Posts Tagged ‘soul’

In Yesterday’s post I shared from Nefesh haChayim the reason our bodies produce physical waste, that is, that most foods have a component that nourishes the spirit, and elements that do not. The body absorbs that which nourishes and excretes the rest. As a result, the generation that ate manna in the desert did not “go to the bathroom” since the manna from heaven was all nourishing.

Nefesh haChayim goes on to explain the connection between this concept and the worship of the idol known as Baal Peor. According to our traditional sources, Baal Peor was worship by performing one’s bathroom functions onto the idol. What is the reason for this bizarre (and disgusting) practice? How could this be a form of worship?

According to the above, however, the answer is understandable. The physical waste of the body represents everything that is completely of this physical world with no spiritual connection, no connection to the soul. Those who worshipped Baal Peor engaged in the most extreme form of hedonism, indulging the body only, with no limitations of the soul, no connection to God, no obeisance to a Higher Power. That is why those who worshipped Baal Peor (the daughters of Midyan) engaged in immoral sexuality and seduced the Israelites to do the same. They worshipped only the physical, with no spiritual component. So their form of worship involved the act revolving around that substance that has no spiritual component — excrement.


It is known that the soul of man is hewn from the four spiritual elements from which all the upper realms were formed, and they are the four letters of the Tetragrammaton (the four letter Name of G-d)… So too, the body of man is formed from the four elements of the lower realm, that are comprised of both good and evil, owing to the sin of Primordial Man (Adam), and they are fire, wind, water and earth. All of (man’s) attributes, both good and evil, are rooted in the four elements of the body, as [Rabbi Chayim Vital] wrote in the 2nd Gate (ש”ב) of the Gate of Holiness (שער הקדושה): ‘Therefore, all the wicked attributes are divided into four types, according to the following particulars. From the element of fire comes forth arrogance, since this elements is higher and lighter than the rest, and included in it are anger, and the desire for office in order to lord over and hold oneself higher than others, as well as hatred of others. From the element of wind comes forth that speech which is called vain chatter, and it includes flattery and lies and slanderous speech (לשון הרע) and boastful speech. From the element of water comes the desire for enjoyment, for the water causes all sorts of enjoyable things to sprout, and included in it are greed and jealously. From the element of earth comes the attribute of sadness in all its particulars, and included in it are slothfulness in the fulfillment of the Torah and the commandments because of one’s sadness over one’s [lack of] attainment of material acquisition… All these [wicked attributes] are on the side of the evil inclination, the evil component of the four elements. The good component is their opposite. The first is humility, which is the distancing from all anger and arrogance. The second is to be silent as a mute, not opening one’s mouth except out of necessity or [words of] Torah or [fulfillment of] commandments. The third is one who detests worldly pleasures other than those that are necessary for upholding one’s bodily existence. Fourth is joy in the service of the Creator… and being happy with one’s lot. All these [good attributes] on the side of the good component of the four elements.’

-from the Introduction to Toledos Yaakov Yoseph, by Rabbi Yaakov Yoseph of Polnoye, disciple of the Baal Shem Tov

So I recently was asked to start giving a weekly class on Jewish history to Jewish teens attending public schools in the Seattle area.

I consider myself something of a history afficionado, particularly when it comes to Jewish history, but I never took pains to memorize all the details necessary to be an authority on the subject. But as the teacher of an official class, I thought it right to set about some serious research.

Anyhow, for whatever reasons we started the course examining the “modern” period, which begins, for some arbitrary reason, in the mid-17th century (C.E.). Our first session consisted of a “get-to-know-you” kind of ice-breaker. The 2nd week we met we discussed the state of Jewry in Eastern Europe (Poland) in the 17th century, and the Chmielnicki massacres that ravaged those communities.

A good time was had by all.

As I prepare ahead, I researched as much as I could about Shabbetai Tz’vi, the messianic pretender who would mislead the lost sheep of Israel during this desperate time, and one of the positive spiritual movements that would follow, that of Chassidism.

I research Chassidism, and the movement’s founder, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem. Of course, I knew that the Baal Shem Tov himself did not leave behind any writings, and his teachings are generally known to posterity only through his disciples.

One such disciple was a man named Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polnoye. I never actually bothered looking up Rabbi Yaakov’s writings before, but this time curiousity got the best of me. I looked up Toledos Yaakov Yoseph on and downloaded it.

Open reading the opening passage, I felt its ideas, though essentially none of which I wasn’t already aware, are so important, basic and vital, that they deserve repetition in this forum to anyone who may read them:

“…The body of man is not the man, but the clothing of the man who is created with 248 limbs and 365 sinews, and G-d breathed in him a living soul comprised of 248 spiritual limbs and 365 spiritual sinews that are clothed within the 248 limbs of the body. Then the limbs of the soul carry out their activity via the tools that are the limbs of the body. The sustenance of the spiritual limbs is the fulfillment of the Torah that is comprised of 613 commandments parallel to the 613 parts of the body. Each limb of the 248 limbs is sustained by a particular commandment relating to that limb… This is what the godly rabbi, our master, Rabbi Chayim Vital, wrote in his book, The Gate of Holiness (שער הקדושה ח”א פ”א): ‘Therefore, a man must strive with all his ability to fulfill all 613 commandments. When one fulfills a certain positive commandment, one should intend to remove from the particular limb of his soul relating to that commandment its impurity (זוהמת הקליפה ההיא). Then one will imbue that limb with the holiness of that commandment (אז תחיל עליו אבר המצוה הקדושה ההיא) after the impurity is removed. So too when one refrains from a trangression, one should intend that through this, the impurity that is in the particular sinew of the soul that relates to that trangression be removed. Then one will be able to draw forth the spiritual bounty that is drawn through the spiritual channel. Through this, one’s spirit becomes a throne and a chariot for the holiness of G-d.’ …Know and understand his holy words, for this is a great principle of the entire Torah and the service (of G-d) to bring one to the level of, ‘And you who cling to the L-rd…'”


Another source that the son of the widow of Tzorphath was Yonah (Jonah):

Pirkey d’Rabi Eliezer 33:

Rabbi Shimon said: It is through the power of charity that the dead are destined to be resurrected. From where do we learn this? From Eliyahu (Elijah) the Tishbite who would go from mountain to mountain and from cave to cave. He went to Tzorphat and a widow received him with great honor. She was the mother of Yonah (Jonah), and from her bread and from her oil he, she and her son ate and drank… After some days, her son became sick and died… The woman said to him, ‘Did you come to me to cause my iniquity to be remembered [i.e. because I am so deficient in merit compared to you, your presence causes me to appear wicked in G-d’s eyes (based on Rashi’s comments to Kings 17:18)] so that my son should die? Rather, take what you have brought me and bring me my son!’ Eliyahu stood up and prayed before the Holy One Blessed is He and said: ‘Master of the Universe, all the evils that have passed over me and over my head are not enough, but even this woman, whom I know has spoken against me harshly out of anguish over her son. Now the generations will learn that there is resurrection of the dead! Return the life of the boy!’ [G-d] accepted his [prayer].


Please see the introduction to this series for context.

So we were talking about whether Pinchas and Eliyahu are the same. Popular belief has it that they are, while the sources we’ve examined so far indicate that they aren’t. Now, that said, the view that Pinchas is Eliyahu is not without basis — there are sources that indicate this, we just haven’t examined them yet. And, G-d willing, we’ll get there. But first I’d like to “cheat” a little bit — that is, share with you some thoughts I’ve had lately that I believe are very illuminating. So in order to just “get them out there,” we’re going to skip ahead a bit.

Basically, the main source (that I am aware of so far) that Pinchas IS Eliyahu is the Zohar, one of the primary sources in Jewish tradition for Kabbalistic or “mystical” ideology. But, as we have seen, this source appears to be contradicted by other midrashic sources. So, I was thinking lately, is this REALLY a contradiction?

While I do not intend right now to quote the entire passage of the Zohar and analyze it in depth, my current awareness of it has it indicating the following. When Pinchas stood up to slay Zimri in front of the nation, he had to go up against the entire tribe of Shimon who supported their leader, Zimri. Pinchas, despite his courage to undertake this mission, in the moment became so frightened that his soul forsook his body. In other words, he died. On the spot, however, the souls of Nadav and Avihu, the two sons of Aharon (Aaron) that had died earlier in the Torah, were thrown into Pinchas’ body so that he remained “alive” to carry out his mission successfully. This explains how he became a Kohen (priest) as a result of this event — heretofore he was not a Kohen since he was a grandson of Aharon before the status of priesthood was conferred upon Aharon and his sons. Any grandson already born did not receive Kohen status. But by absorbing the souls of these two Kohanim, the newly invigorated Pinchas was now a Kohen by virtue of his Kohen soul.

The absorption of the two Kohen souls also explains (to some degree) the status of immortality conferred upon him according to these sources, as every human being is indeed only “half” a soul. The normal means of uniting with one’s “other half” is through marriage, however, here, two “half souls” united in one body to create a “whole” soul. As a “whole” person, Pinchas body and soul(s) could now live unendingly together, since his was no longer deficient in any way.

But what about Pinchas’ original “non-Kohen” soul? I would like to synthesize this question with the sources that indicate that Eliyahu was not a Kohen but was, indeed, from the tribe of Binyamin (Benjamin). Perhaps, when the mystical sources indicate that “Pinchas is Eliyahu,” it refers to Pinchas’ original non-Kohen soul being reincarnated into the non-Kohen Eliyahu later in history.

In this way, Pinchas remains Eliyahu while Eliyahu need not be a Kohen by lineage.

Make sense? Opinions?

glass blowing

Nephesh ha-Chaim 1:15 (here the author explains why the parts of the soul are called nephesh, ruach and neshamah respectively):

One might wonder that indeed the meaning of the term ‘neshamah’ (soul) is ‘breath’ (neshimah), and it appears that man’s breath is the air that rises from the chest, from below to above… and is not a higher order phenomenon. However, the reason the soul is described as breath is not as a reference to the breath of man, but rather, as it were, the breath of G-d, as it is written, ‘He blew into his nostrils the soul of life (‘nishmath chayim’).’

Our Sages of Blessed Memory compared the imbuing of the spirit of life into man to the fashioning of a glass vessel… When one contemplates the breathing of the mouth of the artisan into the glass vessel as he fashions it, one finds the process comprised of three stages. The first stage is as the breath of air is yet in the artisan’s mouth before it enters into the hollow tube. At that stage, it can only be called ‘breath’ (neshimah). The second stage is as the air enters into the tube and proceeds as a stream. Then it is called wind (‘ruach’). The third, lowest stage is as the wind exits the tube into the glass and spreads inside it until it becomes a vessel according to the will of the glassmaker. Then he ends the flow of wind. It is then called ‘nephesh,’ a term of cessation and rest.

This comparison illustrates the matter of the three faculties of the soul which flow, so to speak, from the breath of G-d’s mouth. The faculty of the nephesh is the lowest faculty, contained entirely within the body of man. The faculty of ruach comes via a flow from above; its upper extremity is bound to and held up by the lower facet of the neshamah and flows downward, entering also into the body of man, becoming bound there with the upper facet of the nephesh.


From Nephesh ha-Chayim, 1st Gate, Chapter 14:

“Action is the faculty of the Nephesh, as it is written, ‘the soul (nephesh) that will do…’ (Numbers 15:30), ‘the souls (nephashoth) that do…’ (Leviticus 18:29), as well as many similar examples, ‘for the blood is the soul (nephesh)’ (Deuteronomy 12:23), meaning that the nephesh dwells and clothes itself in the blood of man. Therefore, its primary dwelling is in the liver* which is all blood. The flow of blood through all segments of all parts of the limbs, the vessels of action, is what gives them the capacity of movement and arousal, enabling them to act and accomplish that which is within their ability. If the flow of blood to any limb would be blocked, that limb would wither, and would lack ability to move or perform any act; it would be a dead limb.”

*NOTE: No coincidence that the name of the organ that is identified as the primary dwelling of the nephesh (“spirit/life/soul”) is also called in English the liver (emphasis on “live”), i.e. organ of life (nephesh).