From the Rebbe’s explanations:
– The Zohar expounds the verse phrase by phrase:
• “And Sarah died…: This alludes to the body;
• …in Kiryas Arba [lit., ‘in the City of the Four’]: This alludes to the Four Elements – [Fire, Air, Water, Earth];
• …which is Hebron: This means that they were joined together in his body during its lifetime;
• …and Avraham came: This is the soul;
• …to eulogize Sarah: This is the body.” (And the Zohar proceeds to explain that even after death there is a connection between the soul and the body.)
It will be noted that even though the Zohar generally expounds verses at the [mystical] level known as Sod, which is the hidden dimension (the nistar) of the Torah, it also includes expositions which resemble those at the [non-literal but non-mystical] level of derush, as in the above example. (— Note by the Rebbe.)
This statement — that Sarah alludes to the body and Avraham alludes to the soul — must be consistently applicable throughout the entire Torah. If so, how shall we understand the instruction given to Avraham (who alludes to the soul),
“Whatever Sarah (who alludes to the body) tells you, heed her voice” (Bereishis 21:12)?
Don’t Beat Your Donkey: Harness It!
The above question, about heeding the body, is answered by a well known teaching of the Baal Shem Tov.
Keser Shem Tov, Hosafos (Addenda), sec. 16, and references indicated there; quoted in HaYom Yom, entry for 28 Shvat.
There is a verse which ordinarily means:
“If you see the donkey of your enemy lying under its burden, you might want to refrain from helping him, but instead you must make every effort to help him.” (Shmos 23:5.)
In this verse the Baal Shem Tov sees a lesson on the primacy of serving G-d with the body. Expounding the verse phrase by phrase on the nonliteral level of derush, the Baal Shem Tov teaches:
• “If you see the donkey (chamor): If you carefully examine your own materiality (chomer), i.e., your body, you will see that it is your enemy, inasmuch as it hates the soul which yearns for Elokus and spirituality — for early in a man’s life and in the early stages of his avodah, the body and soul hate each other.
• …lying under its burden: This burden is the yoke of the Torah and its commandments, and it is its burden, the body’s burden. Indeed, the commandments are given to souls vested in bodies because G-d’s intent is that the body be refined. Nevertheless, the body sees this yoke as an unwanted burden, so it lies down under its weight.
• …you might want to refrain from helping him: You might think that since the body is lying down under its burden, you might as well engage in avodah that relates to the soul, while crushing the body by fasts and self-mortification. It is therefore written:
• …you must make every effort to help him (lit., ‘to help with him’), since it is specifically the body that one has to refine.”
Excerpted from “Proceeding Together”: the earliest talks of the Rebbe, free translation by Uri Kaploun.