Water for the Thirsty Soul
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein | September 8, 2015
When such a person hears the words of this oath and they invoke a blessing on themselves, thinking, “I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way,” they will bring disaster on the watered land as well as the dry. Deuteronomy 29:19
The Torah reading for this week is Nitzavim, which means “standing,” from Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20 and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 61:10-63:9.
Maybe you noticed that some friends bring out the best in you while others don’t. Some friends inspire us to be better, more generous people, while others encourage us to indulge in self-centered behavior.
According to the Jewish tradition, we each have both of these types of “friends” who accompany us throughout life they are our two souls. One soul is called the “divine soul.” This part of us pushes us to pursue righteousness and grow closer to God. The other soul is called the “animal soul.” This part of us drives us to fulfill our physical desires and take care of our physical needs.
It’s important to understand that the animal soul is not necessarily bad. It helps us survive, procreate, and enjoy the wonderful world God has given us. The challenge is that while we live in this physical world, the animal soul, by default, has the upper hand. Surrounded by physicality, it’s easy for the animal soul to seize control over us. The divine soul, on the other hand, suffers from the lack of spirituality in the world. It is much harder to find what it strives for. It takes a lot of strength for our divine part to overcome the animalistic drive and influence our lives.
In this week’s reading, Moses warned the people about straying from God. A person might err and say: “I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way,” however, as Moses warned them, “they will bring disaster on the watered land as well as the dry.”
The phrase about bringing disaster on wet and dry land is not easily understood in the original Hebrew, and there are multiple explanations for this phrase. I’d like to take a look at one perspective which translates this phrase, “they add the drunken to the thirsty.” This translation carries a potent message.
The “drunken,” explain the rabbis, refers to our animal soul. It is overly saturated with materialism; drunk on physicality. The “thirsty” refers to the divine soul which is often starved in our material world. In this scenario, the person who has gone astray has tried to satisfy the thirsty divine soul with an overdose of materialism. However, this doesn’t work and the person is left feeling empty because our divine soul needs divine sustenance.
The teaching for us is that we have to nourish our godly soul sufficiently, the same way that we are mindful to nurture our physical needs. We have to saturate our soul with God’s Word. We have to nurture our divine connection with our prayers. Only then will our divine soul have the strength it needs to be the primary influence in our lives.