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Body and Soul Talk

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

Our sages composed a wonderful blessing which is recited every morning as well as after using the bathroom. In this blessing we thank God for the incredibly complex digestive system we were given, which enables us to absorb nutrients, expel waste through various apertures and thus remain alive. The blessing concludes, “Blessed are you who heals all flesh and acts wondrously.”

Rabbi Moses Isserles (Rama) explains that the final expression “and acts wondrously” (umafli la’asot in hebrew) refers to the wondrous, unique nature of man. Man has a physical, earthly body like all other animals and a Divine soul that God breathed into man. The fact that these two opposite entities form one united human being is truly wondrous.

The Hebrew root word, peleh, is used to describe this wonder. Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner points out that the same Hebrew root is used in the Torah and Rabbinic sources to describe the power of speech. True speech is only possible for human beings who are endowed with both earthly bodies and Divine souls. Speech is the unique power of the human being to integrate the physical tongue with the spirit and intellect. This is why King Solomon states “Life and death are in the hand of the tongue.” This is why our sages emphasize the importance of keeping our word, using clean refined language and using our speech to uplift others.

Perhaps this is another reason why the Yom Kippur service begins with Kol Nidrei, the annulment of vows and why there is a strong emphasis in our prayers asking forgiveness for using our speech inappropriately. We begin Yom Kippur reminding ourselves that the uniqueness of our humanity lies in the power of speech. Let us remind ourselves to use our human attribute of speech with caution and in ways that uplift others and truly reflect our lofty, divine souls.