Does the Soul Control the Body, Or the Body the Soul?

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Does the Soul Control the Body

Or the Body the Soul?

With Rabbi Reuven Ben-Avraham.

And thou shalt love thy Elohim with all thy

heart, and with all thy - soul, and with all thy might”

Devarim - Deuteronomy 6:5 (JPS version of the Torah).

In this study we will be looking at the - nephesh - the “soul”. But before I begin, I would like to lay the basis in order that you will have a better idea of where this study is coming from. And I could ask if you believe that you have a soul! Of course you really should believe there is a soul, and I am saying this because I’m a rabbi, and it’s has been my task to convince us Jews around the world that we have souls.

But, let me now shock you a little for the wording is not really quite right, for it is not that “we HAVE it”.

Actually, the opposite is true. Let me be the first rabbi to tell you that you do not HAVE a soul. And guess what, I am not joking, for I am completely serious. The truth is that you do not have a soul, but the fact is that you are a soul, and you have a body. This is not mere semantics. It is this subtle confusion that is at the root of many of so many people’s misunderstandings in life, in relationships, as individuals, and as a society. And when I say confusion, I mean confusion. My asking you if you have a soul is very much like me asking you “Do you have a person”. Well, I can just imagine you thinking, “What is that madman talking about?”

Thus you and I are both ‘a person’ and our essence is a ‘soul’. We are soul before we are born; we are soul after we die. And for the short time we are on this planet, we are soul fused to our bodies. Once we get this distinction clear, all the pieces of Judaism and of our life will rapidly fall into place.

The existence of the - nephesh - soul is one of the fundamental underpinnings of Judaism. The Torah teaches that Elohim, blessed be He, creates each person with a physical body and a Divine soul, and it is the soul that is our essence. Just as we need to attend to our body’s physical needs, we need to nourish the Jewish soul with spiritual fulfillment through Torah study and doing mitzvot.

Every human being is constantly subjected to conflicting impulses. The body tries to pull the person toward physical gratification, while the soul struggles to attain spirituality. The question of how to deal with these impulses and whether to gratify the body’s desires or deny them and to learn how to accommodate the soul’s yearning is also one of the most fundamental issues in understanding the Jewish concepts of spirituality, growing in our faith which will then help us in our personal growth.

The goal of this study is to provide an insight into the existence and nature of the soul and how this reality affects your life.

Our  - nephesh - soul is our embodied presence in this world. In the Shema Yisroel, it makes a powerful statement; since this assertion of love for Elohim comes right after we affirm that “Elohim is Echad”. I believe that the Torah is telling us that in order to connect with Elohim, blessed be He, we must be present, completely with our hearts, our being (embodied soul - nefesh), and our Creator-given abilities. 

We must live our lives on the principle that we have been placed on earth to do the will of Elohim, blessed be His Sanctified Name! This must be our true guide in life. In fact, at no time are we really free of it. Obviously, we are to be engaged in studying His Torah, and the Haftarah’s, doing faith-works, praying, and fasting, functioning as Elohim’s messengers on earth. Of course, we must also realise that even mundane affairs like eating or doing and going to work can count as divine missions, for at all times we must behave in manners as fit and proper Jews, who are able to follow whatever is right in any circumstances!

“And now, Israel, what doth thy Elohim require of thee, but to fear thy Elohim, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve thy Elohim with all thy heart and with all thy soul; to keep for thy good the Commandments of , and His Statutes, which I command thee this day” Davarim – Deuteronomy 10: 12-13 (JPS version of the Torah).

To sustain the soul one must sustain the body first. The Word of Elohim warns us.

“Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently” Davarim - Deuteronomy 4: 9 (JPS version of the Torah).

In this verse the word used for “selves” is “Nefesh,” which actually translates as “soul.” It is quite common for people to corrupt their souls while sustaining their bodies. This verse very clearly shows us that we must be exceedingly careful to guard against this foe it is so easy for us to do the wrong thing.

That same verse continues as follows;

“ … lest thou forget the things which thine eyes saw, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life” Davarim - Deuteronomy 4: 9 (JPS version of the Torah).

Before we engage in certain activities it is wise to say a prayer first to see if it does not oppose the will of Elohim, blessed be He. It is rather sad, but all too often we tend to place less effort in serving our Elohim than some of the smallest of shopkeepers spend time running their business.

Shlomo stated in Mishle Shlomo,

“If thou seek her as silver, and search for her as for hid treasures, then shalt thou understand the fear of and find the knowledge of Elohim” Mashley Shlomo - Proverbs of Solomon 2: 4-5 (JPS version of the Torah).

On close reflection, we must realise sometimes we fail to seek the treasures of - Ha Davar - the Word of Elohim, somehow we tend to forget what we do, and often we place less effort in our walk as faithful Jews, than an owner of a small business does striving to reach his goals. He does his utmost to increase his inventory and make items attractive for sale. Should several days pass without a profit or worse still, should his shop be damaged, he will feel upset and insecure. But as Jews, we always stand before our Creator and there are some who will think nothing of letting several days pass without prayer or saying any berakah’s, even reading and studying the weekly parashat, despite the enormous loss involved. During this interval, we may speak hundreds of words of idle chatter and sometimes even use some forbidden speech. During that time many will remain quite calm just as if they have done nothing wrong.

It is amazing, but it is so fulfilling when I have seen those who have been so far removed for their Jewish life and they have come back. Little by little and it seems that their lives just seem to explode with a whole new enthusiasm and they end up not just enjoying being Jewish, and the ladies, as well as single men living alone, lighting the Sabbath lights and being blessed saying and sharing the Kiddush, etc!

It is so fulfilling to be so meticulous about attending to our daily prayers, laying Tefillin, etc, saying the Berachah before the meal, and the we do the Benching, or say “Birkat Hamazon” - “Grace after Meals”, and spending some time reading the Torah, rather than go about attending to worldly affairs.

The latter affects only the present whilst the former affects our future lives and it always will make us stronger. Likewise, our prayers to Elohim, blessed be He, should be concerned with spiritual matters. But sadly, human’s often tend to spend more time asking for things from Him, rather than giving Him honour and praise. I am sure that you will well know that mankind tends to feel happier over material success, and feel terribly distraught when there has been a failure. By contrast, understanding a verse or a chapter you may have discovered in the Torah which suddenly has come to light and really meant something wonderful to you, or performing a Mitzvah or saying the Berachah before and after meals should cause a great deal of happiness and pleasure, because we are doing His will and upholding His Torah.

“If thou shalt hearken to the voice of thy Elohim, to keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in this book of the Law; if thou turn unto thy Elohim with all thy heart, and with all thy soul” Davarim - Deuteronomy 30: 10 (JPS version of the Tanakh).

However, we must admit that at times sincerity compels that some us may rejoice more over personal pleasure than being involved with getting more involved in our Jewish spiritual life and in any greater involvement in our Synagogue. I sincerely pray that your Spiritual life will become more and more important to you than the far too many enticing earthly ones, you will be surprised how it will reflect on your life and being a good Jew will improve your life so much that you will know that He is with you, and that He loves you, and it will enhance your life greatly!

“… and (have) understanding with their heart, return and be healed” Yeshayahu - Isaiah 6:10 (JPS version of the Tanakh).

In other words, who or what is in control, does your soul control your body or does your body rule your soul?

“… to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful seasons; therefore love ye truth and peace. Thus saith of hosts: It shall yet come to pass, that there shall come peoples, and the inhabitants of many cities; and the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying: Let us go speedily to entreat the favour of , and to seek of hosts” Zecharyah – Zechariah 8: 19-22 (JPS version of the Tanakh).

And thou shalt love thy Elohim with ALL thy HEART, and with ALL THY SOUL, and with ALL THY MIGHT” Davarim - Deuteronomy 6:5 (JPS version of the Tanakh).

We all need to take a little more delight and spend more time in our wonderful Jewish communities, and find the peace that allows us to enjoy our faith and keep up our prayers, uphold the lighting of the Shabbas Candles and enjoy the Kiddush with our Mishpacha (family) present.

It is my prayer that you have gained something from the above and that it has blessed you somehow.

May … “ bless thee, and keep thee;

make His face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee;

lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace”

Be’midbar – Numbers 6: 24-26 (JPS version of the Torah).


Rabbi Reuven Ben Avraham.

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