> Shabbat > Shabbat Themes > Explorations

Material vs. Spiritual

May 9, 2009 | by Rabbi Nechemia Coopersmith

In Judaism, you can't be holy without the physical.

Question: Shabbat is considered the "holiest" day of the week. Yet there is a special mitzvah on Shabbat to intensify your enjoyment of the material world: to eat your favorite food, wear your best clothes, drink wine, snuggle with your spouse and get a nap.

Isn't all this physicality counterproductive to achieving holiness?

Shmooze Points: (An approach to the Jewish point of view that you may want to share with friends as food for thought.)

When you think of a "holy" person, what immediately comes to mind?

Quite often, it's a picture of a person living alone on top of a mountain, who has distanced him or herself from the pleasures of the physical world. No marital relations, no 2-pound steak with a glass of red wine. An ascetic.

Some people think holiness can be achieved only through the denial of material pleasures, since in their mind physical indulgence is an obstacle to spirituality. It's something that lowers a person and is at best a concession to the base, weaker drives of mankind.

This is not the Jewish view of holiness. In fact, everything holy in Judaism is actually tied to the physical; you can't be holy without it.


Judaism refers to God as our Father in Heaven. Just like our parents want us to have everything that is good, the Almighty wants the same for us -- to get as much pleasure as we can. God didn't create a physical world to frustrate us, but for us to enjoy. When you refuse to taste the dish your mother made especially for you, naturally she gets upset. You're not allowing her to give you all the pleasure she has to give.

Likewise, the Talmud tells us that we will be held accountable for any permissible pleasure we didn't taste at least once.

God doesn't want us to cut ourselves off from His world. Our challenge is to inject holiness through using the world in the proper way. Intention and purpose define the spiritual quality of an act. We can drink wine with the intent to escape through getting drunk, or we can elevate the act of drinking by using it to honor and celebrate Shabbat. The act itself is neutral. By directing the act towards a spiritual end, we make it holy.

That's why the Kiddush made over wine that sanctifies the Shabbat is called "kiddush," which comes from the Hebrew word kadosh -- holy, and why marriage is called kiddushin. Drinking wine and being with one's spouse are physical actions that are holy when they are directed toward a higher end.

From: "Shmooze: A Guide to Thought-Provoking Discussions on Essential Jewish Issues"


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