The Unity of
Spiritual and Physical
The foundation of perfection and
realization of a state of completeness lies in the unity of spiritual and physical.
However, when initially experiencing the world, we are faced with the apparent dichotomy
between spiritual and physical. Perhaps the clearest example of this dichotomy for man is
the soul dwelling in the body. The ongoing struggle and partnership between the forces of
soul and body are what can be called the classic example of a love-hate relationship. For
the basic drive in the soul for wholeness and completion to become a living reality, the
apparent opposites of spiritual and physical must be united. The Torah and Sages teach
that it is the mission of each individual Jew, as well as the Jewish People as a whole, to
uplift and rectify the physical world by infusing material reality with spiritual energy.
This fundamental philosophy clarifies the meaning of Creation, and in particular the human
soul, as well as the purpose of Torah and mitzvot. Perfection cannot be grasped if
the mind is caught in the clutches of a logic based on spirituality and physicality being
mutually exclusive. A Jew is not uplifted by denigrating or fleeing from the world, but
rather by elevating the spark of Divinity in all physical existence to its spiritual
Before Jacob passed away, he blessed all his sons. His
blessings to his sons Zevulun and Issachar are interpreted by the Sages to be blessings
for physical wealth and Torah study, respectfully. The tribe of Zevulun was known to be
very generous in supporting Issachar so that they could pursue their studies. Issachar
produced many of the members of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish High Court. The
relationship between these two brothers has remained a model of cooperation throughout
Jewish history. The fact that Zevulun received his blessing before Issachar is treated
with great importance in the Kabbalah. The soul of Zevulun comes from keter,
("crown") the highest of sefirot (channels of Divine energy or
lifeforce), while the soul of Issachar emanates from the next sefirah, chochmah ("wisdom").
The word for "conducting business," sechor,
the realm of Zevulun and the model sphere most symbolizing materialism, in Aramaic is
derived from the same root as the word in modern Hebrew for "merchandise," sechorah.
The other meaning of this root is "to surround." Keter represents the
concept of G-d "surrounding all worlds," whereas chochmah represents the
idea of G-d "filling all worlds."
Conducting business, on a certain level, represents
"surrounding reality" and mastering the physical world. As a result of the
primordial sin of Adam eating from the tree of knowledge, the earth was "cursed"
to bring forth weeds and thorns, and man was forced to work hard and sweat to bring forth
a livelihood from the earth. Earning a living is both a "curse" and an
opportunity to fulfill man's basic function in the world.
The danger in this universal predicament is that instead of
"business" surrounding reality, most people go in circles, spending much of
their lives unhappy in unfulfilling jobs. This leads to boredom and frustration as they
watch their time tick away. The feeling of being completely disconnected to the source of
one's livelihood is the ultimate manifestation of the "curse" of Adam. One of
the greatest blessings in life is to love one's work, so much so, that it is considered an
indispensable part of self-expression and fulfillment. The term "life work"
describes a state of mind where there is no essential distinction between what one does
for a living, his beliefs and who he is as a person. This state represents the epitome of
completeness, in that one believes that through his life work he is completing the purpose
of his soul in this world.
The fact that Jacob blesses Zevulun before Issachar reveals
a deep and surprising secret in Kabbalah: The source of vessels and the physical is even
higher then the source of light and the spiritual. This phenomenon is best illustrated by
a parable in the Zohar: When a stone wall collapses, the highest of the stones fall the
farthest from the base. The Arizal built on this theme and revealed his mystical
philosophy of redeeming the fallen sparks scattered throughout reality as a result of the
primordial "breaking of the vessels." The source of vessels comes from the
reshimu, the impression of G-d's presence that remained in the vacuum after the tzimzum
(the contraction and "removal" of G-d's infinite light in order to allow for
creation of independent realities). Only afterwards did G-d shine into the reshimu
a ray of light.
The juxtaposition and primordial order of vessels and light
is reflected in the relationship between the Jewish people, the Land of Israel and the
vessels in the Temple. When the Jewish people entered the Land of Israel at the time of
Joshua they came from the south. According to tradition, Mashiach will enter Israel
from the north. It is taught in the Talmud that "he who desires riches should turn to
the north, he who seeks wisdom should turn to the south." During their forty-year
sojourn in the desert the Jewish People were surrounded by the miraculous, experiencing an
insulated spiritual existence. Thus, reflecting this frame of mind, they came into the
Land from the south. Mashiach, on the other hand, will enter from the north,
symbolizing that the redemption of the future is dependent on the rectification of the
physical world and its becoming a proper vessel for the spiritual.