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I read a chabad sheet which claims (no source) that the main purpose of our religious service is to sanctify the world and not the soul and that this was the mistake of the spies who thought they could grow better if they stayed in the desert living on miracles instead of going to Israel and working the land in mundane activity. Their mistake was that working the land is bringing Godliness into the world and this takes precedence.

could be this is why Chabad chasidim go out all over the world to "sanctify the world".

what does chazal say on this question? looking for sources from the rishonim and before.

update: I don't know what sources Chabad chasidut is referring to, however, I found a source for the concept of sanctifying the world in the Mesilat Yesharim ch.26 (though his interpretation of this midrash is likely based on the kabala) "In this way was all use they made of the things of this world. Since they were clinging to G-d's holiness, blessed be he, behold, it was an elevation and an enhancement for that thing which merited to be of use to a Tzadik. Our sages already referred to the matter of the "stones at the place" which Yaakov took and put under his head..." (Chulin 91b)

  • R' Uri Sherqi has said on multiple accounts, in the name of Ba`al Hassulam and Harav Quq, that the highest level to attain is לקבל על מנת להשפיע (Ba`al Hassulam) or קדושת הכלל (Harav Quq). Nevertheless, being that not all are capable of attaining this level, one must (at the very least) care for his own personal holiness. – Lee Jun 18 '17 at 10:56
  • Do rishonim even believe in this hassidic idea that human actions sanctify the world (sounds like lurianic holy sparks)? Asking that separately might be valuable, as it presupposes less. – mevaqesh Jun 18 '17 at 15:47
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    Alternatively, you could ask the similar more general question of whether the point is personal improvement, or improving society. – mevaqesh Jun 18 '17 at 15:52
  • Are you asking the distinction that @mevaqesh brought up, or something else? Please edit to clarify. – DonielF Jun 19 '17 at 13:41
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    @ray I don't know if it exists. (It wasn't even described in enough detail to really determine) I wouldn't ask a question based on a presupposition whose veracity I don't know. – mevaqesh Jun 19 '17 at 20:39
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If you want to spend a year on the subject read the 5th Chabad rebbes talk on the subject. sefer hamamarim 5666 http://hebrewbooks.org/31623. In the new printing there are tons of footnotes with sources. Read the first essay. In very short the idea is, the only purpose of any endeavor is for a profit. Now hashem was doing pretty well before he created the world. So why would he do so? In order to have a "separate" being with its own opinions and yet be totally dedicated to hashem. The spirit world is too subservient by nature (or force, it's complicated) so this can't be where the purpose lies. Only the physical world feeling itself to be totally self sufficient (mirroring hashems true self sufficiency) fits hashems criteria. As well The soul before it came into this world as well was totally pure holy... so what gain would the soul have from this world? Moahiach when the true purpose and perfection of the physical world will be revealed. So to just live in an insular world, spend all day learning Torah would be very "holy" it would not accomplish hashems purpose in creating the world.

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    I don't understand this exactly or how it answers the question: is the point self improvement or perfecting the world. || Also, God's purpose in creating the world does not necessarily correspond to Man's purpose... – mevaqesh Sep 27 '17 at 22:21

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