Ramach and shesah

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, February 11, 2010

“He serves God with all his ramach and shesah,” said the barmitzvah boy’s uncle, who was addressing the guests. What he meant was that his nephew worshipped God with his whole body.

According to the Mishnah (Ohalot 1), we have 248 limbs (evarim), the numerical equivalent of the word ramach. In addition to ramach limbs, we have 365 sinews and ligaments (giddim), the numerical value of shesah.

Of the total of 613 commandments, 248 are positive precepts (what to do) and 365 are negative precepts (what not). Kabbalists teach that the negative precepts corresponds to ramach evarim, and the positive precepts to shesah giddim.

The daily recitation of the Shema contains 245 words. The chazan repeats the final three words to reach ramach words — one word for each limb of the body. The Mishnah Berurah explains that the words of Torah protect and heal the body, likewise the commandments. Each letter of the Shema and every commandment correspond to a particular limb. The 16th-century kabbalist Isaac Luria could heal people by identifying the commandment that was causing a specific part of the body to ail.

Serving God with ramach and shesah is holistic worship that engages both mind and body.

Last updated: 3:05pm, February 19 2010