In our world of the cellphone, text messaging and smart phones, it seems easier than ever for us to loose focus even while perched in shul during prayer. Our bodies may be present while our minds may not. Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polnah points out that with the Patriarch Abraham, it was just the reverse: It was when he involved himself in his day-to-day mundane activities that his mind was largely absent. “While sitting at the door of his tent, where his thoughts could easily have been diverted to what was going on about him, Abraham focused his thoughts upon G-d.” (Cited in Living Each Week, by Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski, MD)
Sometimes we see the path to spiritual greatness as a lone climb way up to the secluded chamber at the top of the ivory tower where we will never be bothered and can meditate in complete privacy. It may be true that true spiritual growth cannot be accomplished without a keen perception of oneself that can only be reached with private, reflective thought. If we have the perspective, however, that this time away from the world is more than a means to an end but is rather part of the goal itself, we have committed at least two errors. The first, is that without the benefit of interacting with other people, we limit our opportunities to move our character toward greater refinement and sensitivity. The second error is that by portraying greatness as a retraction from society, we are guilty of falling into one of the favorite traps of the Evil Inclination. If the Evil Inclination’s job is to hijack our growth and development, what better technique can he use than to have us convinced that we are unable to truly change because we have to do something extreme and unrealistic like become hermits to really accomplish something. We therefore might as well give up and not even start.
One of the beautiful hallmarks of Judaism is personified early on in our history by the patriarchs: Greatness and holiness is attainable as a normal person living a normal life. Our saints don’t lock themselves up somewhere and throw away the key. They work hard, marry, have families and are part of their communities, but they are able to cultivate and maintain lives of true spirituality. Their feet remain on the ground even while their heads are in the clouds, thinking about what’s critically important to focus on in life.