Mishnas Chayim – Terumah: The Guf and the Body

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Chevra Lomdei Mishna
05 Feb 2008

View pdf – Parashat Terumah 5768

In this week’s parsha, Hashem commands the Bnei Yisrael to build the mishkan, to serve as a resting place for His Shechinah. While discussing this incident, the Chofetz Chaim (Shem Olam, Shaar Hischazkus, ch. 5) shares some remarkable revelations about the inner workings of every Jew, and of Klal Yisrael as a whole.

The pasuk states (Shemot 25:8): “And they shall make a sanctuary for Me, and I shall dwell amongst them.” The simple meaning of the verse is that by occupying the mishkan within the Jews’ encampment, the Shechinah will be dwelling in their vicinity.

The Chofetz Chaim quotes an explanation of Chazal which casts this pasuk in a totally new light. To the final phrase, “I shall dwell amongst them”, Chazal add one word of interpretation: “Amongst them mamash (literally).” According to Chazal, the ‘dwelling place’ referred to here is not the mishkan. Rather, the Torah is telling us that Hashem’s dwelling place will be amongst the Jews themselves. In all generations, Hashem shall literally rest His Shechinah on the nefesh of each and every Yid—“Amongst them mamash.”

The Chofetz Chaim wonders how such a situation is possible. Nothing possesses more kedushah than the Shechinah; even the most lofty and pristine soul is a materialistic entity by comparison. How, then, is it possible for the nefesh of a Jew to house the Shechinah within it?

After delineating his question, the Chofetz Chaim digresses to explain a similar phenomenon: the incongruous relationship of body and soul. We often take for granted the fact that our bodies carry our souls around inside of them. Yet, how can this everyday occurrence be possible? The body is a physical entity, while the soul is spiritual. How can they coexist within a single entity?

In truth, the two cannot coexist independently. Quoting the Bris Avrohom, the Chofetz Chaim explains that in order to facilitate this paradoxical bond, Hashem created an ‘interlocutor’ known as the guf’. Although guf usually refers to the physical body, in this context the term guf refers to the body’s faculty of sensation. This interlocutor, the guf, is the faculty which enables a person to experience the agony of a pulled muscle or the pleasure of a tasty delicacy.

(Parenthetically, the awareness of the guf’s existence can enable us to gain a new appreciation—or constructive fear—of the afflictions of Gehinnom. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 91b) states that when a rasha dies and his soul is sent to the netherworld to receive its just desserts, the guf is sent there as well to share in the experience.

This Gemara is difficult to understand, considering the fact that when a coffin is opened for whatever reason, it usually still contains the remains of the body, even if the departed was a rasha. How can the body still be there if the guf was sent to Gehinom? Here, too, the Bris Avrohom explains that Chazal are not referring to the physical body; rather, they are referring to the faculty of sensation known as the guf’. The knowledge that one’s sense of touch is subjected to the purgatorial fires of Gehinnom should help to dissuade us from emulating the ways of reshaim.)

The nature of this guf lies somewhere between the physical and the spiritual. On the one hand, the guf—the faculty of sensation—is not a tangible, physical entity. On the other hand, it does not possess the elements of kedushah which are trademarks of the soul. Consequently, it is the perfect candidate to serve as a facilitator between the physical body and the spiritual nefesh.

The Bris Avrohom depicts the mechanics: The guf makes its home in the physical body, resting upon the vapor which emanates from the bloodstream. The nefesh—which is too holy to attach itself directly to the physical body—inhabits this quasi-spiritual guf. In this fashion, the soul resides harmoniously within the body.

Upon concluding his discussion of the body-soul relationship, the Chofetz Chaim explains that the Shechinah can be housed by the souls of the Jewish people, through the offices of the Torah, the ‘interlocutor’ which facilitates the connection. When a Jew immerses himself in Torah study, the Torah reciprocally attaches itself to his soul, becoming a part of him. Since Hashem has concentrated His Shechinah within the Torah, when a Jew infuses himself with Torah, his soul automatically becomes a dwelling place for the Shechinah— “Amongst them mamash”.

This lofty idea is reflected in the Mishnah (Avot 3:3,7). The Mishnah states:

שְנַיִם שֶיוֹשְבִין וְיֵש בֵינֵיהֶם דִבְרֵי תוֹרָה, שְכִינָה שְרויָה בֵינֵיהֶם, שֶנֶאֱמַר (מלאכי ג), אָז נִדְבְרו יִרְאֵי יְיָ אִיש אֶל רֵעֵהו וַיַקְשֵב יְיָ וַיִשְמָע וַיִכָתֵב סֵפֶר זִכָרוֹן לְפָנָיו….ומִנַיִן אֲפִלו אֶחָד, שֶנֶאֱמַר (שמות כ), בְכָל הַמָקוֹם אֲשֶר אַזְכִיר אֶת שְמִי אָבוֹא אֵלֶיךָ ובֵרַכְתִיךָ.

“When two people sit together and learn Torah, the Shechinah rests among them, as it says (Malachi 3:16), ‘Then two G-d fearing people spoke to each other (words of Torah), and Hashem hearkened, and they were inscribed in a Book of Remembrance before Him’….. How do we know that this concept is true even for an individual (who engages in Torah study)? For it says (Shemos 20:21), ‘Any place where My name is mentioned (i.e. someone engages in a sanctified activity such as learning Torah), I will rest My Presence there and bring you blessing.’”

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The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.