The Role of the Soul

    Issue Number 26 October/November 1999          
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Understanding the Soul

By Yechezkel Gold

A basic tenet of Torah is that God is one. Nevertheless, Torah does not purport that we view God equally, or in the same manner, in each experience. Indeed, even during the most significant moments of Jewish history, we each perceived God differently. Thus, regarding revelation of God when we received the ten commandments, the Medrash, Shmos Raba (29) relates: “Rabbi Levi explained.... If “The voice of God is in His power”, the world could not bear it. Rather, it is written (Psalms 29) “The voice of God is in power”, according to the strength of each individual....”

Moreover, Rashi’s commentary on the first commandment, “(I am the Lord, your God) who took you out from the land of Egypt”, states: “Because He was revealed at the (Red) Sea as a heroic warrior, and he was revealed here (on Mount Sinai) as an elder full of compassion...., since my revelation varies, do not say that two separate powers exist. I am He who took you out of Egypt and on the Sea.”

Because God’s revelation varies so widely, because each instant of experience is unique, it behooves us to develop and refine the sensitivity of perception that enables us to participate and enter into the unique Godliness of each moment. This can be accomplished through study of Torah, generally, and of Kabbala, specifically.

Kabbala Enhances Experience

Kabbalistic literature has developed a terminology which helps appreciate the specialness and variety of experience, concomitantly increasing our sensitivity to the details and depth of each unique event.

This is not to say that the purpose of Kabbala study is primarily to heighten sensitivity to experience. Rather, this study in itself is an exhilarating wealth of spiritual pleasure, an entrance into the awesome, magnificent realms of Torah and sanctity. In this contemplation of ways of being, the beauty of God’s creation - with spirituality and physicality combined and integrated into a still greater whole - emerges spontaneously.

Study of Kabbala progressively elucidates certain profound and difficult concepts. Advancement in this study really begins, however, when the individual goes beyond these abstruse intellectual constructs to insight into the underlying reality they describe. One element of genuine personal understanding is far more valuable than extensive but superficial formal knowledge.

This can operate in two ways. Focusing on personal experience, an individual may notice that Kabbalistic concepts he has learned aptly describe reality. This approach is probably the most effective for individuals bent on fully living, grappling with, and characterizing personal experience. Searching for terms and concepts which fit the perceptions, the person finds Kabbalism particularly suitable.

Also useful, systematic exploration of Kabbalistic concepts brings understanding by referring to one’s inner reality. In practice, this method is probably used most often. It has the advantage of broadening and deepening insight, not being limited by spontaneous perceptions of inner reality; it introduces observations to which one may not have been sensitive without the aid of the sacred books.

Kabbala and Psychotherapy

Since insight into Kabbalism is a process of gaining clarity and proper perspective on one’s inner world, and more important, of affirming and delighting in life through this process, it serves as a form of psychotherapy.

It would be greatly reductionistic to characterize Kabbalism as only a form of psychotherapy; much more is included in that lofty field of study. However, it would also err to state that Kabbalism is not, or is only tangentially, a form of psychotherapy, too. As the Chassidic mystical classic Tanya states: “Knowledge of the organization of the supernal worlds is a great mitzvah, besides bringing wholeness of soul and happiness.”

One could categorize the healing of soul engendered by Kabbalistic study as follows: This study brings one to realize one’s place in the universe, that universe comprising both physical and spiritual elements, and the presence of God in that universe imbuing all with sublime magnificence, heartfelt meaning, and deep joy. One gratefully accept one’s place in the universe as the great privilege life truly is.

We come to appreciate God’s presence in the universe not only through simple belief. True, faith is important and praiseworthy. It is an assumption which permits the individual a greater sense of meaning and purpose, greater fortitude in the face of adversity, and perhaps a simpler and more logical intellectual organization of reality. However, the process of refinement through Torah, and specifically through Kabbalistic study leads one to appreciate - not just believe in - the awesome depth and wisdom, elatingly pleasing magnificence, and tremendous joy of existence, which evokes and which can be fairly described only as a reflection of the Divine. Its character and our experience of it is Divine. The universe glows with a Godly luminance.

If we are unaware of this luminance, it is for lack of the necessary mental tools. Encouragingly, though, the personality elements requisite to perceiving reality as a reflection of the Divine already exist. For instance, underlying our experience of reality is at least some sense of integration. Object constancy exemplifies this implicit integration. We intuitively feel an underlying unity of experience, order in the multiplicity. Too, we form mental representations, implicitly and explicitly, to describe and predict the order and integration we sense. This underlying sense of underlying generality unifying the details of experience comprises an important, quite constant element of personality.

The character of generality is that it can never become specific, though. A concept, by nature of being a concept, is never fully realized directly in details. Rather, details only reflect the underlying unity contained in the concept. For example, the notion of "sheep" includes all sheep, and all potential sheep, and unifies and integrates all instances of sheep ever encountered. Each individual sheep ever met, however, does not fully express the totality contained within the notion of sheep. Other sheep, with somewhat different characteristics, may also exist and can equally be classified as sheep. The notion of sheep, thus, contains a wealth of potential which remains in a spiritual realm, underlying but not merging with physical and sensory reality.

The realm of generality is not confined to a single idea, of course. The notion of sheep is merely one instance of the multiplicity of notions which may exist in that spiritual domain. Nor is that domain confined to ideas, as we discussed above. The general sense of oneness and integration, of infinite potential which can give rise to and integrate all possible details, is that continual aspect of reality underlying experience. It is everyone’s access to the realm of spirituality, and becoming aware and consciously regarding that reality is the mental tool enabling each of us to begin to perceive Divine luminance.


We added that spirituality not only integrates but also gives rise to details because without integration of details, disintegration results. Without integration of its organs, the body disintegrates. Without an integrating goal and plan, activity disintegrates. Very disorganized perception may be no perception at all. Integrated existence of specifics depends on their general spiritual source.

In the Tanya (chapter. 48), the spiritual realm underlying experience of physical reality is compared to the relationship between infinity and specific numbers. The entirety of the whole number system, for example, is an infinite set of individual numbers. Each number exists and is defined by the set. There can be no exhaustive list of the elements of that set because the set is infinite, but the set is still the source of each exemplar of that set. Similarly, the Infinity which surrounds and underlies created reality comprises and integrates all the disparate elements of that reality. If we perceive reality in that manner, we are experientially aware of God as the infinite, imminent source of a luminous reality.

This is a general approach to viewing spiritual reality. It focuses on the perception of the Divine in everything. As discussed above, however, Kabbala does not purport that our experience is uniform. We can view the Divine in the specifics, too. Indeed, Kabbala explores in depth and detail the different kinds of human experiential modes, such as the primarily intellectual mode which subdivides into creative, analytical and knowledge modes, the primarily emotional mode with the full gamut of moods and feelings, and the primarily practical mode, ranging from the background of pragmatism to active involvement in being effective. Moreover, parallel to these human modes of operation, Kabbalism discusses a constellation of mystical worlds or realms.

Systematic Study of Mysticism

When one begins systematic study of mysticism, at least according to the Chassidic paradigm, a verse in the Book of Job (19, 26) commonly serves as an introduction: “And from my flesh, I will discern God”. This approach enables us to understand mystical concepts about the supernal realms by comparing them to human and personal psychology and experience. The verse (Gen. 1, 27) “ the image of God He created man” encapsulates this notion.

It is important to state that the parallelism discussed does not imply, in most cases, that human experience is on the same level as the parallel Kabbalistic realm. For example, Etz Chayim relates that the revered Ari, Rabbi Yitzhak Askenazi, generally considered the foremost Kabbalist in at least the last five hundred years, told his student, Rabbi Chayim Vital, that in his dream one Sabbath, his soul ascended to the World of Yetzirah. When Rabbi Vital asked his mentor to describe what he experienced there, the Ari answered that to describe it would require eighty years. One understands that this level of experience was uncommon, perhaps even for the Ari. This fact becomes more striking when one considers that of the four mystical worlds generally mentioned, Yetzirah is “merely” third in level, incomparably lower than the two highest. We can understand, then, that for most people, even those engaged in this profound study, personal experience is merely a reflection of the mystical worlds, with a similar plan of organization but radically different in level.

That level of dealing with this notion is primarily cognitive. It is a necessary first step, but many people entering the study of mysticism seek more profound, experiential contact with the reality beyond Kabbala’s concepts. We begin to connect tangibly with those mystical realms by actively regarding our personal experience as the direct and imminent reflection of those supernal worlds. Our lives are the conclusion of spiritual processes occurring above. Viewing experience in that manner releases our intellects and emotions from the materialist mind-set and opens the gate to the mystical realms.

The Individual Experience

In that context, each separate facet of experience, each dimension of personality, each individuated perspective and approach to life, reflect a realm of the mystical reality.

The human personality is not monolithic. It is a more or less well integrated myriad of sub-personalities, each with different philosophies, perceptions, goals and methods. Proper integration of the various sub-personalities achieved by the personality brings effectiveness and satisfaction of the whole.

Rabbi Moshe Cordovero wrote that the six words of the first line of Shema Yisroel represent the six spiritual directions. Indeed, some people have the custom of physically turning the head to these six directions while saying the word ekhod, “one”. The message is clear: all spiritual dimensions, including each of the sub-personalities, are really one. This is so not because they are necessarily conceptually connected, but rather because each is - and properly should be viewed as - an expression of the Infinite potential underlying the universe.

Since such variance in philosophy, perspective, goals and methods exists among the different sub-personalities, they would be, and in a poorly integrated personality often are, at odds with each other. A frequent result is rejection of a sub-personality and its concomitant energies and potential for living fully. Indeed, particularly in modern culture, the spiritual dimensions of personality, the realm of ideals, ethics, fervor, reverence and transcendence is often ignored or expunged. The result is discontent and social ills.

Mystical Roots of the Personality

By exploring each sub-personality and its mystical roots, one achieves integration. As mentioned above, this integration is not necessarily mediated by intellectual organization. Rather, through mysticism, each sub-personality assumes its own true position in the constellation of sub-personalities within the individual.

For example, most people have a practical side. The philosophy underlying practicality is pragmatism, and the perspective underlying pragmatism is recognition of the reality and importance of the extrinsic domain. Willingness to think and act in terms dictated by that extrinsic domain despite a measure of conflict between one’s spontaneous inner reality and that extrinsic realm generally entails becoming reconciled to that domain.

This is a successful resolution of the problem of an extrinsic reality. One’s sense of dependence on extrinsic reality accompanied by awareness of extrinsic reality’s apparent independence of one’s spontaneous internal reality engenders fear and respect of that extrinsic reality. One fears for one’s personal well-being and therefore some of the demands of the internal self seem less cogent and are relinquished. That fear ultimately underlies the philosophy of pragmatism; pragmatism, especially willing pragmatism, is the successful resolution of that fear.

In Kabbalistic terms, the parallel, or source spiritual process is referred to as Malchus, God’s kingdom. Malchus corresponds to what is termed “lower fear”, fear for oneself, as opposed to higher fear which is fear that one may desecrate what is held precious. Lower fear, too, is emanated from above. It is the least level of contact with God; as opposed to a measure of “sharing God’s perspective” as in higher spiritual levels, Malchus is merely awareness enough of God’s perspective to accommodate to it, just as subjects accommodate themselves to a king’s will out of fear, without necessarily sharing his aims or perspective.

Relating to God

The holy books state that for God to be King, there must be subjects who by definition are separate from him, i.e. do not share His perspective. Hence, from God’s emanation of Malchus, of His being King, the realm of otherness, of another perspective besides the one which directly reflects God, is formed. However, the otherness does not simply exist other than God. Rather, the realm of separateness exists by virtue of God’s being King, and is dependent on God’s Malchus. Recognizing this discrepancy of perspective and dependence engenders fear, the lower fear discussed above. Reconciling the two disparate levels is accomplished through pragmatism: renouncing one’s inner perspective in order to accommodate outer realities. That is how the pragmatist regards God’s perspective: as an extrinsic reality. The demands of God’s Kingdom do not allow full expression to the spontaneous inner experience of His subjects. Rather, obedience is demanded.

That is, the fact of the matter is that much of the time there is divergence between spontaneous inner reality and outer reality, to the extent that we often suppress, deny, and avoid our true desires and impulses. We accommodate our actions, and even try to accommodate our thoughts, to the demands of extrinsic reality. That situation itself is Malchus: we accept, somewhat out of coercion, an extrinsic sovereignty, and concomitant with our accepting extrinsic sovereignty, extrinsic reality comes into existence.

Extrinsic Reality

It is important to note that the term “extrinsic” is defined and employed experientially here, and indeed, really has meaning only experientially. Thus, the perceived divergence between inner and outer reality itself denotes Malchus. Prior to awareness of extrinsic reality, it does not properly exist extrinsically; reality is holistic, with some elements emanating more from within and some elements emanating more from without, but not yet divided into two separate realms. When we say that the demands of outer reality correspond with God’s Malchus, we speak experientially: our experience of extrinsic reality is of a separate, superior reality to which we must conform. Torah, and specifically mystical study, enables us to view that reality accurately, to perceive God’s revelation in the paradigm of God’s kingdom, and to refine that perception until that truth shines forth in full splendor.

It is striking to note that pragmatism is often associated with a non-religious philosophy of life. This is characteristic of Malchus, which is denial of inner - spiritual - reality in favor of extrinsic conditions. In this case, there is denial of one’s inner spirituality in order to conform to extrinsic realities. Through our mystical work, we recognize the underlying Malchus in this paradigm, submission of the soul to an extrinsic source of reality. This insight is on the level of the soul, not of ideology or intellect. Pragmatism, properly refined but not subverted by considerations of other personality components, is a true and essential element of the Kabbalistic personality and of the mystical realms it reflects. Recognizing both the underlying theme and the special characteristics of each instance where we conform to pragmatic realities imbues experience with Godly light. When we become more refined, that sub-personality pragmatically accommodates itself to God’s explicit dictates in Torah: Halacha.

Pragmatically accepting the condition of extrinsic reality, which on a deeper level is accepting the role of being God’s subject, is one dimension of personality with an underlying mystical meaning. Similarly, all of our other roles and sub-personalities reflect supernal realities, each in its own unique manner.

The Emissary

Another sub-personality, similar to accepting extrinsic mastery but reflecting a somewhat higher spiritual level, is the role of emissary. An emissary does not merely conform to the demands of an authority like the role discussed above. Rather, an emissary takes on at least some of the perspective and goals of him whom he represents, thereby gaining a measure of authority himself. The emissary is dedicated to his mission, whereas the servant merely acquiesces, perhaps even grudgingly, to accommodate the wishes of his master.

In societal context, the role of emissary serves to mediate between he who appoints and an extrinsic reality not otherwise readily accessible to the appointer. Paralleling the job of emissary within the complex functioning of personality, the sub-personality of emissary mediates between inner desires and feelings and extrinsic reality. Sharing to a degree the desires and perspective of the more intense inner life, the sub-personality of emissary accomplishes in outer reality what spontaneous emotions can not directly. It is employed when simple expression of the feelings would not be effective, when the means are different from the goal.

Often, inner feelings are too powerful to permit direct expression. The integrated personality employs a strategy not to utterly abandon the most heartfelt desires yet be effective. Very powerful feelings become ideals. In order to change these feelings into ideals the integrated personality refines and abstracts the feelings and desires, focusing on their essence to enable more effective and directed expression. This process divides the person’s being into a more spiritual and more practical part.

Most emotions are relatively fleeting and instable. The emissary sub-personality depends on stable attitudes and feelings, however. Otherwise, the emissary has no clear goal and can not function as an emissary. Therefore, the desires from which this role derives vitality are the ultimate wishes of the personality - the ideals, reflecting a level of integration, clarity, and hierarchy which immediate feelings, despite their wonderful, heartfelt spontaneity, may lack. This division of personality into inner self and outer emissary effectuates the cooperation and integration of two disparate parts.

This is not the place to enter more deeply into this issue. It emerges from the writings of the holy Ari, particularly regarding the sephiros of Tohu, their shattering, and the subsequent process of Tikun. The psychodynamic notion of ego, with minor changes in emphasis though major philosophical differences, developed thousands of years after its appearance in Torah literature.


In the supernal realms, the parallel process is the creation of the angel called Metatron, the foreign minister. After Israel sinned with the golden calf, God told Moses that he is sending an angel to accompany the Children of Israel, instead of being directly with them Himself. Sinning is the spiritual equivalent of the inefficacy of direct expression of powerful inner desires. Rashi explains that the angel God would send is Metatron, whose name is like his Master’s in that the numerical value of Metatron, 314, is the same as the Name of God, Sha-dai . This indicates that Metatron shares some of God’s “goals” for us, but as the verse there states, we must be cautious of this angel because he can not overlook our sins, as an emissary who accepts the goals of his Master but lacks the flexibility and spontaneity which would allow forgiveness. He measures our deeds according to an external standard, like the emissary sub-personality which measures our actions according to standards of extrinsic reality.

The change in the Children of Israel’s Divine service effectuated by transition to immediate guidance by this angel was that we no longer sensed direct, spontaneous inner contact with God. Instead of spontaneous spiritual self expression, Israel had to undertake to serve God as emissaries. Serving Him as an emissary is to receive direction by an angel rather than by God directly. Serving God directly would be passionate and unrestrained.

Rabbi Sholom Ber Schneersohn describes this process regarding the difference between the first and second giving of Torah, on Shavuot and Yom Kippur, respectively. The original plan was for us to receive only the five Books of Moses and the book of Joshua. We would have known all information contained in the other holy books spontaneously, without need to study later writings which expound the meaning and detailed implications of Torah. When the Torah was first given on Shavuot, then, it put heightened awareness of God and His will into our being, whose spontaneous expression would be Torah life. The second giving of Torah, though, on Yom Kippur, necessitated scrutiny of all the other holy writings to learn God’s will because knowledge of God’s will, though still profoundly imbued into our being, no longer was revealed in detail in spontaneous consciousness. Rather, it became necessary to undertake to actualize the Divine reality, our spontaneous spiritual impulses, from an external source, the other holy books. We had to become God’s emissaries.

All of this is reflected, as above, in the integrated personality functioning on two levels, the inner level with profound desires, values and feelings through which God is represented within the personality but unable to find adequate spontaneous expression in extrinsic reality, and the personality role of emissary, sharing something of the inner reality and mediating between it and the extrinsic world.

Other Considerations

Both sub-personalities discussed above derive vitality from effort and success in the extrinsic world, and inner reality is suppressed or modified and reduced to accommodate extrinsic considerations. Other personality dimensions, while not necessarily divorced from extrinsic considerations, are more sensitive to, and oriented toward expressing spontaneous inner realities. This, too, could be a role: we may decide, for example, to revel, to follow our whims and feelings. On a more subtle level, we allow ourselves to revel. Effective performance within the boundaries of extrinsic reality, then, is secondary to inner expression. Reveling is a relatively extreme case of orientation toward self expression. Involvement in music or art, or athletics for enjoyment may be other examples of focus on self expression, though there are other dimensions to these aspects of personality too. There is emphasis on creativity.

In a healthier manner, there is joy in living. Self esteem is not overly dependent on external success and goals do not subvert attention to the quality of the process of living. Present and future are well integrated.

The mystical equivalent of this is called p’nimius, meaning inwardness. As opposed to the previous levels which are considered “outside the self”, i.e. not directly affecting and expressing the self, but rather assuming an external role to serve more internal needs, the emotional dimensions of personality being discussed here are considered “within the self”. That is, these mystical dimensions reflect and express the self as it relates to God, rather than more impersonal, remote, deliberate reactions like accepting God’s Kingdom and Metatron. Thus, there is intense, heartfelt love and yearning to cling to or even merge with God, deeply inspired awe, respectful devotion, and profoundly overwhelming fear, all reflected in rapturous song of praise as in Psalms or like the angels of supernal worlds.

The Kabbalistic texts speak of the angels’ division into four camps, corresponding to the four general camps of Israel surrounding the Tabernacle, the dwelling place of the Divine Presence in the desert. These angels are Michael, Gabriel, Uriel and Raphael, and the significance of their spiritual “place of encampment” is the particular manner in which each camp of angels perceives and reacts to the Divine Presence: with love, fear, awe and splendor, etc. (after all, there is no physical position in spirituality). Michael sings of God’s goodness, Gabriel of His power, etc. The overall theme is the intense immediacy of reaction to closeness to God. Perhaps the closest people can come to glimpsing these levels is in the rapturous study of and delight in Torah, and particularly of Kabbala, mentioned above:

This article can describe some general patterns in dimensions of personality and their mystical sources, but it does not intend to be exhaustive. The richness and variety of detail within our topic defy adequate description. All aspects reflect the soul, each offering a different perspective of the entirety which can not be grasped adequately in any of the specifics. Nevertheless, the general perspective we offer enhances one’s picture and experience of life and connects individual experience to the mystical realms.


Becoming aware of the different dimensions of personality as separate entities greatly benefits the person. Rather than fragmenting personality, this awareness enhances integration of the separate parts into a more wholehearted whole. Each aspect of personality has its own perspectives and energies, talents and skills. When the specialness of each personality dimension is undifferentiated from the whole, all aspects of personality are attenuated by the fuzziness and compromise of the aggregate. For example, the transcendence of intellect is impeded by the pragmatism of practical functioning, and pragmatism is diluted by the depth and uninvolvement of intellect.

Separating these dimensions is called “n’seera”, splitting, in Kabbalism. The term derives from what the sages taught (Talmud, Kesuvos) that originally, Adam and Eve were created back to back as two visages of one body, and only later were they split, separating them from their original oneness so that they could reunite face to face, each individual with distinctive character and individuated perspective and energies. Kabbala interprets the mystical significance of this story as splitting of the different potential sub-personalities in order to achieve greater fervor and deeper expression of each, leading to a higher level of integration.

Freedom and Responsibilities

The specific roles, values, goals, and personality styles an individual assumes derive from choice. Indeed, Rambam considered man’s nature free, so that we could choose, and therefore are responsible for, our emotions and attitudes as well as our deeds. While other thinkers disagree to an extent, describing the notion of “soul root” for characteristic individual intellectual and emotional predilections, they too attribute free choice to man; one can either serve God intentionally with one’s natural tendencies or otherwise.

If choice is free, either according to Rambam’s version or to that of the other thinkers, it is not determined by circumstances. One may wonder, then, what basis exists for the soul to decide which course to take and whether to serve God or not. For the pragmatist, fear of God determines the choice.

For higher soul levels, though, spontaneous internal considerations greatly influence choice. Moreover, mystical freedom of choice does not mean only that one is able to override one’s own emotional and or attitudinal reactions. It is more than acting altruistically against self interest or even against what may make sense. Mystical freedom means something more basic and profound: one chooses a course in life, both in general and in the specifics of day to day, which begins from a perspective before considerations of attitudinal and emotional reaction of attitudinal and emotional reactions arise.

Mystical choice allows us to choose our reality because it determines the manner in which we will perceive everything that happens to us, and hence, how we interpret and react to the extrinsic realm. The external realm does, indeed, affect us, but at least in terms that we have chosen. We chart our lives according to our choices, and live in the reality we have chosen. Acknowledging the existence of and expressing this level of soul gives meaning to life. If we do not acknowledge the existence of this ultimate level of choice, this level of meaning is denied us.

An Illustration

To illustrate: A certain great Chassidic Rebbe was very ill for many years, and suffered greatly. Following the directions of the Talmud, he first examined his deeds to see if his sins could account for his suffering. Finding that he was blameless in this area, he next sought instances when he may have wasted time he could have otherwise spent studying Torah. Here, too, he found no personal deficit. Gradually, he came to the conclusion that his suffering was for the sake of all of Israel. This view did not end his suffering, but his suffering was now greatly transformed and deeply meaningful.

If this level of soul is independent of extrinsic considerations, including what makes sense and personal attitudinal and emotional inclinations, what basis does exist for the soul to choose? It seems there is none. Indeed, it has become commonplace in modern thinking, for example among existentialists, that being free is exceedingly difficult, and man will strive mightily to avoid having to confront freedom honestly.

At this level of reality, the soul discovers God. This may occur in two ways. Dismayed at finding no basis for choice, the soul turns to an external source of authority to counteract anxiety. It follows a realistic recognition that the soul is not God, that there is a Power greater than us, and a right and wrong. The soul transcends solipsism and recognizes an objective ethical and religious reality, independent of personal predilections.

Alternatively, the soul realizes that through free choice, by sharing in directing the course of the universe at least regarding its own life, it partakes of Godliness. As such, it can choose as it pleases. This level is called the crown, Keser.

Having just emerged from submersion in extrinsic reality, with pragmatic considerations given great weight, the soul must exercise great caution here. The first tendency may be to celebrate freedom by breaking spiritual and emotional boundaries. Such thinkers as the Sabbatians, Nietzche and Nazism, may their names be eradicated, went in this course, and their thinking lead to destruction. When evil originates in a high spiritual place, it is far worse than when it is merely an error in judgment or inability to overcome desires of the evil inclination.

More careful consideration brings the mature realization that one is truly free and need not rebel against spiritual and emotional boundaries. These cease to appear onerous. At this point, one begins to truly “share” a Godly perspective, and the process of formulating an approach to life begins from the true soul’s point of view. One “shares” in creation of the world, as the sages say on the verse: “Come to Kheshbon”: “Let us figure out the world”. Restraint becomes an expression of love, of cherishing life and taking care to make it emerge beautiful, graceful, wise, stable, spiritual and Godly.

Levels of the Soul

Soul has levels independent of extrinsic reality, and for spiritual and mental health, one must deal with and give expression to these levels of soul. Just as failure to acknowledge and express other dimensions of personality, such as emotional needs, leads to intense discomfort, frustration, and inability to function, so, too, failure to recognize one’s spiritual needs and respect the aspects of one’s inner reality that are independent of extrinsic considerations thwarts the inner being and leads to deep dissatisfaction.

Still, from where does the soul find choice and will, if there are no extrinsic considerations? From the pure, Godly pleasure inherent within the soul. This is called the inner dimension of the crown. It is absolutely delightful to live as a righteous person, as a tzaddik, to be selflessly loving, generous, helpful and supporting, to pore over the treasures of Torah wisdom, to treat all people, and all of the creation, respectfully, to cherish and value life and aspire to elevate it to the highest possible level, to connect it to God in every way, and to reveal God through each aspect of the universe. These are the Mitzvahs, which employ extrinsic reality to reveal the sublime reality within.

Let us notice that the inner dimension of Keser does not act in the world. Above the entirety of different sub-personalities, playing no role and serving no function, is this essence of the soul, present only as the way the Shechina, the Divine Presence, resides in the person. It is like Moshe Rabbeinu who played no active role in building the mishkan, the Tabernacle, yet whose being and presence gave meaning to the mishkan. Essentially, the Tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting, was built for Moshe as a place to meet with the Divine. In the same manner, the essence of the soul is that element of soul which gives meaning to the whole of life, which integrates the whole personality, which appreciates the whole. It is the nexus of the Divine and the individual wherein the individual’s avoda, Divine service, finds favor in the eyes of God.


from the October/November 1999 of the Jewish Magazine

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