Spirituality: Is it always good?

  • ParshaRabbiEliSpinner
This week's parsha, Acharei-Kedoshim, begin with the words: Acharei mos shnei bnei Aharon.

Hashem told Moshe the laws of the Yom Kippur sacrifices after the death of Aharon's two sons Nadav and Avihu. We read about their death two weeks ago in parshat Shemini, how they entered the Holy of Holies to bring a sacrifice on the day of inaugurating the tabernacle and passed away.

As to the cause of their death, there are various opinions. Some say it was a punishment either for entering the Mishkan inebriated, or for the lack of respect to Moshe displayed by bringing a sacrifice without asking him. 

However, there is a novel approach brought by the Or Hachayim that it wasn't a punishment at all. Rather, they were seeking a form of spiritual ecstasy on that Holy day, by bringing a sacrifice into the holiest place. As a result of the body not being able to contain the immense pleasure of their soul, they simply expired and passed away.

But there was no sin. This is implied in the literal meaning of the words "when they came close to G-d and they died". They died as a result of coming close to G-d. 

This interpretation of the story seems very nice as there was no sin involved. But were their actions right?

Is that what is desired by G-d, for us to expire in pursuit of spiritual bliss?

Sure, G-d wants us to appreciate the spiritual, and strive to be holy; to not be overcome by the material world. But He also wants us to lead physical lives. To have a job, eat, drink, go to gym, be healthy, and most importantly, be alive. 

How do we balance these opposite worlds? To appreciate the spiritual while living in a physical body? And even when we're doing something that seems good, how do we know that we're not making the same mistake of Aharon's sons of taking it too far?

There is a story in the Talmud (Chagiga 14b) of four sages who delved into Pardes - the deepest secrets of the Torah and understanding of G-d. One died, one lost his mind, and one became a heretic.

Only Rabbi Akiva "entered in peace and left in peace".

All four went through the same journey, but only Rabbi Akiva remained complete. The others had a personal agenda. It may have been holy and good, but it was for their own achievement. Ultimately they were either corrupted or lost. 

Only Rabbi Akiva entered in peace, meaning he had a different mentality and approach. He went on this spiritual journey only because he knew that's what Hashem wanted from him. Therefore he left in peace, and was able to safely accomplish his goal. 

Whenever we are faced with a difficult choice, we can take a lesson and ask ourselves: "Why am I doing this? Is it for a personal reason, to impress someone, to prove something to myself? Or is it because this is the right thing that Hashem wants from me at this moment?" When we delve deeply enough, we may be surprised at the answer.

Good Shabbos. 



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