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The Combining of Opposites

September 12, 2020

You may not remember, but we’ve met before! Our Sages teach that every Jewish נשמה (soul)  was present at the covenant described in Devarim Chapter 29, as Moshe reminded us of our responsibilities towards Hashem. “ולא אתכם לבדכם אנכי כרת את הברית הזאת ואת האלה הזאת כי את אשר ישנו פה עמנו עמד היום לפני ה' אלקינו ואת אשר איננו פה עמנו היום, for it is not with you alone that I establish this covenant and oath, but it is with those of you standing with us this day before Hashem out G-d, as well as those who are not here standing on this day. (Devarim 29:13-14)”

The Chida (R. Yosef Dovid Azulai, 18th century) in his ספר חמת אנך was bothered. In the story of creation, we read that Hashem created man from the dust of the earth. “וייצר ה' אלקים את האדם עפר מן האדמה, and ה' formed man from the dust of the ground, (Bereishit 2:7)” and only afterwards, “ויפח האפיו נשמת חיים ויהי האדם לנפש חיה, and He blew into his nostrils the soul of life, and man became a living being. (ibid.)” Each of us is comprised of two distinct forces: our bodies that comes from the earth, and our souls which are given by Hashem. So even if my soul was present at the covenant with Moshe over 3000 years ago, how can that obligate my body? It’s usually our body that draws and tugs us to temptation or sin, and we certainly didn’t exist in bodily form 3000 years ago! How could a covenant be effective if only a part of us was there?

The Gemara teaches, “שלשה שותפין הן באדם הקב"ה ואביו ואמו, there are three partners in [the creation of] man: Hashem, his father, and his mother. (Kiddushin 30b)” Of course, we all understand that each of these three partners is indispensable to the creation of a new human being. But more specifically, perhaps the Gemara means that a father and mother are responsible for the creation of the child’s גוף, the body, and Hashem then invests that body with a soul. It’s not just a theory or an idea, but a scientific fact that every child contains the biology of his or her father and mother. There is a piece of them in the child.

The Chida explains that in that sense, our bodies were at the covenant too. Sure, our entire body was not there, but there was a small piece. If my ancient ancestor was there, then a part of me was too.

I find this concept fascinating, that we are made from two parts that in so many ways are opposites. Our body comes from the ground, representing physicality and materialism. Our soul comes from Hashem, a piece of something eternal and unfathomable. But also, as the Chida explains, our body comes from something ancient, something that has lived and survived generations and millennia. True, each body and face is unique, but the source and root of each body is still that same clump of earth from 5780 (almost 5781) years ago. On the other hand, our soul is something completely new, never been used before, and untarnished by any past events or experiences. As we say each morning, “אלקי נשמה שנתת בי טהורה היא, My G-d, the soul that You place into me is pure. (Siddur)”

The miracle and magnificence of the human experience is that somehow these two opposites coexist. Each person is nothing less than a supernatural combination of the physical and spiritual, the finite and infinite, the ancient and new. Take a moment to appreciate this miracle, and to recognize the partners in our creation and existence. And in the time that we are fortunate enough to live this incredible miracle, let’s make the most of it.

Good Shabbos!

Rabbi Fox

Fri, September 29 2023 14 Tishrei 5784