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.