When we think of spirituality, we usually think of things ephemeral and esoteric. The term itself is based on a word, spirit, that is intangible and therefore not subject to the rules that apply to concrete and tangible things. That would lead one to think that there is little-to-no connection between the spirit and the body.
One kabbalistic commentator on the Torah, Meir ben Halifa Bikayam, thought otherwise. He explored a verse from early in our Torah portion, Shemot, that uses puzzling language: “But the Israelites were fertile and prolific; they multiplied and increased greatly, so that the land was filled [with] them” (Exodus 1:7). Notice the word in parentheses; that’s because the Hebrew says Vatimalei ha-artez otam, which means literally that “the land filled them.”
In his commentary on the Torah called Me-orei Or, Bikayam (who lived in Turkey in the 18th century and was likely a disciple of the charlatan messianic leader Shabbetai Tzvi) uses classic kabbalistic motifs to argue that Jewish spirituality requires a healthy physical component. On Shabbat morning, we’ll look at his commentary, which should inspire us to appreciate this week’s Lunch and Learn on a serious public health concern.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise