Spiritual Satiation: Something Required of the Soul

This post is dedicated to the memory of the three Jewish youths murdered in Eretz Yisrael – Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach. May HaShem comfort their families in their time of mourning and bring about justice on their behalf. 

Something Required of the Soul

The year was 2005. I was a senior in high school and very active in multiple Christian ministries, but despite that, one of my very best friends was a Pakistani Muslim. One day during lunch period, my Muslim friend took a bite of food. As he chewed the food, he overhead someone saying that the meal for that day contained pork. As soon he heard this, his chewing stopped, his eyes grew large and he spit the food back onto his plate. This behavior was odd to me, as I didn’t understand Islam. I asked him what the problem was. 

“Muslims aren’t allowed to eat pork. It’s against the Qur’an.” 

This very simple statement floored me and flooded my veins with spiritual jealousy. The jealousy wasn’t necessarily about wanting to learn more about Islam but rather having a faith that required something of me. I expressed this jealousy to my Muslim friend. It was as though someone had flipped a switch inside me and just as he was spitting out food, I grew spiritually hungry. 

“Doesn’t your Bible forbid you from consuming pork?” 
“I don’t think so. I’m a Christian. All we pretty much have to do is believe.” 
“Are you sure? I think it does.” 

After that challenge, I set off on a quest to prove my Muslim friend wrong. That afternoon, I immersed myself in my Bible. What do you know? He was right – it did, as plain as day. Not only that, but it said that this commandment against eating unclean animals to be a statute that would remain forever. 

That little story was just a bite-sized piece (no pun intended) of my move away from Christianity and towards Judaism. As a Christian, my soul felt incomplete. I always felt like there was something I needed to be doing in order to please my Creator. Little did I know that many years following that, a rabbi would explain this feeling of incompleteness as being the symptom of having an “ivri neshama” – a Hebrew soul. A Hebrew soul is hungry for the mitzvot – the commandments – of the Torah. Some people feel compelled by their own soul to keep the commandments of the Torah. Some simply do not. This doesn’t necessarily make them any more or less holy – it just makes them hungrier for the instructions given to Israel at Mount Sinai. This craving for distinctively Israelite commandments as a means of satisfying the appetite of soul is a sign that this person had an ivri neshama, a Hebrew soul, all along – simply trapped in a non-Jewish body.  

“My soul is consumed with longing for your ordinances at all times.”
– Psalm 119:20

As human beings, we’re allowed to step out of our box and explore what food most feeds our spirit. Depending on what actually satiates our appetites speaks volumes about the identity of our souls. 

Leviticus 19 Misconceptions: Tattoo Teshuva & Patchy Piety

Have you ever seen an observant Jewish person with tattoos on their arms? How about a observant Jewish man with no beard? Though these types of things may seem odd to you, they’re no cause for alarm. They’re actually fine according to both Torah as well as various oral traditions.

Misconception: Having a tattoo is against Torah. 

I’ve heard far too many horror stories about the rabbi or members of the Jewish community who discriminated against the guy who had an arm full of tattoos. I’m here to say that you should let that guy into your community just as quickly as anyone else – possibly more so.

Yes, getting a tattoo is against Torah. Leviticus 19:28 clearly states:
ושרט לנפש לא תתנו בבשרכם וכתבת קעקע לא תתנו בכם אני יהוה
“You shall not make any cuts on your copy for the dead or tattoo yourselves; I am the Lord.”

The keyword in this mitzvah is “תתנו” – “tetanu”, which means to make or to give. This is an active word which does not entail possessing, such as “נשא” – “nasa”, which means to have, to lift up or to exalt.

So, essentially, there is no sin in having a tattoo – only in receiving a tattoo. Still, many who have repented and tried to live spiritually observant lives fall victims to prejudice from even religious leaders in their community due to the stigma that a tattoo brings. When it comes to the mindset that is appropriate, a tattoo is a reminder of a past life – a battle scar.  One must also never forget that if every past averah, every trangression were to leave a physical bodies, we wouldn’t be able to recognize each other.

Misconception: It is a mitzvah to have a beard or side-locks (payot). 

Many believe the symbol of a righteous Jew is a full beard that takes up their entire face and brims over their collar onto their shirt. Many other righteous Jews are pictured with tightly coiled side-locks that add a sense of piety to their character. Still, it says nowhere in Torah to have a full beard or side-locks.

Most all of the great personalities of the Torah had beards. When many think of Charleston Heston playing Moses in “The 10 Commandments”, they remember the big fake beard he wore atop Mount Sinai. Every artist rendition of any positive masculine figure of the Bible is almost sure to have a beard. Still, the Torah nowhere explicitly states that having a full beard is a mitzvah. What does it say?

Leviticus 19:27:
לא תקפו פאת ראשכם ולא תשחית את פאת זקנך
“You shall not round off the side-growth of your heads nor harm the corners of your beard.”

These mitzvot have nothing to do with having, but rather have to do with not cutting what happens to grow.

While it’s implied that if you don’t cut the hair on the sides of your head or cut the corners of your beard, you will wind up with a very large beard and long side-locks, this isn’t always so. Some men cannot grow good beards or thick hair due to genetics or other reasons. I recently spoke with a Torah-observant man who was ashamed to grow his beard due to some past radiation treatments for cancer making his beard grow back in an odd way.

So, should the thick-full beard and thick payot be the picture of the truly righteous man? No. Even an unrighteous man can look truly handsome with a thick beard. Rather, the picture of righteousness and emunah, faith, is the man who cannot grow a very thick beard, but grows what he can with what he has. A patchy beard for the Creator is a million times more holy than a thick beard as a symbol of one’s own piety.

Is There Significance in Family Burial Plots in the Bible?

Jewish Burial Plots in the Bible

As many of you know, I’m a weirdo and am interested in things like death and burial. While I am an advocate for green burial (also known as “natural burial” – burial without embalming, burial vaults/grave liners, sealed caskets or any other non-biodegradable materials), I am still an advocate for family/community burial plots. These plots not only serve a historical function in helping people research their own genealogy, but even in Tanakh, being buried along with your family had very strong significance. In 1 Kings 13, there is a prophet of HaShem who disobeys the Creator. What is his punishment? When he died, he would not be buried along with his family. Not necessarily an unmarked grave, but just not along with his family.

“‘You came back and ate bread and drank water in the place where he told you not to eat or drink. Therefore your body will not be buried in the tomb of your ancestors.’” – 1 Kings 13:22