Overcoming the Dangers of
Intense Religiosity (pt. 3)
Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver
Earlier (pts. 1 and pt. 2), we explained the phenomenon of well-meant, otherwise worthy religious feelings being “hijacked” and being expressed in a counter-productive, even harmful manner.
Now for the big question: How does one avoid falling into this trap?
One root cause of spirituality going awry is the lack of the proper foundation of one’s service of Hashem.
To serve Hashem properly it is not enough to eschew hedonism, to think constantly about Hashem, to be spiritual, and to love Hashem. It is not even enough to fear Him. The same goes for fulfilling the Mitzvos that relate to the sphere of interactions with other people: It is not enough for a religious person to be generous and hospitable, to be humble and forgiving, to be devoted and tireless in serving one’s community.
Yes, these are all important and even vital elements of a deep, personal relationship with Hashem. Yet all of them can go awry, so none of them comprise the very foundation of one’s relationship with Hashem.
The beginning and foundation of serving Hashem is very (and perhaps even deceptively) simple: Kabolas ol Malchus Shomayim, submission to the yoke of the kingdom of Heaven. This means that one is in a state of constant submission, such that all one’s behavior is part of serving Hashem, and is done with the intention of following His wishes.
With regard to emotional expression, this means that no emotion or desire, however worthy it may otherwise be, should be expressed exclusively because one feels that way.
Rather, even if the emotion coursing through one’s heart is fully appropriate, one should be conscious of its inner core. This very emotion is part of serving Hashem, for through it one fulfills a divine command—the command to feel certain feelings.
For Torah and halacha direct us not only in our actions, but also in proper thoughts and feelings, in “chovos halevavos—duties of the heart.” In this case, not only is it worthy to love and fear Hashem, but in so doing, we fulfill explicit divine commands (which are, in fact, Biblical obligations no less binding than the obligation to keep Shabbos or kosher): “Love Hashem, your G–d” and “Fear Hashem, your G–d.”
This holds true not only for spontaneous, gut feelings (which are much more likely to be hijacked in the manner described above), but even for feelings that emerged, as they should, from a process of study, comprehension, and hisbonenus (“contemplation” or “meditation”). For intellect, emotions, and the (very worthy) process of intellect producing emotions all depend upon the firm foundation of Kabolas ol Malchus Shomayim for their success.
When a Jew’s life is based on this foundation, his entire relationship with Hashem is stable and strong, and then he is able to attain success in his spiritual strivings in all areas and on all levels—intellect, emotions, and thought, speech, and action. Moreover, it ultimately also paves the way for Hashem’s blessings for material prosperity.
If, however, one gets carried away with a passion for a holy pursuit (in whatever area), but lacks the awareness that this feeling is not just self-expression, but a part of serving Hashem and fulfilling a divine command, then no matter how worthy and holy the passion, this person is at high risk. This passion may well devolve into inappropriate feelings and behavior, as explained in the previous posts in this series.
Thus, we find how Nadav and Avihu, who yearned to serve Hashem on a high level, were so intent on their desire to offer up the incense in the Mishkan that they did so when they were not supposed to. They then “came too close to Hashem, and died.” The reason this happened was that their passion to come close to Hashem lacked kabolas ol Malchus Shomayim, the simultaneous desire to submit to Him, and so it ended tragically. Let us not make the same mistake.
Adapted from the Rebbe's Sichos Kodesh 5723, p. 54.
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 Cf. Tanya beg. ch. 41.
 These are counted in the Six Constant Mitzvos binding on men and women equally, as enumerated in the introduction to Sefer HaChinuch.
 Devarim 6:5.
 Ibid. 6:13.
 Cf. Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 1, pp. 104-105.
 Vayikra 12:1; Ohr HaChaim ad loc.
Dedicated by Reb Yisrael Meir Raphael and family.
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