“V’nefesh ki takriv korban… ” (Leviticus 1:2)
There was a time in high school when I thought that if I lost weight everything in my life would be better. I would look better, clothes would fit me better, I would be a better dancer and look more like a dancer that I would have more friends, be a better student, and more. I evaluated everything in my life through a body image lens and was in a constant battle with food, self-control and feelings of unworthiness and shame.
This week’s Torah portion speaks to that teenage me and to all of us who go through periods of seeing ourselves through a never-ending lens of judgment, criticism, inadequacy and unworthiness.
In God’s instructions for the offerings to bring to the altar, the dominant word used to refer to the person bringing an offering is nefesh. The word nefesh means soul in contemporary Hebrew and in the Torah can refer to any individual life.
We read the word nefesh multiple times in the story of Creation, for example, when God created the animals, (nefesh chayah, Gen. 1:21), and when God created man, (nefesh adam, Gen 1:26).
Why use the word nefesh? Why use a word that can refer to male or female beings that can refer to human life or animal life?
Perhaps the purpose of this word here is to remind us of the nature of our being, to remind us that we are elements of Creation and the natural world. Perhaps it is when we see ourselves humbly within the larger context of the natural world and the spiritual world, that we experience a sense of awe, that we remember that we are a part of the awe inspiring universe.
Even though connecting with God looks different in the modern world, even though the relationship between an individual human life, and the web of lives that comprise the natural world human expresses itself differently in contemporary life, we can remember that despite our external differences, despite disparities in wealth, despite the efforts we may take to change our appearance, that we are all the same when we come to stand before God.
Decades later, I discovered that when I accepted who I was, when I improved my sense of being in all areas of my life, when I stopped judging my body, that extra weight lost itself. How ironic that teenage me had the whole thing backwards!
How might your view of yourself change if saw yourself as a nefesh first? If you knew that you were accepted for who you are, a beautiful element of God’s world, of creation and the natural world?
How might the way you see and act towards other people change if when you looked at them, you saw them through the lens of nefesh first?