On Land and on the Lilypod

The Talmudic scholar, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, writes in his book Simple Words, “We human beings are amphibious. We live in two worlds: the material and the spiritual, and sometimes on the borderline between them. We are aware of the differences, just as the difference between dry land and water is clear even to the smallest frog. However, although we jump continuously from one existence to the other, we are often unaware of the jump. Although we live in two worlds, one of them seems to be the real world, the real existence, while the other seems much more hazy, not quite as real.”

From the time we are in kindergarten and taught that the world is experienced and apprehended by the “Five Senses,” we are led down the garden path away from half of the world, half of ourselves, and half of reality. The “Five Senses” are physical senses, but not the only ones with which a human being is equipped. The world of the mind and the world of emotions are nonmaterial, spiritual matters.

Love, loyalty, passion, aspiration, regret, disappointment, grief, envy, and joy are not material, yet we sense them keenly. While each may be accompanied by physical changes, they are matters of the spirit. So too theorems, equations, abstract concepts; these are intangible matters of the spirit whether or not they have a physical analog. Much as we might pretend that, as scientific citizens of the modern world, we subscribe only to the material universe, we are very much spiritual beings. When we love, theorize, analyze, contemplate, and dream, we are the amphibious frog jumping from one existence to the other.

Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that we are always simultaneously both on land and in the pond, because the material and spiritual components of our being are inseparably interwoven.

Can you imagine a physical existence devoid of emotions and ideas? Can you imagine a spiritual existence as a living human being without a body? The two go hand-in-hand to make us complete beings, created b'tzelem Elohim, in the image of God, as the Book of Genesis tells us.

The Talmud provides an allegory about the inseparable nature of body and soul: A king owned an orchard of fig trees. He appointed two watchmen -- one lame and the other blind -- to guard it. After some time, the king noticed that his early ripening figs were suspiciously missing. The blind guard protested, “Have I eyes to see them?” and the lame guard protested, “Have I legs to walk with?” What did the king do? He had the lame guard climb onto the shoulders of the blind guard; the lame guard directed his blind companion to the trees and he picked the figs. And this is precisely how they had conspired to steal the figs.

The frog may jump from land to lilypad and back, but we live our entire lives both on the land and in the pond. We are, at our core, both physical and spiritual beings. Indeed, that should provide us a measure of comfort, for it is not earth that is our limit, but rather heaven.

Rabbi Scheinerman wrote this article for the Carroll County Times.