Renew your spiritual life with a little review

The Baal Shem Tov (Master of the Good Name) founded Judaism’s Hasidic movement in the 17th century. Judaism’s mystical stream called Kabalism derives from him.

In his book Wise Men and Their Tales, Holocaust survivor and moral prophet Elie Wiesel recalls a tale of the spiritual master. The Baal Shem Tov was exiled to a faraway land for trying to “precipitate the redemption” (which probably meant that he was preaching politics too much from his pulpit in a way that still scares the powers-that-be).

The exile brought with it amnesia and weakness, as he was deprived of his knowledge and power. He turned to his faithful disciple who never left his side, Reb Tzvi-Hersh Shoifer, and begged his help.

“Do you remember anything — a prayer, even a word, from before?” No, Tzvi-Hersh had also forgotten everything.

“Everything?  Really?” pressed his master.

“No,” said Tzvi-Hersh. “I still remember the alphabet.”

“Then what are you waiting for?” exclaimed the Baal Shem Tov “Start reciting.” Aleph-Bet-Gimmel-Deled, Tzvi-Hersh began.

And with great fervor, they both recited all 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and then over and over until they gradually regained their entire memories.

Americans send themselves into spiritual exile more than others send them there. Neglect of faith, rather than fervent practice of it, puts us in peril and precipitates amnesia and loss of power to face the challenges of life.

Worship attendance in the land of the free and the home of the brave is pitifully low. Ironically, the more closed and dangerous societies around the world are to religious practice not sanctioned by government, the more people of minority faiths huddle together to keep alive the name of God and the stories of God’s work in the world.

Recovering our memories and powers do not take lawsuits designed to return Christianity to a privileged place in culture. Muslim majorities in Islamic nations and Jewish privilege in Israel do not ensure vibrant faith. And church attendance in so-called Christian countries like England and Canada are far lower than here. Even attending religious services, though, will not ensure spiritual power or deepening knowledge.

Jack Nicklaus was not a great golfer because he went to the golf course and hung around other golfers. He traveled annually to his boyhood teacher, and they started from scratch, reviewing the basics: grip, posture, stance, ball position and alignment. He rebuilt his swing from the ground up each year. He mastered the golf swing by reciting its alphabet over and over again until it became second nature to him.

What are the basics of your faith? The Ten Commandments? The Lord’s Prayer? The Sermon on the Mount? The daily prayers? Time for a review of the ABCs?


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