Long Live the Bones

One can never cease to be amazed at the gadlus haBorei and the astonishing genius with which He created the world. “How great are Your works Hashem, You make them all with wisdom.” All it takes is a little bit of study and contemplation about any part of the briah and the mind is boggled. One of the most amazing creations is an edifice in your very own neighborhood, in your very own home. It is a most fascinating structure, a factory constantly bustling with activity. In fact, it is found within your very own body. It is the human skeleton.

From head to toe, there are 206 bones in the adult human body. They vary in size and shape depending on where they are located and what their particular function is. On the inside, they produce blood cells through the bone marrow, over 100 billion blood cells daily. Outside, bone-making cells called osteoblasts are regularly building new bone by secreting collagen, other proteins and minerals such as calcium and phosphorus. Cells known as osteoclasts absorb old blood cells and released their calcium into the blood where they are used to make new bone, sort of a recycling plant in the body. Any material not used is excreted as waste. Yes, not only are the bones the framework of your body, but they are also the creator of the essence of life…the blood.

Compact bone is second only to teeth enamel as the toughest material in the body, about as strong as reinforced concrete. It has to be that strong so that it can carry the body’s weight under all circumstances. It must endure man’s carrying heavy boxes, running, jumping, and hard physical labor. But if the skeleton was comprised entirely of compact bone, it would be way too heavy to move. Therefore, Hashem, in His infinite wisdom, created spongy bone, a brilliant invention. It is a web of tiny spikes called trabeculae that is relatively light but can withstand extraordinary stress because of the way the spikes are angled and arranged. It is thickest closest to the joints, which absorb the brunt of the bumps and jolts.

Growth and maintenance of the bone depend heavily on nutrition. Large amounts of calcium and phosphorus are needed for healthy bone growth together with small amounts of fluoride, magnesium, and iron, and manganese. Vitamin A helps keep the osteoblasts, the bone-making cells, functioning, while vitamin C supports the production of collagen, the main bone protein. Vitamins K, B12 and D are also vital for efficient bone growth and repair. Viewing various bone cells under a microscope makes you dumbfounded at how great is the gadlus haVorei.

The aforementioned information is merely a snippet of the complexity of the skeletal system. Many books have been published about it and many more will still be written as more information becomes revealed. No wonder Dovid Hamelech says: “My heart and my flesh will sing to the living G-d” (Tehillim 84:3). The song emanates from the very existence of our bodies that testify to the chassodim and genius of our Creator.

Vitamins and minerals are essential for healthy bone structure. But there is another factor that is a major guarantor of healthy bones and long preservation. It is not a nutrient that you can absorb from the food you eat. You cannot buy it in a natural health store nor is it prescribed by your doctor or nutritionist. This key to bone preservation is given to us by none other than the wisest of men, Shlomo Hamelech, and the explanation of our chachomim.

The Gemara relates a fascinating incident about a tzaddik who was very much alive even after his apparent demise. Some workers were digging in the property of Rav Nachman when they uncovered a man buried there. To their utter shock and astonishment, he signaled for them to stop digging. Immediately, they ran to Rav Nachman and told him about their find. He came to the gravesite and asked the man, “What is your name?”

“I am Achai, the son of Yoshia,” he answered.

“But how is it possible that your body is totally impact? Didn’t Rav Mari say that even tzaddikim turn into dust?”

“Who is this Mari? I don’t know him,” came the answer.

“But does it not say, ‘Thus the dust returns to the ground as it was’ (Kohelles 12), referring to the human body, which eventually disintegrates?”

He answered, “The one who taught you Kohelles did not teach you Mishlei. There it says, ‘But envy brings the rotting of bones’ (Mishlei 14:30). He who has envy in his heart has rotting bones. He who does not have envy in his heart does not have rotting bones.”

Rav Nachman touched him and felt that his body was completely intact. He invited him to get up and come into his home.

To this, the man responded, “Now you’ve revealed that you don’t even know novi. It says, ‘Then you will know that I am Hashem when I open up your graves and when I raise you up from your graves, My people’ (Yechezkel 37:13). Before Hashem raises us up, we have no permission to leave the grave.”

“But does it not say, ‘For you are dust and to dust shall you return’ (Bereishis 3:19)?” asked Rav Nachman.

He answered, “That is referring to the moment before techiyas hameisim, when all will return to dust and Hashem will re-create them” (Shabbos 152b).

Learning this Gemara about this tzaddik, one wonders what he was doing being underground with all of his senses completely there. And was it not torture for him to just remain idle all day, every day, with nothing to do? To the contrary, from the tone of his answers, it sounds like he wasn’t happy that his peace was disturbed. Undoubtedly, he was immersed in his holy thoughts that brought him great joy. What’s more, now that his neshamah was in Gan Eden and he was connected to it, he was occupied with revelations beyond our comprehension.

But the key lesson of this Gemara is how jealousy causes disintegration of the body, while its absence guarantees the body’s preservation. A shailah was once sent to the Chasam Sofer about an old grave that was found with a monument that identified the niftar as Reb Zecharya ben Yedidya who had died 400 years before. The question was if one must assume that the remains are still there and that because of tumas meis a kohein must refrain from going there, or if one could assume that after so many years, there was nothing left of the body and there was no tumah.

The Chasam Sofer answered that Chazal say that whoever is not jealous of his friend, his bones do not rot. If so, that which we learned that a person’s remains eventually dissolve refers only to one who is jealous in his lifetime. If so, we must view a Yid with a chezkas kashrus and assume that he was not jealous when he was alive. Consequently, his remains are still there and there is tumah (Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deiah 337).

Why is it that envy causes the rotting of the bones? It is well-known from the seforim that just as a person has a physical structure, he has a spiritual makeup behind it. Every physical limb has a spiritual appendage behind i.

The Netziv was once not feeling well and his family wanted very much that he see a doctor. After they persisted in begging him to see a physician, he finally agreed to undergo an examination. The doctor gave his diagnosis and wrote out a prescription for medicine that would cure the sickness. After the doctor left, the Netziv promptly disposed of the prescription.

When asked by his family what the purpose of allowing a doctor to see him was when he didn’t follow his advice, he answered, “I needed the doctor merely to tell me what was causing my symptoms. Now that I know the source of my pain, I will work on rectifying the spiritual malady behind it and the physical sickness will be cured.”

Behind the physical edifice known as the human skeleton, there is the spiritual framework of man. Every person has their own unique makeup not found in any other human being. Every individual is blessed with his own strengths and talents that come along with his own personal shortcomings. In addition, every person is born under his own mazel. “Life, children and sustenance are not dependent on a person’s merits, but rather on his mazel” (Moed Kotton 28a). Man’s purpose in this world is to navigate the challenges of life and to handle them from within the parameters that he was given. When he does this, he can feel a tremendous sense of fulfillment.

But one of the negative tendencies in man is to notice the blessings of others and to want them for himself. He thinks to himself, “If only I had the next person’s riches, his intelligence, his popularity, and his easygoing nature, then life would be perfect.” What he doesn’t realize is that his friend has his own hardships and challenges and is not living a perfect life himself. Furthermore, man’s purpose in this world is to live his life with what he was given and serve Hashem with his own kochos and not with someone else’s attributes.

Unfortunately, sometimes people try to live the lives of others, beyond their financial means, and not a life that is meant for their techunas hanefesh. In the process, they ignore their own strengths and qualities and do not fulfill their purpose in Hashem’s plan. In reality, they are allowing their own essence, custom-made for them, to go to waste. They are allowing their spiritual bones to disintegrate by not nourishing them with the merits that they were meant to accomplish. Hence, the eternal part of their essence, their physical bones, also dissolve. Conversely, the man who is satisfied and happy with his lot serves Hashem with his own kochos and is constantly nurturing his essence. The strong and healthy constitution of his inner self extends to his physical bones giving them strength and longevity.

In this week’s sedrah, we learn of the events that would eventually lead to the shevotim going down to Mitzrayim. This, in turn, brought about the golus that would last for 210 years. Throughout it, the Yidden would suffer as slaves, having to work hard and endure the torture and indignities heaped upon them by the Egyptians. And how did this all start? “And his brothers were jealous of him” (Bereishis 37:11). It was the brothers’ envy of Yosef that brought them to sell him as a slave, setting off a chain of events that brought about the terrible golus.

In Parshas Beshalach, which speaks of the Jews’ exodus from Mitzrayim, it is stressed that the Yidden brought the bones of the shevotim with them. “And Moshe took the bones of Yosef with him, for he had firmly adjured the Bnei Yisroel saying… ‘And you shall bring up my bones with you’” (Shemos 13:19). Rashi points out that the bones of all of the shevotim were brought out of Mitzrayim. Why is this of significance? For one would think that since the shevotim were jealous of Yosef, their bones did not withstand the test of time. For this we are told that they did. Because they learned firsthand what ramifications envy could have and they rectified their ways. In the end, they uprooted this middah, and indeed their bones did not rot and were eventually brought to Eretz Yisroel.

How sad life is for one who is not comfortable with his own skin. What a waste of time to dream about a life that wasn’t meant for you. And conversely, how happy and fulfilling is the life of one who recognizes his own kochos and limitations, and sets his goals accordingly. He doesn’t envy anyone else, knowing that their blessings would not necessarily be for his benefit. Such a man lives a very purposeful life, one that is full of happiness and a sense of entitlement.