From the Pulpit: Living mindfully is at the heart of Judaism

By Rabbi Idan Scher, Machzikei Hadas

I have been thinking a lot about being present, about really living. It seems as if a lack of living in the moment has forever been a human malady, but at this point in time, with technology glued to our bodies, it sometimes feels as if we are about to implode.

We spend an unbelievable amount of time on our phones. And as we look out for our next Instagram photo op, we often miss what is right in front of us.

It’s like the joke I heard first from an Ottawa rabbi: Someone was at a funeral and he asked the officiating rabbi for the Wi-Fi password. “Have some respect for the dead!” the rabbi said. “Thanks Rabbi, is that all lowercase?”

Unfortunately this joke is inching ever closer to reality.

I think the description of Rabbeinu Behaye, the mystic, philosopher and ethicist of the 11th century, is the best description of them all: “pizur hanefesh (the scattering of our soul or our spirit).” We are scattered and we are missing the peaceful soul, the equilibrium, the reflectiveness, that couldn’t be more important for who we are.

And it’s not like we aren’t realizing this.

Apple’s app of the year pick for 2017 was Calm, a meditation and relaxation aid based on mindfulness that is now valued at close to $1 billion.

Living mindfully, in the present, has been at the heart of Judaism from the very beginning.

Just take a look at some of the most significant parts of our religious practice.

Prayer strategically placed three times a day – a time to stop and think and reflect on who we are and where we are going, a time to refocus and recalibrate.

Shabbat, what a brilliant construct. The Tech Sabbath is becoming more and more popular but Judaism brought this concept to the world. A day unplugged. A day of reflection. A day of experiencing the here and now, our loved ones and our spirituality. There has been no more powerful tool in the history of mankind in inspiring living in the moment than Shabbat.

Or we think of berakhot (blessings). We are told of the benefit of saying 100 blessings a day and this should come as no surprise.

Because blessings are those moments of reflection. They are moments that allow us to refocus and soak in the richness of the experience we are about to have.

And as Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan – one of the most prolific English-language Jewish authors, who died way too young at the age of 48 and gave the layperson access to so much wisdom and many texts that were previously inaccessible – explained, a comparative study of meditative methods shows that the Jewish systems may have been among the most advanced in the world.

And these few examples are just the tip of the iceberg.

Judaism is about really living. Living with our hearts and eyes open, ready to soak in all of the wonders of existence being present has to offer.

Like those beautiful words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel: “The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living. What we lack is not a will to believe but a will to wonder.”