Savannah Kollel Insights
Vol. 8 # 40 JL 26-27, '96: Parshas Ye'eschanan
Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein firstname.lastname@example.org
On verse 26, chapter 3, Rebbenu Bechaya
explains from the Kabbalah: "I will return in every generation because of
Notes on Life and Death
In response to the query, "What is
man?" Shaarei Kedusha concludes that man is essentially the soul, not the
body. The body is merely the clothing of the soul. Just as you can remove
your clothes and put on others, so too, the soul can divest itself of its
garments -- the body. The body fits the soul perfectly, just like closely
fitted garments. Appropriate to each limb of the body is a corresponding
"limb of the soul." The limbs of the soul control the limbs of the body.
Shaarei Kedusha presents a proof for
this thesis. If the soul is removed from the body, the body cannot exist
on its own. This shows that the soul truly controls the body.
To the modern mind, this "proof" is
bewildering. Put in context, though, it makes a great deal of sense.
We hear about the concept of "brain
death." This refers only to the demise of the "brain-stem." (This does not
refer to being comatose -- which may only be a state of unconsciousness --
nor to the persistent vegetative state (PVC) in which case the patient is
completely "alive.") It is more accurate to call it "brain-stem death," or
the death of the "whole brain." The brain-stem is the lower part of the brain,
which controls automatic, instinctual reactions. At the demise of the brain-stem,
it is impossible to remain alive without the help of a breathing apparatus.
The body is unable to breath on its own.
Civil law in the U.S. and the medical
establishment recognize "brain-stem death" as actual death. In Jewish Law,
there is considerable discussion and debate as to whether "brain-stem death"
is death or not. The debate concerns one who is forced to "live" by having
oxygen pumped into the system. As long as there is oxygen flowing through
the body, the heart will continue to beat. Many authorities consider that
the breath and heart are the indications of "life." Even though it is kept
up artificially, this "artificial life" might be considered life.
Everyone agrees, however, that
without a respirator, the "brain-stem dead" patient cannot survive more than
a few minutes. He cannot breath. Without oxygen, the heart will stop
In Hebrew, there are many different
terms for "soul." The word used by the Shaarei Kedusha was "nefesh." This
refers to the spirit of life, the life-giving force. The Torah refers to
all life as "nefesh." What the Shaarei Kedusha was saying is universally
recognized today: there is an organizing factor that regulates the life-force.
Without the organizing factor, the body cannot live by itself. Fascinatingly,
in moving creatures (even the most primitive), this organizing principle
is associated with the brain! YOU CANNOT SURVIVE WITHOUT YOUR WHOLE BRAIN.
There is something in the brain that makes the body subservient to it.
Man, however, has the upper brain.
He has the ability to think profound, abstract thoughts. He can choose his
actions. To a large degree he can -- when conscious -- direct, willingly,
the instinctual reactions dictated by the brain-stem. It goes without saying
that other instincts, such as hunger or fear -- which do not come from the
brain-stem -- he can control. You cannot survive without your brain; with
your brain you can direct your life.
In the daily prayers, we find G-d referred
to as "the Soul of all life" and the "Life of the worlds." At death, the
life force is released from the body and returns to its source, the Source
of all life -- the Organizing Principle of the universe.
(One of the new sciences -- drawing
much attention -- is "Complexity." Complexity theory is concerned with the
inexplicable ability of nature to organize itself. One of the chief focal
points is the mystery of the human brain, that it readily organizes itself!
Man is indeed the "small universe," his soul is in the image of the Creator.)
The Gesher Hachayim explains
the terms of death. (In English, people often say, "may he rest in peace."
In Hebrew we say, "Alav Hashalom," which has a similar connotation.) The
Talmud says, "Nach Nafshei," -- 'when his soul rested.' The soul rests, not
the body. The body is in a constant state of change, but not the soul. Removed
from the body, where it has been trapped, the soul can truly rest in peace.
United with the Organizing Principle, the soul will find its repose.
Einstein showed that matter and
energy are of the same substance. He still had believed, as Aristotle, that
the universe was static, unmoving, primordial. It is well known that the
Russian mathematician Alexander Freidmann proved to Einstein that he was
in error. It was 1965 before evidence was revealed that indicated the validity
of the Big Bang theory.
Today, for the first time, scientists
are no longer faithful to the concept of the primordial universe. Instead,
the idea that the organizing force created the entire matter of the universe
in one infinitesimally small fraction of an instant -- is all prevalent.
G-d created the world.
The ancient Rabbis discuss the
part of the body which first returns to life. It was called the "Luz" bone,
and it is located at the back of the neck. Interestingly, the "brain-stem"
is at the top of the spinal cord and the lower area of the brain!
To us, the birth of a child is
the indication of the revival of the dead. What is birth, but the return
of the life-force to inanimate matter? Do you believe in the universe? Do
you believe in birth? G-d "gives life, produces death... and returns the
dead to life..." (Shemonah Esreh -- Silent Prayer)
(c) Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein and Genesis, '97