After enduring the nisayon of the Akeida and the death of his wife, Avraham Avinu is forced to enter into lengthy negotiations with the wily Efron in order to acquire a burial plot for Sarah Imainu. Finally, he buys it for the extortionate sum of 400 silver pieces. The commentators note that Efron’s name is spelt with a ‘vav’ in every instance except for the passuk in which the transaction finally takes place, in that passuk, his name is lacking the ‘vav’. Rashi explains that Efron spoke a lot but did little, he initially told Avraham that he was willing to give away the land, but in the end, he charged a very high price, as a result his value decreases The Baal HaTurim makes a different observation about the missing ‘vav’. He notes that the gematria of the name Efron without a ‘vav’ is 400, the same as the amount of money that he earned from this transaction! What is the significance of this? Rav Elchonon Fishman Shlita explains that when Efron acquired this money it gave him a new sense of value - now he saw himself as ‘worth’ 400 sliver pieces. Efron’s self-estimation was dependent upon his financial status. He fell prey to the common yetser hara of emphasizing his material status over his spiritual standing. There is a natural tendency to do this because, since Chet Adam HaRishon, man is far more aware of his body than his soul. Rav Motty Berger Shlita observes that we tend to identify ourselves as our body - for example, when a person is sick, he says, “I am not feeling well,” seeing his body as his main identity. A more accurate statement would be, “my body is not feeling well,” implying that our soul is the ikar part of us. An essential part of our Avodas Hashem is to develop greater awareness of our soul and its needs.
We can gain a deeper understanding of the body-soul relationship by making a further observation about the Baal HaTurim’s gematria. When Efron received the money he surely felt that he had increased his importance in the world - now he was a wealthy man. However, he actually lost a letter to his name and we know that a person’s name represents his essence. This indicates that his ‘real value’ as a person went down. Moreover, it is significant that the letter that he lost to his name was the ‘vav’. The ‘vav’ is the letter of connection; it means ‘and’ - it joins concepts and nouns together. It’s shape also signifies it’s connecting ability; it is shaped like a hook with which we can connect two things together. When Efron gained in physicality he went down in spirituality and lost an element of connection with Hashem. When a person gives more importance to his body, then, mimayla, his soul will suffer.
The inverse relationship between body and soul is also alluded to in next week’s parsha. The navi tells Rivka that the two babies inside her will develop into two conflicting nations and that when one of these falls, the other will rise. The pshat of this passuk is that the nations of Klal Yisroel and Edom will counter-balance each other, when one ascends the other declines. But there are commentaries who see another battle alluded to in this passuk - they say that Yaakov represents the soul, and Esav the body; there is a continual battle between these two forces. If the soul is in the ascendancy then the body will consequently weaken, and if the soul weakens then the body will correspondingly rise. A striking example of this is a story involving Beis Yosef: He was often visited by a Malach due to his great spiritual level. However, for a few days, the Malach stopped appearing to him. He was told that the reason for this was that on one hot day the Beis Yosef spent a little too much time searching for cold water. This slight focus on his bodily needs effected a decline in his spiritual level to the extent that he was not now on the level to speak to the Malach!
We see from these sources that it is impossible for a person to be devoted to both his body and his soul. A person may think that this is not the case - he can be osek in Torah and mitzvos and simultaneously strive to attain physical satisfaction. However, ultimately this kind of person is merely a slave to his body; it may allow him to do mitzvos but if he cannot pull himself away from his desires for food and money then that is a sure sign that the body is in the ascendancy. Rav Shlomo Brevda Shlita demonstrates this point with two stories. He once sent a promising yeshiva bachur to America to learn in a very good yeshiva. When the boy arrived there he was impressed with the hasmada of the bachurim. However, he was equally surprised at the lunch break - those same bachurim who had learnt with such vigor were now filling their stomachs with equally great zest! Rav Brevda says that these bachurim were slaves to their bodies. In another instance, Rav Brevda was speaking to a large number of religious teenage girls. At one point in his lecture, he said that the purpose of life is not to live in the nicest house with the most beautiful furniture. Later that day a teacher came to him, saying that one girl in the audience was experiencing a great deal of confusion. She had been brought up in an observant home in which it was stressed that it is essential to live the high life in terms of materialistic comforts. After hearing Rav Brevda’s words she realized that he was right and that she had been taught an attitude that is alien to the true Torah outlook.
Rav Brevda argues that there is supposed to be a milchama between the body and soul. The body is very powerful and often overcomes our drive for spirituality but as long as we at least recognize that there is a battle, then we can begin to strengthen our soul. However, he argues that for many fully observant Jews there is no battle - there is no conflict when a person is, for example, faced with the opportunity to eat a piece of cake when he is not at all hungry - he gulps it down without thinking. But worst of all is that he doesn’t even realize that his body is in total control of his being.
What can person do to at least join the battle? David HaMelech tells us that there are two ways of working on oneself - to leave evil and do good. ‘Leaving evil’ refers here to weakening the hold of the body. Rav Brevda offers a suggestion of how we can begin to do this; when we eat a main meal, we should only eat one serving - we are allowed to take as much as we want for that serving but we should at least develop the ability to refrain ourselves from taking more - this way we have at least began the milchama with our body. But we should also focus on the ‘aseh tov’ - by growing in spirituality we will automatically weaken our bond to physicality. Rav Noach Orlowek Shlita was once asked by a bachur that he looked forward to lunch more than mincha - how could he work on this failing? Rav Orlowek answered that he should strive to appreciate tefilla more, by doing so he will thereby inevitably feel less excited about physical enjoyment. Rav Brevda offers a suggestion about how to do this as well - for the first ten minutes of pesukey dezimra a person should do his utmost to only focus on his siddur and not look around. By doing this he can shut out the distractions that prevent him from focusing solely on the tefilla. Rav Brevda says that people have told him that this exercise has drastically improved their Avodas Hashem.
The battle between body and soul is long and challenging, however, if we at least join the battle then it is in our hands to succeed. The Maharal makes a vital point on the Rashi about the conflicting fortunes of Yaakov and Esav. He notes that Rashi says that when Yaakov falls, Esav rises but not the other way around. He explains that Yaakov is in control of who is stronger - Esav only ascends as a result of Yaakov’s falings, but if Yaakov succeeds, then Esav is helpless. The same can be said with regards to the battle between body and soul. It is in a person’s control who is on the ascent - if he strives to strengthen his soul then the power of the body will inevitably wither. May we all be able to join the milchama of body and soul.