“When I see Your heavens,” sings the Psalmist, “the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars which You have ordained… G-d our Lord! How majestic is Your name in all the world!”[20]

Indeed, the grandeur, complexity and mystery of the universe bespeak the wisdom and majesty of its Creator. But our world also contains much that, at least to our eyes, is trivial, fractious and deceitful. How do these relate to the singular truth of the Author of reality?

The Kabbalist masters explain that G-d created the whole of existence in the form of a seder hishtalshelut— a “chain of evolution”— in which every reality derives from a higher, more abstract reality that is its mirror and source, which in turn derives from yet a higher, even more abstract reality that is its mirror and source, and so on through the innumerable links in the chain of creation. Thus, what on a higher, more spiritual plane of reality is a subtle, and wholly positive, contrast between two forces, evolves in successive stages of the seder hishtalshelut into diversity, disparity, disharmony, and—ultimately—outright conflict between the various components of G-d’s creation. What on a higher plane of reality is a subtle and wholly positive “contraction” or self-restraint of a divine force, evolves into successively cruder forms of limitation and constriction, and ultimately deficiency and abscess, in G-d’s world.

Chain of Thought

This is true of every object and force in the physical world, from a grain of sand to the law of gravity: each is the final link in a chain of existences reaching upwards to its most spiritual, abstract form.

The same is also true with regard to thoughts and ideas. Often, we might hear someone espousing an idea or presenting an argument that is obviously mistaken and misguided. But the very possibility for such an idea to exist and be propagated is the result of a higher, less obviously erroneous idea, which is itself  the result of an even more subtle error, and so on to the highest link in the chain of ideas.

For example: There are those who argue that since “G-d desires the heart,”[21] it is unnecessary to bother with the actual observance of the mitzvot. It is enough that “My heart is in the right place” and “I am a Jew at heart.”

Such a divorce of deed from faith and feeling is obviously antithetical to the very essence of Judaism. But even among those who accept the importance of the mitzvah (“commandment” or “good deed”) in their relationship with G-d, there exists the tendency to distinguish between different periods or areas of life. For example, there are those who are careful to fulfill their duties to G-d and man during the “Days of Awe” of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, but place much less importance on their actions during the rest of the year.

What are the roots for such differentiation between times of the year? We find the same approach among those diligent in their observance of the mitzvot all year round. A person might zealously fulfill every clause in the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law), yet divide his life  into “holy” days and “secular” days. On Shabbat and the festivals he enters into his “holy” mode, in which his every thought and deed is directed toward his spiritual development and his service of G-d; the rest of his life, while conforming to the laws of the Torah, is wholly devoted to his material pursuits and the enhancement of his material existence.

A higher, more subtle link in this chain of “separatist” thinking is the idea that while each day of the year must include spiritual and G-dly pursuits, these may be confined to fixed hours devoted to Torah study and prayer. The remainder of the day, when one has no choice but to devote oneself in one’s material affairs, belongs to another domain of life—a domain which, by nature and definition, is separate and disconnected from the “islands of holiness” in its midst.

Finally, there are those who maintain that the Torah must permeate every nook and cranny of one’s life, yet practice a separation of domains within Torah itself, distinguishing between its “revealed,” pragmatic side and its “hidden,” esoteric dimension. Those parts of Torah that are readily digestible by human reason—e.g., the stories of the Torah, the laws put forth in the Talmud and Shulchan Aruch—are to be assimilated into every area and activity of life; but the esoteric parts of Torah—e.g., the teachings of Kabbalah and Chassidism—are the province of saintly mystics who sever all connection with the material world and devote themselves solely to the spiritual realm of life.

All these arguments have the same essential contention at their core: that the spiritual and the material are, and will always remain, two distinct domains. The various levels on which this contention exists derive from and follow one another: a separation between the spiritual and pragmatic aspects of Torah in the mind of one Jew, leads to a separation between the spiritual and pragmatic parts of his days in the mind of his fellow; which leads to a separation between the spiritual and pragmatic days of the week in the mind of a third Jew; which expresses itself in a fourth Jew’s confinement of his relationship with G-d to the holiest days of the year; which ultimately results in a fifth Jew’s complete severance of his actions from his faith.

Basically True

All these arguments are based on truth. “G-d desires the heart” is a statement from the Talmud; it is the prophet Isaiah who describes the period from Rosh HaShanah to Yom Kippur as a time to “Seek G-d when He is to be found;” [22] Shabbat and the festivals are designated by the Torah as distinctly “holy” days, on which G-d’s relationship with the world is elevated to a higher, more spiritual plane; our sages tell us when a person is studying Torah, praying or performing a mitzvah, his very person becomes a “vehicle of divinity”—during these times he is certainly closer to G-d than while attending to his personal affairs;[23] and it is also true that the “esoteric” dimension of Torah is a more spiritual articulation of the divine wisdom and will than its “pragmatic” part.

The basis for all these arguments (which are, in essence, the same argument) is true; it is their conclusions that are erroneous. Yes, G-d created the spiritual and the material as two distinct domains. Yes, a vast gulf separates faith from deed, holy days and activities from ordinary ones, and mystical truths from pragmatic ones. But the entire purpose of life is to bridge this gulf, to integrate these domains. This is why G-d took the spiritual soul and placed it within a physical body and life: so that we translate our faith into deeds, draw the holiness and spirituality of Yom Kippur into the year and of Shabbat into the workweek, fuse our sacred and secular activities into a singular goal of serving our Creator, and unite the sublime and the practical in our mind’s endeavor to grasp His truth.

Based on an address by the Rebbe, Passover 5715 (1955)[24]

Adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by Yanki Tauber

[20]. Psalms 8:4.

[21]. Talmud, Sanhedrin 1206b.

[22]. Isaiah 55:6; Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 18a.

[23]. See Tanya, chs. 4, 5, and 23.

[24]. Likkutei Sichot, vol. XV, pp. 591-592.


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