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Torah Sparks

VAYISHLAH
December 1, 2001/5762

Prepared by Rabbi David L.Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Genesis 32: 4 - 36:43 (Hertz, p. 122; Etz Hayim, p.198)
Triennial - Year I: Genesis 32:4 - 33:20 (Hertz, p. 122; Etz Hayim, p.198)
Haftarah - Obadiah 1:1-21 (Hertz, p. 137; Etz Hayim, p. 221)

This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary

(32:4-24) Jacob nervously prepares for his meeting with his brother Esau.

(32:25-33) Jacob wrestles with a "man," and receives from him a blessing and a new name, Israel, at the cost of a lame thigh.

(33:1-15) Jacob meets his brother Esau, who receives him warmly. They go their separate ways in peace.

(33:16-20) Esau returns to the land of Edom and Jacob arrives at Shechem.

(34) The rape of Dinah and her brothers' revenge.

(35:1-15) Jacob builds an altar at Bethel, fulfilling his vow from many years before; God renews His promise of the land to him.

(35:16-20) Rachel dies giving birth to Benjamin and is buried on the road to Bethlehem.

(35:21-26) Reuben's sin; a review of the sons of Jacob.

(35:27-29) Isaac dies and is buried in the Cave of Machpelah.

(36:1-43) A genealogy of Esau's descendants.

This Shabbat's Theme: I'm Yours... Body and Soul

Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have struggled with God and with men and have prevailed. (Gen. 32:29)

  1. The children of Israel merited both of these names (Jacob and Israel), as they refer to the body and soul. Every person has to set aright the body, so that the soul will dwell upon it. Then one is called "Israel"... That is what Scripture means by the verse, "Jacob came to Shalem" (lit. "wholeness", Gen. 33:18). This equalizing of the body to soul is called shalom.

    The struggle of body and soul goes on in every one of Israel. The better you deal with the body, the more wholeness you will attain. That is why the Sabbath is also called shalom:; it is the time for righting the body, "a foretaste of the world to come." In the future, bodies will be set right,truly just like souls. We have a taste of this on the Sabbath... (Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter of Ger [The Gerer Rebbe, d. 1905 - One of the last great masters of Polish Hasidism], Sefat Emet)

    A leading scholar in modern Jewish theology, Arthur Green, states in his commentary-book on the Gerer Rebbe's teachings ("The Language of Truth", p.51) that the above text may be understood in two ways. The first is that one's body is capable of reaching the level of the soul which is a "foretaste of the world to come".

    The other reading, he states: "is an older one, yet it may also strike a chord with the biases of today's reader. Jacob worked to perfect himself in body as well as soul. The Midrash says that Jacob's beauty was as great as that of Adam... It may be that the Sfat Emet understands and appreciates something of this latter reading, that became so much a part of the program to create a "new Jew" which Zionists would preach in the next generation".
  2. Hillel the Elder was once leaving his disciples when they said to him, "Where are you going?" He replied, "To execute a pious deed." They said, "And what may that be?" He said to take a bath." They said, "Is that a pious deed? He said, "Yes, for if the man who is appointed to polish and wash the statues of kings, which are set up in theaters and circuses, receives his rations for doing so, and is even raised to honor oftimes, how much more incumbent is it upon me to polish and wash my body which is created in the divine image of God!" (Leviticus Rabbah, Behar, ch. 34,3)
  3. One day Rabbi Huna asked his son Rabbah why he did not go to study with Rabbi Hisda whose teaching lessons were said to be superlative. The son replied, "When I go to him, he speaks mundane matters. He tells me about certain natural functions of the digestive organs, and how one should behave in regard to them." His father replied, "He occupies himself with the human body, God's special creation, and you call that a mundane matter! All the more should you go to him. (Talm. Shabbat 82a)
  4. When man possesses a good sound body that does not overpower him, nor disturb the equilibrium in him, he possesses a divine gift. A good constitution facilitates the rule of the soul over the body. It is possible to conquer a bad constitution by training (Moses Maimonides, Guide to the Perplexed, Part III, Ch. 8)
  5. Respect your own body as the receptacle, messenger and instrument of the spirit. (Samson Raphael Hirsch)
  6. Is not the body the soul's home? Then why should we not take care of the house, that it fall not into ruins? (Philo [Jewish philosopher, (c. 20 B.C.E. - 40 C.E.), Alexandria, Egypt], The Worse Attacks the Better, 10)

"Sparks" for Reflection/Discussion on Theme

Historically speaking, Judaism has not looked too keenly on sports. Yet, there always has been a certain respect for the human body as we see from the quotations above - that we should "set our body aright".

Focusing on what the Gerer Rebbe said, is there something more that we can do for the body beyond exercising, jogging, playing sports? What does he mean by "setting the body aright"? How does the Sabbath help us to do that? Why is it a "taste of the world to come" - where body and soul blend? Maybe it means trying to learn how to relax so completely that our bodily tensions melt away and we are re-energized body and soul.

What are some Eastern religion techniques to accomplish this? Could they ever become incorporated as part of our regular religious practice as Jews?

Postscript

Here is a handy rationale for not bothering to exercise:

"When God finds pleasure in a person's soul, He weakens his body so that the soul may rule over him more easily" (Zohar, 1, 140b).


 
 
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