What is Embodied Torah Education?
Updated: Nov 24, 2021
Are we involving our bodies in our learning and practice? Can we learn to be IN and WITH our bodies through our learning and practice?
I was in first grade when I got my first sidur (prayer book), and was eager to discover for myself the words offered to connect directly with Gd. I started with the first page-
Modeh Ani Lefanecha melech chai vekayam sh’hechezarta bi nishmati b'chemla raba emunatecha.
He returns within me my Neshama?! I had so many questions!
What is a neshama?!
Am I my body or my neshama?!
What makes me me??
I got some basic information from my parents... My neshama is what makes me, me. And it exists within my body.
This was overwhelming information for me to process as a little child, but also incredibly comforting. See, I struggled with my body for as long as I can remember. Not with body image, but actual functioning. It didn’t seem to want to do the things that it was supposed to do, that I wanted it to do. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t figure out how to get it to work like everyone else did.
I chose to reject my body. I identified as my neshama, rejecting the defective body I was given.
It wasn’t until I was in 2nd grade that I gathered up the courage to visit the 3rd grade Rebbe to ask him my questions about the neshama. Even though his title and white beard made him seem so big and important, he had kind eyes, a wide smile, and a gentleness about him that made him approachable. There was a sign outside his home “Protected by the Hakadosh Baruch Hu security system”. I knew that if anyone had answers, it would be him.
“How do we exist as a neshama in a body?!”
“The kabbalah addresses that question,” he answered, “but you’ll have to wait until you're 40 to learn it. Until then, keep the Torah. Study Halacha and Tanach. Daven.”
I can’t wait until then!
I won’t make it that long!
But I did my best, and tried to focus on the thing that I could do, study with the mind, until I could figure out this body issue.
So I continued in a state of war with my own body. Rejecting it.
This disconnect of body and mind took a toll.
I can’t live life like this. None of us can!
Disconnected. Disjointed. Inauthentic.
And then it hit me...
The Hebrew word for soul is neshama, and the word for breath is neshima. Once I realized this connection, it became clear that this can be a key to bridging the gap between body and mind.
The letter yud, representative of Hashem, is present in the breath.
I was curious to discover where that presence existed within me, and decided that I would use my breath as a guide to explore the presence of my soul in my body.
My lungs. My heart.
But what about the other parts of me? What about all the parts that weren’t working properly? God created those too, so could I allow the awareness of my breath to expand to other areas of my body as well? I came across different blocks and boundaries.
By yielding my frustration to curiosity, I slowly began discovering ways to allow myself to be. More fully. More present.
I began exploring this with tfila (prayer). Coming into alignment with myself, my Creator, my Sustainer.
Not a technical doing, or an intellectual understanding, but an embodied experience.
Embodied Torah is engaging with all aspects of ourselves in our learning of Torah and practice of mitzvot. Living life not as a performance, but as an authentic, felt experience.