Jewish Spiritual Practice


From board member Rabbi/Cantor Anne Heath

In Rabbi Rifat Sonsino’s book, 6 Jewish Paths: A Rationalist Looks at Spirituality (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2000), his guiding text comes from the Babylonian Talmud tractate, Berakhot (Blessings), page 63a:

Bar Kapparah expounded: Which is the brief biblical passage upon which all the basic principles of the Torah depend? “In all your ways, know the divine” – Proverbs 3:6

The book’s first chapter “Spirituality – What Is It?” ends with a brief story:

Rabbi Menahem Mendel of Kotzk once asked his students, “Where does God dwell?” Thinking the answer obvious, one of them said, “God dwells everywhere!” “No,” said the Rabbi, “God dwells wherever we let God in.” Each person must do this according to his or her own personal needs and disposition.

Rabbi Sonsino then devotes a chapter to each of the six paths: (1) acts of transcendence, (2) study, (3) prayer, (4) meditation, (5) ritual and (6) relationship and good deeds. These paths encompass a variety of spiritual practices – some solitary and many communal.

Sonsino’s summary chapter “Finding Your Spiritual Path” reflects the Exodus 24:7 verse where the people Israel stand at the foot of Mount Sinai, affirming their acceptance of the Covenant, saying together, “na’aseh v’nishmah” – “we will do and we will hear.”

Our rabbis and sages throughout the generations have taught from this Torah verse that doing comes before understanding, before “hearing.”

This is the way of spiritual practices.  It is called “practice” because that’s what you’re doing, you’re practicing. And, you’re practicing in order to be able to practice more deeply and fully, not because there is some end point or some point of perfection.  Each practice is a unit in and of itself.  It may inform future moments, give you greater understanding, allow you to do more, but it is what it was in its own time. Each practice provides an opening to “know the divine” in all your ways and to do and then hear and do and hear, throughout all the days of your life.

Chazak, chazak v’nitchazeik – May you go from strength to strength, and may we all be strengthened.

More information here:

Talmud: )

A more traditional translation is “in all your ways acknowledge Him”

Rabbi Menahem Mendel of Kotzk