Congregation Etz Hayim at Hollis Hills Bayside

The consolidated communities of Hollis Hills Bayside Jewish Center and Marathon Jewish Community Center

Shabbat Shemot 5780

When we think of spirituality, we usually think of things ephemeral and esoteric. The term itself is based on a word, spirit, that is intangible and therefore not subject to the rules that apply to concrete and tangible things. That would lead one to think that there is little-to-no connection between the spirit and the body.

One kabbalistic commentator on the Torah, Meir ben Halifa Bikayam, thought otherwise. He explored a verse from early in our Torah portion, Shemot, that uses puzzling language: “But the Israelites were fertile and prolific; they multiplied and increased greatly, so that the land was filled [with] them” (Exodus 1:7). Notice the word in parentheses; that’s because the Hebrew says Vatimalei ha-artez otam, which means literally that “the land filled them.”

In his commentary on the Torah called Me-orei Or, Bikayam (who lived in Turkey in the 18th century and was likely a disciple of the charlatan messianic leader Shabbetai Tzvi) uses classic kabbalistic motifs to argue that Jewish spirituality requires a healthy physical component. On Shabbat morning, we’ll look at his commentary, which should inspire us to appreciate this week’s Lunch and Learn on a serious public health concern.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi David Wise