Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Soul

There are many posts that I have mentioned the spiritual aspect of the human being.  It is time to define what that is.  We are really spiritual beings that have been provided with physical clothing to exist in the physical world.  I have mentioned that we are here for the purpose of repair, rectification and perfecting ourselves and the world.  Hashem has designed the system to be able to accomplish this task by providing the Jews with 613 commandments and gentiles with 7 commandments.  These commandments are of a physical nature requiring us to have a physical body.  Since we live forever, the only part of our existence throughout eternity that needs this body is during our visit and mission on Earth.  When we finish our work here we are able to move back to the spiritual realm and the body that was provided for us ceases to exist (we know it better as death).  Since the soul is the actual spirit, the essence of Hashem imbued in a body, everything has a soul.  I’m not just talking about animals, but everything in the universe:  plants, rocks, the Earth, the stars, food, furniture -- everything.  I had mentioned in a previous post that we say Hashem is One several times a day in our prayers.  That means that everything is Hashem and therefore has His spirit within.  I am talking concepts, once again, beyond human comprehension but I hope to give a more meaningful description in a future blog post.  For now this discussion of soul will be limited to the soul within and surrounding the human being.



One proof that verifies the fact that we have a spiritual makeup comes from a scientific study that was performed over a 15 year period asking one question:  “What is the mind?”  A group of psychologists, neurologists and doctors probed the actual capabilities of the brain to discover that it is not the supercomputer that everyone thinks it is but more of a router that connects the physical with the metaphysical realm. 


Common attributes of mind include perception, reason, imagination, memory, emotion, attention, and a capacity for communication.  None of these qualities including the processing of information from the five senses is found in the brain nor could be incorporated in any type of computer device.



Judaism teaches that "moach shalit al halev", the mind rules the heart.  Humans can approach the Divine intellectually, through learning and behaving according to the Divine Will as enclothed in the Torah, and use that deep logical understanding to elicit and guide emotional arousal during prayer.  This is again not a simple computing function but a spiritual one.

Kabbalah and other mystic traditions go into greater detail into the nature of the soul.  Kabbalah separates the soul into five elements or levels:

1.   נפש nephesh (literally "living being" or animal soul), related to natural instinct
2.   רוח ruach (literally "wind") related to emotion and morality
3.   נשמה neshamah (literally "breath") related to intellect and the awareness of Hashem
4.   חיה chaya (literally "life"), considered a part of Hashem
5.   יחידה yechidah (literally "singularity"), also termed the pintele Yid (the "essential [inner] Jew"). This aspect is essentially one with Hashem

The Torah tells us that the soul is given by Hashem to a person by his/her first breath, as mentioned in Genesis, "And the L-RD G-d formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being." (Genesis 2:7)(important note:  Adam was created as a man/woman creature.  Man is an English translation that needs explaining in hopefully a near-future blog post).  Since everything has a soul, we know that even the human embryo has a soul but at the lowest level, the nephesh.  Judaism relates the quality of one's soul to one's performance of the commandments.  Reaching higher levels of understanding and thus closeness to Hashem becomes a function of everything we have talked about (prayer, repentance, Torah study, charity, etc, etc, etc).

There are 613 parts to the Jewish soul which is commensurate with the number of commandments that a Jew is obligated to fulfill.  As each commandment is satisfied, that part of the soul ascends to Heaven and the correction that is needed is accomplished.  What remains is what needs to be worked on.  That does not mean that if I have one Kosher meal I have fulfilled the commandment to keep Kosher.  Hashem sees our entire life and everything that we will do even before we do it.  He knows that the commandment is fulfilled because we will be keeping a strict Kosher diet for the rest of our lives.  I wish to mention that the soul is not a physical item and therefore is not just confined within the body.  The true nature of a soul is beyond our comprehension but is exists in the body, outside the body and in Heaven.


There are aspects of the system that make the commandments totally achievable.  There are 248 positive commandments corresponding to a person's limbs and 365 negative commandments like the number of days in the solar year.  The positive commandments are what we are obligated to do and the negative ones are those we are obligated to avoid.  This means that 365 of the commandment are simple to accomplish because we don’t do them.  Examples that we are all familiar with is don’t steel, don’t kill, don't covet, don’t take Hashem’s name in vain, don’t make idols, etc.  There are many commandments that pertain to the time of the Temple such as the obligation of the Kohain, the Priest, perform his service.  There are commandments strictly for men and others for women.  There are commandments that can only be done in Israel.


How do we accomplish the commandments that we cannot fulfill due to circumstances?  There are two answers.  One is Torah study.  When we study in depth the details of a commandment, Hashem gives us credit for that commandment as though we had performed it completely.  We cannot use this method as a way to avoid our obligations, only to accomplish those that we have no way of doing.  We cannot study the laws of keeping the Sabbath holy and then violate the Sabbath.  That’s like cheating on a test – you will get caught.  The other method is more interesting and not so obvious.  When we take on a spouse, we are said to have joined souls.  The expression “marriages are made in Heaven” is very literal.  We are basically a half of a soul and our soul mates (not just a cute expression) make us whole.  We are required to get married and have children – it is part of the system.  The commandments that are just for men or women become a team effort.  In other words, when my wife (my better half – I had to say that, she reads my posts) fulfills a commandment strictly for women, my half of the soul, so to speak gets credit for fulfillment.  This is a good deal for women since men have many more obligations than women.  The problem that is sometimes presented to women is that they may have to be reincarnated to help a soul mate and not need the reincarnation for themselves.


This has certain ramifications that should be mentioned.  That which I am about to cover may be offensive to some of my readers, but I guarantee you that none of this is my opinion but is the word of Hashem.  He is the One that you need to resolve your differences with, not me.  As I said with my post on Jew hatred, if you don’t care for the message, don’t take it out on the messenger.  Here we go.  One important fact is that the soul of a Jew is different from the soul of a gentile.  Intermarriage is not just frowned upon, it is meaningless.  Not being sanctioned in Heaven, Jews and gentiles are not soul mates.  If the gentile converts with a totally kosher conversion, then the union is workable.  That means completely accepting the 613 commandments and converting because of a total love of Hashem, not another person.  The key to all this is that the convert completes the conversion process by immersing in the ritual bath and Hashem actually instills a new soul in the person.  Just having a certificate from a Rabbi because you studied some Judaism is bogus and does not in the eyes of Hashem make you a Jew.  A Jew on the other hand by virtue of having a Jewish mother is a Jew for life.  Converting to something else does not change your soul.  One little note is that the strict concept of one being Jewish because one’s mother is Jewish is also because of how the soul was instilled in a person prenatal.  Being half Jewish makes as much sense as being partially pregnant.  One is either Jewish or not.  No halfsies (I think I made up a word).


An additional impossibility is same sex marriages.  Since there are commandments from Hashem that say “a man cannot be with a man and a woman cannot be with a woman,” we know emphatically that homosexuality is against Jewish law and would never provide for a soul mate union.  It is easy to see that the commandments that require a union between a man and a woman can only be accomplished if that is the arrangement.  As I said, your argument isn’t with me but the Designer of this world and its system.  Since the benefits of playing by the rules are a totally wonderful with a joyous future forever and ever, don’t argue with success.


What happens if one does not accomplish all the commandments in ones lifetime?  One simply gets to come back again for another try.  Yes, reincarnation is a very real thing (and is very involved requiring a separate blog post).

One last word.  The soul and all of its details are so complicated that my brief disartation really does not say it all.  A lifetime of study may not even give complete scholarship on the subject, but understand that Hashem gave us this system for our benefit is all you need to know.  When we were at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah we said collectively: Na'aseh V'Nishma” First we will do then we will understand.  We were given the Torah because we totally accepted the commandments, did them and then spent our lives understanding and perfecting our performance.  That is our goal here.  Do and then, even if it is for curiosity, learn.


  1. "woman cannot be with a woman" - I think you're in error on this fact.
    Only male homosexuality - I think - Torah bans!

    1. You are correct so far as the wording in Leviticus 20:13 but commentary by the Rabbis and more specifically the Midrash says that the verse implies "Cohabitation with one of the same sex." There are several places in scriptures that talk about men but include women as well.