Kenneth Cohen

Avoid Material Obsessions

There is a Pasuk that the Vilna Gaon explained homiletically. It concerns the prohibition against eating blood. The Torah says, “One shall not eat the ‘Nefesh,’ soul, with meat.”

The simple explanation is that blood is the life force of all living things. We, therefore, must not consume this life force.

The version of the Vilna Gaon is that “Nefesh” can be referring to one’s own soul. The interpretation would then mean that one should not consume his own soul by his obsession with eating meat.

We are permitted to enjoy and partake of the pleasures of the world. However, we are meant to elevate the material into the spiritual by way of making a blessing and showing gratitude for Hashem’s abundance. Traditionally, the most saintly Jews, were the ones who lived simply, and had very little interest in physical pleasures. Their nourishment was almost completely spiritual.

We are not expected to be on that level and there might even be a need to occasionally indulge ourselves with a nice vacation, or a good meal.

The warning of the Vilna Gaon is that we should not allow ourselves to become obsessed with these physical gratifications to the point where we sacrifice our Nefesh, or spirituality, because of it.

We must realize that the real gratification comes from the spiritual realm, and not the physical.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at