The Jewish Way of Life

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According to the Jewish tradition, the art of living is the art of being holy. The Book of Leviticus records the holy saying thus: ‘Be holy, as I, the Unconditioned One, am holy'.

What does it mean to be holy? Judaism offers two answers. The first focuses on the virtues seekers are to cultivate. The second focuses on the behaviors we need to master if we are to live holy lives.

The virtues are the thirteen attributes of God experienced by Moses; he hears a divine voice calling out the nature of God - Yod, Hay, Vav, Hay, Compassion, Tenderness, Patience, Kindness, Awareness, Love, Freedom, Forbearance and Forgiveness. The first four attributes are stated to be the letters of God's Divine Name. They are virtues that cannot be translated into any human language. They are to be cultivated in the deepest mystical union with God as the ‘I AM'.

The other nine attributes are known virtues, clear and achievable. If we are to live holy lives, we are to live with compassion, tenderness, patience, kindness, awareness, love, freedom, forbearance and forgiveness.

The Jewish way of life includes both a virtuous mindset and an active engagement with physical reality. These virtues have to come alive in specific behaviors. This becomes possible when we conduct ourselves with justice and kindness, and walk in spiritual union with God. The way of holiness is the specific way we walk through life as God's partners, the holy caretakers and caregivers of life on this planet, and of the planet itself.

This way of life focuses on three categories of behavior that God's partners have to honor. The first category is ‘doing justly'. Doing justly obligates us to three spiritual practices. One is ethical consumption. It means that one is obligated to care for oneself, for others, for animals, and for nature. The second is ‘just use' of finances. One is to take care to earn wealth ethically and use it wisely. One is to donate a percentage of one's income to help those in need. This is not a matter of charity, but of justice. The third is perfecting the world. One is obligated to support those organizations and efforts one believes will make the world a more just, kind, sustainable and holy place.

The second category is loving-kindness. Loving-kindness obligates us to four spiritual practices. One relates to acts of kindness. Acts of kindness put other people before us. When we put other people before us, we awaken to the fact that other people are part of us, and that all life is part of the Greater Self that is God. Kindness is a spiritual discipline that helps the ego see beyond itself. The second is avoidance of hateful talk. Words have power, both creative and destructive. We are to use our words to heal rather than to hurt.



The third is embracing the stranger. Loving your neighbor and welcoming the stranger require an opening of self. We have to cultivate openness and friendship for others, freeing us from the shadow of ‘otherness'. The fourth is making households peaceful. We are to celebrate family, and improve our ability to love, befriend and look after other members of the family. We are to condemn violence in whatever form it occurs, learn to live in peace with others, and help those who suffer from abuse.

The third category is walking humbly with God, cultivating spiritual intimacy by engaging in practices that free the self from the illusion of self. Spiritual intimacy obligates us to five spiritual practices.

One is to set a day of mindfulness. This is to set aside generally the seventh day for rest and mindfulness. This is for remembering and giving thanks for all that you have and are. This is in the nature of a refuge from the cravings of self and a delight for the soul. The second is learning sacred scriptures and ethical teachings that remind us of our obligation to be holy. This study is ordained once a week to reclaim deep insight into eternal virtues. The third is meditation and contemplative prayer. Meditation is the practice of moving from self to selflessness, from focusing on the physical being to awakening to the Ground of Being. One is to meditate and pray everyday. The fourth is perfecting oneself. Each night the seeker is to review what has happened during the day and account for the degree of holiness he has lived. He is to note the errors and make a vow to correct them, and not to repeat. Similarly, he recalls the people that have helped him, and vows to thank them. The fifth is the way of blessing. A blessing is a statement of thanks that cultivates the deep sense of gratitude that is a vital part of the holy way of living. The recitation of blessings requires one to know what is happening, and in that way, to notice not only what is being done, but also what more can be done to do the bidding of the Divine.

K. R. Paramahamsa is an author of book Living in Spirit.

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