Nov 5, 2011

Nefesh HaChayim 1:3 - Consequence

Nefesh HaChayim 1:3 - Consequence
(c) Rabbi Menachem Creditor

Nefesh HaChayim (1:3)God created and granted human with beings with enormous power over the universe, with cosmic consequences corresponding to every deed, word, and thought, be it for good or the opposite, God forbid. 

For in a person's positive deeds speech and thoughts, she sustains and adds power to revealed and hidden dimensions of the universe, as it is written "And I have placed my words in your mouth… to plant the heavens and make firm the earth. (Is. 51:16)" And as the sages of blessed memory said, "Do not read 'my children' rather 'my builders' (TB Ber. 64a)" for people, God's children, build and strengthen the dimensions of the universe. 

The reverse is also true, God forbid. Through a person's deeds, words, and thoughts which are not positive, considerable powers, and inestimable dimensions of the universe are destroyed, as it is said, "Your ravager and your ruiner from you manifested. (Is. 49:17)." 

Comment: Stanley Martin Lieber (aka Stan Lee) taught, "With great power comes great responsibility."1  The inherent power every person wields should never be underestimated.  No act is neutral, not even inaction, for an agent of divine energy. Deeds matter, words matter - thoughts matter! Whereas Jewish tradition has long held that emotions cannot be commanded, and that intentions do not carry legal consequence2, it is also true that our thoughts truly impact the world. 

Stanisław Jerzy Lec, among the most noted of post-Shoah Polish political writers, once suggested that "thoughts, like fleas, jump from man to man, but they don't bite everybody." His notion that the contagion of thoughts depends upon proximity is fascinating, but in our world, where closeness is less about geography and more about connectedness, perhaps today's thoughts truly are consequential deeds? How can we learn from Rabbi Chayim's warnings and act, speak, and think responsibly?  

1) See the first Spider-Man story, Amazing Fantasy #15 (August 1962).
2) The classic Jewish debate about whether the fulfillment of a mitzvah depends upon intent can be found in the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Berachot, 13a.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Congregation Netivot Shalom  || Bay Area Masorti ||  ShefaNetwork 
Rabbis for Women of the Wall  || 
To join Rabbi Creditor's email list, send a blank email to

Chag Sukkot Sameach, dear friends.