftiest heights. I was able to understand this man and after hours of conversation I realized that the ridiculous robe and the clay on his forehead were not as crazy as it looked. The only thing I couldn’t understand is why a Jew, with thousands of years of spiritual tradition, would go all the way to India to find the meaning of life. He told me the saddest thing. His journey began with Judaism. He wandered from the Hillel house to the Chabad house, from temple to Shul. He didn’t find meaning. He so he crossed the sea. Maybe it’s there.

OK, that’s extreme. But it made me wonder why there are not lines outside of shul begging to get in. The hard answer may be that many of our Shuls are just not doing it for the people. We don’t need the robes, the chants, the gurus, or the asceticism.  We do need peacefulness, kedusha, integrity and a derech in life.

In this week’s Parsha, Moshe speaks to the Jews. He says, “I’m going to die today! This is the last you will hear from me. These are my parting words. There will come a time that you will ask ‘why is G-d so angry?’ The answer will be because you have broken His covenant and you have worshipped other gods, gods that you don’t know.”

Avodah Zara is the worst sin. It is a philosophical error. It’s stupid. It’s false. So why is the issue ‘gods that you don’t know’? What does our knowing them have to do with this? Would it be better somehow if we studied them and know them?

The answer to this is very deep. G-ds anger with us over other gods is not that we have made an error. God’s making a different point. “Knowing” in Biblical verse refers to an intimate and deep relationship. Adam “knew” his wife Eve. We don’t find “yoda “referring to forbidden or casual relationships, only the deepest. G-d says as follows, ‘I have an old and deep relationship with you, we go way back. I took you out of Egypt , I fed you in the desert, and I was close with your great grandparents. What are you doing with other gods that you have absolutely no relationship with? Gods that you don’t know!’

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