You recently referred to the “Bodies” exhibit in which you elucidated your opinion that it flies in the face of the sanctity of the human body. I have trouble fathoming what sanctity there is to the human body any more than any other animal body. I assume you would not take such issue with an exhibit of animal bodies showing their anatomy, and would like to understand why your perspective is so different for humans, necessitating burial and nothing else.
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
The holiness of the human body can be understood on a few levels. One area the Torah reveals this is in the prohibition to maim or inflict any wound upon the body unnecessarily. Even if one wants to do so, we were not given that license as our bodies were not given to us to do as we want, rather entrusted to us as a sacred trust from the Almighty to use this body owned by Him. This is much as we do not own our children to do with them as we please, but were entrusted with them to help nurture them to grow in their own paths and lives.
The body is said to be a partner with the soul in its struggle to serve God in this world. There isn’t a single mitzvah that the soul can perform without its cohort the body. God purposely set up the world in that way, with animals that are all body, angels that are all soul, and man who is the combination of the two. This is the underlying foundation for the Jewish belief in the eventual Revival of the Dead. That period, also known as “Olam Haba” or the Next World, the final world of the ultimate reward, must first be ushered in by the reunification of the bodies with their souls. Why is this so? Why cannot the souls themselves, which are eternal, receive that reward?
My late mentor, Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe explained that it is only fair that both partners, the body and the soul, should together share in the final, ultimate bliss which could only come about as the result of their partnership. Since all the mitzvot were performed with the body, the soul could not possible receive that reward alone. This speaks volumes about the way we look at the human body.
The Kabbalistic writings closely connect every limb, muscle and sinew of the human body to a specific mitzvah of the Torah. There are said to be a count of 248 limbs and 365 main sinews of the body, corresponding the 248 positive mitzvot (the “do’s”) and the 365 negative mitzvot (the “don’ts”). Every time a mitzvah is performed, the part of that body which parallels that mitzvah becomes elevated and sanctified.
Throughout the Torah we find God described in human terms: He took us out of Egypt with an “outstretched arm,” His “eyes” are upon us, He “hears” our affliction, etc. This is difficult to understand as it is a core belief of Judaism that God has no physicality.
One answer given by the commentators is that this are anthropomorphisms, meaning just a way for us to have an inkling of what is happened using human experiences we can appreciate and fathom.
The deeper answer given by the Kabbalists is that all that God performs in this world is parallel to similar attributes in the human body. There is a type of “spiritual human body” which is the sum total of all the upper, spiritual worlds. God created the physical human body in sync with all that He wishes to relate and express through His divine providence throughout all of human history. This is an entirely new insight on the loftiness and holiness of the human body; its very essence is nothing less than an expression of Godliness in the world. This is implicit in the verse that man was created “in the image of God” (Gen. 1:27).
This explains the tremendous responsibility we hold to be the proper stewards of the gift of the body we have received, and our obligation to treat it with the proper respect and sanctity it deserves.
If the Jews had just witnessed God's awesome power in the 10 Plagues, the splitting of the Red Sea, and the revelation at Mount Sinai, how could these same people turn around and worship a Golden Calf?!
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
The answer is that the Jews never built the Calf with the intention it should be worshipped.
Here's what happened: Moses went up the mountain for 40 days, and when Day 39 rolled around, the Jews began to wonder – "Where's Moses?" This caused great anxiety, for although the people knew it was God Himself Who'd orchestrated all the miracles, it was nevertheless Moses who'd raised his staff for the Red Sea to split. They relied on Moses as captain of the team around whom everything revolved.
So on Day 39 when Moses didn't show up, the malcontents in the camp began circulating rumors that he wasn't coming back at all. In fact, they managed to instill so much fear and anxiety, that the Talmud says the people actually saw a vision of Moses dead! (So strong is the power of suggestion.)
Then the Jews reasoned: If Moses isn't coming back, we must craft ourselves a replacement. And so the Golden Calf was born. Not as an idol; not as a rebellion against God. But as a figurehead. A mere shrine to replace the missing Moses. And the next thing you know, it's full-blown idol worship.
Maimonides explains that idolatry is not a single step, but rather a process. A person starts off focused and clear on the priorities of life. But then we get sidetracked. In the old days, they'd carve a piece of stone and call it the "sun god." They waned to pay tribute to God as creator of the sun. But before long, they were worshipping the sun itself. They believed that something other than God was the ultimate source of strength and salvation.
Today, it's not uncommon to believe that money, fame, stock options, a fast computer, or good looks is the source of fulfillment and happiness. And that's idolatry!
And we see this every day. I spoke to a young man recently, and asked him – based on his recent experiences in Israel and with the Discovery seminar – if he thought the Torah was true. "Absolutely yes," he said. So I asked him why he's still driving on Shabbos, eating cheeseburgers, and dating a non-Jewish woman. His reply: "I'm waiting until I get a breakthrough in my career. Then I'll get around to those other things."
That's insanity. We start off clear, then get sucked into a contorted way of thinking. Ask any high school senior, "Why are you going to college?" He's likely to reply, "Because I need to get a job." "OK, why do you need a job?" "So that I can pay my bills, and have peace of mind in order to pursue what's really important in life – family, friends, and personal growth." Check in with him 10 years later – he's working 70 hours a week, with little or no time for family, friends, and personal growth!
The lesson of the Golden Calf is to think about what it is we're doing. What starts innocently may turn out tragic. Have we lost sight of our true priorities? Idolatry is alive and well today!
Unfortunately, my legs have been giving me a lot of trouble lately and I am unable to walk unaided. Is there any way I can walk outdoors using a walker or a cane, or is that an issue of carrying on Shabbat?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
First of all, I wish you a speedy recovery.
Regarding the issue of carrying out of doors, there is an interesting relevant principle. If a person cannot walk at all without a cane (or walker), the cane is considered as a limb of his body – as a third leg. If so, using it outside is not considered carrying and is permitted.
However, if you can get around a bit without a cane – i.e., you walk around the house without it – then even if you do need it outside the cane cannot be considered a part of you, and you would not be permitted to carry it outside (Shulchan Aruch 301:17; see also The Shabbos Home by ArtScroll Mesorah Publications, Ch. 9 Note 26).
(Note that if your neighborhood has an eruv, then carrying would be permitted outdoors altogether. The same is true for a fenced-in backyard.)
It sounds from the way you described your situation that you would be permitted to use the cane outside. If God willing your legs improve, you would have to stop.