Transforming the Physical into the Spiritual

Transforming the Physical into the Spiritual

By Rabbanith Ruth Menashe

Rabanit ruth menashe thransforming physical to spiritualIt has become the fashion, in the last few years, for people to declare that they are “spiritual.” Why not? It seems rather impressive to associate oneself with what is holy and pure, rather than physical and materialistic. We can understand why some people will strive to define themselves as “spiritual”.

Let us, for a moment, step back into the lives of the Children of Israel in the wilderness over three thousand years ago. No one had to get up in the morning to go to work. Food came straight down from Heaven. Clouds of Glory surrounded the nation twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. The supply of water traveled with them wherever they went. There was no need to spend time or money at the malls, as the clothes miraculously grew with the people and were washed and ironed by the Clouds of Glory (Rashi, Deuteronomy 8:4). There was all the time in the world to sit and study Torah with the greatest prophet of all time, Moshe Rabbenu, our master. Spiritual life par excellence, indeed!

There is an opinion that Bene Yisrael did not want to go to Eres Yisrael (the Land of Israel) because they desired to hold onto this spiritual life that they led in the desert. After all, in the land of Israel they would have to work the land in order to grow bread, clothes would have to be washed and sewn, a major part of the day would be devoted to physical, everyday activities, and there would not be much time for the study of Torah. This seems like an acute decline in spirituality!

One of the commandments connected specifically with living in the land of Israel is also one of the three primary Miswoth (commandments) given to women, that of Hafrashath Hallah (separating the dough). “When you come to the land to which I bring you…when you will eat from the bread of the land, you should set aside a portion for G-d.” (Bamidbar:15:18-19). Rabbenu Behayye, in his interpretation on the Torah (Bamidbar:15:20), explains that the Children of Israel were not obligated to keep this commandment in the desert, but rather, immediately upon entering the land of Israel.

Why? Why only in the land of Israel? He explains that the Manna (Man) they ate in the desert was in itself a holy entity, bread from Heaven – “spiritual bread.” Our Rabbis of blessed memory teach us that it was completely absorbed by the body without any waste. However, man-made bread, the bread of the earth has no Qedusha (holiness) whatsoever attached to it. That bread is simply a typical physical substance grown in the ground.

Can this bread be elevated and sanctified? Through the action of performing a Miswah with it and by following G-d’s will and separating Halla, we have the power of transforming that which is “from the ground” to that which is “from Heaven”; the physical into spiritual. Now we understand why once the Manna, the “spiritual bread”, stopped coming down from Heaven and we had to plough the land, plant the seeds, grow the wheat and take all the additional steps necessary for making bread, we were given this unique Miswah. We were given the opportunity to consume holy, spiritual bread.

There is a powerful message, especially for us woman, hidden in “our” special Miswah. It is up to us to reveal the holiness concealed within the Creation. Many of us often wonder what meaning and purpose there is to our everyday ordinary activities. Is there any underlying meaning to the daily activities such as cooking, cleaning, washing and ironing that we do? Yes there is. Just as it is up to us to uncover the sanctity hidden in the dough, so too it is in our power to recognize the spiritual component in every facet of our lives. When we prepare a meal for our husband, or put out clean clothes for our children, we should not look at them as menial tasks but rather, as building a Jewish home, which is something that elevates us spiritually. Leading a spiritual life is attainable in our modern world, be it in New York, Paris, Sydney or Yerushalayim, and not only in the desert. All we have to do is follow the light of the Torah, the path of the Miswoth, and be elevated to the true meaning of what spirituality is all about.

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