Parashat Ahare Mot

Raising Up the Physical

How to develop a healthy relationship with the material world.

Print this page Print this page

Simply being over-invested in and distracted by material reality takes us out of the selfless and Divinely-oriented consciousness upon which proper use of the environment is predicated. 

A second theme of the Haftorah is use of the physical world where people hoard resources for themselves. Amos speaks to, "…those who rejoice over a thing of naught, who say, 'with our strength we have taken horns for ourselves' (Amos 6:13)."

He criticizes the use of personal power to accumulate private gain, for "ourselves," but not for others, calling us to recognize, instead, the shared need and the common good. 

Yet a third theme is the explicit harm which comes to other people when consumption of the physical world is oriented around personal gratification. The prophet warns that destruction will come, "for they are selling a righteous man for money, and a poor man for a pair of shoes (Amos 2:6)."

When personal accumulation of physical property and the resources of the physical world are held as the highest priority, then even the most basic social justice is threatened.

While these external indicators are in themselves things to be avoided, they all stem from a common root of misunderstanding the role of the physical environment in the life of human beings.

As long as we see the physical world as merely a means to satisfy our own desires, the pitfalls of unsustainable living will continue to threaten us. Our drive to hoard and consume, along with our fears of never having enough, will constantly strain our relationship with the environment.

The more we are able to shift ourselves into a place of service to God, even in our consumption and use of the physical world, the more we will be able to attain a more selfless perspective, attune to the higher will of the world, and thereby be joyfully sustained and supported in our way of living. As the scripture states, our use of the physical should be sustainable "so that we should not die" both physically and spiritually.

Suggested Action Items:

1. Be mindful in your shopping. Try to buy only what you need, rather than simply impulsively buying according to your desire. You could start with just one shopping trip, or one buying decision per trip, and see how it goes.

2. Investigate two or three products that you buy regularly. How are they made? What kinds of resources are used? Are they used in a sustainable way?  Are the raw materials obtained in a process of fair trade? Are the people who produce the products treated in a humane way? Are there different product choices you could make to help limit your environmental impact? Ask your friends to do the same with a few other products and compare notes.

3. Appreciate the beauty of what comes forth from the natural world. Try not to throw out items which could be repaired or used in a different way. Are there more ways this item, and the physicality with which it was made, could be raised up in service of the Ultimate Will? When it is finally time to throw something away, consider consciously acknowledging the service it has provided up until now. Then dispose of it properly.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Baruch Rosh Tzvi Herschkopff is a student at Yeshivat Derech HaMelech in Jerusalem. He learned for several years at the Bat Ayin Yeshiva, and holds a Bachelor's Degree from Brown University. He and his wife live in Jerusalem.