When driving we often use Waze or Google maps to help us get from point A to point B. But what happens when point A is in the here and now, and our destination is a spiritual place? Rabbi Avi Novis-Deutsch, Dean of the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary, explains that Parashat Bo describes how to best get ready for prayer and to enter into our most spiritual state.
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What is spirituality? What is our way to access spirituality? How do we transition ourselves from stage one to stage two? Do we need to meditate, go to the forest? Do we need to go to the desert, to climb up a mountain, to chant? Maybe we need to be silent for a long while? Is that the way to transition from here to there?
Our parasha argues otherwise or at least suggests a different way that has to do with the tefillin. The commandment of tefillin appears twice in our parasha and it tells us that we need to put something on our hand, something on our head, and that it relates to your exodus from Egypt. These two commandments are part of the four commandments on the mitzvah of tefillin. The two others appear in the Shema and in the “Vehaya Im Shemoa” (Deuteronomy 11:13) paragraph, two paragraphs that we recite every day in the morning and evening.
What is tefillin? Tefillin is leather that we put on our hand and our head. It’s true there are things written in it, but the physical action, what we actually experience is just binding leather on our hand and on our head. Yet this is a ritual that moves us from the state before prayer into the state of prayer. This action moves us from being on earth to another place. In a way we need to evaluate why this is so important and why it works on us. I think it tells us a very important message.
In order to transition, in order to move to a spiritual dimension we actually can take active actions. Physical things can move us, can shift us from errors in our daily behavior, to a different dimension. The spiritual dimension connects to what is beyond us. I think this is a very important exercise, to try to do, to find the way to move from here to there.
Shavua Tov from Schechter!
Avi Novis-Deutsch is Dean of the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary. Ordained as a Masorti rabbi by the SRS in 2003, Rabbi Novis-Deutsch also has an MA in Jewish Studies from JTS. He served for nine years as a pulpit rabbi at two Masorti congregations in Israel, most recently, at Haminyan Hamishpachti Masorti Kfar Veradim. Rabbi Novis-Deutsch also worked for two years as a Jewish educator in Berkeley in the Bay Area, California. He is married to Dr. Nurit Novis-Deutsch. They and their three children live on Kibbutz Hanaton.