The Gemara (Kiddushin 81a) records a remarkable incident. Rabbi Akiva, the greatest Tannaitic sage, taunts the yetzer hara, evil inclination, whereby the yetzer hara then appears to him as a woman at the top of a tree. Rabbi Akiva begins to climb the tree but is ultimately saved when the Heavens intercede for him. How can such a fall be understood?
The guf, body, is all pleasure-seeking and retains enormous power over the soul, yet it must understand the necessity to dance with the everlasting neshama, soul. The more the guf follows the neshama to serve God, the more light of the Divine enters the body. Whereas if the body, which is a desire-seeking machine, gives in to the physical, God’s light is shunned from entering the body. A thriving guf-neshama relationship has great ramifications when the soul will unite with the body in techiyat hametim, resurrection of the dead. Since God wanted the physical body and spiritual soul to work in tandem, both are recognized for following in His ways.
The great gift given to the Jews is teshuva, repentance, which, as the chet haegal, sin of the golden calf, confirmed, can wipe away all sins. Being clear of sin is the goal for both the guf and neshama in anticipation of the final resurrection.
In order to dig deep and find one’s faults, whether it be in the physical or spiritual, the Gemara (Eruvin 13b) advises a type of search called “yiphashphesh b’maasav, examine one’s actions. This language doesn’t just connote examination, but rather the type of search where you are combing for lice (phasphesh), a chametz-like search. This is the type of relentless examination that must be done to find one’s latent weaknesses which surely includes the physical, as exhibited by the Rabbi Akiva story.
Once you take on the bold step to admit your mistakes and address them, you are treated with mercy, as it says, “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion” (Proverbs 28:13).
Yes, there will be a constant battle between the guf and neshama, in which tzaddikim also fall, but with an exhaustive search to redeem oneself, the guf can serve the neshama, enabling a triumphant techiyat hametim.Steven Genack