This week was a little crazy. It was colder than Siberia, and a bunch of people floated away on an iceberg on Lake superior. Thank G-d the DFD were able to rescue them. But it got me thinking about why someone would take a risk to go ice fishing on the world's largest lake in the land of 10,000 much smaller ones that are frozen solid?
This week's Torah portion is Mishpatim which means laws, and it discusses monetary disputes and property damage. One of the FAQs about this portion is why coming from the high of the 10 commandments and the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai in last week's parsha would we immediately talk about legal problems? Shouldn't we be discussing deep spiritual stuff like prayer and asceticism?
The answer lies in a unique interpretation of a verse in this portion by the Baal Shem Tov, founder of Chassidism. "If you see your enemy's donkey lying under its burden would you refrain from helping him? You shall surely help along with him."
The Baal Shem Tov teaches that the word for donkey in Hebrew has the same letters as the word for materialism. In other words if one views the body and materialism in ones life as the enemy and tries to become removed from the world through asceticism that is the wrong approach to serve G-d. Instead we should help the body and use it in the service of G-d. In fact Chassidism teaches us that avoidance of materialism is in a way a compromise on our service of G-d, we're essentially giving up on those things and saying we can't elevate them. However by using materialism and physicality for it's true purpose we can see how everything was created to serve our creator.
Just like those angler's who refused to compromise on the best fish haul they could get, we should never give up on uplifting the "mundane" in our lives. Fishing on a frozen solid lake is obvious and so is finding G-d in a synagogue or at a Shabbat dinner. But to make Judaism meaningful, we need to bring that out throughout our day. Everything that we do in our professional, personal, and social lives has a higher purpose. It's our job to take that risk and find it.