Body and Soul

The Shulchan Arukh opens with a discussion of the proper attitude upon awakening and some of the fundamentals of Judaism.

And so, the Arukh haShulchan does as well. In Orach Chaim 1:4, R Yechiel Michl Epstein writes something about how we are to view ourselves. That it should be evident to anyone of some intellect that a person is both body and soul. While the idea may sound self-evident, it’s not the only way to define the self, as we will see later.

First, though, the Arukh haShulchan (translation adapted from WikiSource):

וכל בר דעת יש לו להבין: כמו שאם נראה מלך בשר ודם בונה בנין יקר המורכב משני הפכים, שבנה בתוכו אבנים יקרות שוהם וישפה וכל אבן יקרה, וגם מטיט ועפר, היעלה על הדעת שתכלית כוונת המלך הוא לשם הטיט והעפר? ובודאי התכלית של הבנין הם האבנים היקרות, והטיט והעפר אינם אלא לחיזוק הבנין. כמו כן מלך מלכי המלכים הקדוש ברוך הוא, שברא את האדם מורכב מנשמה טהורה שהיא חלק אלוה ממעל, והיא תשוב אל האלהים אחרי מותו, וגם מגוף עב שהוא טיט ועפר, היעלה על הדעת שהתכלית הוא הטיט והעפר? וכל הסובר כן אינו אלא כסיל ומשוגע. וזהו שאמר עקביא בן מהללאל: הסתכל בשלושה דברים ואין אתה בא לידי עבירה: דע מאין באת, ולאן אתה הולך… כלומר: הנשמה היא חלק אלוה ממעל ותשוב למקורה. ולהיפך הגוף: מאין באת? מטיפה סרוחה. ולאן אתה הולך? למקום עפר רמה ותולעה. ובזה הבירור שהתכלית הוא הנפש האלהית. ולכן קודם כל צריך האדם לדעת יסודי תורתינו הקדושה והטהורה.

Anyone possessing intelligence should understand:

Just like if you see a human king building a grand palace, you will notice opposites among the construction materials. There will be precious stones, such as jasper and onyx, as well as other fine materials. There will also be cement, clay, and earth. Does one think that the intent of the king is for the clay and earth? Of course not! Certainly the purpose of the building is to showcase the fine materials and precious stones, while the cement, clay, and earth only serve to strengthen the structure.

Similarly, the King of Kings the Holy One blessed be He created man from a pure spiritual soul which is a part of the divine, and she returns to G-d after death. And as for the biological material that the body is made of, which in reality is no different than clay and earth, can anyone think that the purpose of man is for that material? Anyone who thinks so can only be a fool, and not in his right mind.

This, then, is what Akavia ben Mahalalel meant when he said (Pirkei Avos 3:1) “Look to three things and you will not come to sin. Know where you came from, where you are going…” – this means the soul, which is a part of the divine and will return to its source, and it’s opposite, the body: “where you came from…” – from a fetid drop (of seminal fluid). “…and to where are you going…” – To a place of earth and the worm. Here too, the explanation is that the purpose of man is his G-dly soul. Therefore, since one’s purpose is G-dliness and matters of the soul, before all else a person needs to know the foundation concepts of our holy and pure Torah.

Rav Yechiel Michl defines as person as a single being made of “fine materials and precious stones” alongside “cement, clay, and earth”. The palace that is a human being is both soul AND body.

But as I said, our mesorah also utilizes a different model. Here’s the most relevant parts of what I wrote on the section in sec. 5.2 of Widen Your Tent “גוף ונפש  — Body and Soul”:

There is a machlokes, a dispute among the Sages, as to how to view man. One side, found often among works of mussar, views a person as a soul who inhabits a body, or perhaps controls it as a rider upon a donkey. As Elifaz describes humanity in the Book of Iyov, “shochnei batei chomer —dwellers in homes of matter.” (Iyov 4:19) When Rav Yitzchak Isaac Sher (in the introduction to Cheshbon haNefesh) speaks of man’s physical side being an animal, he means that description to be quite literal, not merely like an animal. Since much of our yetzer hara comes from our living in a mammalian body, Rav Sher recommends that the very same strategies one uses for taming and being able to use the eyesight of a bird, the strength of an ox, the load-bearing abilities of a donkey, or the speed of a horse, are applicable to gaining mastery over our bodies. Like any other animal,
a person’s animal soul has no ability to plan toward a goal, it simply responds to whatever urge is most triggered in the moment. The animal soul must be saddled by the G-dly soul and guided. And Rabbi Sher points out with the example of a trained elephant, “next to whom a person like his trainer seems little more than an ant,” to maximize its utility it must neither be overburdened or neglected, nor underused and allowed to remain wild—and this is how we are to treat our body and our animal souls. Last and most importantly, either an animal nor the animal within can be educated, but trained through habit and acclimation.

This idea is a key symbol in the Gra’s interpretation system—whenever Chazal include a chamor — donkey in a narrative, it is generally a symbol for the person’s chomer — physicality…

In this viewpoint, a person is a rider of an animal, or to use a metaphor that may resonate better with our more modern lifestyles—the soul who is wearing a body. Another perspective of the neshamah-body relationship includes the body in the definition of person. Rather than a person’s more human side that rides his body as a master over an animal, in this model man is seen as a fusion of body and soul. For example, the Gemara explains one purpose of the eventual resurrection of the dead by comparing a sinner to a blind man and a lame man who conspire to steal fruit from an orchard. (Sanhedrin 91b) They are caught and brought to court, but each of the accused claims innocence. The blind man says he must be innocent, for he was incapable of even finding the fruit, never mind stealing them. The lame man also claims innocence; after all, he had no way to reach it. Neither alone could commit the theft, so each of the accused points to the other as the critical element for the sin, the guilty party. The judge responds by putting one atop the other, recreating the unit that was capable of sin, and judges the pair. So too, the Gemara explains, the soul could claim it couldn’t have sinned without the body giving it the opportunity for action, and the body could claim that the planning and execution of the sin are the fault of the soul. In order to judge us for our sins, Hashem will bodily resurrect the sinner to reconstruct the person as they were then.

As the Ramchal writes, “Man is different from any other creature. He is a combination of two completely diverse and dissimilar elements, namely, the body and soul.” (Derech Hashem 3:1:1)

The dispute is not necessarily about which is true; it could well be that both definitions of “person” are equally valid. The dispute is more a prescriptive one: When is it more productive to think of my physical aspect as an outsider, seeing the conflict as “I want to do this, but my body is dragging me in that direction”? Framing the pull to something less idealistic as something imposed by someone else could weaken the relative weight I would give the call of physical drives. And when am I better off not thinking of myself as purely soul, because then I’m not fully blaming myself for “stealing the fruit”?

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