We often feel a lack of fulfillment on the spiritual side of our existence due to our physical desires and needs, as the mundane seems to overshadow the Divine.
We often feel a lack of fulfillment on the spiritual side of our existence due to our physical desires and needs, as the mundane seems to overshadow the Divine. In previous portions the Torah listed forbidden foods and sexual relations which certainly control and limit the way we fulfill our physical desires. However, there are still many worldly pleasures that are permissible for a Jew to enjoy, and due to these permitted indulgences we often feel less spiritual.
In this week's Torah portion, the Torah commands us to be kedoshim, holy and sanctified. The Ramban, one of the leading Torah scholars of the Middle Ages, explains that this mitzvah is a general guideline for Jews to separate themselves from some of the physical pleasures that the Torah permits. The Talmud (Tractate Yevamot 20a) expresses this idea by stating that one should "sanctify oneself through that which is permitted." By controlling and limiting our physical indulgences we enable ourselves to live more spiritually. The Ramban writes that the Torah's command to be kedoshim reminds us to avoid becoming despicable and vulgar human beings through the "Torah's permission". By refraining from some of the permitted, yet often unnecessary, earthly pleasures, we provide ourselves with more time for the pursuit of and involvement in spiritual matters.
This prescribed behavior of "separation" makes a lot of sense; however, on the other hand, it seems that Hashem does want us to enjoy His beautiful world. Our feelings of pleasure and happiness are proof that at times these emotions of enjoyment are meant to be expressed. How is one able to enjoy the physical aspects of this world and still remain in touch with his spiritual side?
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, an 18th century master of Kabbalah, explains in his Mesillas Yesharim (Path of the Just) that the highest level of existence for us is the level known as kedusha -- sanctified living. He explains that the mere separation from physical pleasures is really a facet of a lower level of existence, thereby allowing oneself to grow into the ultimate spiritual level, that of kedusha. Kedusha is a state of existence in which one constantly walks before Hashem, when all of his actions are directed towards the purpose of living according to Hashem's desire. Such a person is able to convert even the most mundane physical activities such as eating, sleeping, and marital relations into mitzvot. Eating and marital relations are the fundamental acts of man which enable one to exist. The focus of our intentions during these bodily actions will determine whether we live a physical self-indulging existence or if we live a spiritual life in accordance with Hashem's desire.
Danny Gimpel, a native Atlantan and graduate of Yeshiva Atlanta, is currently enrolled in a joint program with Ner Israel Rabbinical College and Johns Hopkins University, both in Baltimore.
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