The concept of a ‘materialistic spiritualist’ may sound like a quintessential oxymoron, yet that’s precisely what we are on Rosh Hashanah.
Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of the creation of man. On the first day of his life, Adam, the first man, encouraged his fellow creations to acknowledge the reality of a Higher Being: “Come! Let us prostrate ourselves and bow, let us kneel before G-d, our Maker.”1 Each year on Rosh Hashanah, we relive this experience by acknowledging the supremacy of the Divine. We call upon G-d to involve Himself in our existence, enjoining Him to “reign with glory over the world in its entirety.” Simultaneously, since Rosh Hashanah is the day on which G-d assigns us our annual financial allotment, we pray also for our material needs.
These dual realities appear contradictory. In our desire to establish G-d as King over all creation, it is incumbent upon us to follow His will regardless of concern for our personal benefit. This self-negation before a Divine ruler seems to leave little room for individualized pleas for the allocation of our material needs.
Indeed, this awkward juxtaposition calls into question the essential compatibility of our material and spiritual spheres. When striving to carry out the will of his Creator, is man justified in requesting the fulfillment of his personal desires?
Eli the Priest said “No!” In the Haftorah of Rosh Hashanah, a long childless Hannah poured out her impassioned plea to G-d to “give Your maidservant male offspring.”2 Eli the Priest, observing this scene at the Sanctuary in Shiloh, was filled with disapproval, deeming Hannah’s mention of her personal needs while standing before G-d a form of self-intoxication. “How long will you be drunk?” he censured Hannah, “remove your wine from yourself!”3
However, for a Jew, the material is really a means to a spiritual end. Requests for prosperity and plenty are therefore consistent with the goal of establishing G-d’s supremacy throughout creation. By assuming ownership of a physical object and utilizing it in one’s service of G-d, the Jew succeeds in expanding the G-dly domain to include this article as well – his material possession newly spiritualized.
Whereas on a conscious level, man’s pleas for material plenty might appear to be a desire to satisfy his physical self, in reality they are motivated by the workings of his soul. Commenting on the verse, “Hungry as well as thirsty, their soul fainted within them,”4 the Baal Shem Tov explains5 that the physical hunger and thirst of the body is rooted in a spiritual craving of the soul, a desire to release the G-dly sparks trapped within a given dish or drink.
So went the retort of Hannah before Eli the Priest: “I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, and I have poured out my soul before G-d.”6 Hannah argued that her prayers were not rooted in her sense of self, but in her soul; not born of a selfish wish, but of her need to serve G-d selflessly. This truth was evidenced in Hannah’s pledge to dedicate her offspring to the service of G-d. She promised that if G-d fulfilled her request and gave her a son: “then I shall give him to G-d all the days of his life.”7
Registering Hannah’s response, Eli adjusted his tone in support of her prayer: “Go in peace! The G-d of Israel will grant the request you have made of Him.”8 With these words, Eli the Priest forever afforded credibility to the lifestyle of the materialistic spiritualist.
1. Psalms 95:6.
2. 1 Samuel 1:11.
3. Ibid. 1:14.
4. Psalms 107:5.
5. Kesser Shem Tov, Siman 194 (25,3).
6. 1 Samuel 1:15.
7. Ibid. 1:11.
8. Ibid. 1:17.