Archive for the ‘Torah’ Category

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.

One of the challenges often posed to the Biblical account of Noah’s Ark is that carnivorous animals could not survive without eating meat, and presumably the other animals on the Ark were off limits least an entire species (or “kind”) of animal get wiped out.

However, there is evidence for some carnivorous animals that we know of today that under certain circumstances, a vegetarian diet will suffice.

An example I just found is the spider, as written in this recent article from a non-Creationist science website, Sparkonit:

“​Spiders occasionally prey on small vertebrates such frogs, lizards, snakes, fish, birds, and bats and sometimes even feed on plants.” 
That is all.

To the tune of “Puff the Magic Dragon,” these new lyrics (by me) capture the Biblical and midrashic stories about the enigmatic giant known as Og.

Og, the mighty giant, tall as he could be,

He held on tight to Noah’s Ark, to survive the mabul sea.

 

In the rain Og traveled, as the Teivah sailed,

It bobbed and rocked and shook and lurched, what a whale of a tale! Oh…

 

Og, the mighty giant, tall as he could be,

He held on tight to Noah’s Ark, to survive the mabul sea.

 

Og, the mighty giant, tall as he could be,

He held on tight to Noah’s Ark, to survive the mabul sea.

 

When Lot was living in Sedom, the Five Kings went to war,

Lot was captured when the five kings lost against the four.

 

Og tried to be clever, came and told Avram,

He hoped Avram would die but Avram fought with dirt and won.

 

Og, the mighty giant, tall as he could be,

He held on tight to Noah’s Ark, to survive the mabul sea.

 

Og, the mighty giant, tall as he could be,

He held on tight to Noah’s Ark, to survive the mabul sea.

 

Mighty King of Bashan, later Og became,

Everyone would tremble at the mention of his name.

 

Old King Og would try to destroy Avraham’s children,

Tried to squash B’ney Yisrael with a big mountain.

 

Humble Moshe jumped and struck Og’s ankle with his staff,

That’s how Og met his mighty end, he had not the last laugh.

 

Og, the Mighty Giant, thought that he was brave,

He didn’t know only Hashem has the power to save. Oh…

 

Og, the mighty giant, tall as he could be,

He held on tight to Noah’s Ark, to survive the mabul sea.

 

Og, the mighty giant, tall as he could be,

He held on tight to Noah’s Ark, to survive the mabul sea.

Many sacred objects in Jewish tradition are described by Scripture or in Oral Tradition as being composed of sapphire stone. Some examples: the Throne of Glory (God’s “throne”), the Two Tablets of the Covenant, Moses’ staff.

For things such as the Throne of Glory, we can be certain the description of sapphire stone is meant figuratively, or merely in a comparative fashion, but as for the other items, whether this is meant literally or figuratively is a question for a separate discussion.

That notwithstanding, what makes the sapphire stone so special that it is the substance of choice for these sacred objects?

I had always surmised it is because of the stone’s color — it is blue, like the sky, which reminds us of the heavens generally, so its color is related to things of holiness.

However, I have discovered a new quality of sapphire which may also relate to its selection as the substance of choice for objects of supernatural origin. Here is an excerpt from Introduction to Geology by Robert Bakewell (p. 35):

Though alumine or pure clay communicates a soft quality to most stones of which it forms a principal constituent part, a very remarkable exception to this is offered in adamantine spar and the sapphire, which nearly equal the diamond in hardness. Klaproth, one of the most laborious and eminent chemists of the present age, has analysed these stones : the former contains 90 parts in the 100 of pure clay ; the latter 95 parts in the same quantity. ‘What a high degree of cohesive power (he observes) must nature command, to be able to transform such a common substance as clay (aluminous earth) into a body so eminently distinguished and ennobled as the sapphire by its hardness, brilliancy, and its resistance to the action of fire, of acids, or the effects of all-destroying time!’

So aside from its “heavenly” color, the sapphire is distinguished in that it is composed 95% of clay, a soft substance, yet despite this, is among the hardest, most durable substances on earth, rivaling the diamond! This while clay usually makes a substance softer! So sapphire, then, is a substance that in a way appears to defy the normal laws of nature. In this way, sapphire is an almost “supernatural” substance. (While I’m sure there is a naturalistic chemical explanation for this phenomenon, I merely mean to remark on the surprising quality of sapphire in this regard, giving the initial impression of an inexplicable, transcendental quality.) It makes sense then, that this substance is an appropriate choice for supernatural objects.

It also carries a profound lesson that even the most mundane and profane substances (clay) can be transformed into something extremely lofty and pristine. It is even more significant that man himself is described in Scripture as having been formed from the clay of the earth, and fashioned into a spiritual being with the introduction of a divine soul. This is very much analogous to the sapphire. I believe we have discovered something very deep and profound here.

May we merit to refine ourselves such that we, like the sapphire, transform our mundane bodies into pristine spiritual vehicles!

The virtue of piety also requires that one should not cause any creature to suffer, even animals, and should show mercy and compassion toward them. Similarly, it says (Proverbs 12:10): ‘The righteous man knows the soul of his beast.’ And there are those who are of the opinion that ‘causing an animal to suffer is a prohibition of the Torah’ (Shabbos 128B). And at the very least it is a Rabbinic enactment.

-Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, The Path of the Just, Ch. 19

“​[There is a] tradition of a deluge among the Araucanian Indians… [There is a] legend also of the ancient Peruvians of an inundation many years before the reign of the Incas, in which only six persons were saved on a float…”

          -Sir Charles Lyell, Principles of Geology