Shuls, Shavuos and Spiritual Reality

I was learning with a newcomer to Torah Judaism recently and I used the term “spiritual reality”. He said that was an oxymoron because reality is tangible and spirituality is not, and the two terms should not really be used together. He had a good point, because by definition (according to the Ramchal in Derech Hashem), spirituality is not measurable. However the Torah teaches that there exists a G-d, who created a spiritual reality which is the cause of all physical reality that we experience.

The Ramchal says that we could deduce the existence of Hashem and spiritual reality (although not its details), through observation of the physical world and logic. However, he bases his discussion in Derech Hashem on what we know from our Masorah (cross generational teachings). Shavuos is the day on which we collectively experienced the existence of Hashem and received many of the foundations of our Torah and Masorah. The Torah describes spiritual reality and prescribes how we are to live and relate to that reality.

I had a conversation with a fellow Shul member recently which highlights the difference between physical and spiritual reality. We were discussing how we might close gaps in the services the Shul provides and make existing services more effective and efficient. These are aspects of physical reality that any organization would address. In the course of our conversation we agreed on two principles of spiritual reality: minimizing machlokes (distance-creating disagreements) and having extreme sensitivity to the feelings of people currently involved in Shul operations. Although abiding to these principles might sometimes result in less effectiveness and efficiency, they were spiritual Torah priorities and therefore they took precedence.

As we prepare to receive the Torah on Shavuos, it’s great to be reminded how fortunate we are to be connected to, and governed by, the spiritual reality of the Torah.