2.4. Elevating the Mundane

Sources refer to the Ramchal's Derech Hashem.


A person's condition in this world depends on a combination of internal and external factors. [I, 4.1] Upon birth, a human being is almost completely physical in nature, as the intellect exerts only a negligible influence. As a person matures, the influence of his intellect grows to one degree or another. This doesn't mean that the body necessarily makes its mundane urges subservient to the more enlightened spiritual side. For that to happen, a person must first develop wisdom. This will enable one to overcome his physical passions and desires. [I, 4.2]

Because people are physical beings, it is axiomatic that we must engage to some degree in physical pursuits. Humans simply need to eat, drink, sleep, excrete, and reproduce, among other activities. It is also a foregone conclusion that humans must engage in business in order to obtain food, clothing, shelter, and other necessities. Man is therefore constantly engaged in activities that strengthen the side of mundanity. Great effort must be exerted in order to elevate a person to a spiritual state. [I, 4.3] Because of God's decree, this cannot be done in the initial stage of a person's existence, when body and soul are in constant conflict.

When the soul strengthens itself in this world, the body is enlightened, but not to a degree that can yet be actualized. In this world, a person achieves a potential state of spiritual perfection that is meant to be actualized in a later reality. [I, 4.4] This is accomplished through God's mitzvos. Every mitzvah is designed either to hone an aspect of perfection in a person, or to help him to overcome an aspect of deficiency.

Everything we need to achieve our levels of perfection is contained in the mitzvos. God told us this in the Torah, which says, "God commanded us to do all these things...so that it should be good for us..." (Deuteronomy 6:24). [I, 4.5] The main purpose of the mitzvos is to make us constantly aware of God so that we might get close to Him. This proximity is only possible, however, if a person overcomes his evil inclination, subjugating his own desires in favor of God's will. [I, 4.6]

As noted, man is a physical being; it is impossible that he not make use of the physical aspects of the world. It is therefore imperative that man make use of the world in the manner prescribed by God. For example, a person must eat to survive but he should be careful to avoid the foods that the Torah defines as prohibited. Furthermore, a person's motivations in eating should be to safeguard his health and to have the strength to perform God's will, not to satisfy his cravings. When a person eats the proper things with the proper intentions, the very act is elevated from a mundane activity to a spiritual one, with reward like any other mitzvah. (Indeed,  guarding one's health in order to serve God is itself a mitzvah - see Deuteronomy 4:15.) Other physical activities are likewise elevated from the mundane to the spiritual when performed according to God's will and with the intention of serving Him. [I, 4.7]

In order to acquire proximity to God, a person must work on loving Him and being in proper awe of Him. To do this, a person should consider how infinitely great God is. He should then contemplate how lowly man is. This should serve to humble a person before God. [I, 4.8]

Torah study is of particular use in getting close to God. God has given us a book of words composed by His wisdom - the Torah. Combined with the words that He spoke to the prophets, they form the Jewish Bible.

Words of Torah have a unique ability in that they infuse the one who studies them with spirituality, so long as the person is studying them in the service of God. When a person strives to understand words of Torah, he increases his level of perfection commensurate with his efforts. This is even more the case when a person unravels the mysteries of the Torah. [I, 4.9]

Every condition in which a person can find himself is the result of God's influence being revealed or concealed. When God's influence is evident, perfection increases. When His influence is concealed, the opposite happens. But God does not withhold His influence; it's up to the individual. A person can choose to draw close to God and enjoy His influence, or he can distance himself and thereby deprive himself of this exposure to God.

A person draws closer to God by performing mitzvos and he distances himself from God through his sins. Mitzvos therefore increase our exposure to God's influence, while sins deprive us of it. Accordingly, our actions affect the degree to which we enjoy God's influence, our sins making spiritual deficiency an inherent part of us. [I, 4.10]

It is clear from this that the true purpose of the mitzvos is to help us draw close to God so that we might be perfected through proximity to his influence. [I, 4.11]

The God Book – now available from OU Press!