The Jewish Cowboy

    June 1999         
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Opinion & Society

Horse & Rider, Body & Soul

By Baruch Rothman

    There are those who think that the soul and the body are two opposites and that they can not dwell in peace together. This type of thinking leads to a "holiness" withdrawal symptom, meaning that well meaning people, who strive to become closer to God, often find that their journey leads them to such astringent locations such as monasteries and retreats. In such environment, in which the effect and affects of the world are kept at arm's length, they are able to fulfill their concepts of "holiness."

    This kind of life style is based on a misunderstanding of the relationship between the soul and the body. Their understanding is based on a fallacy in which the soul and the body are viewed as enemies that are mutually exclusive. Judaism does not share this view, but rather has a different concept which is based on ancient mystical traditions.

    The Jewish concept can be likened to that of a cowboy. We all know that a cowboy has serious business that he must attend to, such as rescuing fair maidens and catching stray cattle. However, a cowboy without a horse is pretty useless. So it is with the soul. The soul also has serious business to do down here on earth. But the soul with out a body is as useless as a cowboy with out a horse.

    What does our cowboy friend do? The first thing is that he must acquire a horse. So he catches a wild bronco that has plenty of pep and power. Now he must break the horse. He does this by getting on his back and the horse tries to throw him off. If the horse succeeds, then the cowboy is a nothing. Not just a nothing, but he is in danger of being kicked and injured by the wild horse. He must get up and hang on to the horse's back until the horse will give up and do as the cowboy desires. Once this happens the cowboy can use the horse to do things that without the horse, he simply could not do, such as riding the range, rounding up stray cattle, fighting Indians and saving those fair maidens.

    The soul, too, is in the same boat as the cowboy. With out a body, it is just a spirit wandering around the world. It can not do that which it needs to do. The soul is given a body with which it is to work. The body, however, has it's own mind, and like the horse, does not take kindly to someone "riding" on its back. It tries to rid itself of the soul's direction. If the soul can not take command of the body, then the body will lead the soul in the body's direction, meaning to fulfill every bodily desire that it possesses. The soul must exert its claim to being in charge. It must "break" the body so that the body follows the will of the soul and not the other way around.

    Once the soul exerts its command, the soul can do many things that it could not have done without a body. These are those commandments that were given to us at Mount Sinai. By actually performing a divine commandment, an order given to us by God, we then become attached to God, the source of holiness. The more we are able to maintain that state of attachment, the more holy we become.

    So in a way we are all Jewish cowboys. We just have to know how to exert our leadership over our horse/body.

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