Skip to main content

Thought for the Day: The Wonder of Creating Spirituality from Physicality

Have you every wondered how soap works?  I mean, you have grease on your hands and the water just beads up.  You add soap and -- presto! -- the grease rinses right off.   (If you never wondered about that, I can only wonder about your sense of wonder.)   Since I began my college career as a chemistry major, I can enlighten you and save you any more needless sleepless nights (worrying over this topic, at least).  The problem is that grease and water don't mix.  The soap is a long-ish and schizophrenic molecule; one end dissolves in grease, the other in water.  So the soap is essentially an annoying shadchan, it gets the water and grease together (two things that do not belong together), and then stays there in the middle keeping them glued together. ("No, really, it's mamash a perfect shidduch min ha'sha'mayim!")

(I left chemistry over soap, actually.  I got my soap answer marked wrong on an exam just because it wasn't possible to actually synthesize the chemical I proposed as the answer.  The professor agreed it would work, just that it couldn't actually be made.  I said, "The question didn't ask for a real chemical, just one that would work."  He said, "I'm leaving it marked as incorrect, Michael.  If you are only interested in how things actually work, you should be in the physics department."  The rest, as they say, is history.)

The Rema in Shulchan Aruch OC 6:1 says that the meaning of "mafli la'asos" at the end of "asher yatzar" is that HaShem ties a spiritual entity to a physical entity.  I always had in mind something like the soap; the spiritual and physical tethered together.  I didn't get why that was so astounding, but there are lots of things I don't get.

Last week was parshas Naso; I am particularly partial to the haftarah of Naso because it was the haftarah I did for my faux-bar mitzvah.  I noticed something new this year... when Manoach and his wife offer a korban to HaShem, the angel creates the fire, ascends heavenward in the flame, and then simply vanishes; and only then to they realize that he was an angel and not a prophet. (Shoftim 13:22)  What struck me in particular that the navi refers to the creation of the fire on the stone alter is  "mafli la'asos"; just as in the bracha.  The M'tzudas Dovid explains that the wondrous act was to bring fire out of stone.

The ancients described the world as being formed from four elements: earth, air, fire, and water.  In fact, though, it's really three and one; fire, air, and water all move, whereas earth is completely inert.  Anything physical entity that moves has some combination of fire, air, and/or water that is moving earth.  Earth itself, however, is nothing on its own except a vehicle for the other elements to accomplish their function.  For the angel to bring the most ethereal of the elements from the completely inert stone was truly and act of wonder.

Perhaps that is what the Rema means.  The mafli la'asos of being human is to be able to produce spirituality from completely physical actions.  It is particularly wondrous when one contemplates that fact after having just done the most animalistic of our daily activities.

Maybe I should read the haftara more often... Now that would be my own mafli la'asos!


Popular posts from this blog

Thought for the Day: Sometimes a Food Loses Its Identity When It Loses Its Bracha; Sometimes It Doesn't

Let's start with a question: Why are We Allowed to Drink Coffee and Whiskey Made by Non-Jews?  Before you ask,"Why would I think that I shouldn't be able to drink whiskey and coffee made by non-Jews?", I'll tell you. Simple, we all know that Chazal made a decree -- known as בישול עכו''ם/bishul akim -- that particular foods cooked by non-Jews are forbidden.  There are basically two criteria that determines if a dish falls into this category:
Is not consumed raw.Fit for a royal banquet. Cooked carrots, therefore, are not a problem since they can be eaten raw (I actually prefer them that way).  Baked beans are find because the are not prestigious enough.  (For great synopsis of the laws, see the article on the Star-K site, FOOD FIT FOR A KING, by Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, shlita.)  There are lots of cool questions and details (baked potatoes are prestigious, does that make even potato chips and issue?) which are for another time.  Clearly, though, both coffee an…

Thought for the Day: Prayer II -- How?

Now that we know that the obligation to pray is nothing more (nor less!) than a divine decree, we are going to also need instructions from heaven on how to implement that decree.  I cannot stress enough how important it is to have instruction from heaven how to implement heavenly decrees.  One only needs to look at the shambles that one modern ism has made of the very important Torah principle of תיקון עולם/improving and fixing the world.  They have taken words out of context and used them to support their own nefarious schemes.  (To the point that Google Translate actually translates -- not transliterates -- תיקון עולם as Tikkun Olam.  Amelia Bedelia would be proud; we are not amused.

The Torah teaches us how to pray in two complementary fashions.  One is the way in which the concept is presented as an obligation, the other is by giving us examples of how to practically implement those instructions.

The obligation is introduced in the second paragraph of "sh'ma" -- וּלְ…

Thought for the Day: Our Job Is השתדלות/Endeavor with All One’s Resources, Not Results

Forrest Gump is a sweet movie from the last century about a relatively clueless -- though quite loveable -- fellow who triggers several history changing/making events of the 20th century.  He also amasses a considerable fortune due to fortuitous stock purchases and business investments.  A model for success, no?

No.  In every event, every stock transaction, and every business investment... our relatively clueless -- though quite loveable -- protagonist is completely passive and simply the beneficiary of good/dumb luck/karma/being at the right place at the right time.  It is not that he is a bad role model, nor a role model for something bad.  He is just not a role model.  Like an ice cube in a glass.  When the glass is empty, the cube rests on the bottom.  When the glass is filled with water, the ice cube bobs to the top. The ice cube is neither good nor bad; it just is.

I recently saw an incredible back story about events leading up to the (long overdue and very much appreciated) rel…