Tag Archives: Moses

The Mystical Meaning of Snow

This week we begin reading Shemot, the Book of Exodus, and are reminded of some of the smaller details which are sometimes forgotten. One of these is when Moses asked God to provide him with signs that he could use to prove to the Israelites that he is really the redeemer (Exodus 4). God gives Moses three signs: the first is Moses’ staff transforming into a serpent, the second is Moses’ hand becoming “leprous like snow”, and the third is turning water into blood.

The first sign we later see expanded in the famous episode where Moses and Aaron go head-to-head with Pharaoh’s magicians and a serpentine battle ensues. The third sign would, of course, become the First Plague. But what of the middle sign? What is the meaning behind Moses’ hand becoming snowy? Even more intriguingly, the word “snow”, sheleg (שלג), actually appears for the very first time in the Torah right here. As a general rule, when a word appears for the first time in the Torah, it is there that we find its true significance. What is the spiritual significance of snow? Continue reading

7 Types of Love

In this week’s parasha, Vayera, the word “love” appears for the first time in the Torah. There is a general rule that when a certain term appears for the first time in the Torah, the context in which it appears can teach us the true meaning of that term. Nothing is coincidental, of course, so if a word makes its first appearance in a particular place, this is where to look in order to understand its significance. It is specifically when God puts Abraham to the test that the Torah tells us Abraham loved his son Isaac (Genesis 22:2). There is much we can learn from this. Continue reading

Is Playing Sports a Mitzvah?

In this week’s parasha, Va’etchanan, we read the famous words: v’nishmartem me’od l’nafshotechem, “Guard your souls very much…” (Deuteronomy 4:15). The plain meaning of the passage within which these words are found is to be careful not to descend into idolatry, nor to make any sculptures or images of any figures that might be idolatrous. However, since ancient times the phrase to “guard your souls very much” has also been used to mean that it is our obligation to stay healthy and in good physical shape. If the body is not healthy and dies, then the soul will depart it. Having a healthy soul therefore requires maintaining a healthy body, and a pure soul requires a pure bodily vessel.

Interestingly, it was the great Hillel who first pointed out the connection between the prohibition of idolatry and the mitzvah of taking care of one’s body. The Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 34:3) recounts how Hillel once took leave of his students and they asked him where he was going, to which he replied: “To do a mitzvah!” They asked which mitzvah, and he replied that he was going to the bathhouse. The puzzled students questioned him: is taking a bath a mitzvah? Hillel replied affirmatively, and explained: if all the statues and icons erected in public places needed to be constantly washed, and they are nothing but man-made objects depicting flesh-and-blood kings and nonsensical idols, how much more so must we keep our bodies clean since we were made in the image of God? And this is the deeper meaning behind King Solomon’s words gomel nafsho ish chassed (Proverbs 11:17), that a kindly or pious man makes sure to take care of his soul.

Our Sages had much to say about maintaining good health. For instance, in Gittin 70a, we are taught that there are 8 things that are healthy in small quantities, but harmful in excess. These eight are: travel, sexual intercourse, wealth, labour, wine, sleep, baths, and bloodletting. When it comes to the latter, in those days bloodletting was a popular therapy and it was thought that draining out some “old” blood will stimulate the production of new, healthier blood. There may be something to this, with recent research showing that bloodletting may indeed have been beneficial, and was possibly even effective against bacterial infections. Today, bloodletting is no longer done, but there may be a way to reap the same benefits (and do a double-mitzvah) by going to donate blood. Continue reading