As with most of the book of Deuteronomy, we are reading things the Torah has already told us but we are seeing it through Moses’ eyes. In this week’s, parashah Re’eh, we again hear about not eating the blood of an animal, and not worshipping the idols of the nations. We’ve heard this before, in fact, there is often a connection made in Torah between what we eat and our spirituality. It is not because of something wrong with certain animals, or unclean about blood, it is because both our bodies and our souls are holy.
The Sages taught that our body and soul bond together, each bringing a different universe of awareness to the other. The body experiences the unending physical world of growth it knows, and the soul experiences the infinite spiritual world it knows. Neither can understand the other’s world and so they bond together to elevate the view of the other. The soul must trust the body’s authority in physical matters, and the body must trust the soul’s authority in spiritual matters. When they are at odds with each other, we experience anxiety, stress, and an inability to resolve an issue. Judaism teaches us to learn a vocabulary that the body and soul can use to communicate and stay balanced. It begins with trust.
Part of limiting what we can eat is the Torah telling us to trust that the soul may respond to certain foods in ways the body might not. Blood is repeatedly called ‘the soul’, the nefesh, in other words our bodies would digest blood easily but our souls would react to ingesting what it perceives as the nefesh of another creature.
Then the parashah warns us again not to worship foreign idols. Jewish worship is something we do with our bodies – we move our lips when we pray, we quietly murmur the words, we bow, we sway. If prayer is silent and motionless, we do not consider it prayer, we consider it mediation, it happened entirely within us and formed no expression. The warning not to worship foreign idols seems to be only a spiritual warning, but is actually a warning against the physical worship. We are also forbidden to worship God with the physical expression of idolatry, we are never allowed to cut ourselves to show devotion to God.
Moses is cautioning us not to think in binary terms of body and soul, one being entirely physical and the other being entirely spiritual. They are both equally holy, they have bonded together and cannot find expressions that do not speak of that unity. The laws of Kashrut, and the laws of prayer should always be understood by us as the bridges between our bodies and our souls.
I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat —our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.