Towards the end of this parsha it states, "If a man places a blemish on his neighbor, as he has done, so shall it be done to him" (Lv. 24:19). The next verse goes on to say, "A break for a break, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, as he has inflicted a wound on a person, so shall it be rendered unto him" (Lv. 24:20).
The Talmud is quick to point out that "An eye for an eye" is not to be taken literally. Rather, it means that a monetary compensation must be given to the maimed person (D'bei Rebbi Yishmael, Baba Kama, chap. 8, "Hachovel", pg. 84a).
This arouses a difficulty. If the Torah means that a monetary compensation must be paid, why does it misleadingly say, "An eye for an eye" which sounds literal? Apparently the verse could have said "Money for an eye".
To address this, we will turn to the first Chassidic teaching to have ever been printed. The Toldos Ya'akov Yosef (By Rabbi Ya'akov Yosef of Polonoy, in the beginning of his preface) writes that the external physical body is merely clothing to the internal spiritual soul. The soul fits into the body like a hand fits into a glove. The explanation of this is as follows.
Just as the body consists of 248 limbs and 365 sinews, so is the soul comprised of 248 spiritual limbs and 365 spiritual sinews. These two sets of physical and spiritual parts parallel each other. Therefore, if a person uses one of his bodily limbs to sin, he ruins the soul's spiritual limb that is connected to that physical limb. That part of the soul then becomes infected and ill. In turn, this causes the physical limb to become infected and sick as well.
A legendary story about the Vilna Gaon supports this idea. Once, when the GR"A was ill, he summoned a physician. After examining him, the doctor prescribed medication for the GR"A. The GR"A thanked the doctor and paid him. After the doctor left, the GR"A ripped up the prescription and threw it into the waste paper basket.
The GR"A's students asked him for an explanation. The GR"A responded that, in the past, he never took medication. If he was physically sick, he knew which part of the soul was sick due to some sin he had committed. Once he healed the soul by doing Teshuvah for the sin, the physical illness disappeared as well.
The GR"A went on to say that this time an internal organ was infected. The GR"A did not know which one. He only called the doctor for his diagnosis which would pin point which organ was infected. He said that it was not necessary for him to take the medication because now that he identified the physical organ, he also knew which spiritual organ was damaged. All that needs to be done is Teshuvah on the sin which caused the spiritual illness. Once the soul is healed, the body will heal as well.
Obviously, most of us are not on the GR"A's level. Therefore, we should take our medication. However, it would not be a bad idea to repent as well. This joint effort should clear up the illness.
May I also point out that not all illnesses come about as a result of sin. There can also be other factors that must be taken into consideration. But, it is in the realm of theoretical possibility that some illnesses might be caused by sin. It is those cases that we are focusing on in this article. (See Zohar, Parshas Acharei Mos, pg. 75b which supports this teaching).
The Emunas Itecha says that this idea is actually found in the verse from our Parsha that we mentioned before. It said, "If a man places a blemish on his neighbor". Who are these neighbors that the Torah is referring to? He explains that the "neighbors" are referring to the body and soul who are partners throughout the journey of life. If the body places a blemish on the soul by sinning, then, as he has done, so shall be done to him. Meaning, the body will also become blemished.
The Emunas Itechah says that this also explains why the verse doesn't just say, "money for an eye". The wording, "Ayin Tachas Ayin" (an eye for an eye) literally means, "There is an eye underneath the eye". The Torah is teaching us that there is a spiritual eye underneath or behind the physical eye. If the physical eye sins, it causes the spiritual eye to become sick which in turn will affect the physical eye in a negative way.
When I saw this piece from the Emunas Itechah, I was thinking that this idea ties in beautifully with a topic found towards the beginning of the Parsha. The Parsha discusses a Kohen who is disqualified from performing the service in the Temple on account of a blemish (Lv. 21:17-24). It could be that the reason for this is because a physical blemish on his body reflects a spiritual blemish on his soul which is a result of sin. Therefore, the Kohen is unfit for service due to his spiritual status that has decayed.
However, if the blemish passes, he is once again qualified to perform the service (Rashi citing Toras Kohanim, Lv. 21:21). This is because the passing of the blemish indicates that the Kohen has repented for his sin which healed his soul. The soul's healing is detected by the healing of his body. Such a Kohen is once again fit for service.
Perhaps we could add that if a sin can trigger such damage to the soul and to the body, imagine what a Mitzvah can do. The Talmud says that the side of positivity is much stronger than the side of negativity (Sotah, chap. 1, "Hamekaneh", pg. 11a; Sanhedrin, chap. 11, "Cheilek", pg. 100b). For example, take an auditorium in the middle of the night with the lights out. All there seems to be is wall to wall darkness. Then, light up just one match. A little bit of light can dispel a whole lot of darkness.
Therefore, envision what just one Mitzvah can do. When a person takes one of his physical limbs to do a Mitzvah, then the spiritual limb of the soul which is connected to that physical limb is infused so much light and holiness. In turn, that healthy part of the soul imbues that physical limb with an incredible amount of holiness and health.
Perhaps we could add that this is what was meant in the Talmud when it said that if we sanctify ourselves below, then they sanctify us from above (Tanna D'bei Rebbi Yishmael, chap. 3, "Amar Lahem Hammemunah", pg. 39a). Possibly this means that if we sanctify the part of us which comes from below, which is the body that comes from the ground, then the part of us that comes from above, which is the soul, will be sanctified as well.
We learn from all of this how we affect ourselves. Our actions, speech, and thoughts play a vital role not only in our spiritual well-being but in our physical well-being as well. Remembering this lesson may help motivate us even more to turn away from evil and engage in good. Anytime we do anything to protect, enhance, and heal our bodies, we should decide to do one more thing to improve our spiritual standing.
For example, if we go to a doctor, take medicine, exercise or choose a healthy meal, we should also implement one more spiritual exercise to increase our general health. This exercise could be Teshuvah in a specific area that we are familiar with that needs improvement. We could choose to stop, at least once, a certain bad habit that we have. We could decide to start, at least once, doing a certain Mitzvah that we are aware of that needs strengthening.
So, may we all be blessed with spiritual and physical health, imbuing ourselves with holiness, so that we merit receiving all the Torah's blessings.