A few weeks ago our Sabbath dinner conversation turned to deep questions: What is life? What is death?
I didn’t have a solid answer readily at hand. As a believer, I know we should have a Biblically-based understanding of such things, so I started at the beginning of Scripture… with Adam.
Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)
Consider those unique moments of Creation when Adam was made. In the time between the formation of Adam’s flesh and when G-d breathed into his nostrils, his body was 100% human and 100% flawless, undefiled, and uncorrupted… and yet not fully alive. It was only after G-d breathed the breath of life ( נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים, nishemat chayyom in Hebrew) into Adam’s body that he became a living being ( לְנֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה, l’nephesh chayah).
I think of it like a basic algebra equation: the body + the breath of life = a living being.
A+B=C… simple, right?
It is as if G-d zippered the body and the breath together in order to create a living being. Perhaps this is what King David meant when he wrote "You knit me together in my mother’s womb." (Psalm 139:13). Someone who is alive has both a body and the breath of life. If you are missing one or the other then you aren’t alive.
At the other end of the Good Book, we find the story of the two witnesses who will prophesy for the Lord and then be slain by the beast that comes up out of the abyss (Revelation 11:7). They are dead for three and a half days and then that same "breath of life" from G-d restores them to life (Revelation 11:11).
We find throughout Scripture that most individuals die of disease, injury, or old age. In all of these situations, the "body" side of the zipper is damaged and cannot stay zippered together. In other situations, we find otherwise healthy individuals who die because G-d takes their life (for example, Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5). The two parts of their zipper were in good condition… G-d just "unzips" them because of their sin against the Spirit.
What is this "neshamah" that G-d breathed into Adam? Is it the same "breath of life" that the animals of Noah’s ark had (Genesis 7:15)? Is it physical breath or spiritual? What happens if we hold our breath? Are we temporarily "dead" until we breathe again?
We’ll take a look at those questions next month. Shalom!