Who We Really Are

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein  |  May 2, 2017

A man standing in a grassy field looking into the sunrise.

“This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves and not do any work —whether native-born or a foreigner residing among you . . . “ — Leviticus 16:29

The Torah portion for this week is a double reading, Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, from Leviticus 16:1—20:27. Acharei Mot means “after the death,” and Kedoshim means “holy.” The Haftorah is from Amos 9:7–15.

The death of Whitney Houston shocked the world in February 2012. The singer/actress was only 49 years old. Even more shocking to fans around the world was the downward spiral that had gripped Whitney in the years before her death. She had gone from being the most awarded female artist of all time to living a life dominated by drugs and alcohol. How was it that this entertainment star, arguably one of the most successful artists ever, could sink so low? Why would someone who seemingly had everything and lacked for nothing turn to drugs?

Whitney Houston is not the only celebrity to go down that road. In fact, some studies have shown that drugs and alcohol are abused most by those who are the most successful materially. It seems that the more someone has, the more they desire. Yet, the more a person receives, the emptier they feel. People often think that if they only had “X,” then they would be happy. But what happens when you have it all and are still not happy? Where will you find your happiness now?

The reason why people are never satisfied with material success, no matter how prosperous they may be, is because we are not physical beings. Sure, we have arms and legs and we are subject to the laws of the physical world, but at our core, that’s not who we are. At our core, we are souls.

We tend to think of ourselves as physical beings that sometimes have spiritual experiences. But the truth is that we are really spiritual beings, and we are here having a physical experience for the span of a lifetime.

This is why material objects will never fill our needs. As spiritual beings, we have spiritual needs that no amount of money in the world can fill. If we want to feel fully satisfied in our lives, then we have to know what we need. Our deepest needs aren’t physical. We crave things like purpose, love, and a relationship with God.

In the Jewish tradition, once a year on Yom Kippur we devote a day to remember who we really are. We don’t eat, drink, engage in marital relations, or wear fancy leather shoes. We wear white like angelic beings and deny ourselves physical pleasures. We remember that physical pleasures are not what will bring us satisfaction. Only spirituality can make us feel whole.

As we plan our days and weeks and take into account our physical needs and desires, let’s also make it a habit to consider our spiritual needs. This way we will lead lives – both in body and soul — that truly bring deep and lasting satisfaction.