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Shabbat Parashat Shemot 5773

Ein Ayah: Extreme Physicality and Extreme Spirituality

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Berachot 9:225)

Gemara:   Rava also said: The world was created only for Achav ben Omri and Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa. This world was created for Achav, and the World to Come was created for Rabbi Chanina.


Ein Ayah: One’s love for himself and one’s love for the welfare of the collective (klal) are somewhat contradictory. When a person dedicates himself to self-advancement, his love and concern for the collective is likely to decrease. When he advances in his love of the klal, his concern for his own interests will decrease. It would actually be best if one would have a full love of himself and not allow that to impinge upon his concern for the klal. This would reveal a great light and bring great results for goodness and the ways of Hashem.

We see that Achav had a heaping portion of self-love, which he used in a wicked way. This finds particular expression in the story of Navot, where Achav hired false witnesses to have Navot killed and have his property confiscated by Achav so that he could obtain Navot’s beautiful field. To the other extreme, Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa exemplified nullifying one’s personal desires and having concern only for the needs of the klal. This is as the gemara says (Berachot 17b) that the whole world was provided for in the merit of Rabbi Chanina, and he sufficed with one kav of carobs per week.

Each of these historical examples is one half of the story. Ideally, it is proper for one to have a healthy portion of love of himself in his heart, as this is fundamentally a very positive thing. The only problem is that practically, until the world is in a more ideal state, we must avoid too much self-concern, because it pushes away concern for the klal. If we could have the self-concern while preserving a level of concern for others on Rabbi Chanina’s level, this would be ideal. The gemara means, though, that the world was created for the two types of concern, of Achav and of Rabbi Chanina, one that is at the basis of this world and one that is at the basis of the World to Come. If the two traits can be combined, great things will come out of it.

When one combines the traits properly, the love of the physical side will enable him to bring significant progress to the state of the physical world for the betterment of its inhabitants. This will work properly only if the person has the same level of concern for the world as one with small personal physical aspirations. An ideal person of that type will have such a strong affinity toward the spiritual to the point that people would think that he does not care about his physical situation. This is what will exist of the World to Come, where things will be ideal both from a physical and a spiritual perspective.

We are so used to positive values being contradictory to each other, as they so often are in practice, that we do not always try to combine them. However, we should try to improve ourselves until it will be possible to do so. We should increase our wisdom, strength of character, and resolve until both physicality and spirituality will lend strength to the other, enabling us to enhance the world in a broad and significant way. When peace can be made between these apparently conflicting characteristics, Hashem will be happy with His creation and will be known as possessor of both heaven and earth.

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