Natasha Demkina has x-ray vision. At least, that's what the twenty-one year old Russian woman claims. Since the age of ten, Ms. Demkina has reported an ability to see inside people, not figuratively or psychically, but visually, with her eyes wide open.
A test several years ago, in collaboration with the Discovery Channel, concluded that the young woman's mysterious talent for correctly diagnosing medical conditions did not derive from paranormal ability but from a sensitivity that enabled her to interpret external clues from subjects who came before her for examination. Ms. Demkina's defenders claim the test was flawed.
Irrespective of the authenticity of these or other paranormal claims, all of us who grew up with a knowledge of Superman have x-ray vision indelibly imprinted in our cultural lexicon. What child hasn't imagined himself possessed of the Man of Steel's power to look through walls and inside sealed containers? To see inside the human body is merely a new variation on an old theme.
STRANGER THAN FICTION?
Or is it? From a purely medical perspective, such innovations as x-rays, CT scans, and MRIs have provided huge advances in diagnoses and preventative treatments. From tooth decay to broken bones to lung disease to tumor growth, the equipment that allows us to see inside our skin has saved countless lives and been an invaluable boon to public health.
Even to the untrained eye, images produced by modern technology showing the effects of unhealthy living may prove shocking. The blackened lungs of a lifetime smoker, the cauterized liver of a heavy drinker, the clogged arteries resulting from a high-fat diet, and the impaired brain activity caused by drug abuse, are all concrete images of the effects of a careless or overindulgent lifestyle. Before we could look inside and see the effects of our behaviors, it was easy to deny that the vices we embraced were truly harmful; but now, the machines of modern medicine confront us with physical evidence that is truly irrefutable.
But what of behaviors that produce no physical evidence and leave no physical imprint? The Torah prohibits us from eating animals that do not have split-hooves and chew their cud. If the consumption of fatty foods deposits fat throughout our system, is it difficult to imagine that that ingesting the flesh of predatory animals may subtly influence us to develop a more violent nature? Conversely, is it not possible that consuming only animals characterized by rumination will gradually influence us to become more thoughtful and find more satisfaction in the simple pleasures life has to offer?
And what of the prohibition against mixing milk and meat? If the former characterizes our more passive, nurturing dimension, and the latter reflects our more active and aggressive side, is it inconceivable that the intermingling of the two might not lead us to lose some of our capacity for delineating when one response is called for and not the other? If we fail to respect some of life's natural boundaries, will we not place ourselves in danger of violating others?
WE ARE WHAT WE EAT … AND HOW WE ACT
Not is it only what we take inside our bodies that may cause us harm. Is immorality less self-destructive than smoking or an unhealthy diet? Do stinginess and anger and arrogance have any less effect upon us than cigarette tar and high cholesterol? What if we had x-ray vision that enabled us to see not blackened lungs and hardened arteries but the effect of an unholy life upon the neshoma - the supernal soul that defines our spiritual identity?
Just as the endless shelves of diet books promise to instruct us in maintaining our physical health, the Torah is the one genuine guide to spiritual well-being. Each positive commandment is a prescription for spiritual health, just as each prohibition is a warning against behavior that is spiritually harmful.
The kabbalists offer a frightening description of the effect of actions inconsistent with the Divine Will. Because our souls are essentially sparks of the Infinite G-d that reside within us, we cannot truly cause them damage. However, the radiance of the neshoma that illuminates our lives with spiritual joy and enables us to illuminate the world around us with spiritual energy can become diminished.
Every action that contradicts the Torah's code of conduct and ethics deposits a film of impurity over the around the exterior of our souls. The effect of a single spiritual indiscretion may be indiscernible. But if it is compounded, if layer after layer of impurity is added, the neshoma may become encased in a shroud of spiritual defilement that prevents its divine light from shining through.
PRESCRIPTION FOR THE SOUL
Ultimately, despite the complete absence of physical evidence, a person will find himself incapable of any true spiritual fulfillment. Over time, a person may become incapable of such feelings as love, kindness, mercy, gratitude, and self-sacrifice, without which it is impossible to live a life of true happiness and satisfaction. As the layers of impurity coalesce around his neshoma, a person finds himself pulled down by the inexorable weight of his material existence. Life becomes a burden, and the light of true joy gives way to a perpetually gray sky of spiritual melancholy.
Conversely, by directing our lives according to the spiritual prescription of Torah, we polish the exteriors of our neshomas to an extraordinary luster, so that the radiance of our souls permeates every corner of our world, bringing light and hope and elation to the darkest places and circumstances.
These conditions describe the extremes. Most of us, however, grapple with life somewhere in the middle, battling our way toward good and against evil, reaching up toward the spiritual against the constant downward pull of the physical. Sometimes we succeed; other times we fail. Too often we lose sight of the true consequences of our actions as we focus on trappings of earthly existence.
How do we train ourselves to keep our focus? How do we develop the clarity of x-ray vision to look beneath the surface and recognize how our spiritual health benefits when we take responsibility for ourselves and suffers when we indulge our impulses with abandon?
Just as technology has enabled us to look beneath the body's exterior and diagnose its true condition, similarly is the diagnosis of the neshoma a matter of employing the proper equipment. If the commandments in the Torah are indeed the prescription for a good life, then our quality of life itself is the measure of how well we are following the Almighty's prescription.
For they are our life and the length of our days. If we find ourselves bitter, self-absorbed, discontented, and unfulfilled, then we are certainly not following the prescription for the soul. This is not to say that the Torah life produces instant happiness. But it does provide us with the guidance and the direction to clean and polish our neshomas, to restore the luster and radiance to our lives by returning meaning to our existence.
No one needs x-ray vision for that.
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