Body And Soul


Candlelighting, Readings:
Shabbat candles: 5:26 p.m.
Torah: Ex. 27:20-30:20;
Deuteronomy 25:17-19
Haftarah: I Samuel 15:1-34
Havdalah: 6:26 p.m.

In Tetzaveh we are commanded to make clothing for the High Priest reflecting his “honor and glory” [Exodus 28: 4-43]. According to Rashi, the Eifod wrapped around the High Priest’s lower body, with golden chains attached to straps that went over the shoulders. The Choshein (breastplate) hung from these chains. The Choshein displayed twelve precious stones, each inscribed with the names of one of the Tribes of Israel, and functioning as the Urim Ve’Tumim, a mystical communication system through which the High Priest received messages from God in a manner akin to Morse code when the stones lit up in patterned formation.

The Torah states that, “The Choshein shall not be detached from the Eifod [Exodus 28:28]. The Torah’s insistence upon the permanent connectedness of these garments represents a critical life lesson.

The Eifod resembled an apron, a common piece of clothing worn while a person cooks or cleans. The Choshein evoked the supernatural, a link to God. That these two articles were to remain inseparable embodies the intertwined realms of the physical and the spiritual.

Some say that man is an utterly physical being. Others oppose this view, depicting man as all soul. There is constant conflict between these stances.

The Sages [Sanhedrin 91a] tell a seemingly simple story with a profound message. The Roman leader Antoninus and the great Rabbi Judah were close friends. Antoninus would often challenge his friend, known as “Rebbe,” with questions, such as this: “Can’t the body and soul each free themselves on the Day of Judgment? The body can claim, ‘It was the soul that sinned, not me. How could I have sinned? Look at me in the grave, inanimate as a stone.’ The soul can claim, ‘It was the body that sinned; the proof is in the fact that from the day we separated all I do is fly freely like a bird. I never sin.’”

Rebbe replied with a parable about a man who owned a fig orchard. He had two workers, one lame, one blind. They came up with a plan to steal from the landowner. The blind man carried the lame man on his shoulders, and the lame man directed the blind man where to go. Working in tandem they plucked and ate the stolen fruit.

When their boss accused them of stealing they pleaded their innocence. The lame man said, “How could I have done it? I can’t walk.” The blind man said, “How could I have done it? I can’t see.” The owner told the lame man to go on the blind man’s shoulders, and declared, “This is how you did it!” Similarly, when the body and soul each profess their innocence God will reunite them, demonstrating that as they lived as one, they will be judged as one.

This homiletical piece provides a clear response to the question of whether a human being is a body or a soul. Yes. We are a body and a soul.

Just as those who overplay the physical side of man are gravely mistaken; also in error are those who dismiss the physical element of man. Many people in modern culture over-emphasize the physical, ultimately animalistic, side of man. Perhaps, in part, as a reaction to this, many religious people go too far in de-emphasizing the physical to the point of falsehood. The aforementioned Talmudic tale illustrates more than the fact that when man dies his body and soul are each judged. The story teaches us that as long as we live and breathe on this earth we are both body and soul.

Every morning traditional Jewish prayers begin with Modeh Ani, when we rise up in our beds and thank God. The phrasing of this prayer is revealing: “I am grateful before You, eternal King, for having restored my soul to me.” Clearly, within this prayer’s approach, we are not only a body. It is just as clear that we are not only a soul. If we were just a soul then who is the “I” thanking God for returning the soul to “me?”

As the inseparable holy apron and breastplate remind us, our physical and spiritual sides must remain connected and cared for as one unit. This is how we live and serve, how we make mistakes, and how we persevere until the day when we will be judged and rewarded. As long as our bodies and souls continue to reconnect as one each morning we will continue to grow as the spiritual unit that we are. May we all be so blessed.

Rabbi Neil Fleischmann is a teacher, guidance counselor and director of Torah Guidance in The Frisch School. He is also a writer, comedian, and poet whose writings can be found at