Religion & Beliefs

Notes From The Delegation: Is Spiritual Power The Most Solid Foundation?

Jewish social action requires us to locate our spiritual power. Anyone can set out to make the world a better place, a friendlier place, a more peaceful or equitable place. As a Jewish leader it is my relationship with God and my people that brings deeper meaning and purpose to my quest for justice. Read More

By / February 22, 2011

American Jewish World Service (AJWS), an international development organization, is hosting a global justice conference for rabbis, rabbinical students and Jewish communal leaders near Baltimore this week. The conference, called the Rabbinical Students Delegation Alumni Institute, will focus on leveraging participants’ power to elevate global justice as a core expression of Jewish tradition, both locally and in the larger North American Jewish community. Over the next few days, Rabbi Vered Harris will share her account of the Institute and the issues it raises for 21st century Jews.

There are times before I lead tefillah when I stand behind the ark in our sanctuary and say a quiet prayer to God. “Please, give me the peace I need to help them find the peace they need.” It isn’t a rote prayer, and I can’t guarantee those are the exact words, but it is a ritual of supplication that helps me to quiet myself and prepare to lead others in prayer. It is a source of spiritual power for me.

I don’t think I’ve ever used that phrase before: Spiritual Power. At American Jewish World Service’s RSD Alumni Institute, I expect to think about how we harness power to make change. But typically my definition of power would revolve around notions of community building, politics, charismatic leadership and financial resources.

Spiritual power, it turns out, is the foundation for me of all other positive uses of power.

Tonight Rabbi Shelia Peltz Weinberg, director of outreach and community development at the Institute for Jewish Spirituality, asked us to consider this quote from Reb Nachman of Bratslav: “If you believe it can be broken, you must believe it can be repaired.” Internalize that thought: anything in disrepair can be mended. Relationships. The environment. Material goods. Food supplies. Water systems.

Traditional definitions of power can make the repairs. Spiritual power connects the repairs to a greater good, to meaning and purpose and the interconnectedness of humanity. Spiritual power means we make change in partnership with God.

So Rabbi Weinberg asked us to consider where we gain our spiritual power. For me, it is in those quiet conversations when I ask God to be with me when others look to me to lead them.

Then she asked us to think about where we lose our spiritual power. I realized that I lose my spiritual power when I suppress my inner voice, when I compare myself to others and doubt my own strength. When I fear my own power and therefore hide behind a façade of weakness, I allow my spiritual power to drain and my foundation to falter.

Jewish social action requires us to locate our spiritual power. Anyone can set out to make the world a better place, a friendlier place, a more peaceful or equitable place. As a Jewish leader it is my relationship with God and my people that brings deeper meaning and purpose to my quest for justice.

An internal strength of conviction allows me to see the broken world and have faith that it can be fixed. That is my spiritual power. It is essential to recognize where it comes from, and to learn to overcome the obstacles that drain it.

If we each nurtured our spiritual power, we would stand on the most solid of foundations. We would harness the hope and the power to fix the brokenness in our world.

Rabbi Vered Harris is the Education Rabbi at Congregation Beth Torah in Overland Park, Kansas. She participated in AJWS’s Young Rabbis’ Delegation to Muchucuxcah, Mexico last summer.