Nurturing the Human Soul - From Cradle to Grave

The pasuk in Bereshit 2:7 relates the process by which Hashem created Man: “V’yitzer Hashem Elokim et ha’adam afar mi ha’adama, v’yipach b’apav nishmat chayim, va’yehi ha’adam l’nefesh chaya – Then G-d formed Man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and so Man became a living creature.”

What’s striking is that by referring to Man as “nefesh chaya,” the pasuk is suggesting that there is nothing different about Man than the creatures that preceded him, which are also referred to repeatedly as “nefesh chaya;” see Bereshit 1:20, 1:21, 1:24, 1:30. Rashi was clearly bothered by the use of “nefesh chaya” to refer to both Man and all of the other creatures, and addresses the issue. Whereas Rashi tersely interprets “nefesh chaya” in earlier pesukim as “a life force, ” (1:20, 1:21, 1:24), in the context of the creation of Man, Rashi elaborates that while all the other creatures are also referred to as “nefesh chaya,” Man has a stronger “life force” by virtue of the “dey’ah” and “dibur” (reasoning and speech) instilled in him by Hashem.

The distinction of Man as a “thinking” and “speaking” creature is echoed by the Targum Onkelos, which translates “nefesh chaya” in earlier pesukim as “nafsha chaita” (a living spirit), whereas “nefesh chaya” in connection with the creation of Man is translated as “ruach memalelah” – a speaking spirit.

What’s interesting about Onkelos’ translation in connection with Man is his use of an entirely differently word – “ruach” – as opposed to “nefesh” in connection with the other creatures. The word “ruach” does not appear in the pasuk itelf. However, there is a reference to “nishmat chayim” – i.e., neshama.

So we now have three different words referring to the “soul” of Man – nefesh, neshama and ruach. How do these each differ, and what does each contribute in distinguishing Man from all of the other creatures?

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The Keruvim: Instruments of Emuna and Bitachon

One of the more fascinating and enigmatic ornaments discussed in parshat Teruma is the keruvim (the winged angelic figures made of gold) that stood on top of covering for the aron (ark) containing the luchos (Shemos 25:18).

What is striking about the command to fashion the keruvim, as Abarbanel points out, is that the Torah forbids the creation of carved idols (Shemos 20:4). So how could Hashem direct the creation of such figures? Was this not a contradiction of the prohibition against fashioning idols? Abarbanel and other commentators respond that the keruvim was not intended to serve as an intermediary (as, for example, the “egel” – the Golden Calf – was intended), but rather was intended to inspire a stronger connection and closeness to Hashem. How did the keruvim accomplish this?

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The Secret to a Happy Marriage Embedded in a Gematria

In parshat Vayetzei (28:19), Yaakov names the location of his dream - "Beit El - the house of G-d," which happens to be the future site of the Beis Hamikdash. 

In Yeshaya (2:3), the navi prophesizes that in the end of days (acharit hayamim), the nations of the world shall say, "Let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the G-d of Yaakov."

On which the gemara in Pesachim (88a) asks, why only a reference to the "G-d of Yaakov," and not also the G-d of Avraham and Yitzchak?

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The Purpose of Creation: Sanctifying the Mundane (Living al Kiddush Hashem)

This past Shabbos a cousin of mine was bar mitzvah. Here's the dvar Torah I delivered at Sha'alos Seudos - one you can use at a future Bereshit bar mitzvah (or possibly even other parshiyot since the ideas are of general application).

The first pasuk of the Torah, parshat Bereshit, reads "Bereshit bara Elokim et hashamayim v'et ha'aretz." Rashi immediately exclaims that this pasuk cries out for interpretation. He then explains that the word "Bereshit" stems from "Reshit" - the "beginning," and alludes to the Torah and the people of Israel both of which are also referred to as "Reshit" elsewhere in the Tanach (Mishlei 8:22 and Yirmiyahu 2:3).

Rav Sternbuch, in his parsha sefer Ta'am V'Da'at, cites a midrash stating that the world was also created for the sake of 3 mitzvot which are also referred to as "Reshit" - (1) bikkurim ("reshit bikkurei admatecha," Shemot 23:19); (2) chalah ("reshit arisoteichem chalah tarimu," Bamidbar 15:20), and (3) terumah/ma'aser ("Reshit degancha tiroshcha v'yitzharecha," Devarim 18:4).

Rav Sternbuch asks why are these 3 mitzvot singled out as being the purpose for which the world was created - after all, there are 610 other mitzvot that are important.

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