Friday, November 18, 2016

Do You Believe You Have a Soul?

The goal of this blog is some brain-cleansing at the Friday night dinner table. Please share.
Happy birthday this week to Stuart in California.

Descartes_mind_and_bodyYesterday there was a voice message that worried me.

"Someone quoted something you said and I wanted to make sure I understood it right."


What was quoted as saying? Who is this person? What are they saying about me? What am I going to be asked to defend?

I phoned him back this morning.

The quote in question goes something like this (it actually works very well as a conversation piece for your Shabbat table).

Ask everyone:

Raise you hand if you believe you have a soul.

Most people will raise their hands. In most groups, everyone raises their hands.

Then say, Let me be the first to tell you: I heard from a card-carrying rabbi that you're wrong. You don't have a soul.

Pause and let that sink in.

Then say, You don't have a soul. You have a body. And the fact that you could raise your hand so quickly shows me how confused you really are.

The problem is that we are brainwashed, day-in and day-out, to think of ourselves as bodies. The media around us are constantly shouting, "You're a body, you're a body!" and we come to think that way.

But if your head is on straight, when someone asks you if you have a soul, your reaction should be the same as if they asked you, "Do you have a person?"

"Whaddya mean, do I have a person - I am a person."

Judaism teaches that some aspect of self exists before a person is born, and some aspect continues to exist after a person dies. We call that "soul".

Spirituality is learning how to live with the awareness of yourself as soul and not as body.

One of the most effective ways to become more spiritual is to lock yourself in the bathroom every day and look in the mirror and say, "You're a soul, you're a soul, you're a soul."

The degree to which you live each day with soul-awareness is the degree to which you are spiritual.

And it's a level playing-field. You don't have to be particularly wise, learned or righteous to walk this spiritual path.

You could end the conversation here, and indeed at this point the gentleman was ready to thank me and go about his day.

But there is one vital clarification.

This soul-body (or mind-body) split is a classic problem of epistemology, theology, psychiatry and even neurology.

Some religions teach that the split is so complete that spirituality means minimizing the body (by fasting, celibacy, etc.)

Our tradition says differently.

Mind-body dualism is only hypothetical. At this stage of reality, we are a soul that is fused to a body.

That body is inherently neutral, and can become uplifted and rarefied by using it with soul-awareness.

You can do this every time you give tzeddaka (even to the pushke) or to invite guests (which is hard to do right). Or stop some weekday activity on Shabbat.

Question for the table: When is it hardest to have soul-awareness, and what's the solution?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Hope you're still counting down the days to Channuka....

PPS - Yes, this week there is a new easter egg....
When you forgive, you in no way change the past - but you sure do change the future.
Read more at:
When you forgive, you in no way change the past - but you sure do change the future.
Read more at:


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