Mordechai Silverstein

The Mind and Body Delusion

The Torah’s wisdom is born of the interaction between God, the Source of the revelation, and the inspired reading of the children of Israel. As we will see, this process is particularly evident in Hasidic interpretation of the Torah which often veers from the pshat or plain meaning of the text.

The last aliyah of this week’s parashah (Exodus 13) focuses on a number of mitzvot associated in one way or another with remembering the redemption from Egypt. The dedication of the firstborn males of the children of Israel to God is the first of these mitzvot: “And the Lord spoke to Moshe, saying, ‘Consecrate unto Me (God) each firstborn, breach of each womb among the Israelites in man and in beast (b’adam uv’beheimah) – it is Mine,’” (Exodus 13:1-2) Rashi makes clear the intent of this commandment: “I (God) acquired them (the firstborn) when I struck down the firstborn of Egypt”.

Other than the redemption of firstborn males (pidyon haben), this commandment was of limited applicability outside the land of Israel. Among the sages there were those who sought to find “other” sorts of religious inspiration from this verse. The Hasidic tradition, in particular, is renowned for finding religious significance, through allegorical or symbolic readings, of otherwise overlooked details in the Torah texts as a means for inspiring the inner life of the religious individual.

Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner, the Isbitzber Rebbe (Poland 19th century), found just such inspiration in an allegorical reading of the words “in man and in beast (b’adam uv’beheimah)”: “’man’ – refers to the wisdom and the thought that are in the mind, for these are the essence of what it means to be a human being; ‘and in beast’ – refers to the power of the deed, for God, blessed be He, commanded to sanctify and purify both thoughts and deeds, in order to make a person complete according to the will of God, as is indicated in a verse from Psalms (36:7): “man and beast, You deliver, O Lord”.” In other words, human salvation can only be found in those who complete themselves by fostering their human and animal selves.

Leiner offers examples of how God helped “complete” two of the Jewish tradition’s great heroes. Moshe, he asserts, represented the pinnacle of Jewish wisdom. For him, it was necessary for God to provide the Torah in order to teach him how to put his wisdom into action. In contrast, according to Leiner, the wisdom of Shlomo Hamelekh (Solomon) was in his deeds. So, in order to make him whole, God inspired him to compose the book of Mishle (Proverbs). (adapted from Mei Shiloah 1 Parshat Bo)

Notice that Leiner has transformed the story of the Exodus into a lesson in personal redemption. Even Moshe and Shlomo had their own personal “Mitzraim” (Egypt) which they needed to repair. God saved them by helping them to put their minds and bodies in sync so as to better serve Him. This is a lesson all of us can appreciate.

About the Author
Mordechai Silverstein is a teacher of Torah who has lived in Jerusalem for over 30 years. He specializes in helping people build personalized Torah study programs.
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