Torah Fax 

Friday, August 15, 2008 - 14 Menachem Av, 5768


Torah Reading: VaEtchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23 - 7:11)
Candle Lighting: 7:35 PM
Shabbat ends: 8:36 PM
Pirkei Avot Chapter 3


Shabbat Nachamu - Tu B'Av


Student Teacher

In this week's parsha, VaEtchanan, in the midst of Moses relating some of Judaism's most fundamental doctrines and practices, he states the following:
"And you shall guard your souls for you did not see any image on the day G‑d spoke to you… Lest you do not become corrupted and make an idol for yourselves…”
The simple meaning of the text is that we should guard our soul, our spiritual life and not be led astray by idolatry.
The Talmud, however, cites an interpretation of this verse that understands it as an admonishment to guard our health. In other words, the way to guard our souls is to guard our lives and watch our health. 
Accordingly, the question must be asked: What does the end of the verse that speaks of idolatry have to do with guarding one's physical health?
One commentator (Moznei Tzedek) explains that with the admonition against idolatry the Torah wishes to teach us that despite the need to guard our health one may not use idolatrous remedies to cure any of our illnesses. Indeed, the Talmud writes that even if one's life is danger one may not use idolatrous remedies. This is not only true because these remedies are usually useless and perhaps even harmful, but, moreover, even if, hypothetically, there was a situation where these idolatrous remedies worked, the prohibition against idolatry is so serious that a Jew is expected to die, G‑d forbid, rather than to benefit in any way from it.
Another way of explaining the juxtaposition of guarding one's health and the warning against idolatry is because when a religion advocates a lifestyle that accentuates the importance of the body there is also the danger that it can lead to glorifying the body and even worshipping it. Indeed, the ancient Greeks glorified their bodies and were therefore opposed to, and eventually banned, circumcision because it mutilated the body. (This is one of many corrupt ideas in the Greek culture which were antithetical to Judaism and spurned the Hasmonean revolt and the eventual Chanukah miracle.) Even today we find echoes of this ancient body worship cult in many segments of society, in various subtle and not so subtle forms.
To disabuse us from this notion that Judaism worships the body, the Torah tells us that notwithstanding the need to guard the body's health it should not be misconstrued as a license to be obsessed with the body and its needs.
In short, Judaism maintains a healthy balance between the absolute repudiation of any form of idolatry while firmly advocating an attitude of respect for the body.
A question arises. If the rejection of idolatry is so strong, why does Judaism place such an emphasis on the body? Why is Judaism, which is the most strident in its repudiation of idol worship of any kind, so deferential to the body?
On a most basic level the body is seen as the "Temple of the soul." As such, we must not abuse it because by doing that we deny the soul a proper and dignified place in which to reside.
Moreover, without our health, it makes it hard to concentrate on our Torah study and difficult to perform all of the Mitzvot. Not only is the body the location where the soul resides, it is the soul's very instrument to fulfill its mission to study Torah and fulfill the Mitzvot.
Jewish mystical thought adds another dimension to our understanding of the role of and our attitude toward the body. What is lower, Kabbalah teaches us, comes from a higher source. Or to put it slightly differently, the higher something is the lower it falls.
In simple language this means that the body, because it is physical and lower than spirituality, actually belies its higher G‑dly source. The body contains hidden Divine energy that can only be accessed when the body and soul enjoy a harmonious relationship; so that the soul and body work in tandem and are both going in the same direction.
There is still another way of viewing the relationship of the body to the soul and our attitude towards the body. This approach will also reconcile the paradoxical attitude that seems to be advocated by the Torah when it tells us to take care of our bodies but not to deify them.
The soul can be likened to a teacher and the body to a student. When an educational institution hires a teacher it is for the purpose of educating the student and not to help provide the teacher with employment.
If we were to ask, who is more educated and sophisticated, the teacher or the student - we would certainly expect the answer to be the teacher. However, if we would rephrase the question to read: who is here for whom? Is the teacher here for the student or is the student here for the teacher? The answer to this version of the question is that the teacher (and the schools administration, maintenance crew, kitchen staff etc.) is here for the students.
Similarly, while it is clear that the soul is far more spiritual and sensitive than the body; the souls' existence in this world is not for itself but for the enrichment of the body; so that the body appreciates its role and true spiritual nature.
To accomplish this, the body must also be healthy.
If we were to take the analogy of the teacher and the student a step further it would lead us to the conclusion that ultimately, just as the student can advance beyond the level of the teacher, similarly, Chassidic thought states that, in the Messianic Era, the body will have become so refined and sophisticated that it will achieve even greater prominence than the soul. Another way of putting this is that in the Messianic Age, the body's true
G‑dly source and potential will be revealed so it will be clear that the body is no less a venue and vehicle for G‑d's expression than that of the soul.
One of the ways we prepare for this era is to involve the body in more and more physical Mitzvah acts that cement the relationship between soul (teacher) and body (student). Every time we put on Tefillin, for example, it gets the body ready for its preeminent role in the Messianic Age. Likewise, whenever we work to improve the health of our bodies with the express intention of better serving G‑d, it will prepare us for the day that both the soul and the body will experience total harmony and bliss. 

Moshiach Matters 

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk was so strong in his faith in Moshiach that he literally awaited him every day and night. Every evening, before he went to bed, he set one of his disciples near him. In that way, if the disciple heard the sound of the shofar heralding Moshiach, he could be immediately awakened from sleep. When the pre-marriage contract was written for Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev's niece, he told them to write: "The wedding will take place, G‑d willing, with good mazal, in the holy city of Jerusalem. And if, G‑d forbid, Moshiach has not arrived by then, the wedding will take place in Berditchev."(L'Chaim)

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