Tuesday, March 28, 2006

We must sanctify the physical world

From Daf-insights from The Dafyomi Advancement Forum
The Torah was given to man in order to enable him to utilize the physical world in the service of Hashem. A Jew is not supposed to live an ascetic life, severed entirely from the physical pleasures of the material world. Hashem placed the Jew's Neshamah [soul] into a physical body, fusing the holy with the mundane and charging him with the obligation to uplift and sanctify his physical existence and the physical world in which he lives. The Torah enables the Jew to sanctify the physical world, in contrast to the Nochri [gentile] who does not have the ability to uplift the physical world and infuse it with spirituality. The Nochri's spirituality is divorced from the physical world. For example, the Nochri's spiritual leaders practice celibacy, while the Kohen Gadol is obligated to be married when he performs the holiest service on the holiest day of the year (Yoma 1:1). It is therefore logical that on the day on which we received the Torah, which teaches us how to utilize the physical world in the service of Hashem, we are to partake in physical pleasures of food and drink. (Heard from Rav Kalman Weinreb, shlit'a.)

While this is of course an exaggerated, stereotypical view of Christianity, seeing is as "otherworldly" and "ascetical" -- clearly there are many tendencies with the Catholic Church that give these comments some truth.


Anonymous said...

I find your comments asserting the elevated status of a Jew in sanctifying the physical world a glaring contradiciton to your earlier reflections on creativity and dogma. To suppose that any made made text, be it Talmud, Torah, New Testatment, Koran, or Vedas, confers any special power to imbue mundane reality with spiritual fullness seems absurd at best.

Jeff Wild said...

Perhaps I agree with you more than you think. In looking back at the quotation your comments are connected to, it clearly is a very Jewish-centric position that I am quoting, which does inflate the value of the Torah.

What I hear you saying is that no "man made" text can do that. First, I do agree that these texts, particularly the Oral Torah (i.e. the Talmud and all its ongoing commentaries) is man made (what else could they be, since as the Talmud says, "The Torah is not in heaven" -- meaning it has been give to humanity to interpret and extend.

However, most interstingly, what I do find incredible is that at its best this Oral Torah is actually a source great of creativity and an antidote to dogma, as a recent shiur on Halakha and Technology reminded me, when it made clear that a 2000 year-old document can be used to define laws for situations unimaginable when it was first written. If that isn't creativity, I don't what is.

I profoundly believe that the creativity that has been at the heart of the Talmudic project has in fact provided a level of "spiritual fullness" for those who believe and follow it. The spiritual fullness only comes from commitment and dedication and is not something that magically occurs. Whether this text "imbues mundane reality with spiritual fullness" for someone outside that group is not really the point.

Overall, I just marvel at the power of texts and those individuals and communities that interpret them to create ever new visions of life and reality.