What comes to mind when you think about spirituality?
I don’t know about you, but I think the wide spectrum of today’s society, when thinking about what spirituality is, thinks of a monk meditating on top of Mount Wutai. Movies, music, celebrities, pop culture has taught us that this is the epitome of a spiritual experience. The epoch of the highest one can go. The ultimate to be reached.
Speaking in terms of “living with the times” , Jacob’s 12 sons, had two different paths of living a spiritual life. For one, there was Joseph, whom after being ostracized by his brothers, thrown into a pit, and sold as a slave, worked as Potifar’s accountant and helper, thrown into jail, interpreted Pharoh’s dreams and then rose to the ranks of power as the viceroy of Egypt. Then you had all the other brothers, who lived life like those before them did, as Shepherds, unperturbed by the hustle and bustle of everyday life in order to be able to connect to G-d without distractions, kind of like a monk. Ultimately, we learn that Yosef’s way of serving G-d is the ideal. True spirituality isn’t meditating on top of a mountain, it’s being completely involved in the world, but in a way that’s higher, in a way that’s beyond.
The Rebbe, was very for this approach to life. Chabad headquarters wasn’t ever moved to some holy pocket in Israel, it was in New York, the middle of the world’s economy. The Rebbe, opened his doors for world leaders, businessmen, people of all races and cultures to come and connect. The Rebbe states in one of his talks that when the world will reach its ultimate state of fruition, it will be obvious the advantages (otherwise known as milas) of the people who are involved in the world over those who are not.
Originally, the holy temple in Jerusalem, the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed in order that we would be dispersed to throughout the world to turn darkness and physicality to light (aka: to bring back Gerim, which means convert physicality to spirituality). Meaning where do we change things? Why are we where we find ourselves in the first place? To involve ourselves in the physical world and turn it into something spiritual, a place where G-d feels comfortable.
Additionally, when the rebbe would consult with people he sent on the frontlines of making change, he was always focused on numbers. How many people, how much money fundraised, how many people took part in this campaign, how many Chabad houses, how many people went to that class, how influential that Chabad house is in its respective town. The focus was always a very down to earth, practical focus. Not, achieving some state of zen.
Ultimately, one can reach a deeper level of connection by actually doing this. Why? G-d in his essence is able to contain two complete opposites, without their being a problem. Whereas in the world you can’t have that. When a person is deeply involved in the world and transforming it, while maintaining a deep connection and upkeep of G-d’s ideals, His will in how he should live, His wisdom, a person can reach way beyond any type of spirituality, and instead touch HaShem Himself, HaShem in His essence, a place where these two opposites can be comprised without their being any contradictions.
So, yes before we go out into the world, we have to connect in a way where we’re not involved in the world. We have to have this place in time where we connect to G-d, learn and internalize what He wants and losing ourselves in spirituality. Yet, a person should know it’s not the ultimate, it’s a preparation to our going into the world to unite it with G-d and lift it up to a spiritual state of existence.
The world is awaiting a person like you to come along and show it it’s true purpose that’s lying deep down, deep beneath the surface of its existence. That’s why we don’t see things like fortune, fame, physicality, materiality as complete opposites of this initiative. All of these things can and should be used to make this spiritual existence of the world come about. Aestheticism isn’t the way of Kabbalah and Judaism. It is a way, and there’s many in the past who have been praised for it. Yet, the rebbe says to need to separate from materiality and the world to be holy is a much lower level of serving G-d and fulfilling ones mission. It may make things easier on yourself, but it doesn’t change the world to the same degree. Real spirituality, real holiness, is involvement without being changed by the world, but instead changing it.