Continuing on the topic of thinking while studying with my study partner, we read that the mind, which is physical matter, has a link to the spirit and that by thinking about what we’re doing as we’re doing it, we’re able to turn physical activity into something spiritual. The book added that this is the meaning of holiness.
Not exactly the same topic but discussion about putting thought into what we’re doing reminded me of a conversation I had with my husband this morning. I told him that one of the points of contention religious people have with logotherapy is that it is telling people to think for themselves and the religious person will often say you should not be thinking for yourself because you need to do what your religion dictates. (Put aside for the moment that as a religious person I disagree with that statement.) The very same point of contention works in the exact other way. The secular person says: “I want to think for myself; religion is telling me what to do.” (And it goes without saying that I also disagree with this, but that’s for a different discussion.)
My husband’s answer was that there is a different quality to people who exude a sense of obligation and commitment that you don’t find elsewhere. You know where they stand, that they won’t cross certain lines and there’s also a pervasive humility in their whole manner. Furthermore, he said by fulfilling a religious life you are not abandoning choice. You’re exercising choice by thinking for yourself and deciding that these religious injunctions are what you see as the right thing to do.
Rivkah responded to my comments by saying this: The state of spirituality is to be connected. In this connection you transcend that part of yourself that disconnected. It may seem like lowliness to be open to outside instruction for what to do in your life, but the choice to submit to God’s will is releasing you from your lowliness.
The book went on to talk about how holiness does not mean “piety” but rather is defined as constant infusion of thoughtfulness into bodily activities. The author said that when the rabbis instructed people to sanctify themselves in various areas of life they were talking about putting thought into physical actions.
I wondered about the commentaries of Rashi and Ramban on the commandment “Be holy” and how that played into this. Rashi explains holiness as separating one’s self from what is prohibited in physical relationships and from what is prohibited generally. Ramban explains holiness as separating from what is permitted. – Don’t be gluttonous or find all kinds of loopholes in the law so you can be a rude and obnoxious person “with permission of the law.” Instead, Be holy as God is holy.
At face value their interpretations are different. Are these two interpretations really so different?
As Rivkah pointed out, the language of “permitted” and “prohibited” is external to the person. But if I think about myself, given who I am and how hungry I am, “How much of the food on my plate is appropriate for me?” my eating will be transformed into a spiritual act.
The choices we make are very subtle and invisible. Often we don’t even notice the options. We’ll go to a party and eat only because it’s there.
Thinking is an activity that brings us to not only decide what we’re going to do but to contemplate on what we’re doing as we’re doing it. In that sense both Rashi and Ramban are talking about the need to turn physical actions into spiritual by bringing thought into the activity. This is what creates holiness.
The book also noted that the religious imperative to be holy is not something reserved only for those on the highest spiritual plane. It’s something all of us can and should be doing. It simply means thinking about what we’re doing.
As Frankl points out when he talks about self-distancing and self-transcendence as uniquely human gifts that allow us to look at ourselves from the outside and think about what we’re doing, it makes sense that thinking is the royal road to holiness.