Issue 37 | Parshat Mishpatim | How to Treat Your Enemy



What Should the Soul Do About Its Mortal Adversary: Materialism?

If you were told that you have an enemy, how would you react? How would you treat your sworn foe?

If your body is an enemy of your soul, how should you treat your body? If materialism is an enemy of spirituality, what should we do about it? Thinkers offer us three opinions on the matter: Retreat. Surrender. Compromise.

The “retreat” camp believes that by its very nature materialism is selfish and self serving, and thus antithetical to the spiritual, selfless life. To be spiritual, therefore, requires one to shun the material life. This is known as the school of asceticism.

The “surrender” group throws in the towel and just resigns itself to the fact that materialism is the dominant force in life. So just accept it, indulge and enjoy life, as long as it lasts.

The “compromisers” argue that since materialism clashes with spirituality, and we need both to exist, the only solution is compartmentalization: Most of our lives we are immersed in the material life of survival, and then we carve out separate times which we dedicate to our transcendental pursuits and our spiritual aspirations.

In a fascinating interpretation of a verse in this week’s Torah portion the Baal Shem Tov offers us a novel fourth option: Materialism may be our mortal enemy, but ought not escape it and we cannot compartmentalize (and surely not surrender); we must transform the material into the spiritual!


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