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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!


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