Sanctifying Oneself Through The Physical
This dvar Torah was adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: Tape # 186, Shalach Monos and Other Purim Issues. Good Shabbos!
The Medrash in this week’s parsha says, “Rabbi Yochanan said, G-d only reveals himself to idolaters at night — a time when people separate from one another — as it is written ‘G-d came to Avimelech in a dream at night’ [Bereshis 20:3] or ‘G-d came to Bilaam at night’ [Bamidbar 22:20]. However, G-d reveals Himself to Jewish prophets during the day, as it is written ‘And he sat at the opening of the tent in the heat of the day [Bereshis 18:1]’.”
What is the meaning of this Medrash? The Ateres Mordechai explains that this Medrash is teaching a very significant difference between Judaism and other religions. Many religions believe in a basic dichotomy between the physical and spiritual. They believe that if a person really wants to reach the highest levels of spirituality, he must separate himself from physical things, be celibate, become a monk. The more separate a person can become, the more holy he can become.
Judaism teaches us just the opposite. Torah teaches that the highest form of holiness comes through material matters. As the Kotzker Rebbe explains “V’ANSHEI-Kodesh Te’heyu Li” — holy PEOPLE you shall be to Me. I want you to be both ‘holy’ and ‘people’, not holy angels. We believe that a person can sanctify that which is physical. He can take a meal and make it into a Shabbos meal. He can take any act and elevate it to a higher form. That is our goal. “Through all your paths, know Him” [Mishlei 3:6]. By infusing all of our activities — our eating and sleeping and drinking and work — with holiness, we can become close to G-d.
This is precisely the meaning of the Medrash. G-d must come to Bilaam the idolater at night, at a time when people are separated from one another and when physical activity is on the wane. Only then can Bilaam deal with spirituality. Otherwise, he is not able to deal with the conflict between the spiritual and the physical. However, G-d can come to a Jewish prophet, l’havdil [to distinguish (between two very different things)], even during the day, when the prophet is occupied with daily activities. Even in the midst of all that, there can be spirituality.
This is a powerful ethical teaching. The essence of a Jew’s life is about taking his daily activities — the accounting and the doctoring and the practicing of law — and infusing them with a Kedusha [Holiness]. Every act that a person performs should be for the sake of Heaven.
This write-up was adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tape series on the weekly Torah portion. The complete list of halachic topics covered in this series for Parshas Vayakhel-Pekudei are provided below:
CD #003 The Korban Pesach Today
CD #048 Is Shaving Permitted on Chol Ha’Moed?
CD #091 Americans in Israel: Two-Day Yom Tov or One?
CD #139 Confidentiality: The Prohibition Against Revealing Secrets
CD #186 Shalach Manos and Other Purim Issues
CD #232 Maror: A Bitter Problem?
CD #276 Is Theft Permitted to Save a Life?
CD #322 A Unique Erev Pesach & Its Broader Implications
CD #366 Chametz She’avar Olov HaPesach
CD #410 The Obligation to Testify
CD #454 Eruv Tavshilin
CD #498 Honey–Why Is It Kosher
CD #542 Selling Chametz
CD #586 Rabbinic Confidentiality
CD #630 Gebrokts and Kneidelach
CD #674 Saying Karbonos
CD #718 Karbanos: The Basis for Tefillah
CD #762 Standing During Davening
CD #806 Voice Recognition – How Reliable?
CD #850 Taking Medicines on Yom Tov
CD #894 Pesach-Daled Kosos: Must You Drink All 4? And Other Issues
CD #938 Davening on an Airplane/Train: Must You Stand?
CD #981 Aepting Shul Donations from Non-Shomrei Shabbos
CD#1026 Salt on the Table
CD#1069 Should Yeshiva Bochrim/Kollel Members Say Karbonos?
CD#1112 A Rabbi’s Dilemma-Reveal A Confidence and Get Sued or Remain Silent?
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