Posts Tagged ‘Chaim of Volozhin’

Just as the soul of man remains connected to his body through eating and drinking, without which [the soul] would disengage and depart from the body, so too, God decreed that the connection of His Essence to the universe… in order to establish and uphold it, would depend upon the involvement of the Treasured Nation (Israel) in Torah study, the performance of the commandments, and their service in prayer. Without this, God would disengage His essence from the universe, and at once it would revert completely to absolute nothingness…

-Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin, Nefesh haChayim, Gate II, Ch. 6

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.

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“Support me with ashishoth, for I am love-sick.” (Song of Songs)

“In the Midrash, [ashishoth] is explained to mean two fires (eshoth). The meaning is as follows: Love is compared to fire, as in the statement, ‘Abundant waters cannot extinguish the love,’ and it is known to all that the closeness of the lover to the loved one is as the closeness of the loved one to him. So too, as is the awakening from below, so is the awakening from above, and if the fire of love would burn within us as a constant fire that would not be extinguished, resultantly, G-d’s love would be revealed to us. However, ‘this is not with me, for I am love-sick (i.e. deficient of love), therefore I have asked that You support me with two fires — my fire, and Your fire.'” (Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin)