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The Godly Soul and the Animal Soul
By Yechezkel Gold
We are born with two souls, a Godly soul and an animal soul. The animal
soul emerges immediately with birth, while the Godly soul is hidden and
only potential until we reach the age of mitzvot, twelve years old for
girls and thirteen for boys.
The beginning emergence of the Godly soul corresponds approximately to
the age where children develop a significantly greater ability to
abstract, and a heightened awareness of self and of others. It is the
time when a philosophy of life begins developing and, in most cases, has
its greatest importance for the personality. Moreover, there is a
greater sense of responsibility.
The ability to abstract links the individual to a reality not bounded by
concrete materialism. He/she can now begin to appreciate ethics and
other ideas which are not defined in physical terms. This is the dim
beginning of connection to spirituality.
Greater awareness of self makes feelings, too, more prominent and
personally significant. This, together with heightened awareness of
others, renders self definition - as opposed to simply being oneself
spontaneously like a child - more pressing and important.
The growing expectation of greater independence makes sizing up one's
environment and life in general more urgent, leading the individual to
work on developing a philosophy of life. The philosophy of life will
mediate, to a greater or lesser extent, the individual's interactions
with life. He/she no longer reacts directly and immediately to reality,
purely out of considerations of pain and pleasure, love and fear.
If we think back to that time in our lives, we remember our
philosophical notions were quite simplistically and rudimentally formed
at first. This was merely the first emergence of the Godly soul, which
tended to regard matters in rather gross, black-and-white terms. Also,
paralleling the simplistic grasp of ideas was the literalness of one's
notions. One understood matters in terms of letters and words, but had
little insight into the spiritual reality behind the ideas.
According to Rabbi Dov Ber Scheerson, who lived about 150 years ago, the next stage in revealing the Godly
soul is achieved around the age of twenty, at which time a certain
perception of the reality underlying one's religious, ethical and
philosophical ideas emerges. This progresses further in the course of
one's life, as the Ethic's of the Father's delineates: "..At forty one achieves
understanding, at fifty one is fit to give advice, at sixty one achieves
old age, at seventy one is a (venerable) elder."
At any rate, the first emergence of the Godly soul occurs when the
intensity of the person's energies, hopes, drives and abilities takes a
quantum leap. Whereas previously, the individual was basically,
reasonably satisfied and capable of orienting toward his surroundings as
they are, at the age of bar- or bas mitzvah he/she experiences a great
increase in the intensity of their inner life and its demands, and
extrinsic reality no longer can accommodate these greater expectations
by the inner person.
The result is the split described above into two souls. Rather than
being comfortably meshed with outer reality, the personality develops
urges, insights and perceptions, and goals to which the outer situation
does not easily accommodate. Frustration of these energies leads to
their developing a somewhat independent existence. In order to deal with
the more intense desires from life, the personality must make greater
effort to understand both its own inner life and the external situation
so as to again achieve their integration. Abstraction, i.e. isolating
and emphasizing the essence of one's desires and feelings, enables the
personality to focus on principal goals. Too, since the stronger demands
of inner life no longer permit direct, spontaneous expression, levels of
personality emerge which can not readily find direct expression.
Instead, they function "above the surface" or interface of the
personality with the external realm, as the verse states (Gen. 1): "and
the spirit of God hovers above the surface of the waters".
Thus, the amplification of inner life combined with the frustration of
direct, spontaneous expression lead to development of an independent
realm within. Moreover, in order to allow reasonable expression to that
inner realm, a hierarchy is formed, and elements of the personality take
on a more or less distinct identity. The part of personality which
interfaces and deals most directly with the external situation does so
mainly by being practical.
Practicality, of course, is defined not only by orientation toward
effectiveness. It also presumes that one has certain goals. That is,
practicality coordinates between inner life and the outer situation. The
purpose of the practical sub-personality is to serve the desires and
ideals of inner life.
In earlier childhood, inner life has a simple dichotomy of energies,
approaching pleasure and avoiding pain and difficulty. In Jewish
mystical thought this stage is associated with the right hand. (For
left-handed people, their dominant hand is considered to be their right
side.) Just as the right hand functions with closeness and comfort, so
this stage of functioning is limited to what is close and comfortable.
As the child matures, the two combine so that the child can work and
endure frustration to gain pleasure, until achievement itself becomes a
source of joy and pleasure. It is at this point that the practical level
of personality achieves a certain independence. In Jewish mystical
thought this stage is associated with the left hand. Just as the left
hand functions with control and discomfort, so this stage of functioning
is defined in terms of what is challenging and exciting.
The third stage of development is a middle course between the two
previous ones, taking elements of both right and left. It also has its
own special character which does not derive from either of the other
two. Its expression begins in earnest at the age of bar/bas mitzvah.
The middle course between right and left is a balance which achieves a
certain objectivity and independence from self interest. After all, both
right and left modes of functioning directly seek self interest and
pleasure, the right mode in immediate experience and the left through
accomplishment. The middle course, though, is a balance which relies on
the ability to function independently of considerations of self.
The special character which the middle course introduces is pleasure
derived from objectivity, from what is right, true, proper, good,
aesthetic, spiritual and ideal, independent of considerations of self
advantage. This pleasure is not even necessarily experienced as personal
pleasure. Indeed, to the extent that this aspect of personality is
differentiated, it is experienced as having reality independent of and
separate from self, as is the pleasure one derives from it. This is the
Torah study, accordingly, greatly facilitates bringing the Godly soul
into awareness. By objectively learning religious and ethical matters,
the knowledge, subtlety, sensitivity, awareness and scope of the Godly
soul is expanded.
Moreover, precisely through the rigorously objective attitude requisite
for Torah study, the mind gains access to the Godly soul's Godly
perspective of love and involved concern objectively extending to all.
Unlike the popular erroneous stereotype which derives from science, true
objective intellect is openly, experientially connected to all. True
objectivity as it appears in Torah study is an attitude of love.
Even when the soul disapproves of bad behavior, this is imposed by
considerations of truth and morality deriving from the soul's
perception of the real best interests of all created beings. Even in
that case, though, as the Psalm states: "Those who love the Lord,
despise evil". They despise evil but not, generally, evil doers, because
they can still repent.
Performing God's commandments, too, imbues the personality with the
light of the Godly soul, not infrequently in a more powerful manner than
simply through study. However, unless one focuses on making this
spiritual light of the commandments conscious and integrating it into
one's awareness, the effect tends to be temporary. This conscious
integration is, then, an aspect of Torah study.
As Tanya discusses at length, the result in most people is the
development of two souls, a Godly soul whose character we have
discussed, and an animal soul. Most of us do not transform each element
of our personality into a genuinely Godly expression. Generally, we
perceive the animal soul as our selves, and the Godly soul as
independent of ourselves. Only the tzaddikim, (the truly righteous individuals) those who have transformed
the animal soul into Godliness, have fully integrated all aspects of
their personality and are wholeheartedly religious. For the rest of us,
there are episodes, such as reciting the shema and silent prayer, or during
moments of genuine inspiration, when all of our soul ascends to the
lofty level of tzaddikim. Generally, though, we feel the Godly soul's
revelation in us to be apart from ourselves. It is the Divine operating
objectively within us, sometimes even against our will.
The mission of the Godly soul, then, is to convince the animal soul of
the rightness of the Godly way and convert it into a holy fervor and
passion for Godliness. As we have discussed, this is accomplished mainly
through Torah study greatly aided by performance of the commandments. An
intermediary level between spontaneous, passionate involvement of the
animal soul in Godliness and indifference is when one is persuaded that
one's fulfillment and purpose is through clinging to God and His ways,
but not so thoroughly as to make one spontaneously act accordingly.
In actuality, this intermediate level is an opportunity for the Godly
soul to penetrate to a spiritual level to which it ordinarily does not
have access. It is the spiritual expression of Rachel, whose
manifestation in each Jew is within the Godly soul. As the verse states
(Jeremiah 31): "A voice is heard in Rama, wailing and embitterment.
Rachel is weeping over her children who are missing." These are the
Children of Israel, or at least the spiritual aspects of the children
who are still estranged from God, who are not spontaneously moved to
follow God's will, to do what is right. Nevertheless, they are aware of
the call of the Divine; they hear Rachel's weeping. If her children are
touched by her distress, at least they will deliberately overcome their
inertia and come closer to God.
They do His will by referring to the awareness of what God wills,
developed by Torah study supplemented by intuition. Their Godly soul
knows what to do, thereby, or at least knows it must seek the Godly
This subtle awareness, as described above, is of an objective reality,
not experienced as self. Really, though, this awareness of God's will is
more self than the revealed self is, and derives its tremendous energy
and pleasure from being the ideal of self. However, the intensity and
fervor of the hopes and wishes of the Godly soul transcend the simple
sense of self. Thus, we experience the Godly soul as transcendent, not
as simple self.
As the Godly soul addresses those elements of personality which are not
spontaneously moved by Godly considerations, it must convince those
aspects of the person's being in their own terms. The first level of
persuasion addresses frank self interest through fear. This level is
termed "lower fear" because the individual is induced to follow God's
will out of fear for him/herself. His/her own interests otherwise might
be for something else but he/she thereby accepts the yoke of Heaven.
A somewhat higher level is when the individual's motivation to obey
God's commandments derives from perception of his/her own self interest
lying in doing God's will, as the verse states (Psalms 73): "And I, the
nearness of God is good for me".
These two levels lie "outside the curtain", not subsumed within the
realm of true Godliness but only as Godliness relates to what is outside
of the Godly realm. They are nevertheless influenced by Godly
One must distinguish between fear of punishment by God and fear of
negative consequences which one does not perceive as coming from God,
such as social disapproval. Similarly, one must distinguish between
valuing and loving closeness to God and His Torah and Mitzvahs, and self
aggrandizement which happens to come through sources with a religious
When the self-motivated fear or love are from genuine connection to God,
the person can appeal to the knowledge and intuition of the Godly soul,
as discussed above, to do God's will even when the true motivations of
his/her animal soul are not really Godly. Since one knows the Godly soul
and the objective, Godly perspective of Torah, even though one's
spontaneous impulses are not at that level, one can overcome inner
resistance to doing God's will and give expression to Godliness: one is
However, when religious practice derives from self-interest without fear
or love of God, then one merely is serving worldly ends in religious
A higher level, on the "other side of the curtain", is the Godly soul's
functioning itself, where Godly considerations deriving from
inspiration, objectivity and ideals, and the feelings they evoke move
the soul to selfless action
This is the level on which Godly meditation focuses. Through dwelling at
length on the matters of the soul, and generally, on the Godly,
objectively loving perspective expressed in Torah, Godly matters become
increasingly cogent and significant to the individual, and mundane
concerns lessen in importance. When this meditation becomes sufficiently
powerful to affect even the animal soul, the latter reacts by serving
God out of genuine fear or love of God, overcoming its own resistance or
even transforming the energies of the animal soul into Godliness.
The culmination of this meditation's effect on the animal soul is termed
"accepting the yoke of Heaven". For this to occur, two conditions are
necessary. First, one's Godly meditation must arrive at the conclusion
that it is necessary to accept the yoke of Heaven. This conclusion is
general: it is proper to follow God's will. It can be greatly bolstered
and sensitized through arriving at this type of conclusion regarding the
specifics of the Commandments and of the Torah system. Thus, as the
truth or significance of a particular Mitzvah, or of the Torah's notions
of God, creation, man, sin, Israel, reward and punishment, etc. becomes
apparent, one's earnestness in serving God, culminating in accepting the
yoke of Heaven, increases.
Second, this conclusion must affect the animal soul to the extent that
it does not waver, even if thoughts, feelings, or circumstances tend to
hinder practical implementation of one's commitment. It is only at this
point that one may speak of the notion of malchus, of God's faculty of
kingdom, which joins the Divine and secular realms. This permanence is
more readily accomplished through fear of Heaven than through love,
though each approach has advantages.
Through malchus, the Divine attributes are revealed and expressed. This
system of attributes like loving objectivity reflects the Divine. The
Godly attributes connect with secular reality and extend beyond the
purely spiritual and theoretical to the actual through malchus. Though
these Divine attributes are only Godly, and not, of course, God Himself,
yet their expression in the Godly soul renders that Godly soul truly a
part of God Above, as is explained in Tanya, because these attributes
are the ones through which God is manifested.
Malchus connects the infinite and Divine to the finite and secular.
Thus, malchus has its infinite aspect and its finite aspect. Its
infinite aspect is that the requirements of being a true subject of God
are without limit: secular considerations are insignificant and nul in
the presence of the Holy King. Its finite aspect is that to extend the
Godly into the finite realm requires taking proper and respectful
account of the creation. This entails being realistic and not ignoring
worldy considerations through being totally enamored and engrossed in
pure spirituality. Integrating these two aspects of malchus is a crucial
step in tikun, (repair) in perfecting the creation, and it is the true purpose of
We can compare this integration of the sacred and secular to
professionalism. A professional has knowledge, experience and allegiance
to a body of objective, professional knowledge, and accepts the role of
applying this knowledge for the secular, i.e. nonprofessional realm.
This fact does not automatically eliminate or even reduce his personal
considerations, such as family, friends, individual nonprofessional
interests and the like. Nevertheless, being professional entails
identifying oneself as the medium for applying professional knowledge,
and one's personal considerations are largely given secondary
Similarly, in accepting the yoke of Heaven, which consummates the Godly
soul's development, the individual becomes like a professional,
mediating between the Godly knowledge and sensitivity of Torah and
spirituality, on the one hand, and the practical domain, on the other.
Moreover, linking these two disparate realms means determining the
connection between the practical, external situation and the Godly by
inferring the spiritual import and response dictated by the specific
situation. It means being able to assess the situation as it is and
decide the appropriate Halachic approach. It means the Godly soul must
have a practical and worldy, realistic orientation simultaneous to its
ideal Torah and Mitzvah grounding.
Every Jew has a Godly soul. Recognizing that reality and taking steps to
discover, develop, and express the Divine residing within us is the
privilege and life role of each of us.
Yechezkel Gold is a psychotherapist who lives with his family in Jerusalem
from the May 2000 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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