Making It RealAugust 26, 2012 - 5:00 am
“The Lord loves the gates of Zion
more than all the other dwellings of Jacob.” — Psalms 87:2
There is a story told about the Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber, which profoundly shaped his outlook on life. One day, as Buber sat in meditation, he heard a knock at the door. He was on such a spiritual high, he wasn’t even sure that he had heard it. He tore himself away from the feeling of ecstasy and opened the door.
A stranger was standing there, and sensing that he had interrupted something, he told Buber that he would come back a different time. Ever the gentleman, Buber told the visitor that he was welcome now. The man came into Buber’s house, and they sat down to talk. But Buber wasn’t really listening. His head was still in the clouds. The visitor stammered and stuttered, but couldn’t get the words out. Eventually, the fellow apologized and politely excused himself. Buber went back to his meditation.
Later, Buber heard that this man had taken his own life. He had obviously come to visit Buber because he was seeking advice and encouragement, but Buber had been too wrapped up in the mystical world to see the real word before him. Buber was stricken with grief and regret. He realized that a mystical high was not the goal of real spirituality. Helping people in need is a genuine encounter with the Divine.
The psalmist wrote, “The Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the other dwellings of Jacob.” The Talmud asks, what’s the difference between the gates of Zion and the dwellings of Jacob? And why does God prefer one over the other?
According to the Talmud, the gates of a city were where people would interact with one another. It’s where they would do business dealings and meet with each other. The city gates were always busy and teeming with life. The dwellings of Jacob, on the other hand, are a reference to the quiet and contemplative setting of study halls and places of worship. There, people would commune with God.
God prefers our interaction with each other to our interaction with Him. Not that He doesn’t love prayer and Bible study; it’s just that He loves it more when we take what we’ve learned and put it into action. The goal of spirituality is not to live in ecstasy; it’s to live in reality – and make real life better. Feelings and inspiration must be translated into our actions.
When we serve others, we serve God.