Why physical mitzvot are all-important

In my previous post (“Parshas Shlach: Wandering in the desert, returning to G-d and leading a Torah observant life”), I discuss the ambitions of the 10 Israelite spies who attempt to dissuade the people from entering the promised land. Their comments on the land’s inhabitants can be found in today’s Torah portion, where they describe the people there as giants, and claim that the Israelites are as weak as grasshoppers in their eyes. For those who haven’t read my insight on Parshas Shlach, I’ll summarise exactly why they spread these rumours.

The spies were on a “lofty spiritual level”. This means that they honoured G-d through Torah study and prayer. However, upon entering the promised land, they knew that they would have to take upon themselves the physical mitzvot, as well. They felt that doing so was degrading, and below them- and so, they claimed that the Israelites were unable to conquer the land.

Many people reading this will be surprised. Surely, if one is on a lofty spiritual level, and dedicate their life to the study of Torah, they would take pleasure in performing physical mitzvot, and certainly would not act like this? Sadly, even today, there are many people who study Torah and yet fail to understand it. They read the words of the Torah, but do not actually live by it. They may indeed believe that physical mitzvot are “below them”, or they may fail to practice kindness or leninency (see my previous post for more on this). It’s a fairly common pitfall, and we need to remember to practice what we read in the Torah.

So what can be learnt from this episode? We need to get out there and start performing mitzvot- right now. Studying, learning, and davening are all very important, but before we can truly reap the benefit of these things, we need to focus on everyday things, such as giving Tzedekah, keeping Kosher, and visiting the sick. In doing so, we will hasten the coming of the Moschiah- may He arrive soon and in our days!

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