16 Kislev 5767, December 7, 2006

Pay attention, open up and allow HaShem to speak His Words of Living Torah directly into your mind and heart...
Religion and Culture
By HaRav Ariel Bar Tzadok. Copyright (C) 2006 by Ariel Bar Tzadok. All rights reserved.

Religion begins with an experience of the spiritual.  Religion is practiced by following the ideals and revelations that spirituality reveals.  Religion is designed to bring us closer to Heaven; and at the same time to bring Heaven down to earth.  Heaven and spirituality therefore are the focal points and purpose of religious practice.

All spiritual revelations are practiced within the subjective context of oneís present culture and lifestyle.   Revelation comes through the language the individual speaks and observances are formatted based upon oneís present environmental context.  However, while a certain culture might be the birthplace of a religion, nonetheless the initial culture in which the spiritual revelation is practiced is merely a temporary vessel of convenience.  The religious message and purpose is not limited to the cultural contexts that the people use to express it.  Knowledge of Heaven can never be limited by expression within a single culture. 

Environments change, languages change, dress styles change, cultures change; true spiritually based religion, therefore, adapts to lifeís changes.  Because the message of true religion is eternal and immortal, it can be applied and practiced within any environment, any language, any dress style and any culture. 

Therefore, as times and cultures change, so too must the religious revelation of Heaven find appropriate ways of expression within each of these changes.  Only in this way does the eternal spiritual message remain clear and relevant in the eyes of the people.  One who knows the spiritual component recognizes the Heavenly ways and is able to follow them anywhere, in any culture, at any time. 

However, those who lose sight of religionís spiritual component are only left with the shell of how the revelation was practiced in a far off culture of a long ago time.  Without direct access to spiritual experience, such individuals mistake the shell of religion for its true essence.  Without true understanding of the eternal spiritual message, those without direct spiritual insight cling to the shells of culture instead of bonding with the true spiritual component that transcends all cultures.

Those who lack personal spiritual insight of the initial religious revelation embellish the shells of religion and build them strong, thinking that these are the proper forms of religion.  Not being able to understand how to adapt the eternal Law of Heaven to the present, they reinforce the ways of the past, totally ignoring the changes in life that Heaven brings forth.  They ignore the ways of Heaven proclaiming that they are safeguarding the Laws of Heaven.  This is a clear contradiction that leads to negative consequences.

Many past associations with religion were actually nothing more than cultural expressions of that time and place, observed by both religious and non-religious alike.  As living places, languages and cultural norms change, so too do the vessels change through which the Law of Heaven is practiced on earth. With change comes new faces of revelation of the old true spiritual component.  New ways for new times.

Personal, direct spiritual experience of religion is the Light of life.  The cultural form in which it is practiced is merely its shell.  The Light is eternal and does not change.  Yet, the Light flows from one vessel to the next, from culture to culture. As one vessel becomes old, a new one comes of age. 

The cultural norms of the past belong to the past, they have nothing to do with an immortal and eternal religion.  The Light of life belongs to us today and forever.  Yet, in order for the Light to shine today, it must be in the vessels that exists in the here and now. 

The light becomes dimmed all the while it is left to rot inside an old cracked vessel.  Individuals are actually hindered from reaching the light because of the decrepit state of old vessels.  Light must shine in bright and clean new vessels; in every culture under every circumstance.  Light cannot shine in the past; it can only shine in the present.  Only in this way do we secure the Light of Heaven to shine into the future.

Look not at the vessel, but rather what is in it.  Some old vessels need to be discarded. Not all new vessels are ready to be filled.  One who embraces the true spiritual component within religion will be intuitively guided by Heaven to know where to place the light in order to let it shine the brightest.

Naturally, the one guided by Heaven runs into fierce opposition from those who cling to the old shells and worn-out vessels.  Being that they have not the light, but only its receptacle, they cling to what they have, not knowing any better.  Yet, there is no life in an empty shell.  There is only life in the light itself. 

The Laws of Heaven are eternal.  We are to live them in every place and in every time.  Every culture, every language, every dress code becomes a receptacle for the expression of the spiritual fulfillment of the Divine revelation.

Those guided by Heaven therefore shine light where it is needed, breaking old vessels when necessary and using new vessels as they come of age.  Only by removing the old can we make place for the new.  Only by removing the dying can we make room or the living.  This is often hard for those who cling to shells, but it is what must be done.  The future awaits us.  We can march into it bold and strong, if only we prepare ourselves today to do so.

Note: One of my editors believes that I have not been strong and direct enough with what I have written here.  He wants me to be more direct and clearly identify who I am speaking about.  I, on the other hand do not wish to outright offend any group.  Nonetheless, it should be clear that I am addressing a specific type of religious observance by a specific group of people.  We really do need to wake up and see what is wrong with ourselves and make the necessary corrections.  Changing cultural norms may be hard but if we cannot do this for Heaven, what then can we do?
Shalom, Ariel Bar Tzadok

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