Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

19 Iyar 5760 - May 24, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
The Spirit of All Flesh

by Yochonon Dovid

"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 pain?"

"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 abnormal!"

"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 natural capacity.

"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, directed act."

"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," argued Aharon.

"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 believes."

"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, sometimes permanent.

"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 satisfying them.

"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."

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