Body and Soul

Just Another Piece of Meat?

Bull 30.8
This week's Torah portion, Re'eh, teaches us which animals are befitting to eat and which are not. Wouldn't you be insulted of someone compared you to a piece of meat? On the surface, it seems that King Solomon is doing just that. Could that be?

King Solomon, the wisest of all men, tells us that man is no better than any other animal (see Ecclesiastes 3:19). Rashi explains that both end up dying and both have bodies which will eventually decompose in the soul.

Is that all we are, disposable recycled sacks of fertilizer? It sounds like pretty stiff language that King Solomon and Rashi are using.

Before we get upset, let's take a closer look. King Solomon and Rashi are referring to a flesh-and-blood body; in that respect, we are truly just another mammal. But the Midrash tells us that the mammal is only half of us - the material half. We have another side that's known as the neshama - the soul - our spiritual half.

The more are lives focus on the material, the more we resemble an animal. The more are lives focus on the spiritual, the more we resemble an archangel.

Let's not give animals a bad rap: they eat, drink, and procreate. They also live positive, productive lives, providing society with meat, milk, wool, leather, and fur. Many types of animals serve as means of labor, transportation, and recreation. Dogs fulfill important functions, such as aiding blind people, serving in police and army units, and participating in rescue missions.

A human who simply eats, drinks, and procreates, despite the fact that he or she has a productive job and utilizes leisure time for sports or other positive recreational activities, is still no better than a horse. Horses eat, drink, and procreate, do productive tasks on farms and cattle ranches, and serve as a source of recreational enjoyment to their owners. So, is a person superior to a horse?

A person void of spiritual ambition – a thirst for truth and a yearning for self-realization – is no better than a horse. A horse, like a human, has a basic animal soul. The Divine spirit and soul, which the Creator instills in a human, is the sole point of human superiority over the animal.

When humans utilize their divine spirit and soul to rise above base inclinations, to seek The Almighty, and to behave in a godly fashion, they begin to fulfill their real purpose in life. But, when people misuse or neglect their divine spirit and soul, they are inferior to an animal.

An unblemished soul – one who refrains from transgressing and does The Creator's will on a daily basis – possesses a Divine aura which is reflected by the eyes and the forehead, and casts fear on all of creation, even on man-eating animals.

God blessed Noah after the flood and said (Genesis 9:2), "I have instilled the fear of you in the animals on land, in the birds in the sky, in the creatures on earth, and in the fish in the sea." When people sin, or when they do nothing to develop their spiritual self, their divine soul tarnishes. A tarnished soul lacks the power to generate the holy aura of divine light. Animals and other creatures have no fear of a human devoid of the Divine aura.

The Divine soul is a part of God within us, the spiritual platform that elevates a human above the level of an animal. If the soul is misused or uncultivated, then the human loses his spiritual advantage over the animal.

Imagine that a custodian of a hospital enters the operating room, and takes one of the brain surgeon's fine sterile scalpels for peeling an apple. If caught in the act, such a custodian would surely lose his job. Using an expensive precision instrument for such a mundane task is not only a terrible waste – it's a severe degradation.

By the same token, reducing the soul from its lofty spiritual level to the grade of a mere battery cell that triggers basic emotions and bodily functions is a bitter insult. The degraded soul cries out bitterly before God, "I can't live within a human animal." In turn, the person with the abused soul soon experiences some form of abuse – derision, insult, or embarrassment.

It's time we took stock in ourselves and begin pursuing our true destiny. Anyone with a human soul seeking to get close to G-d is not just another piece of meat.


The Lesson of a Rubber Ball

Rubber Ball 1.7
When we were little kids, a rubber ball was something that was passed down from an older sibling. It lasted forever. Rubber balls were lost, but they were never destroyed, unless they were run over with a Mack truck...

The other day, I went out for a power-walk carrying a brand new rubber "guaranteed grip developing" ball, made in China. One of my neighbors, a religious Karate teacher, gave it to me. He carries these things around all the time, and goes through them like a person eating popcorn. Subconsciously, I expected the little ball to last for a long time. But, by the time my walk was barely halfway through, the ball disintegrated. Luckily, Ashdod is well equipped with adequate trash bins in our many parks and walkways, for that's exactly where the little disposable ball found its fate.

Car enthusiasts, do you remember the old '56 Ford with the classic straight V-6 engine that was so simple to maintain? There were plenty of them on the road in the early 1980's, for any normal driver could get 25 years out of that car. Today's cars, with all their sophistication, look like absolute jalopies after seven or eight years, if they last that long.

Any honest computer dealer will tell you to praise Hashem if you're able to squeeze four years of use out of your new computer; they're not built to last any longer.

Remember the old battle-ax mechanical washing machines? Only Sherman tanks were built stronger. People used to buy a new washing machine once in a lifetime. Nowadays, with the electronic cycles and easy-erodible bodies, don't expect the washing machine to last any longer than five or six years at best.

Yes, that little rubber ball disintegrating in my hand during my walk triggered some probing thought; for sure, the Almighty was teaching me something about body and soul...

The cheapo rubber ball showed me that the more society modernizes and becomes sophisticated, the more it renders things cheap and disposable, for limited use only, then to be discarded.

Look at marriage today. Many people change their partners like they change their socks. The more that the family unit and the sanctity of the marital unit break down, the more marriage becomes a disposable commodity. People treat each other like throw-away utensils - used once, then discarded. Hollywood and the media glorify cheapness; no wonder people treat each other cheaply.

Notice that the more something is spiritual, the longer it lasts and the greater its value. Why? The spiritual world closely resembles The Creator; like Him, it is eternal. The wisdom of Torah, unlike hi-tech, doesn't become outdated after a few short years. 

Let's take a necessary deeper look at ourselves. Each of us has two sides; a disposable side (the body), and an indestructible everlasting side (the soul). The body is here today and gone tomorrow, destined to decompose in the earth (and that's as gentle as one can describe...). Yet the soul, a priceless tiny part of G-dliness, lasts for posterity.

Isn't it ridiculous to invest so much in something that's finite and disposable while neglecting something that lasts forever? Why do we so carefully select our clothes yet exercise so little discretion about what affects our souls? Why do we choose a hairdresser or investment broker with far more care than we'd choose a spiritual guide? Why do we happily sit for two hours watching an inconsequential Major-league baseball game on TV yet begrudge our souls 30 measly minutes of being alone and conversing with G-d every day?

Since we lack spiritual priorities, we make our bodies even more disposable than they already are.

If a person regards his or her body as the housing of the soul, then according to our sages, the body earns a measure of immortality; the more a body becomes subservient to the soul, the less it is subject to the process of decomposing. In this generation, bodies of truly righteous men whose graves were moved, were found completely intact - literally fresh - after years of burial. One such example is the body of the holy Karliner Rebbe, Rebbe Yochanan Perlov of saintly and blessed memory, whose grave was moved from Brooklyn to Tiberias in the 1950's.

People who don't treat their bodies as housings of the soul do terrible things to their bodies, such as filling them with junk food, alcohol, and tobacco. Here's a rule of thumb: any type of indulgence or substance that is detrimental to the body is also detrimental to the soul. How? The Creator created the body to serve the soul. No wonder that such despicable diseases such as AIDS come from bodily indulgence that is devastating to the soul. 

Before we do anything in life, we should ask ourselves what we're doing and why we're doing it. Part of our daily self-assessment should be evaluating whether we're investing in the disposable or the eternal side of ourselves. Those who do such daily self-assessment saves themselves limitless anguish - both physical and spiritual - both in this world and in the next.

Nurturing a personal connection with G-d is an investment for posterity. Let's increase its percentage in our life's portfolio. Why make the world - and our own limited go-around on this earth - more disposable than they already are? Have a happy and meaningful summer with all the right priorities, amen!


To Do or Not to Do?

So many people are unhappy and frustrated because they do things that they don't want to do and are unhappy about doing them. Rabbi Lazer therefore teaches an amazing very very simple rule: in Hebrew it's called. "Rotzeh u'mesameach" = I want to do it and it makes me happy, the two conditions for doing something, a rule of thumb that has one important exception. Enjoy today's body-soul lesson and have a beautiful Shabbat!

To Do or Not to Do from lazerbrody on Vimeo.