Liver Series #1: “The Life Force Rests in the Liver”

10/7/03, 10″ x 14″, acrylic paint.

About the Liver Painting Series

In the early 2000’s, I encountered a book called In My Flesh I see God, A Treasury of Rabbinic Insights about the Human Anatomy, by Avraham Yaakov Finkel (London, Jason Aronson, Inc., 1995.) I was intrigued by how odd, fanciful, yet subtly and unexpectedly true some of the phrases about our physical body and its relationship with the unseen–the Divine–were. Almost every sentence I read was inspiring to me–spiritually and visually. I began this series of paintings composed of images and text by using the phrase (from p. 164) “The Life Force Rests in the Liver”, as a seed text. With the exception of the phrase painted into Liver Series #4, all the phrases came from Rabbi Finkel’s book. (The sole exception is in Liver Series #4, “On the seashore of endless worlds, children play.” This is from a poem by Rabindranith Tagore, the Indian poet.

I feel that I have only scratched the surface of this marvelous compendium, and that someday I might return to this series in some form. For example, there’s the phrase on page 5 by the Ba’al Shem Tov (influential 18th century Rabbi, source of Chasidism) as follows: “Whatever action you do down here in this world, evokes a similar action by God, for it says, ‘God is your shadow’ (Psalm 121:5) Your shadow mimics everything you do . . .” What we are just beginning to be aware of–the interrelatedness of everything in our universe–is in actuality very, very old!

Below is are rough notes concerning my sources of imagery for Liver Painting #1:

“. . .nefesh,” the animalistic life force, rests in the liver.”, “Ruach, the spirit, dwells in the heart; and neshama, the divine soul, is centered in the brain.”


The serpent, the personification of the Yetzer Hara, is equated with the liver.” Yetzer Hara – seat in the liver = carnal instincts. Adam = the brain. Eve = the heart.

Serpent = the liver, p. 165.

“. . . when you count the letters of the Torah, you find that the exact center of the Torah is the VAV of the word GACHON (belly) (gimel, chet, vav, final nun) in the verse, ‘Thus, you may not eat any creature that crawls on its belly,’ (Leviticus 11:42). Rashi explains that “the creature that crawls on his belly” refers to a snake. This presents the paradox that the middle letter, the focal point of the entire Torah, is part of a word that denotes the lowest organ of the lowliest and most despicable creature, the serpent. More astonishing yet, this middle letter of the Torah is a VAV, one of the letters of the four-letter Name of God. The pivotal VAV of GACHON (the belly of the snake) teaches us that absolute evil does not exist by that a spark of holiness resides even in the YETZER HARA. Without the evil impulse, man would have no freedom of choice.” p. 165

Pharoah’s daughter’s arm grew: “The Gemara (Sotah 12b) tells us that when Pharoah’s daughter went to bathe in the Nile and saw the box containing the child Moses in the rushes, she stretched out her arm to fetch it. Miraculously, her arm became lengthened so that she was able to reach the box and thereby the course of history was changed. . . This teaches us that with firm resolve, total dedication, and an iron will we can achieve superhuman feats.”, p. 194

“The words ‘man’ and ‘woman’ each are composed of an element of fire & God. Both man and woman include in their spelling the letters for fire AISH which are aleph and shin. In addition to the letters for fire, man is spelled with a YOD and woman with a HEY. The new letters YOD and HEY are the first two letters of the four-letter name for GOD. Thus it is taught that God says,’If you follow my ways, may name will be with you; but if you do not, I will take away my name and you will become fire.’ The four streams that flow through the Garden of Eden come from the roots of the Tree of Life.” p. 50 of God is a Verb, David Cooper.

The corona. The foreskin is in the shape of a yod.