If you were offered a choice of having the best of everything in this finite physical world, or the very finest of an infinite spiritual world that you have never seen but has been described to you vaguely by your ancestors which would you choose?
The twins Esav and Yaakov, at the tender age of fifteen, had already made their choices. Esav enjoyed the thrill of the hunt and the immediate gratification of physical pleasure to the point where he was willing to sell his spiritual heritage for a bowl of red lentil pottage. Yaakov was into spiritual growth and the physical sacrifices they entailed.
Many humans, even Jews, have chosen the certain, seemingly solid physical world and its luxuries over the tenuous potential of an unknown spiritual dimension and its rewards. Many teens have, like Esav and Yaakov before them, made this fateful choice with its awesome consequences. Many ba’alei teshuvah have back-tracked and reversed their chosen course in their lives as they grasp the futility of this finite, physical dimension.
The truth is that by choosing the spiritual dimension over the physical all our forefathers were mightily rewarded by God with a bounty of wealth, influence and power.
Yaakov returned from his twenty year exile and sojourn with uncle Lavan with four wives, twelve children and an abundance of chattel, so much so that even after giving his brother many gifts he still had a vast amount left for his retirement. Esav asks him “What is all this that you have?” He doesn’t understand how a spiritual person like Yaakov can have such a large family and so many belongings. He understood that spiritual people should live like monks in a monastery denying themselves all physical pleasure. There are religions till today like Esav before them that espouse as their ideal form of spirituality a monastic lifestyle of total self-denial and affliction.
The Jewish concept of spirituality is unique in that it affirms the validity of the physical dimension as something to use as a ‘ladder to heaven’ as in Yaakov’s dream.When we choose a spiritual path, we are not negating the material,on the contrary, the spiritual path elevates the material world and attracts God’s blessings of wealth and inheritance of both worlds to us.
I would like to conclude with the words of the great Rambam in Chapter 9, Halacha 1 of Hilchot Teshuva where he explains this concept:
“The Holy One gave us the Torah; it is the Tree of Life. Anyone who fulfills all that is written in it and knows it with total, correct knowledge will merit life in the World to Come according to the quantity of one’s good deeds and the greatness of one’s wisdom.
“The Torah promises us that if we fulfill the commandments with joy and in good spirits, and we meditate in its wisdom constantly, G-d will remove from us all those matters which prevent us from fulfilling it — such as sickness, war, famine, and the like. G-d will instead shower us with all the good things, which will ‘strengthen our hands’ to observe the entire Torah, such as plenty, peace, and quantities of silver and gold, in order that we not toil all of our days for matters which the body requires. Rather, we will be free to study wisdom and fulfill the mitzvot so that we will merit life in the World to Come.