The Wisdom Within the Action How to Prevent Physicality from Bringing You Down

Nov 24, 2014

The religious person is caught in a very difficult predicament in this world. He possesses a desire (and mandate) for spirituality, wisdom and the higher things of life. Man, however, of necessity lives in the physical world. Physicality is inescapable as long as his soul is connected to his body. Physicality is there in the food he must eat for survival, in the clothes he must wear for protection, and in the sexuality that is a necessary part of family life. All this would not be problematic if not for the powerful effect involvement in physicality has on man — it makes him more physical, and consequently less attuned to those higher and more refined pursuits.

This is in line with what the Sages said, “A sin causes another sin.” When one is involved in sin he is brought down, making it easier to perform another sin. Similarly, involvement in physicality makes a person more physical, taking him further away from refined spirituality and paving the way for more physicality.

How does one deal with this very natural but very tragic human predicament? How do we go on living in this world but avoid the downward spiral towards coarseness and away from spirituality?

Rabbi Pinchas bar Chama in the Midrash (Devarim Rabba 86:3) tells us: Everywhere you go the commandments escort you. When you buy a new house, build a protective fence around the roof; when you make a door, put a mezuza on it; when you wear new clothes, do not wear shatnez . . . even if you are not involved in anything but just walking on the way, the mitzva of chasing away the mother bird accompanies you. The Midrash quotes the verse in Mishlei (1:9) “Ki livyat chein heim leroshekha (For they are a charming thing joined to your head). ”

The term “livyat” relates to the Hebrew root lamed vav hei, which indicates connection (the word “levaya,” for instance, means to escort or accompany). The mitzvot, says the verse, create a connection between man and his Creator. Each physical act man does, says the Midrash, has a mitzva that acccompanies it. Through performing the mitzvot connected with each act, we are connected to G-d instead of being drawn after the coarse side of physicality.

The agricultural process is a good example of this. Every stage of the process is accompanied by commandments – shmitta, gifts to the poor, terumot and maasrot, challa, blessings, etc. As progressively more physical stages are reached, more mitzvot present themselves.

There is a common misconception that must be avoided. Most people think that the physical act logically precedes the mitzva – in other words, because we have homes there is a mitzva of mezuza, because we have clothing there is a mitzva of shatnez. In fact, says the Or Gedalyahu, the starting point is the mitzva. G-d wanted man to be able to fulfill the mitzvot of mezuza and shatnez so He created him with a need to have homes and clothing. Man must approach his physical life with such a perspective. He must ask himself the question, “What is the mitzva at the core of this physical act?”

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