Why Should I Eat an Apple? — Materialism and Judaism

Question

I’m wondering what Judaism says about materialism? Is it okay to desire worldly possessions or are we supposed to be all “spiritual” and deny or diminish our enjoyment of the material pleasures of the world?

2 weeks

Answers

  1. Have you heard this one? A rabbinical student asked his teacher: “Rabbi, what makes us different? You eat an apple the same way I do.” The Rabbi replied: “You make a blessing in order to eat, but I eat in order to make a blessing!”

    Some religions seek spirituality through withdrawal from the physical world. A monastic life is glorified; celibacy and asceticism are seen as ideals. At the other extreme, many pagan religions view the human as essentially an animal, incapable of elevating itself beyond the struggle for survival, so they encourage a life of hedonism and materialism.

    In contrast to these approaches, Judaism chooses a middle path. The Torah teaches us to elevate the physical world, neither to deny nor to idolize it. Judaism sees the physical world as essentially pure, as something that can be used correctly or misused. The human is an essentially spiritual being, clothed in a physical body.

    In Judaism, the physical is not evil and is not an illusion. It is real, but it is not all of our reality. The body created by God is morally neutral, meant to be used as a vehicle for spiritual and moral accomplishments. Far from ignoring the physical, we are commanded to nourish and care for our physical bodies in every way. Even nonessential needs are to be gratified as long as this is done appropriately. In order to live a healthy life, human beings must experience pleasure in addition to having their basic needs satisfied. Judaism considers it a sin to deny oneself permissible physical pleasures.

    To summarize, our bodies are physical and the world is physical and they were created with great variety and beauty for a very good reason. Interacting with the world according to Judaism’s teachings enables us to accomplish our purpose in the world and “benefit” from our lives in every sense of the word.

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team