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The Spiritual Side of the Physical

Ever since I started learning Torah, I’ve heard this concept of the physical being used as a means to better understand and access the spiritual side. I heard that this was the reason one fasted on Tisha B’Av – so that your physical discomfort would help you understand the pain of losing the Beis Hamikdash. And it is also why you dressed yourself beautifully for Shabbosim and other holidays – so that your soul would feel the pleasure of the time. I understood the concepts in theory and believed that they did make sense, but still lived with the idea that the spiritual side was more important, and the physical was merely a complement. But I have realized a few things since then, and am letting it affect the list of resolutions I am drawing up for Rosh Hashanah 5776.

I think it was the Chofetz Chaim who said that the whole point of being alive was to break yourself and develop your middos. But how can one develop their spiritual side – their character traits – without the physical? Listening to classes and reading books can only get you so far. Application is a whole different matter. And that, perhaps, is one of the reasons why Hashem put us all on this world: Because, as the sages all said and I’ve heard many times but only really understand now, the physical is a means to access the spiritual side. The trick is realizing it.

For example, if one has a deadline coming up whether it be for work or school, there are two possible approaches: One, it could be that your goal is simply to finish whatever it is you need to finish in order to submit it. In this scenario, the physical is the end goal. However, if you thought of it instead as a chance to practice being disciplined and sitting yourself down to accomplish a task even if you are not in the mood, then more was made of the situation. Instead of it becoming merely a one-time task, you have tapped into the spiritual aspect of it and have consciously developed discipline, which you can use again in further endeavors. In this case, the physical was merely a means to strengthen your spiritual side – which, I have reason to believe, is more worthwhile in the end.

And this, ultimately, is my resolution for the coming year: not to further myself from the physical in order to immerse myself in only the spiritual, but rather to use it wisely and train myself to see all the spiritual potential in my physical existence.

I need to take care of my body because aside from it being in the image of Hashem (and I wouldn’t want to present Hashem to other people being ugly or haphazardly, do I?), Hashem entrusted it to me to take care of. It is a big mitzvah to stay healthy and clean, because when someone lends you something, you want to make sure that when you return it, it is in the best condition you could have managed. And in the end, I want Hashem to be happy with how I am treating the body He lent me. That is why I am going to exercise and eat well.

I aim to become a better employee not (only) because I want to keep my job and maybe even get a raise, but because I want to develop responsibility, discipline, integrity, patience, and consistency – and my job is the perfect place for these places to be worked on.

I will spend a little less time immersed in studying and more time with friends and family, where I will be able to really apply and understand all the things I have been reading about in the first place. Because really, what is the point of learning about showering other people with kindness if all I do is read about it?

There is a line from a movie called “Evan Almighty” that sums all of this up very nicely: “Let me ask you something. If someone prays for patience, you think G-d gives them patience? Or does He give them the opportunity to be patient? If he prayed for courage, does G-d give him courage, or does He give him opportunities to be courageous? If someone prayed for the family to be closer, do you think G-d zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings, or does He give them opportunities to love each other?”

This 5776, my resolution is to look out for these opportunities – and make sure I make the most of them.

May we all be inscribed for a year of life and health!