Judaism: The Physical and the Spiritual
Moshe KempinskiMoshe Kempinski, author of "The Teacher and the Preacher", is the editor of the Jerusalem Insights weekly email journal and co-owner of Shorashim, a Biblical shop and learning center in the Old City of Jerusalem.
We are living in a generation wherein the daily struggles of the people in this land cannot be understood simply on the superficial plane. The struggles with our Arab neighbors who menacingly surround us and the conflicts regarding justice and equality for all the inhabitants of this state are playing themselves out on many layers.
There is a growing sense that all these issues point to a cycle of history reaching its conclusion. There is a feeling that this is the generation where those conflicts will finally need to be resolved and brought into repair.
It is of this generation that Rav Kook wrote"“Our generation is wonderful generation, full of wonder. It's very hard to find an example of it in all our history. Composed of contradictions — light and darkness mixed.” ( Mamar HaD0r). This is the generation wherein those conflicts need to be resolved.
That seems to be one of the messages in this week's Torah portion. This portion following the momentous experience at Mount Sinai begins with these words;
" And these ( Ve-Eileh) are the ordinances that you shall set before them."( Exodus 21:1).
Rashi explains that the words " And these ( Ve-Eileh" reveal much . He writes "Wherever it says, “these” (Eileh) it is used to separate from what has been stated previously. Yet where it says, “And these,-Ve-Eileh” it is adding to what has been previously stated (Tanchuma Mishpatim 3).
Rashi further explains that " just as what has been previously stated [namely the Ten Commandments,] were from Sinai, these too were from Sinai". The classical understanding is that just as the commandments that G-d revealed with the ten declarations at mount Sinai were to be a revelation of G-d in this world, the same would be true of these statutes and ordinances .That is to say the revealing of G-d in our existence was to be accessed also by the sensitivity to our society and to the world around us.
Further the core of that sensitivity could not simply be “ man” based but rather it needs to be sourced out of the breath of G-d within all of us.
In the words of Rav Kook ;
"It is forbidden for fear of Heaven to push aside one's natural morality, for then it would no longer be pure fear of Heaven. The sign [by which one can recognize] pure fear of Heaven is when the natural morality which is rooted in man's honest nature ascends by means of [the fear of Heaven] to higher levels than it would have attained without it." Orot Hakodesh, Vol. III, p.27
We reflect G-d by living out a loving relationship with our environment as we were commanded;
"After Hashem your G-d shall you walk, and Him shall you fear, and His commandments shall you keep, and unto His voice shall you hearken, and Him shall you serve, and unto Him shall you cleave." (Deuteronomy 13:5).
The Talmud asks “Is it possible for a person to walk after Hashem and be cleaved unto Him? Is He not a consuming fire? Rather,the Talmud suggests, follow in his attributes of chessed, clothe the naked, visit the sick, console the mourners (Sotah 14a). In another tractate we learn” Just as He is merciful, so should you be merciful “ (Shabbos 133b).
My father Rav Baruch Kempinski ( z'l) taught that when we were commanded at Mount Sinai, "Six days of the week you shall work and on the seventh day you shall rest"( Exodus 20:9) that the first part of the statement was as much a commandment as the latter. Our role is not to separate from the world in order to become more holy ,but rather to elevate the world in all that we do . Our mission is not to separate the physical from the spiritual but rather combine the two. We see this most dramatically in the following verse from this week’s Torah portion
"And Moses and Aaron, Nadav and Avihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel ascended, and they perceived the G-d of Israel, and beneath His feet was like the forming of a sapphire brick and like the appearance of the heavens for clarity.. And upon the nobles of the children of Israel He did not lay His hand, and they perceived G-d, and they ate and drank." ( Exodus 24:9-11).
They took the physical to elevate the spiritual.
When we separate our earthly endeavors from our soul based endeavors and disconnect our yearnings for social justice from their divine roots, we lose complete perspective. When we separate and elevate our spiritual pursuits from our daily walking amidst and with society we risk alienating those spiritual pursuits from the rest of the society.
We need to always remember the lesson found in the word” Ve-Eileh –And These”. We need to actualize in all that we do that these and these are the revelation of G-d in the world .
LeRefuat Yehudit Bat Golda Yocheved