Down-to-Earth Spirituality

I am perplexed about a certain juxtaposition in the Torah. Parshas Yisro describes the dramatic revelation of God to the Jewish People at Mount Sinai. And then the next parsha, Mishpatim, lists mundane laws regarding personal injury, property damage, returning lost objects, etc.

After the spiritual high of Mount Sinai, why would God "bring us down" (so to speak) with all these minute details of daily life?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Actually, they're two sides of the same coin. The spiritual high of Sinai may be nice, but it doesn't solve one problem of the world in which we live. Spirituality is not achieved solely by meditating on a mountaintop or in an out-of-the-way monastery. Jewish spirituality comes through grappling with the mundane world in a way that uplifts and elevates. That's why yeshivas are always located in the center of town, amidst the bustle of commercial activity. Jews don't retreat from life, we elevate it. On Friday night, we raise the cup of wine and use it -- not to get drunk -- but to make Kiddush and sanctify the Sabbath day. Spirituality, says Judaism, is to be found in the kitchen, the office, and yes, even in the bedroom.

So if that's true, why did we need Mount Sinai in the first place? Because a powerful spiritual experience is what jump-starts our engines. We've all had such a moment of insight -- whether at a Discovery Seminar or standing atop Masada. But that feeling only lasts a short time. So the Torah tells us that when we have a moment of insight, we need to concretize it. The spiritual insight must take root in the reality of our physical world. The lofty level of yesterday is no guarantee we'll retain that level tomorrow. It is only through the laws of daily life that we can hope to transform ourselves and our world.

Maimonides explains this metaphorically as follows: Imagine that you're lost at night, trudging through a terrible rain storm. You are knee-deep in mud. And then suddenly a single flash of lightning appears, illuminating the road ahead. It is the only light you may see for miles. It is that single flash, says Maimonides, that must guide you on through the night. So too, one burst of inspiration may have to last for years.

The Zohar explains that the ideals of Sinai must be internalized and absorbed into our very bones. Whenever we have a moment of insight and clarity, we must translate that energy into a concrete daily activity. The validity of any religious experience is whether the result is a better person. That, the Torah tells us, is how we bring the heights of Sinai... down to earth.

More Questions

Due to limited resources, the Ask the Rabbi service is intended for Jews of little background with nowhere else to turn. People with questions in Jewish law should consult their local rabbi. For genealogy questions try Note also that this is not a homework service!

Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Receive the Daily Features Email

Sign up to our Daily Email Newsletter.

Our privacy policy