The entry of Hayom Yom for כ’’ט אדר ב’ quotes a saying of the Rebbe Rashab: Hashem created the entire physical world form nothingness in order that we should make from physicality, nothingness and spirituality. This עבודה is a personal obligation for every individual.
This entry may at first glance seem spiritual and otherworldly, but in actuality it is a very potent message with practical implications.
What does it mean to make from the physical spiritual? How is this accomplished? What does it mean to transform food or furniture into spirituality? Understanding this at face value may lead many to walk away with no message to guide them in life, but when contemplating the deeper meaning of this dictum, very valuable guidance will be deduced.
Naturally, גשמיות on its own has a powerful gravitational pull which draws people downwards. גשמיות could be viewed not as a thing of its own, and then the גשמיות will be elevated and refined, and the materialistic phenomena will be affected, instead of the גשמיות becoming more coarse and dictating the eventual destiny of descent for man.
To illustrate this point we will relate a story which contrasts these two viewpoints. Avrohom was not a wealthy man, but when it came to tzedaka or hachnosas orchim, he was unsurpassed. The tzedaka and food that he gave to travelling collectors was often meant for his family’s basic expenses and needs, but he felt it was a privilege to fulfill such a great mitzvah.
One day Avrohom’s Rebbe paid him a visit. The Rebbe noticed how sincerely Avrohom fulfilled the mitzvah of hachnosas orchim and his intense devotion in doing so at his own expense. Toward the end of his visit, the Rebbe turned to Avrohom and said, “In the merit of truly devoting yourself to tzedaka and helping others in need, may Hashem bestow upon you the blessing of being able to fulfill these mitzvos amidst abundance.”
Avrohom had earned his livelihood through a humble clothing store, and following the ברכה of his Rebbe, business began to really pick up and in no time he was a wealthy man. For a while he continued his practice of giving kindly and generously to others, but after a while he became so preoccupied with his business that he gave over all his responsibilities of tzedaka to one of his employees. While Avrohom continued to distribute tzedaka in this manner, his old warm disposition towards wayfarers and poor folk had drastically changed. Avrohom had no time for anybody as he invested much of his time in his business affairs.
A rabbi came to the door one day and insisted on seeing Avrohom. The secretary exerted great effort to send him away with a generous donation but did not succeed. The Rabbi was admitted and told Avrohom that he had been sent by their Rebbe.
“I owe a debt of gratitude to our Rebbe for the amazing ברכהhe gave me.”
“Well then, you have a chance to do something for our Rebbe,” the Rabbi replied, “Our Rebbe is raising funds to help free a Yid from prison.”Avrohom quickly handed over a large sum of money for his visitor to take to the Rebbe.
“Mention me to the Rebbe please,” said Avrohom upon parting with his visitor.
In the old days, Avrohom would have shared a meal with his guest, and helped him raise money from other community members, but now things were different. Avrohom had other priorities.
The Rebbe inquired of his messenger about every detail of Avrohom’s life which he had observed and was saddened at the response.
“I must go immediately and remedy the situation,” he declared.The Rebbe arrived at a nearby inn early the next morning and sent his gabai to bring Avrohom to him. However, due to his new schedule, Avrohom awoke late, spent lots of time drinking his morning coffee, and eventually told the gabbai to return in the afternoon. The gabbai reported this to the Rebbe who said, “We will go to Avrohom at once.”
Arriving at the large mansion, the gabbai let the servant know that the Rebbe himself waited in the carriage. The next moment, Avrohom welcomed his Rebbe with honor and joy. The Rebbe entered the house in a very serious mood. After looking around for a few minutes, he approached the window and called Avrohom to join him. The Rebbe pointed to a few individuals and asked Avrohom to identify them. Avrohom promptly gave the requested information. The Rebbe then went over to a large mirror hanging on the wall and asked Avrohom, “What do you see in the mirror?”
“Myself, of course.”
“What is this beautiful mirror made of, Avrohom?”
“Glass.” “And the window we looked through earlier is glass as well. Strange,” commented the Rebbe, “They are both made of glass; yet through the window one can see others and through the mirror one can only see oneself.”
“It’s quite simple,” said Avrohom, “For the window is only glass which is clear and therefor see through, while the glass of the mirror is covered with a layer of silver, allowing me to see only myself.”
“I suppose if you were to scratch off the silver the mirror would become transparent again,” said the Rebbe thoughtfully. Like a bolt of lightning, the Rebbe’s message became clear. Upon becoming ‘coated with silver’, i.e. wealthy, Avrohom had ceased to see others. Full of shame and remorse, Avrohom begged his Rebbe, “I’ve failed the test of riches; is there any hope for me? Please help me!”
“I came to guide you back to your old self. You must reignite the warmth and hospitality you once had, only now it must be in a much greater way in accordance with your current ability.”
“I most certainly will,” promised Avrohom, and that is exactly what he did.
Besides the obvious Bitachon lesson to maintain the warmth of hachnosas orchim and not appointing a secretary to distribute tzedaka upon becoming wealthy, there lies in this story a very basic distinction between the two Avrohoms in our story. The first Avrohom was generous and kind to others even when that meant less for his own basic needs. This may be considered גשמיות which is refined and purified; materialism with a purpose — to bring kindness into the world. The second Avrohom lost this notion when גשמיות was much more available. The gravitational pull strengthened with the abundance of גשמיות and gave his perspective of material possessions a huge change. Business and גשמיות suddenly received their own importance. Although tzedaka was still on the list, it wasn’t top priority and the material phenomena in his life took on a less refined and a more coarse appearance.
Boruch Hashem, the visit from his Rebbe was all he needed to revert to his first and original charitable and refined self. Indeed, as the Hayom Yom says, this is an obligation for each individual. It is doable to constantly work on oneself to be sure to view גשמיות with a higher and more g-dly purpose. Hashem will then bestow infinite abundance upon all Yidden who practice this for He will be sure that as much as He gives, we will not abuse it and become coarse, rather we will always view it with G-dly intention to elevate the money through kindness, generosity and warmth according to each person’s ability.