I’ve always thought of being spiritual as the opposite of being physical. That’s the way the concept has always been presented to me by the society I live in. It’s about either being practical, sporty, a doer, or dreamy, mystical, meditating. Spirituality denotes sitting under a tree and pondering the world, G-d, and G-dly concepts. It’s being ‘high’ instead of the pragmatic nature of the physical world where we need to do, to act and to succeed. Spiritually, in contrast to that, is almost always about being ‘out of this realm’. And in being ‘out of this realm’, so is religion. The secular world equates spirituality with religion, or spirituality as ‘the new religion’.
Yet, Judaism always suggests and encourages balance between the physical and the spiritual. To be a Jew means to bring the two together. Like salt. Sodium + Chloride. Sodium is explosive and chloride is erosive. Each chemical on their own is dangerous to the human being. In relation to our mind, the same is true – too much spirituality can be explosive and too much physicality can be erosive. Put the elements together though, sodium chloride (or salt) creates a vital substance that the human needs to be healthy. It seems that both physically and mentally, the right balance of these two elements is needed. In fact, we get reminded of this concept often in the actions we perform as Jews, such as dipping Challa into salt, to remind us of the salt we used on the altar.
Like salt, Judaism is about balance. The religion of the Jew is to create balance in yourself, thereby connecting to and mimicking Hashem’s perfection. The difficulty is in creating that balance between the physical and the spiritual. It’s a lifetime of work to reach such a balance but it’s doable. We have this potential in us. In fact it’s our job in this world.
We tend to be geared towards one or the other of the extremes. And yet, the truth often lies in the middle. Being ‘G-dly’ isn’t choosing to be spiritual – its choosing to be balanced – to be able to bring the spiritual into the everyday challenges and realities of the physical world we live in and to elevate the mundane physical into a higher purpose. That is the real challenge. It’s not hard to light a candle and meditate and feel ‘enlightened’. It is hard to create and take enlightenment into the workplace, the home, personal relationships, and all the other duties we have in our day-to-day.
Now I know why salt, in the wrong amounts can be disastrous, and in the right amounts, makes food so so tasty. It’s Hashem’s little reminder to work on balance.