"Did you hear?" Shmuel asked, very excited. "Our rov, may
Hashem send him a complete recovery, underwent surgery this
morning without anesthesia."
"How terrible!" Aharon commented. "All because of the
doctors' strike they had to make operations without
anesthesia! That's shocking! How can a person bear such
"Let me tell you what happened," continued Shmuel. "The
surgery was imperative, but due to the rov's advanced age and
the state of his heart, they were unable to administer
anesthesia. The rov listened to the doctors' deliberations
and told them that he was willing to undergo the operation
without any sedation. They should prepare everything and then
let him know. He would make his own preparations which would
only take a moment or so and then give them the green light.
`Don't worry,' he reassured them. `You won't even have to tie
down my hands.' And so it was! The surgery proceeded
successfully and when it was over, they even had to prod the
rov and tell him to relax, that it was all over, so deep was
he in his state of concentration."
"A veritable miracle! A wonder!" cried Aharon. "How is it
possible to cut into human flesh and not feel any pain? It's
"Not quite so," noted Shmuel. "All of a person's senses relay
their messages to the brain. When a person cuts himself, or
is stabbed, the nerve ending at the site of the injury sends
a message to the brain. If the person has a high degree of
self control, he can block that message so that the brain
will not receive it. And subsequently, he will not feel any
pain from the blow. This dissociation of the brain from the
signals sent by the body is within the realm of a person's
"The fact is that the number of people who are able to
control themselves to this degree of dissociation is almost
zero. On the other hand, most people, at some time or other,
do succeed in blocking out pain partially or temporarily. For
example, when you read something interesting, you are able to
tune out messages of physical hunger or simply ignore them. A
shomer Shabbos smoker is able to successfully stifle
his body's craving for nicotine, to which he is addicted, for
a period of twenty-five hours. So you see, it is quite within
the realm of possibility."
"In my class," said Aharon, "I noticed the very opposite
thing. Acute sensitivity to the point of physical pain. When
I informed the class about a vaccine that would be given in
two days' time, I noticed one particular boy turn white. When
the day came, he stood last on line and would have run away
had we not kept an eye on him. He was on the verge of
fainting when his turn finally arrived. Both I and the
principal had to support him on either side.
"I would venture to guess that that boy is very spoiled. His
parents probably protect him from any discomfort in an
exaggerated fashion. In such people, the spirit and the body
are closely welded to one another and they find it difficult
to undergo the physical difficulties of life. If a person of
this type matures and happened to find himself under the
stifling surroundings of a prison, with its smells, crowded
conditions, body heat of the inmates there and their low
character, he would collapse within hours. After spending a
night under such circumstances, he would be prepared to
confess to anything and everything, so long as he could
escape. Some might go as far as to consider suicide."
"Yes," agreed Aharon. "Such cases are familiar. But can you
explain to me what you meant when you said that the spirit
and body are welded together?"
"It is very simple. On the day of his birth and immediately
thereafter for several years, a child feels no separation
between his spirit -- that is, his psyche, ego, feelings and
his composite personality -- and his corporal body. Not only
are they joined together, but they are completely identical.
Both together comprise his ego. Whenever some physical desire
arises, it immediately mobilizes all of his resources -- his
body, mind, thoughts and talents -- in order to satisfy that
drive. When that boy becomes a youth, and later reaches
manhood, there is no natural reason that can cause him to
nullify this tandem condition, this cohesion, or even weaken
it. Nothing can pry the two apart, unless it is a studied,
"I don't understand. What's wrong? Why is a directed effort
needed to separate them?"
"Look here," replied Shmuel. "In an infant, the only physical
desire is food. When he grows, he acquires other cravings,
wishes, fancies and varied needs such as honor, stature,
money and property, power and so on. As a mature person, his
wishes and goals increase and branch out to include the
various positions he occupies: politician, judge, military
commander, organizational or business administrator. At the
same time there are also his needs as the head of a family, a
resident in a building or a city. At this stage, a person
mobilizes his entire range of talents in order to satisfy
what he wants out of life, and this may prove dangerous to
him and society."
"But there are laws and rules which restrain a person from
utilizing the full powers of his ego and his self- interest,"
"That is an insightful observation. Which brings us to the
central point of the matter. Only a truth that is external to
a person can serve him as a safeguard, a limitation to his
egotistic drives. But a man must discover and embrace this
objective truth on his own, adapt it as his guide light, feel
obligated by it. This is not at all simple.
"When we speak about a truth of `What time is it?' or `How
high is the dollar today?' the answer can be found absolutely
on the face of the clock or a glimpse in the newspaper. There
is no arguing with it. But when an ethical truth is involved,
a spiritual guideline that is above man and obligates him to
conduct himself accordingly, only a person's heart can accept
and embrace it as absolutely binding. If his intellect is at
one with his body and with his personal interests, then he
will see his way ahead according to those interests. How can
he see the truth beyond them? It's like wearing smoked
sunglasses where everything is tinged brown. He cannot
possibly see a white wall; everything is shaded tan.
"A person whose intellect and body are fused together, whose
mind and talents and manner of speech are all united to
rationalize his actions and decision in a logical manner,
will ostensibly believe that they are guided by pure,
unadulterated truth. This is because his very outlook, his
glasses, are tinted, and this is what he sees, and what he
"According to that," noted Aharon, "no person is capable of
seeing a bare, objective truth."
"Not quite true. Here we seeing that special expression of
shomrei Torah umitzvos coming into play. From birth
on, they have undergone much practice and training in
restraint of instant gratification of their corporal desires.
A child holds himself back from eating something whose
kashrus is questionable. Even if it is kosher, he must
make sure that his hands are clean; then he must stop to
recite the blessing, or wait until he has davened. He
will not eat at times when he is required to wait: before
kiddush etc. Countless mitzvos are these stop
signs to his immediate gratification, sometimes temporary,
"All these create that necessary block, that partition within
his natural identity of ego in the body-spirit context which
every human being is born with. These exercises equip him
with a clear vision of what is pure, that is not blurred by
seeing through glasses of materialism and self interest.
"One who lacks these exercises is completely subject and
subservient to his stomach, his wills, his drives for
gratification. His entire being is completely mobilized to
"A Torah-true person marches to a different tune, a sublime
one that supersedes him; he is a different person altogether.
His inner makeup is split, his drives are blocked by the
controlling force of his intellect; the spirit rules the
body. This enables him to identify the truth and walk
according to its light."