Pure Souls

Most of the time, this blog doesn’t get overly rabbinic. I may talk about what I do as a rabbi, or talk about Jewish things, but rarely do I get overtly religious. This is fair warning: I’m about to talk about prayer, the soul, and how I understand them.

One of the prayers of the morning service, Elohai Neshamah, begins, “My God, the soul You have given me is pure.” For me, the soul (neshamah) represents who I am, that part of me that is uniquely “David”. I’m not particularly tied to the idea of an eternal soul that goes on beyond this life (in fact, I tend away from such belief). Rather, I see the soul as my essential being (most of the time, sometimes I get mystical and see the soul as that part of me which is most closely identified with the perfection of Divinity, and therefore the part which is least individual to me). Generally, when I say soul, I mean some essential part of who I am. So what do I mean by saying that the soul God gave me is pure?

For me, the idea is that my soul begins clean, unsullied. As we live life, and reality intrudes upon us, the imperfections of the world impact our soul, leaving scars, dirt, accretions (plaque, if you will). But by reminding myself each morning that the soul began pure, I can attempt to live as though it remains clean, making the decisions that will help to preserve the purity of the soul. It is as though I am saying, “God, you gave me a pure soul; I’ll try not to muck it up today.”

The first line of Elohai Neshamah is popular as a meditative chant, and not just for it’s meaning. While the translation of neshamah as “soul” is a good one, the word neshamah can also mean “breath.” Which is deeply appropriate to the sound of the first line: Elohai neshamah shenatata bee tehorah hee. Each word ends on a vowel (or an open syllable, to use the technical  term). This means, that each word ends with an outflow of breath. The soul/breath given us is pure, and we return it to the Divine as we breathe it out with each word.

A Peaceful Shabbat

This Shabbat, I have very little planned. I’m looking forward to a lot of rest, maybe  a little knitting, maybe a little reading, maybe a little gardening. But mainly rest.

Eva and I will both be home this evening, which doesn’t happen all that often. So it will be a quiet evening together. Yay! We might light shabbat candles and say kiddush, or we might simply luxuriate in the fact that it is shabbat, recognizing it by doing absolutely nothing. Sometimes doing nothing is a spiritual practice.

Tomorrow morning I will get up at some point, and wake up slowly. Make some tea or coffee. Sit with a cat and read. Maybe knit. But there’s nothing that needs to get done tomorrow. That’s the beauty of Shabbat.

I’ve commented on this before, but I love the fact that there are multiple ways of spending shabbat: I can lead services, I can attend services or I can do nothing. And all are traditional observances of shabbat.

The text from the Torah which is used as the “proof text” of shabbat* concludes with the line, “and on the seventh day, God rested and was refreshed.” But the word we translate as “refreshed,” vayinafash, comes from the root nafash meaning “soul” or “spirit.” So vayinafash might be better understood as “was re-souled.” And part of what I love is that shabbat is when we are “re-souled”, our soul is returned to us, or restored. Whether the image is understood as being like the sole of our shoes which are worn away over the course of the week, or like a work of art which is covered by grime and the accumulated dust over the week and is then restored, Shabbat serves as the element which allows our soul to start the new week fresh.

Shabbat Shalom, everyone.

*The VeShamru which is included in the Friday evening service, the Saturday morning service and is said as part of the kiddush before lunch on Saturday.