I have added much more Torah study in my life in recent years. However, sometimes my mind gets tired and I need a break. What should be the role of hobbies in our lives? I’m thinking about activities such as yard work, being out in nature, playing music, and woodworking. Some activities require focus, and on the surface, it may be hard to see them as spiritual pursuits, but they can certainly be refreshing. Can we elevate hobbies so they are holy activities?
It's great that you have strengthened your Torah study! You correctly mentioned that hobbies are often a necessary "refreshing break". The Chovot HaLevavot (Avodat Elokim, 4) simplifies the issue, saying that all actions are either obligatory or prohibited, e.g. when a person needs a break from his learning or work, that hobby is actually considered necessary and obligatory. Clearly, he considers hobbies as a necessary "means" (like breathing), and how much more so exercise, yet not an "end" unto themselves. On the other hand, Rav Kook writes that the framework the Torah addresses clearly has the Jewish People living in the Land of Israel, where there's an ideal even in hiking (mitzvah to walk in Israel), yard work, woodwork and really anything constructive (settling the Land, Bamidbar 33, 53, see Chatam Sofer, Suka, 35) etc. Accordingly, in Israel, often hobbies are elevated to be spiritual ideals and holy "ends unto themselves". Obviously there will always be different and higher levels of kedusha, but part of the beauty of the Holy Land is that there is Godliness even in the fruit, rocks, "mundane" work, hobbies, or even speech, for in Hebrew, the Holy Language, even telling jokes is holy (for hundresds of sources on the topic, see my book, "Leharim et HaDegel"!