Kenneth Cohen

Less Materialism, More Chessed

The Messilat Yesharim of the Ramchal, makes a strong case about the dangers of materialism. He tries to explain how much we are held back spiritually, when there is too much emphasis on comforts and pampering.

The Ramchal recognized that it cannot be expected of people to completely separate from worldly pleasures. There are times when we need to treat ourselves to an occasional indulgence. A nice vacation or a visit to a restaurant, can certainly be in order. We cannot be expected to completely separate from the physical world.

However, we must realize that much of what we think we need, we really do not. The more we are able to de-emphasize these comforts, the better off we will be. Whether it is food, clothing, shopping, or other physical pleasures, there must be a conscious recognition as to whether or not, such activities are essential or not.

This allows us to make the transition towards what is really important in our lives. The materialism holds us back, and prevents us from reaching our spiritual potential. This recognition helps us realize what is temporary and fleeting, and what is permanent.

The materialism also takes away our ability to reach happiness and contentment. There is a certain frustration when we see that the joy we might feel from a physical act, does not last. We cannot wait for the next indulgence, which also does not last.

Contrast this to acts of Chessed that help the less fortunate. That feeling that we made a difference in someone’s life, lasts for a long time.

Years ago, I helped two five year olds cross the street. I gave each one of them a gift of five shekels. These children were ecstatic. They shouted, “Yay,” and ran to buy themselves a little treat. It still makes me happy thinking about how a little gesture went so far.

The Ramchal wanted us to know that if we make the effort, we can cut down on many material things, as we realize that they are not needed, and are not important. The rewards are immeasurable as we make the transition to the world of spirituality and holiness.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at