Ever used an air pump to inflate a bicycle tire or a basketball? When you push down on the pump handle, you get the sensation that the pump is pushing back. Well, of course, it is. In the middle of the seventh century, the English scientist Robert Hooke developed an explanation for such behavior. He predicted that there were particles in nature that are in constant motion. The particles are the molecules of the air. Their motion causes them to bump into the walls of their container, such as a balloon, and exert pressure. What is the connection?
Maimonides, the 11th century Torah scholar, philosopher and physician made an astounding observation. He posited that there was a similar law of physics and an all-encompassing force that keeps the particles together -- a spiritual link provided by the Creator of the Universe. This “Connective Tissue” is what gives these particles cohesion and allows them to exist. If this life force were to cease, even for a moment, all of these systems would fall apart. The universe would simply return to “emptiness and vapor”, as it was before creation.
In Judaism, there is a term for this “Connective Tissue,” it is called the “Neshama”, or living soul. Although, only human being are imbued with a neshama, all lesser beings, even inanimate objects are endowed with a spiritual force. This is sometime referred to as a “Ruach Chaim”, or “Spirit of Life.”
There is a story about a famous rabbinic master who was once taking a walk with a disciple when the latter mindlessly plucked a leaf from a bush they were passing. The master turned to his student and asked, “Why did you have to do that?”
Whereupon the student responded, “What did I do wrong? Is there any crime in plucking a lowly leaf from this bush?”
The rabbi them offered a simple, yet profound rebuke to his charge, “That leaf existed because it has a celestial counterpart in Shamayim (heaven) telling it to grow. When you severed it from its life source, without any reason, you denied it the ability to continue its path in the divine orchestra of life, which constantly praises the Creator.”
Each one of us, who is certainly more complex than a leaf or blade of grass, has that connection to the divine. As we grow and mature, this connection at the level of Neshama, beckons us to strive toward spiritual aspirations and goals. A child is generally only capable of relating to his creature material comforts without paying much attention to the yearnings of his soul. However, just about the time contemplations of marriage and intimate long-term relationships begin to develop, we begin to open up to ideas related to transcending our limited scope of physical existence.
Just a casual glance at major bookstores chains and websites will give the impression that we are a society addicted to self-help material, and self-help gurus. Many are sincerely attempting to assist people make the “connection” with spiritual movements and philosophies. The essential theme (and appeal) of these materials seem to be wrapped up in one idea – a personal relationship with the God, the Source, Nirvana, the Spirit, or whatever moniker you mish to add.
In Judaism this connection is always strong even while ignored. Like a pesky cold, musings of the soul just don’t go away. This concept is often called “the Pintele Yid”. This quaint Yiddish expression loses something in the translation; however, it loosely means “the spark of a Jew.” In other words, a smoldering ember will spontaneously combust given the optimum environment, whether it be a particularly dry piece of chaff or a gust of wind. The spark of the Jewish soul will likewise ignite given the tools and circumstance to grow and flourish.
Developing our spiritual potential requires that we expand our world, open ourselves to God’s will, and make all our contacts with the world living and vital acts. Whether we are doing things that come naturally or easily, or struggling to develop new parts of ourselves we need to be conscious about it. We want to “connect” all parts of ourselves – mind, heart, and body – to the soul and purpose in life. The root of the word mitzvah has the meaning of “connection” and the Hebrew letter Vav in the word carries the meaning, in Kabbalah, of connection, for the word Vav literally means “hook’. When we do a Mitzva, we have “hooked up,” we have made a connection of the physical senses of our own body, physical objects, and other people with our soul. This is the way we reconnect with our soul and allow it to make its imprint on the world.
Lets borrow an example from our everyday lives. Consider a telephone conversation. When we talk on the phone, we are performing a physical action that connects us with at least there levels of worldly reality; (1) molecules making up hard plastic; (2) energy systems that transmit sound waves; (3) the person on the other end of the line. In that activity, our soul has the possibility of establishing a relationship to all these levels of creation and, at the same time, refining itself by that interaction. If we engage our soul with the activity rather than performing it only mechanically, we do a “Mitzva.” This is truly being “connected.”
How can we accomplish this?
Next time you pick up the phone, try to admire the miraculous object before you. One can contemplate the thought that everything ultimately comes from God. The ability of this amazing invention to make connections between people is but one of them. We can feel gratitude for having been brought into the world precisely at such a time of unparalled technological advancement. When we interact with others over the phone we can make a special effort to speak politely and kindly. We can be patient with the person we are calling and offer words of encouragement and solace to him/her. We can also try to avoid gossip and needless chatter. When we are finished we can make sure that the phone is placed back in its place for the next person to use. By the time we have completed this call we have performed a dozen mitzvot!
In this fashion we have established what it means to become, and stay, connected. In all our mundane activities we have the ability to constantly make a connection with God and man in a way that can profoundly awaken the “pintele yid” within and make the world a better place for ourselves and for others.