Archive for June, 2017

After explaining that the ultimate intent of tefillah (prayer) is to cause the Almighty’s divine light to shine upon the earth and thereby repair it in through the establishment of His Kingship (see this post), Nefesh haChayim (Gate II, Ch. 11) goes on to explain what prayer ought not to be:

Though the Talmud (Sandhedrin 8A) teaches that an individual may insert their own words into their prayer concerning their personal needs and troubles, within the blessing related to that particular matter, even in doing so, one’s ultimate intent should not be to address one’s own trouble [rather to increase the glory of the Almighty by removing this evil], and this is not the proper path for those who are upright in their hearts.

In Yesterday’s post I shared from Nefesh haChayim the reason our bodies produce physical waste, that is, that most foods have a component that nourishes the spirit, and elements that do not. The body absorbs that which nourishes and excretes the rest. As a result, the generation that ate manna in the desert did not “go to the bathroom” since the manna from heaven was all nourishing.

Nefesh haChayim goes on to explain the connection between this concept and the worship of the idol known as Baal Peor. According to our traditional sources, Baal Peor was worship by performing one’s bathroom functions onto the idol. What is the reason for this bizarre (and disgusting) practice? How could this be a form of worship?

According to the above, however, the answer is understandable. The physical waste of the body represents everything that is completely of this physical world with no spiritual connection, no connection to the soul. Those who worshipped Baal Peor engaged in the most extreme form of hedonism, indulging the body only, with no limitations of the soul, no connection to God, no obeisance to a Higher Power. That is why those who worshipped Baal Peor (the daughters of Midyan) engaged in immoral sexuality and seduced the Israelites to do the same. They worshipped only the physical, with no spiritual component. So their form of worship involved the act revolving around that substance that has no spiritual component — excrement.

Nefesh haChayim, by Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin זצ”ל, the principle disciple of the Vilna Gaon זצ”ל, states as follows:

Food for the body, if it is not good, and not acceptable to the body, does not sustain the body, but rather becomes waste and filth and excrement inside the body, and also weakens and tires the entire body, for because of this bad food, the energy of the spirit does not spread through the body properly, and sometimes the body becomes ill as a result. So too the actions that are not good or desirable, God forbid, become like the waste and filth of the spiritual worlds, strengthening the impure forces and kelipoth (‘coverings,’ like darkness shrouding spiritual light and goodness) — may the Merciful One save us from this.

Footnote 27 of the edition published by Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rubin ז”ל (the footnotes were written by him) adds:

Everything a man eats contains sustenance from above… Once the body is sustained by the life-giving elements of the food, the remainder which contains no sustenance at all is purged from the body. Therefore, the Generation of the Desert, who ate the manna, did not excrete any waste, for the manna could be completely metabolized with no leftover waste. But other foods, after the life-giving part is separated out to sustain the man, the waste is excreted devoid of any sustenance.

Midrash Eleh Ezkerah is a dramatized narrative describing (with poetic license) the tragic executions of ten of Israel’s greatest sages at the hands of the Romans. The story depicts these ten as having lived contemporaneously and having been executed more or less in the same time and place, though this was not actually the case.

Nevertheless, in this work, the body of the sage Rabbi Akiva is carried by Elijah the Prophet. Elijah meets Rabbi Yehoshua haGarsi, who asks Elijah how he could carry Akiva’s dead body when Elijah is a Kohen, and a Kohen is forbidden to come into contact with a dead body, lest he become tamei — spiritually contaminated. Elijah replies, “The bodies of the righteous do not render spiritual contamination.”

It appears that the author of this narrative was of the opinion that Elijah was a Kohen, and therefore would line up with the opinion that Elijah was in fact Pinchas.