The Zohar1 on the verse2Sarah died in Kiryat Arba, which is Chevron, in the land of Canaan” comments that “Sarah” alludes to the body and “Avraham” alludes to the soul.

Accordingly, we must understand the meaning of the verse3 in which G‑d tells Avraham: “Listen to whatever Sarah tells you to do.” Seemingly, it is the body that should obey the bidding of the soul, and not the other way round?

The Baal Shem Tov4 made the following comment on the verse5 “When you see a donkey of your enemy lying under its burden, you might want to refrain from helping it, [but instead] you must aid it:”

“When you see a donkey” (in Hebrew chamor , related to the word chomer , materialism) — means when you carefully examine your chomer, your material concerns, you will realize that they are your enemy. For at the outset of one’s spiritual service and at the beginning of one’s life, body and soul are enemies.

Moreover, the body “lies under its load.” The “load” referred to is the “burden” of Torah and mitzvos. For notwithstanding the fact that it is “its own burden” — that Torah and mitzvos were given to the soul as it becomes clothed within a body so that the body may be refined — nevertheless the body regards Torah and mitzvos as a burden.

Aside from the fact that Torah and mitzvos were given specifically to souls clothed within bodies, the mitzvos as well are clad in physical garments.

This is so not only regarding the “action” commandments, but even those commandments that are classified as “duties of the mind and heart” — mitzvos such as belief in G‑d, loving and fearing Him — are only fulfilled when actually felt in one’s physical mind and heart.

An example would be love of G‑d. Just as physical “glad tidings ‘fattens the bone’ ”6 as the Gemara relates7 an incident where glad tidings brought about an actual physical change in the body, so too with regard to love of G‑d. The feeling that “G‑d’s closeness to me is good”8 should also be discerned in the body.

Thus we find that Rabbi Nochum of Chernobyl was physically large as a result of reciting Amen, May His great Name be blessed forever and to all eternity.” For when he pondered G‑d’s greatness, that He is to be found in all worlds, including this physical world, he was filled with such love of G‑d and delight in Him that it caused his body to become stout.

The same is true with regard to fear and awe of G‑d. Not only should it cause a spiritual constriction in mind and heart, it should be felt physically as well.

The Baal Shem Tov goes on to interpret the verse: “You will refrain from helping it” — You may think that since the body “lies under its load” you will occupy yourself with spiritual service that relates strictly to the soul, while you will break down the body through fasting and mortification. The person is therefore told: “You must aid it,” i.e., purify the body, refine it, but do not break it.

The reason for making the body a full partner in one’s spiritual service is as follows:

Even if a person were to have all the proper spiritual intentions associated with the performance of a mitzvah , if he fails to perform the actual deed, then he has not only failed to fulfill the mitzvah, but has actually transgressed.

But if the deed is done while the intention is lacking — whether because the person doesn’t know the correct intention, or he knows it but didn’t think of it — then, while he is held responsible for this lack of intent, he has nonetheless performed the commandment.

This then is the meaning of “Listen to whatever Sarah tells you to do,” which according to the Zohar refers to the body. It means that the ultimate purpose of physical life resides in the physical body and its spiritual refinement.

Nowadays the superior spiritual aspect of the body is concealed, but with the speedy arrival of Moshiach this shall be revealed. So much so, that in the time to come the soul will derive its spiritual nourishment from the body.9

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. I, pp. 31-34.