About Harav Ginsburgh
The corollary of this parallelism is that our own ascent from worlds to souls to Divinity and finally to the Divine Itself, is a reflection of the process of creation in reverse order.
The Magid of Mezritch was known to state that the actions of the tzadikim—those unique souls able to leap higher and higher until they reach the Divine Itself—are greater than the act of creation, because in creation, God transformed nothingness into somethingness. But, by their pursuit of Divinity, the tzadikim transform somethingness back into nothingness.13
Contemplating the Divine
Job, in his suffering, said, “From my flesh, I envision God.”14 This verse15 is interpreted in Chasidut to mean that the way to “envision God”16,17 is through the contemplation of one’s own flesh, where “flesh” here represents the fabric of one’s subjective experience.
The traditional approach of Kabbalah has been to interpret the term “flesh” in this verse as suggestive of a literal correspondence between the structure of man’s body and the configuration of Divine forces that sustain Creation.18 In contemplating such a correspondence, one must possess a mature and developed capacity for abstract thought if one is to avoid the risk of falling into dangerous substantiation of the Divine.
In his writings on prayer, the third Lubavitcher Rebbe writes:
The Chasidic approach, aimed at avoiding such risk, has been to adopt the structure of the soul—its express functions and properties—as a more appropriate basis for reflecting upon the Divine. Unlike the soul, Kabbalah considers the physical body to be a fallen entity in need of rectification. The background for this identification is the breaking of the vessels—a particular stage of the creative process during which the light (or, energy) emanated by the Creator through Primordial Man shattered the vessels in which it was contained. The broken vessels became affixed to the physical matter in creation and serve as its internal life-force,20 but, because they are broken they must first be rectified in order that the body truly mirror the Divine.
Contrastingly, the soul did not follow the same path of descent into our reality and therefore was not affected like the body by the shattering of the vessels. The soul—i.e., the Divine soul—remains eternally bound to its Divine source and therefore mirrors Divinity in a pure and undistorted manner.21 The primary contribution of Chasidut to the Jewish mystical tradition lies in this emphasis upon the correspondence between man’s subjective experience and the nature of Divine reality. Whereas Kabbalah traditionally employs a highly technical terminology in constructing its anatomy, as it were, of the Divine, Chasidut humanizes the path to enlightenment by utilizing meaningful terms and analogies derived from the store of the soul.22
For this reason, the Chasidic interpretation of the term “flesh” in the above verse assumes it to be symbolic of not only one’s physical state but primarily of one’s spiritual condition. Such an assumption is supported by the verse:23 “And I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and will give them a heart of flesh.” Here, the newly sensitized spirit with which man is to be endowed in Messianic times is referred to as a “heart of flesh.” It comes to replace the “heart of stone” which presently dulls man to God’s presence in the world.24
Thus, by virtue of the innate features—both material and spiritual—that characterize his particular being, man can approach the Divine enigma underlying Creation. Having been created “in the image of God,”25 his own body and soul constitute a supreme analogue for understanding the Divinity upon which his very existence is modeled.
The soul, at its root, is conceived in Chasidic thought as an extension of God’s infinite and transcendent being. As an actual “portion of God from above,”26 the Divine soul of Israel attests to the existence of God by virtue of its very being.27 When enclothed within a physical body, it continues to assert its Divine origin through the infinite variety of ways by which it negotiates the encounter with its corporeal self as well as with outer reality.
Our purpose here is to explore the structure of the soul as manifest through its various properties and functions. The accompanying diagram, which illustrates the individual powers of the soul and the channels by which they achieve expression, is entitled Etz Hacha’im (עֵץ הַחַיִּים , “The Tree of Life”). This name echoes the Kabbalistic conception of man’s spirit as a multi-branched, yet unitary, source of eternal life, primordially rooted in the ground of God’s supernal being.28
Psyche and Soul
Our sages teach us29 that the soul is referred to in the Bible by five names, each of which reflects a different dimension of man’s Divine character.
In Hebrew, the collective noun “soul,” is used to refer to all five levels. Throughout our current study of the soul, whenever we use the word soul, we are actually referring to the nefesh, or the psyche.31 Thus, in the anatomical diagram that we will be studying, the left-most column—“the root of the soul”—actually refers to the root of the psyche.
Because of the holographic (or, inter-inclusive) nature of the soul, all five levels of the collective soul are represented in it. In particular, the yechidah corresponds to pleasure, chayah corresponds to will, neshamah corresponds to the intellect, ru’ach corresponds to the character attributes, and nefesh corresponds to the garments, while the root of the nefesh is found already in the lowest of the character attributes, malchut.Just as the holographic nature allows us to find all five levels in the nefesh, so it implies that in parallel to our diagram, four other diagrams are possible, each depicting the (similar) anatomy of the other four levels. In each of these diagrams, the left-most column would indicate the root of each of the four other levels of the soul. As our purpose for the moment is to gain the broadest possible understanding of the spiritual dynamic governing our inner lives, we will proceed to examine the anatomy of the soul in terms of the nefesh, or psyche.
1. The Ba’al Shem Tov (1698-1760) was the founder of the Jewish renewal movement known as Chasidut. For more, see our upcoming multi-volume series The Light of Israel.
2. Keter Shem Tov, 1. See also the introduction to The Hebrew Letters.
3 . The animal soul is discussed in the second half of the first chapter of Tanya. The intellectual soul is mentioned in the foreword to the second part of the Tanya and discussed in greater length in the writings of Reb Hillel of Paritsch.
4. The Divine Soul is discussed in length in the Tanya, beginning with chapter 2.
5. All human beings posses a Divine spark. However, only in the Jewish people, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, has this spark been integrated into their psyche and manifests itself as a soul—the Divine soul. For the non-Jew, the Divine spark continuously hovers above the psyche. For more see Kabbalah and Meditation for the Nations, pp. 55ff.
6. “Chaveev Adam” in Sefer Hama’amarim 5700, pp. 95ff.
7. Nogah is the intermediate klipah, or state of being, that lies between the pure and the impure. See Tanya, chapters 6-8.
8. Deuteronomy 30:19.
9. The Alter Rebbe (The Elder Rebbe), Shne’ur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1813) was the founder of the Chabad branch of Chasidut. His two most famous works are the Tanya and his updated Shulchan Aruch.
10. Lukutei Torah, Nitzavim 46b-c. For a deeper explanation of this point, see Ma’amarei Admor Ha’emtza’ee Devarim v. 3, pp. 831-5.
11. Based on a passage in the Zohar’s introduction (I, 15a) that begins with the words “bereish hormanuta demalka.”
12. See also in length in our Hebrew volume, Sod Hashem Liyerei’av, pp. 188ff.
13. Magid Devarav Leya’akov, 11.
14. Job 19:26.
15. There are differing opinions among the commentators as to the literal meaning of this verse. Some see it, as we have suggested, as an expression of the positive impact that suffering and travail can have upon one’s spiritual consciousness (see Rashi ad loc.). According to others, such as the Targum, Job’s intention here is to state the opposite: only when his flesh becomes healed, will he once more be able to “envision God”—implying, as Maimonides explicitly points out (Hilchot De’ot 4:1), that a healthy body is a prerequisite to pursuing proper knowledge of God.
16. In this verse, the Hebrew word for “I shall envision” is אחזה . As opposed to its synonym, “I shall see” (אראה ), which denotes direct, physical vision, this word (אחזה ) implies prophetic, spiritual, and (usually) indirect vision viewed through the lens of a material or spiritual parable. In this case, the parable through which the vision is seen is the human flesh, whether in the sense of body or of soul. Significantly, this word’s grammatical root in Hebrew is חזה , which, as a noun, means “chest.” In Kabbalah, the chest is considered the seat of the spiritual eye of the heart (the heart of flesh, as will be explained).
17. The Hebrew word for “I shall envision” is אחזה and it appears only four times in the Bible. Two of those appearances are found in these verses from Job, which in read: “From my flesh, I envision God; whom I envision myself, my eyes having seen and no others’” (Job 19:26-27).
18. See the introduction to Tikunei Zohar: “Chesed is the right arm and gevurah is the left,” et al.
19. Derech Mitzvotecha, Shoresh Mitzvat Hatefilah.
20. This life-force is identical with the animal soul (and its intellectual aspect—the intellectual soul), which are tied intrinsically into the very essence of the physical body, sustaining it, not only as a living being, but tying its sub-atomic particles together into atoms, its atoms into molecules, its molecules into cells, and so on.
21. Even in a Jew (see note 5, above), at birth, the Divine soul is merely a spark enclothed within the animal soul. Therefore, the Divine soul remains in a state of separation from its Divine source until awakened, matured, and consciously connected to its source through the study of Torah. Unlike the Divine soul, the Torah is a ray (in contrast to a spark) of Divine light that is always connected consciously to its source in the Divine.
22. This added dimension of enlightenment, revealed through the teachings of Chasidut, led Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch to expand upon a Zoharic reference by stating that while the early mystical tradition indeed represents the “soul of the Torah,” Chasidut is “the soul of the soul of the Torah.”
23. Ezekiel 11:19.
24. Highlighted in this verse is the implicit association between the root בשר , (“flesh”) and the word בשורה (“future tiding,” specifically the tiding of redemption).
25. Genesis 9:1.
26. Paraphrased from the verse: “And what might be my portion from God above and my inheritance from the Lord on high?” (Job 31:2). See Tanya, chapter 2. The adjective “actual” (mamash, in Hebrew) was first added by the 17th [???] century Kabbalist, Rabbi Shabtai Sheftel, the author of Shefa Tal, in his volume titled “Nishmat Shabtai.”
27. The root of the soul is identified in Chasidut with emunah—absolute faith in God’s Being. Here, emunah is not meant to indicate, as elaborated later on, a capacity of the soul (see Reshimot #9 of the Lubavitcher Rebbe), but rather an axiomatic state of being that derives from the soul’s grounding in Divine essence.
28. The image of the Etz Hacha’im is primarily employed in Kabbalah as a symbol for the evolution(השתלשלות ) of created realms leading to our physical world. In both cases, the “tree” envisioned has roots in heaven and branches out, as it were, earthward—thus forming an inversion of its analogue in nature.
29. Breisheet Rabbah 14:11.
30. Each of these levels can actually be viewed as corresponding to a different property, or set of properties, appearing in our diagram. The superconscious powers of pleasure and will correspond respectively to those strata of one’s soul most sensitive to Divinity—yechidah (singular one) and chayah (living one). The conscious powers that comprise one’s intellect and primary emotions correspond to the intermediate levels of neshamah (soul) and ru’ach (spirit). Finally, the powers that govern behavior, beginning with the malchut of the innate character attributes and including all of the garments are linked to the dimension of one’s soul furthest removed from Divine awareness—the nefesh (psyche).
31. The two terms generally used to denote “soul” in the Hebrew vernacular are nefesh and neshamah. If one were to distinguish between them, one would say that the more common term—nefesh—describes the soul as enclothed within a body, while the more refined designation of neshamah describes the soul in terms of its pristine roots beyond the physical realm.
"The material contained on this page is copyright by Gal Einai Institute, a US non-profit organization dedicated to publishing the teachings of Harav Yitzchak Ginsburgh
The written material on this page may be used on other websites, provided that credit and a link back to this page are clearly displayed
(c) 1996-2011 Gal Einai Institute, Inc.