I found Jonathan Reisman's article, "The Bodies That Guard Our Secrets," to be fascinating.
Did you know that the anatomy between cows and humans are similar? It makes me consider the ban on the gid hanasheh in a new light.
Anywho, Reisman, when a doctor in training, visited a kosher slaughterhouse to learn more about the design of the body.
And this is the heart of the situation: Kashrut’s concept of cleanliness and health relies on the sanctity of the barrier between the inside of the body and the outside world. Maintaining cleanliness means keeping the outside out, much as people in many cultures remove their shoes before entering a house or a place of worship. When we breathe, air enters our lungs and whooshes all the way down to the alveoli — but this is not truly inside the body. The air in the lungs is still continuous with the atmosphere and all of its dust, spores and smoke. The real threshold of the physical self is the lining of those deep alveoli where the body meets the atmosphere. The lungs are like the skin — a boundary with the rest of the world — but outside-in. A hole connecting the inside of the lungs to the pleura is a way for the dirt of the outside world to get in, truly inside, the body, and once that sacred barrier has been breached, innocence and purity are soiled.
It made me consider how spirituality and physicality aren't on separate planes; they are parallel to each other.
Our bodies reflect that which should be a careful mindset: walking the line between external influences and maintaining personal sanctity. I don't even speak of secular generalities; I mean also the "chaver ra," the one who can lead one awry, who can be present even within the religious community.
As I meet others who relate to the world differently—some who shun any secular exposure, those who identify with it more than I do—I am noticing that it is, as in all things, a personal call on keeping the balance.
In medical school I learned about how the body is held together and how it falls apart in illness. In the kosher abattoir I learned about the sanctity of those boundaries that keep both humans and animals healthy. The basement membrane protects every organism from the filth and infection of the outside world and the cancerous disease from within. It is the inviolate outline within which a healthy life is lived. Ultimately, every bout of disease — every violation of the basement membrane — leaves a mark and makes up an individual’s medical story. And when the body is opened, whether in the dissection lab or in the kosher abattoir, that story will be read. For what we all hold most strongly in common is precisely that which is most private and personal: our hidden insides and the story they tell.
If our physical challenges leave a mark, so to our spiritual challenges leaves theirs.
While true repentance, it is said, wipes the slate clean, that is how Hashem perceives us. But the echo remains in ourselves.