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Reverse Biology

Reverse Biology


And this shall be an everlasting statute for you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls . . .

Leviticus 16:29

In the World to Come, there is neither eating nor drinking . . .

Talmud, Berachot 17a

The human being consists of a body and a soul—a physical envelope of flesh, blood, sinew and bone, inhabited and vitalized by a spiritual force described by the chassidic masters as “literally a part of G‑d above.”

Common wisdom has it that spirit is loftier than matter, and the soul holier (i.e., closer to the divine) than the body. This conception seems to be borne out by the fact that Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year—the day on which we achieve the height of intimacy with G‑d—is ordained by the Torah as a fast day, a day on which we seemingly abandon the body and its needs to devote ourselves exclusively to the spiritual activities of repentance and prayer.

In truth, however, a fast day brings about a deeper, rather than a more distant, relationship with the body. When a person eats, he is nourished by the food and drink he ingests. On a fast day, vitality comes from the body itself—from energy stored in its cells. In other words, on less-holy days, it is an outside force (the energy in one’s food and drink) that keeps body and soul together; on Yom Kippur, the union of body and soul derives from the body itself.

Yom Kippur thus offers a taste of the culminating state of creation known as the “World to Come.” The Talmud tells us that “in the World to Come, there is neither eating nor drinking”—a statement that is sometimes understood to imply that in its ultimate and most perfect state, creation is wholly spiritual, devoid of bodies and all things physical. Kabbalistic and chassidic teaching, however, describe the World to Come as a world in which the physical dimension of existence is not abolished, but is preserved and elevated. The fact that there is “neither eating or drinking” in the World to Come is not due to an absence of bodies and physical life, but to the fact that in this future world, “the soul will be nourished by the body” itself, and the symbiosis of matter and spirit that is man will not require any outside sources of nutrition to sustain it.

Two Vehicles

The physical and the spiritual are both creations of G‑d. Both were brought into being by Him out of utter nothingness, and each bears the imprint of its Creator in the particular qualities that define it.

The spiritual, with its intangibility and its transcendence of time and space, reflects the sublimity and infinity of G‑d. The spiritual is also naturally submissive, readily acknowledging its subservience to a higher truth. It is these qualities that make the spiritual “holy” and a vehicle of relationship with G‑d.

The physical, on the other hand, is tactual, egocentric and immanent—qualities that brand it “mundane” rather than holy, that mark it as an obfuscation rather than a manifestation of the divine truth. For the unequivocal “I am” of the physical belies the truth that “there is none else besides Him”—that G‑d is the sole source and end of all existence.

Ultimately, however, everything comes from G‑d; every feature of His every creation has its source in Him and serves to reveal His truth. So, on a deeper level, the very qualities that make the physical “unholy” are the qualities that make it the most sacred and G‑dly of G‑d’s creations. For what is the “I am” of the physical, if not an echo of the unequivocal being of G‑d? What is the tactility of the physical, if not an intimation of the absoluteness of His reality? What is the “selfishness” of the physical, if not an offshoot—however remote—of the exclusivity of G‑d expressed in the axiom, “There is none else besides Him”?

Today, the physical world shows us only its most superficial face, in which the divine characteristics stamped in it are corrupted as a concealment, rather than a revelation, of G‑dliness. Today, when the physical object conveys to us “I am,” it bespeaks not the reality of G‑d but an independent, self-sufficient existence that challenges the divine truth. But in the World to Come, the product of the labor of a hundred generations to sanctify the material world, the true face of the physical will come to light.

In the World to Come, the physical will be no less a vehicle of divinity than the spiritual. In fact, in many respects, it will surpass the spiritual as a conveyor of G‑dliness. For while the spiritual expresses various divine characteristics—G‑d’s infinity, transcendence, etc.—the physical expresses the being of G‑d.

Today, the body must look to the soul as its moral guide, as its source of awareness and appreciation of all things divine. But in the World to Come, “the soul will be nourished by the body.” The physical body will be a source of divine awareness and identification that is loftier than the soul’s own spiritual vision.

Yom Kippur is a taste of this future world of reverse biology. It is thus a day on which we are “sustained by hunger,” deriving our sustenance from the body itself. On this holiest of days, the body becomes a source of life and nurture rather than its recipient.

Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson; adapted by Yanki Tauber.
Originally published in Week in Review.
Republished with the permission of If you wish to republish this article in a periodical, book, or website, please email
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Joseph Myers Riverside, CA/USA via September 25, 2012

we fast for different reasons - most of them good We live in a world of imperfect bodies and broken souls, individually and collectively. Whether the condition of one creates or ameliorates the condition of the other cannot be answered - each depends upon the other within an individual and within a culture. Fasting can help us look into our bodies and our souls, and perhaps gain understanding of others' needs. In the end it can allow us to better focus on our hopes, and fears, and dreams. It is tha antithesis of punishment. Reply

Alvin Muskegon, Michigan USA September 24, 2012

Thanks! I was fasting today. I guess I will break it and fast tomorrow with the hosts. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma October 17, 2011

Diving off the deep end Deep, well it all depends, deep ends. In diving too, an echo of divine. Or more aptly, dive in.

And yet those in the shallow end come up with truths also, and who is to say, or judge, who is shallow and who, deep. And there is hallow in shallow.

I think deeper means to plumb and that involves going inside, but I do totally agree that what rises is also deep, and so we live here in a word world that is in itself paradox.

As above, so it is, below.

My bulbs come up from below, in sod, and SOD in Hebrew means what is hidden. And bulbs are also for the light, and what enlightens us all.

I see, deep or rising, metaphoric connects and Sukkot is surely about hands to the skies, to moon, stars, and that velvet beauty of what is night and love, that does come, in waves. What is shining, so many moons, so many suns, upon the water.

To love is to express love. I think we're here to do this, and to find the echoic, beautiful connect of the ONE.

there are many ways to spread wings!


Anonymous perth, australia October 16, 2011

reverse biology Just one thing I've noticed, to be corrected in this text that is the word 'deeper' used as positive or enhanced spirituality that should be called higher or closer etc . Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma October 3, 2011

"fast" forward: I am coming to this in 2011 as Yom Kippur is drawing nigh. I believe as did the writer above, that one should practice all the days of our life, and when I do something that bothers me, right then, I ask forgiveness.
But I also feel deeply I have to forgive not only what impels injury and deeds that are not right, but also I must forgive G_d, because I see, in paradox, that G_d does control the entire story, and that we live on different planes of awareness. To perceive then, that All is truly G_d, is to know something very deep, that is hard to convey in words, and so I forgive G_d, knowing, that somehow, our collective and individual stories will have a happy ending, an ending that does make sense of so much suffering, so much cruelty,

My philosophy is not punitive. I do believe there is a Master Storyteller here, and my life is showing me this every step of the way. So I forgive G_d for the sake of story, for, At One "Meant".

In exist/exit. It's not over, when it's over.

G..PS. Reply

Anonymous North Potomac, MD September 16, 2010

Beautiful Twist on Fasting I am a recent convert to Judaism, and it is articles like this that nourish my soul. I had never found the idea that fasting was supposed to be punishment or pain very satisfying.

I have done some occasional fasting and have always found it to be a deeply spiritual and satisfying experience (once you learn to deal with the occasional pangs of hunger).

The thoughts here that during the fast the soul is being nourished by the body instead of by external food rings so true to me. Our bodies are wonderful stores of energy, but when we continually feed our bodies, we deny our bodies ability to feed us directly (and then our bodies get lazy).

Additionally, without food we learn to rely more directly on G-d, and also develop a deeper compassion for those millions and millions of people who don't get enough food.

Thank you for this article. Reply

chaya October 1, 2008

hey! that was the subject of the tanya portion of rosh hashana (of a leap year)! especially with the explanation of the "Lessons In Tanya" Reply

Ari Edson Thornhill, Ontario August 13, 2007

Preperation for Yom HaKippur In comment to the above comment.

If the body is just a machine, than why do you need it to breath to discover your soul? In other words you are saying that you are your soul and assuming that were so than you must ask the question, what is this world doind here and why are you in it? Chassidus teaches, the only reason that a person can not constantly transend this small world, is because they have not refined their seven emotions, 248 organs and 365 accupuncture siniews. To get there, we need halacha- Godly direction.

Regarding what you have said about breathing. What you must be refering to is an intermediary. The intermidairy is more than just the breathing, your whole body is the intermiadry and indeed so is your soul.

Untill your soul and body resolve their conflict they will be in a bipolar struggle regarding your path through God. Only when God is one with our soul can we be true with our selfves and our divine mission through God. The Diroh Betachtonim. Reply

leon roiter barranquilla, colombia September 30, 2006

kipur Denying the body will not make forguiveness easier. You should practice forguiveness everyday. Kipur doesnot mean fasting. It would be very difficult to corrupt your soul. It would be easier to practice breathing and not fasting to improve your relationship with your soul. You can only get to your soul through your body and mind. So it would be much better to start taking good care of your body since it is the only vehicle we have to get to our soul our real us.

G-d knows what He does. Our body is as perfect as our soul. It is our belief system which makes us believe otherwise. Practice silence and you will start learning what forguiveness is about. You have to forgive your self first and accept the beautiful gift G-d granted you. A perfect machine called body. Reply

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