Nephesh Hachaim 1:11

Nephesh Hachaim 1:11


               Following up on the thought offered in the last chapter that despite our being connected to physicality we’re nevertheless superior to angels, R’ Chaim now harkens back to an idea he’d presented earlier on that in fact the very highest angels are powerless to recite Kedusha until we do 1.

               His point here is that that’s true despite the fact that angels are inherently holier than we are, and that they aren’t simply paying homage to us 2: they’re simply and utterly unable to start reciting Kedusha until we do.

               For at bottom, the objective of the recitation of Kedusha R’ Chaim says is to “elevate” and to “connect worlds to those above them” 3, and to thus “make them holier” 4 and “add luster to the gleam of their light” 5. And yet angels who dwell up above are ironically incapable of doing that on their own and must wait until we begin the process down below to follow through on it 6.

               In fact, R’ Chaim suggests, if not a single Jewish congregation in the world was to recite Kedusha, it stands to reason that the angels up above wouldn’t themselves recite it 7 whetherthey’re Seraphim, Ophanim, or Chayot 8. While we here down on earth could recite it, given that we incorporate all of the world’s sources and roots.


               This also touches on the idea of our reciting Perek Shira (“A Chapter of Song [s]”) which guarantees a place in the World to Come to anyone who recites it daily 9.

               For when we — who incorporate all of creation — recite Perek Shira in fact, we empower the angels who oversee the animals and birds depicted in it to recite the songs contained there 10, and as a result they animate and empower those creatures 11.


1                  See R’ Chaim’s own first note to 1:6 above, and see our first footnote there for a brief citation of it.

               This is referring to the Kedusha formula that we recite in the Yotzer section of Shacharit, in the repetition of the morning Shemone Esrai, and in the repetition of the afternoon Shemone Esrai). See Isaiah 6:3, Ezekiel 3:12, and Psalms 146:10 for the text that Kedusha is based on. And see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 125 and its commentaries.

               Yet, see Yalkut Shimoni, Beshalach 241 which cites an instance in which the angels recited Kedusha before we did. But that was before the granting of the Torah, and when we were under extraordinary circumstances (i.e., we were crossing the Red Sea).

               R’ Chaim refers a number of times in this chapter to the irony of the fact that we, who are “down below”, affect the angels who are “up above”, to underscore our high station.

2                  That is, as if they were “respectfully” holding themselves back from reciting their part of it until we’d begin ours.

3                  Yet see 1:10 above for our inherent ability to do that whether we’re reciting Kedusha or not.

4                  And see 2:6 below for the fact that all of the mitzvot we perform enable that.

5                  See Pri Eitz Chaim Ch. 3 for this idea.

               Note, though, that that can also come about by our offering sacrifices, R’ Chaim himself points out in Ruach Chaim 1:2.

               R’ Chaim’s larger point here thus seems to be that despite our lesser holiness, and notwithstanding our ability to elevate the station of the universe through all of our actions, we’re still and all able to dramatically and momentously affect the very relationship between angels and G-d Himself as well.

6                  R’ Chaim then cites Zohar 2:247b as proof of his statement, which focuses on the idea of the various angels bonding together despite their rank to recite Kedusha (even though they’re not able to bond the worlds together as we can).

               We hold that R’ Chaim is once again underscoring our contention in the last few chapters that he’s addressing the select few. He does that here by directly quoting the Zohar’s statement at this juncture that the angels who set out to recite Kedusha “join in holiness with all those (outstanding individuals down below) who know how to sanctify their L-rd together” while subtlety avoiding the line soon to come in the Zohar about the angels’ reactions to those more common people who don’t know how to sanctify G-d!

               R’ Chaim then cites Pri Eitz Chaim, Sha’ar Chazarat Hashatz, Ch. 3 as proof of the idea that our recitation of Kedusha elevates and interconnects the upper worlds and sanctifies them even more than before.

               And finally, R’ Chaim humbly inserts the idea here that this might explain why we hoist our feet up as we recite Kedusha — in order to represent this.

7                  R’ Chaim cites Zohar 3:190b.

8                  R’ Chaim cites Zohar 1:42a and 2:247a.

               See Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah Ch. 2 for the different sorts of angels.

9                  R’ Chaim cites Eliyahu Rabba 1:14.

               See 1 Kings 5:13 and Job 12:7-10 for possible allusions to Perek Shira’s main theme.

10               After us, just as the angels themselves would recite Kedusha after us.

11               R’ Chaim cites Likutei Torah, Vaetchanan.

(c) 2019 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Feel free to contact me at


Rabbi Feldman’s new annotated translation of Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag’s “Introduction to the Zohar” is available as “The Kabbalah of Self” on Kindle here. His annotated translation of Maimonides’ “Eight Chapters” is available here and his annotated translation of Rabbeinu Yonah’s “The Gates of Repentance” is available here.

He has also translated and commented upon “The Path of the Just” and “The Duties of the Heart” (Jason Aronson Publishers).

Rabbi Feldman also offers two free e-mail classes entitled “Spiritual Excellence” and “Ramchal” that can be subscribed to.

Nephesh Hachaim 1:10

Nephesh Hachaim 1:10


Given all of the above concerning our makeup and capacities, it’s reasonable to wonder whether angels are loftier than we are or we’re loftier than they. And while that had been debated by some of the greatest among us for a very long time 1 R’ Chaim surmises that in fact both conclusions are right for different reasons.

On one level, he argues, angels are indeed loftier than we are by their inherent makeup, great holiness and wondrous comprehension. For when it comes to those things, there’s simply no comparison 2.


On another level, though, we’re loftier than they, given our ability to elevate and link together the various celestial worlds, capacities, and lights, which no angel could ever do 3. And that’s because each angel is a separate entity which thus can’t link all of the worlds together while we — with all of our soul elements — incorporate all of them so we can4.

In fact, angels can’t even elevate, connect, and link together one world with the one above it since they don’t incorporate or combine with them. They can’t even ascend or connect to the world above themselves, and they’re thus said to be “stationary” while humans are depicted as being “in motion” 5.

Only human beings 6 can elevate, link together, and join all celestial worlds and lights by our deeds, given that we incorporate them all. In point of fact, angels themselves are only elevated and made holier by dint of human actions given that they, too, are incorporated in human beings 7.


But our soul elements only enable us to elevate and connect the celestial worlds and ourselves after we’d have come into the material world 8. After all, it was only after G-d breathed life into Adam in this world that he became animated 9 and was also the animating force of all worlds 10.

This also touches on Jacob’s vision of the ladder, incidentally 11, which we’ll explain in Ch. 19 below. For it was only the bottom of that ladder — that animating force of life upon which “the angels of G-d were ascending and descending” — that was set upon the earth and manifests itself in our bodies 12.


1                Ramban, Ibn Ezra, Sa’adia Gaon and Rambam especially delved into this, based on conflicting Torah verses.

2                R’ Chaim cites Zohar Chadash, Bereishit (15b-16a) in reference to angels being transcendent and ethereal, and their enjoying a greater degree of comprehension than we do; and Ibid. 28b. Yet Midrash Rabbah (Bereishit 17:4) illustrates how man is wiser than the angels. But “wisdom” refers there to brilliant insight into applied, practical matters, while “comprehension” applies to insight into ethereal, G-dly matters (see Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah 3:8).

            See the Gra’s comments to Sifra D’tsniusa 37d [Likut] regarding Moses’ exceptional degree of comprehension.

R’ Chaim cites Zohar 2:129b in reference to their being holier than we are.

3                Yet see 1:5 above about the high source of our souls, which would also place us on a higher level than the angels. Apparently R’ Chaim’s aim here, though, is to accentuate our unique abilities to affect the worlds.

4                R’ Chaim cites Eitz Chaim 40:10, which depicts angels as a single element of the world it dwells in, while we — given our souls and all of its divisions — incorporate all worlds.

What’s interesting there, though, is the fact that the Ari refers to righteous Jews (tzaddikim) specifically as those who are higher than angels. This statement thus harkens us back to the point made in the two previous chapters about the unique powers of the select few rather than of all of us.

5                R’ Chaim cites Isaiah 6:2 and Zechariah 3:7. See Ma’amarim 10 (end).

6          R’ Chaim’s language here indicates that all of us can do that, which would seem to contradict the point we made in note 4 above. But we contend that he’s saying that while each one of us is potentially capable of such actions, only the select few actually bring such things about in the end.

7                R’ Chaim cites Eitz Chaim 28:4. This citation also refers to righteous Jews alone being higher than angels (see note 4 above).

8                See 1:12 below.

9                See Genesis 2:7.

10             See 1:4, 6 (also see R’ Chaim’s final note to 1:6) above. And see Sha’arei Kedusha 3:2.

11         See Genesis 28:2.

            R’ Chaim cites Zohar 3:123b here — which refers to all Jewish souls. But his point once again seems to be the one we suggested in note 6.

12             That’s to say that only the lowest aspect of the animating force of life manifested itself in Jacob because humans can only do what we’re capable of doing when we’re in the material world. This also sets us apart from angels, who aren’t ordinarily connected to the material world; for it’s our very connection to the physical world as well as the spiritual worlds that enables us to unite all worlds.

            As to the question whether non-righteous Jews are loftier than angels or vice versa, R’ Chaim’s opinion would seem to be that while non-righteous Jews are not as great as the select few who have actualized their potential, the former are still more exalted than angels all the same simply because they have the potential to be great given that they’re forever “in motion” and can ascend (or descend, G-d forbid) while angels will always remain “stationary”.

(c) 2019 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Feel free to contact me at


Rabbi Feldman’s new annotated translation of Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag’s “Introduction to the Zohar” is available as “The Kabbalah of Self” on Kindle here. His annotated translation of Maimonides’ “Eight Chapters” is available here and his annotated translation of Rabbeinu Yonah’s “The Gates of Repentance” is available here.

He has also translated and commented upon “The Path of the Just” and “The Duties of the Heart” (Jason Aronson Publishers).

Rabbi Feldman also offers two free e-mail classes entitled “Spiritual Excellence” and “Ramchal” that can be subscribed to.

Nephesh Hachaim 1:9

Nephesh Hachaim 1:9


Following through on the discussion of the previous chapter, R’ Chaim contrasts the situation of the generation that dwelt in the Sinai Desert 1 with that of those who lived in King Solomon’s time 2 in terms of their need to earn a living or not 3.

He offers that those Jews who merited living in the Sinai Desert who were sustained each and every day on manna from Heaven 4 and whose clothing never moldered 5 had absolutely no need to earn a living 6.

They thus served G-d completely, truly, and in awe, and dwelt wholeheartedly and exclusively upon Torah study and Divine service day and night, and had to do nothing whatsoever to earn a living. They thus embodied the statement of our sages that “the Torah was given exclusively to those who ate manna” (Michilta, Bishalach 17).

And as a consequence, the Cherubs that functioned in their generation faced each other completely, given that the people themselves “faced” G-d all of the time, and He likewise “faced” them.


Those who lived in King Solomon’s time, on the other hand, needed to earn something of a living to get by.

And in fact it was R’ Yishmael’s position that mostof us are to earn a living. After all, isn’t it said in Pirkei Avot (2:2) that Torah study along with a career was the best situation, and doesn’t Pirkei Avot describe the path to piety rather than just what’s required (see Bava Kama 30a) 7? The one stipulation though, as was pointed out in the previous chapter, was that one is to dwell upon and study Torah while working.

And so the Cherubs in the Holy Temple there and then were turned somewhat to the side rather than facing each other, though they looked lovingly upon each other and embraced 8. And that was in order to indicate just how beloved the people were by G-d, given that their situation embodied what His intentions for most of us are 9.

Why, though, did both of those Cherubs turn somewhat to the side? Shouldn’t the one that represented G-d have faced forward 10?

The point of the matter as we’d said is that G-d’s interconnections with the universe itself, the forces and designs behind it, and His own providence of it, all depends on the degree of the promptings of our actions. And He either favors us or not according to those actions. Thus the Cherub that represented Him turned somewhat away from the one that represented us 11.


And so at the time of the crossing of the Red Sea Moses was reprimanded by G-d for praying to Him to see to it that they would all cross it safely when He should have been addressing the people’s own trust in G-d’s promise that they would (see Exodus 14:15). G-d’s point was that if they strongly believed in and trusted in the fact that He would split the sea before their eyes as they courageously approached it, that that itself would have stimulated things in the heavens above to have the sea split miraculously 12.

For something else miraculous happened there, R’ Chaim points out. The Egyptian horses chasing after them were miraculously able to take charge of the chariots and their drivers 13. And he makes the point that this is analogous to our being able to “take charge” of G-d’s connections to this world through our good deeds 14.


1                I.e., who dwelt with the Tabernacle in its midst.

2                I.e., who dwelt with the Holy Temple in its midst.

3                Note that the generation of the desert not only singularly lived in the shadow of the Tabernacle and didn’t need to earn a living — they were also freed from slavery, crossed the Red Sea, and also received the Torah at Mount Sinai. Note then the rarity of such a generation! Why doesn’t R’ Chaim cite all of that?

              We contend it’s because he’s well aware that the reader knows those things, but that R’ Chaim is subtly allowing us to recognize for ourselves the point we made in note 17 of the previous chapter: that only those of such a rare generation — and rare individuals like them throughout the ages who can concentrate on Torah study all of the time — are the ones who have mastery of the Divine powers focused on in the previous chapters.

4                R’ Chaim also depicted them as having “eaten from a grand table”, an expression typically used to refer to Cohanim who would eat from the sacrifices offered on the Altar (see Beitzah 21a for example). By doing this R’ Chaim is again underscoring just how unique such individuals were.

5                See Deuteronomy 8:4.

6                R’ Chaim purposely refers to them at the beginning of the paragraph as having merited their fortunate situation to once again underscore their unique and privileged status (see Rambam’s Hilchot Shmitta V’Yovel 13:12 as cited in note 16 of the previous chapter).

7                Piety actually isn’t the highest goal. See the Beraita upon which Messilat Yesharim is based and elsewhere for higher spiritual levels. This again alludes to the point that only those who learn Torah all of the time — and who thus achieve even greater levels than piety — fulfill G-d’s will most especially. “Torah study alongwithacareer” is the best situation for the rest of us.

8                R’ Chaim cites 1 Kings 7:36 for an illustration of that phenomenon.

9                As opposed to His intentions for those who are able to concentrate on Torah study exclusively.

              R’ Chaim adds that while this depiction follows R’ Yishmael’s opinion, it was R’ Shimon Bar Yochai’s opinion that the Cherubs should have actually faced each other, given the people’s way of life.

10              That is, shouldn’t the Cherub that represented the Jewish Nation have remained facing the one that represented G-d while the latter would have turned somewhat away from them?

11              R’ Chaim’s recondite point once again here is that only those who didn’t then and don’t now need to earn a living, and spend all of their time studying Torah have such power; only their actions and way of life affected the heavens to an ultimate degree. And that’s why the Cherub representing G-d in Solomon’s time — when the people had to earn a living — turned somewhat away.

                  R’ Chaim offers an insight here in his own footnote into a statement made by Tosephot in Shabbat 88a.

12              See 3:12 below for another instance of instigating a miracle through sure faith.

              Several students of R’ Chaim (including R’ Yaakov Meir Yeshurun, R’ Yaakov Zundel of Salant, and others) cited their teacher’s contention that trust in G-d alone can have Him alter the workings of the world (see Keter Rosh p. 567-5789).

13              See Shemot Rabbah 23 and Shir Hashirim Rabbah 1:50.

14              We contend that the use of the term “And so” at the beginning of this section indicates that R’ Chaim is about to wrap things up — and to thus reiterate the point we’ve been making.

              For one thing, we have the specific statement here that the people crossing the Red Sea — the very ones who were to dwell in the desert and study Torah all day long — were capable of stimulating things “in the heavens above” (by their sure faith and trust), unlike others.

              And for another, in his commentary to Song of Songs 1:9 (cited here in the text), R’ Chaim likens the Jewish Nation to the hub of a (chariot) wheel, which while small compared to the rest of the wheel nonetheless controls it, to the small Jewish Nation which likewise controls the world — thanks to our Torah-study and performance of mitzvot.

              His contention here is that even though the Jewish Nation is a small entity, still and all, it — and specifically the small number of us who study Torah all of the time without earning a living, like those who crossed the Red Sea and dwelt in the Sinai Desert — are the true power-source of the universe. 

              See 1:21 below for another discussion of exceedingly rare individuals alone affecting changes to Heaven and earth.

              Not to make too much of the point, it’s important to note that R’ Chaim’s perspective about the centrality of Torah-study is entirely opposite to that of the early Chassidim who were contemporary with him. (See the Introduction, note 3 to Chapter 1:2, and note 4 to 1:4 above with reference to R’ and the early Chassidic Movement.)

              In distinct contrast to what we contend R’ Chaim is alluding to here and in the previous chapter that only those who constantly study Torah and perform mitzvot affect great and fundamental spiritual changes in the universe, the Ba’al Shem Tov taught that the same vitally important spiritual phenomena can be brought about by proper eating and drinking, and other material acts rather than exclusively through Torah study and the performance of mitzvot (see Toldot Yaakov Yoseph, Parshiot Bereishit and Bo)!

              It could in fact be said that R’ Chaim has been arguing against such a point of view here, and was doing so discreetly so as not to discourage people who are not privileged to study Torah constantly whom Chassidim were drawing into their midst.

(c) 2019 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Feel free to contact me at


Rabbi Feldman’s new annotated translation of Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag’s “Introduction to the Zohar” is available as “The Kabbalah of Self” on Kindle here. His annotated translation of Maimonides’ “Eight Chapters” is available here and his annotated translation of Rabbeinu Yonah’s “The Gates of Repentance” is available here.

He has also translated and commented upon “The Path of the Just” and “The Duties of the Heart” (Jason Aronson Publishers).

Rabbi Feldman also offers two free e-mail classes entitled “Spiritual Excellence” and “Ramchal” that can be subscribed to.

Nephesh Hachaim 1:8

Nephesh Hachaim 1:8


R’ Chaim offers a rather complex discussion here about the positioning of the Cherubs in the Tabernacle and Holy Temple in order to illustrate his point 1. Let’s follow his reasoning.

Some sages stressed the fact that the two Cherubs faced each other 2 while others stressed the idea that both Cherubs faced the Temple 3. And others reconciled the difference by saying that the Cherubs did indeed face each other, but only when the Jewish Nation was loyal to G-d 4, while they faced the Temple walls instead when the Jewish Nation wasn’t loyal to Him 5 (see Baba Batra 99a).

After noting all that, R’ Chaim then refers us to Rashbam’s position there 6 that the statement to the effect that they faced each other refers to the Cherubs in Moses’ Tabernacle, while the one that says that they faced the Temple instead refers to the Cherubs in Solomon’s Temple. Rashbam also asserts that the Cherubs in the Tabernacle were originally configured to stand face to face, but that that configuration miraculously altered itself when the Jewish Nation became disloyal. He also argued that it could be said that they faced somewhat in both directions 7.

R’ Chaim then directs our attention to the comments of Tosephot there, who offer that the Cherubs were originally set face to face in line with the fact that the Jewish Nation was indeed loyal to G-d 8. But, why then were the Cherubs in Solomon’s Temple originally set at an angle rather than facing each other, R’ Chaim wonders 9? It’s because this last point actually alludes to something else 10.


The point of the matter is that G-d told us to “not stray from it” (Joshua 1:70) 11. But how then are we to earn a living if we’re never to stop studying Torah? Based on a discussion in Berachot (35b), we learn that some would argue that we’re indeed to never stray from it while others say that we’re to earn a living 12. Then we’re told not to concern ourselves with earning a living since “when the Jewish Nation is loyal to G-d 13, their work is done by others”, while we’ll be forced to provide for ourselves if we aren’t loyal to G-d that way 14.

But how then can it be that we’d ever be allowed to earn a living? The point of the matter, R’ Chaim indicates, is that if we’re forced to earn a living to get by, then we’re to still-and-all concentrate on Torah study while we’re working 15.

In any event, while that’s true of the majority of people — who have to work for a living — those rare individuals who have been chosen by G-d to study Torah all day long may not earn a living and thus abandon Torah-study for however long 16. R’ Chaim will now tie this last theme in with the situation of the Cherubs cited above.


It comes to this: one of the Cherubs represents G-d, R’ Chaim points out, while the other represents the Jewish Nation. And the degree of devotion that the Jewish Nation showed G-d evidenced itself in the positioning of the Cherubs. For, moment by moment and by miraculous means, they either faced each other straight on, when the Jewish Nation was devoted to Him, or they faced away from each other (either to a certain extent or altogether) when they weren’t 17.


1          Recall that R’ Chaim had discussed G-d’s “shadowing” our actions in the last chapter. He’ll now discuss a dramatic and physical manifestation of that in the placement and movement of the Cherubs, who represent the relationship between G-d and the Jewish Nation as we’ll see, and which was also discussed in the last chapter.

Curiously enough, unlike the previous chapters and most of them to follow, R’ Chaim offers lamdanut (subtle and close textual analysis) here, rather than enunciate his points outright. It seems that he’s actually hiding his main point, which a writer would only do either because what he has to say is too much of a secret to state outright, or for one other esoteric reason or another. We’ll expand on this in note 17 below.

2          As it’s said, “The Cherubs will face each other” (Exodus 25:20) and “The Cherubs faced each other” (Ibid. 37:9). Significantly, the wording in the Hebrew is that each Cherub will face its brother. We’ll expand on the significance of this, too, below.

3          Rather than each other, as it’s said, “They stood … facing the main hall” (2 Chronicles 3:13).

4          And thus “faced” G-d head on. We’ll expand on what “being loyal to G-d” signifies here, too, in note 17 below.

5          And turned away from Him.

6          R’ Chaim actually directed us to Rashi’s comments, but as is well known, Rashi’s comments to Baba Batra ended at p. 29a and were completed by Rashbam.

7          That is, at a 45 degree angle or so, facing neither the Temple itself nor the other Cherub directly.

We’d suggest then that R’ Chaim’s point here so far is to underscore just how varied the positioning of the Cherubs could be, depending on our deeds. And that that indicates just how far G-d’s manifestation (represented by the Cherubs) could alter, thus “shadowing” our reactions to Him.

8          At the time, in the Sinai Desert.

9          R’ Chaim is actually segueing into another point here: about the vital importance of Torah study (which will be expanded upon later, most especially in Gate Four below). We’ll see later on how the two themes complement each other.

10         As will be discussed in Ch. 9 below, in the days of the Tabernacle, the Jewish Nation was miraculously provided with food and drink, but that changed in the days of the Holy Temple (in ancient Israel).

What’s to follow also isn’t preceded by an out and out statement of R’ Chaim’s point (see end of our footnote 2 above).

11         I.e., from the Torah, which is to say, from Torah-study, as R’ Chaim will point out. See Rambam’s Hilchot Talmud Torah 3:8-10.

The term “the point of the matter” which R’ Chaim himself used here is puzzling, since it implies that what’s to follow will explain what preceded it, which it doesn’t seem to do!

But as we’ll explain below, it does explain it, but only on the esoteric level we alluded to in note 1 above.

12         And thus necessarily set Torah-study aside for a part of the day.

13         By constantly studying Torah, it’s implied.

14         The idea of things changing depending on whether or not the Jewish Nation is loyal to G-d or not, harkens back to the discussion of the Cherubs above, of course.

We’d thus offer that R’ Chaim’s point here is that when we’re loyal to G-d and “face Him” in our day and age just as in the past by engaging in Torah study He “shadows” and “faces us” too, and provides for us.

15         That is, we’re to work with our hands and with the minimum amount of concentration we’d need to do our work, yet we’re to concentrate the better part of our minds on Torah matters.

Now, couldn’t it be argued that while that was easy enough to live up to in the sort of agrarian-economy-based society that the Talmud is speaking about in which most of the work was labor-intensive and called for little concentration, but that a modern economy would seem to call for a lot more mental concentration? So, is the principle no longer applicable?

But see the Introduction to the esteemed Chayai Adam where R’ Danzig, its author, who lived in the 19th Century, spoke of always having one Torah thought or another in mind even as he worked for some years in industry. Others can do so, too, then.

16         See Rambam’s Hilchot Shmitta V’Yovel 13:12.

R’ Chaim offers a footnote of his own here which is likewise an instance of lamdanut (see footnote 1 above) rather than of philosophical or ethical insight like his other footnotes. It analyses the verses in the Torah and the Talmudic statements that differentiate between the needs and obligation of the masses versus those of the rare individual when it comes to Torah study.

17         R’ Chaim cites Yoma 54a, Zohar 3: 152b, 3:59b, and Zohar Chadash, Teruma 36a which all illustrate that.

We’ll now try to tie in all the points we made above about R’ Chaim’s hidden point here. The first thing to bring to mind is a statement made by R’ Chaim’s son, R’ Yitzchak, in the latter’s introduction to Nephesh Hachaim.

“So humble was R’ Chaim that he had no compunctions about drawing close to the poor and unlettered, he’d lecture about things that would not only speak to scholars but to those same simple individuals, and he’d somehow purposefully and unpretentiously address both in the course of his public teachings.”

Now, one would have to be exceedingly subtle in his choice of words in order to be understood — and not misunderstood — by either class of listener. And therein lies our argument about what R’ Chaim was saying and not saying in this curious chapter.

At bottom he’s insinuating that only “those rare individuals who have been chosen by G-d to study Torah all day long” affect the Cherubs– and by extension, the entire universe. Because the mitzvah par excellence is Torah-study, and they alone are the ones who truly engage in it (there will prove to be an even greater narrowing down of the field enunciated in Gate Four, but now isn’t the place for that).

The rest of us can certainly study Torah and indeed must, but we’re restricted by the need to earn a living (the reader should note that R’ Chaim speaks in the text itself as the need to work only enough to have what to eat, which very, very few of us manage to restrict ourselves to). While our need to earn a living can be accommodated, too, it’s still and all not really the best.

Thus while those in R’ Chaim’s audience who worked for a living were certainly encouraged to do the best they could and were reminded that they could do a lot, his more sophisticated listeners understood that it was they alone who were truly loyal to G-d and thus affecting the Cherubs and the course of the universe. And that they alone are truly G-d’s “brother” or partner (see note 2 above).

Hence, that point wasn’t expressed outright because it would have discouraged the others, and would seem to demean less than total Torah-study.


(c) 2018 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Feel free to contact me at



Rabbi Feldman’s new annotated translation of Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag’s “Introduction to the Zohar” is available as “The Kabbalah of Self” on Kindle here. His annotated translation of Maimonides’ “Eight Chapters” is available here and his annotated translation of Rabbeinu Yonah’s “The Gates of Repentance” is available here.

He has also translated and commented upon “The Path of the Just” and “The Duties of the Heart” (Jason Aronson Publishers).

Rabbi Feldman also offers two free e-mail classes entitled “Spiritual Excellence” and “Ramchal” that can be subscribed to.

Nephesh Hachaim 1:7

Nephesh Hachaim 1:7


R’ Chaim will now clarify the issue originally brought up in Chapter 5 about our being the animating force behind and the “soul” of countless worlds.

In fact, he reiterates, we can’t compare our control of those worlds to the sort of control that the soul has over the body it’s attached to, as that’s impossible 1. For while our bodies are directly animated by our soul 2, as we said in Chapter 6, R’ Chaim’s point here is that the celestial forces, worlds, and the very Chariot itself 3 are animated — and either brought to a state of rectification or destruction (G-d forbid!) — by the effect of our actions.4

And our actions have that ability, first, because we’re a compendium of the innumerable and interconnected forces and worlds that cascaded downward from the uppermost reaches down to the material world 5; and second, because of the high, interior, and sublime source of our souls, which implies that it incorporates them all 6. Both phenomena contribute to the control that our actions have over the universe 7.


In fact, our having been granted free will is rooted in our ability to incline ourselves and the universe in the direction of either goodness or wrongfulness. And thanks to that, even if we’d already inclined everything toward wrongfulness and destruction because of our misdeeds, G-d forbid, we’d nonetheless be able to rectify that all after the fact 8, and we’re able to undo the harm thanks to our being the repository of all of those worlds 9.

In fact, R’ Chaim makes the point, it’s our free will that enables us to direct G-d’s own actions, if one could say as much! For G-d is termed our “shadow” (see Psalms 121:5), and so just as one’s shadow’s movements follows his or her own movements step for step, our actions have the same effect upon G-d’s actions 10.

And this was reflected by the configuration of the Cherubim 11 in the Beit Hamikdash, which either faced each other 12 or didn’t 13, depending on circumstances we’ll soon explore.


1                I.e., it’s impossible to claim that our minds or our wills have the sort of inner, first-hand, and immediate effect over the worlds that our will to walk just then would have over our feet, for example. See 1:6.

2                I.e., by our mind or will (see note 1 above).

3                This refers to the celestial Chariot cited in the first chapter of Ezekiel whose mystical implications were discussed in the Heichalot and other ancient texts.

4                Alone. I.e., by the mitzvot we perform (which lead to rectification) and the sins we lapse into (which lead to destruction).

The fact that our physical actions rather than our innermost wills affect the worlds clearly signifies that we have a less intimate, less proximate relationship with the celestial worlds than we’d have thought. But that’s not to belittle the effect of our actions, as we’ll soon see.

Note also that “actions” here also refers to our “actions, speech, and thoughts” cited in 1:3 above. See 1:12 below on our actions, 1:13 on our speech, and 1:14 on our thoughts.

5                See 1:6 above.

6                See 1:5 above.

7             Our being the repository of various worlds touches on the material aspects of those mitzvah-based actions, while the high and deep roots of our souls are intimately related to the sublime spiritual aspects of the mitzvot.

8                Through teshuva.

See Hilchot Teshuva 3:4 and Kiddushin 40 for a discussion about our ability to help rectify the world, and Rosh Hashanah 18a about our being able to recast what would have been destroyed otherwise.

9                That is, our being the repository of all worlds enables us to move ourselves and those worlds in any direction we’d care to take them.

10              I.e., upon His actions when it comes the bolstering or destroying the worlds.

R’ Chaim cites an unknown Midrash (which is also cited is Sh’nei Luchot Habrit, Toldot Adam, Hasha’ar Hagadol 306) in the text here that quotes G-d as having said, “I will act toward you as you act toward Me”. And he cites the Zohar (2:184b) which reiterates the idea that the heavens reflect our actions down below.

Just consider the profound implications of the idea that G-d Himself “copies” our actions!

11              See Exodus 25:18-22.

12              See Exodus 25:20.

13              See 2 Chronicles 3:13.

(c) 2018 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Feel free to contact me at


Rabbi Feldman’s new annotated translation of Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag’s “Introduction to the Zohar” is available as “The Kabbalah of Self” on Kindle here. His annotated translation of Maimonides’ “Eight Chapters” is available here and his annotated translation of Rabbeinu Yonah’s “The Gates of Repentance” is available here.

He has also translated and commented upon “The Path of the Just” and “The Duties of the Heart” (Jason Aronson Publishers).

Rabbi Feldman also offers two free e-mail classes entitled “Spiritual Excellence” and “Ramchal” that can be subscribed to.

Nephesh Hachaim 1:6

Nephesh Hachaim 1:6


But the idea that we ourselves actually “animate” and function as the soul behind “the body of the universe”, so to speak, isn’t to be taken literally. Because while the very instant a soul wants a part of its body to move, it does, yet we ourselves don’t have that kind of sure, immediate, and definitive effect on things 1.

It comes to this: G-d created man last 2 so that he’d comprise and be a compendium of all the heavenly and earthly phenomena that preceded him, and so that all those phenomena would contribute to and be played out in his own makeup and component-parts 3.

Indeed, each of our elements and parts were to correspond to a specific celestial world and capacity, and we were to be a paradigm of heaven and earth, which were themselves to correspond to our makeup 4.  But then Adam and Eve sinned and a lot of that was moderated 5.


The mitzvah-system is also connected to its celestial roots and to the entirety of creation. And in fact each and every mitzvah is a compendium of millions of celestial capacities and lights 6.

As such, whenever someone performs a mitzvah he can either rectify things connected to the specific world and capacity relevant to that mitzvah, elevate them, or he can bolster their light or holiness — but only to the degree that G-d wants us to.

But one’s ability to affect such changes with his mitzvot depends on the quality of his performance of them, and on whether and to the degree to which he purifies his thoughts when he’d engaged in them, too. And that in turn adds holiness and vitality to that part of his being that’s engaged in the mitzvah that corresponds to it 7.


Were we to fulfill all of the mitzvot with all of their factors and conditions on the physical level, and were we to do that with pure and holy thoughts, we’d rectify all of the celestial worlds, would have become an intrinsic instrument of that 8, and we’d consequently be made holy and would be constantly surrounded by G-d’s Glory 9.

But when we’d sin and sully one of our capacities and organs, that would reach up to the corresponding source of that celestial world and capacity, which could destroy it (G-d forbid!), lessen it, sully it, dim and diminish its pure light, as well as weaken and diminish its holiness — depending on the particular sin we’d committed, how we’d committed it, and depending on the status of the world involved.

For not all the worlds can be affected the same way, in fact. The lower worlds could actually be destroyed (G-d forbid!), light could be withheld from higher ones, higher-yet worlds would be forced to emit less light or would be diminished somehow, while the arcane lights and holiness of the very highest worlds would be diminished 10.

And that’s because the impurity would touch upon the upper realms, since they’re all incorporated in those upper realms and contribute to them intrinsically 11.


1                R’ Chaim presents the first of his several complex and important notes to this chapter here. In short, it offers an illustration of the fact that things don’t instantaneously move to our “command” from the fact that the angels don’t (see Chullin 91b).

That might seem to be a far-fetched proof but it isn’t. For if it’s angels who enable things to happen here (see Derech Hashem 2:5:3-4), it follows then that if they don’t immediately respond to our order that we don’t control them (and the functions of the universe) the way a soul controls a body.

2                That is, He created man as the sum of all that preceded him. See our discussion of this in footnotes 14 and 18 to the previous chapter.

3                R’ Chaim cites Zohar 2:75b (which — like most of the other sources cited here — speaks to our having been created in G-d’s image, which is of course the major theme of this Gate), 3:48a, 3:117a; Idra Rabbah 135a, 141a; Reiya Mehemena, 3:238b; Tikkunei Zohar Chadash 2:97a; Zohar Chadash, 1:64b, 2:23b, 58b; Eitz Chaim 26:1, and Ari’s Likkuttei Torah, Ki Tissah and Ha’azinu.

4                This will be expanded upon in 2:5 below.

5                The point about Adam and Eve’s sin was offered in R’ Chaim’s second footnote here (rather than in the text itself as we laid it out, though it’s not clear why.).

This footnote offers a lot of R’ Chaim’s insights into Jewish Thought, so we’ll take each point separately.

A. He offers that Adam and Eve were originally made up of only holy component parts (also see Ramchal’s Adir Bamarom p. 11, and Leshem, Deah 2:3:1). And that wrong thus originally stood outside of their beings.

Thus while they were free and able to choose to do wrong by enabling it to enter their beings, their doing it was only as likely as one of us freely choosing to walk into fire (I.e., they certainly could have, but why would they want to?).

B. It was only after they sinned that wrong became a part of their — and our own — inner being, and then entered the universe’s system, too, given that man and the universe mirror each other. That’s when things began to be negatively affected by human actions.

(It’s thus vitally important to recognize that everything cited in this chapter and beyond takes place in the less than perfect world that resulted from their sin.)

C. By now, though, wrong is such a part of our inner being that we mistakenly think its promptings are coming from our very own selves, and it seems to us as if we ourselves want to do wrong. But it’s not us per se so much as those internalized forces of wrong that are “speaking” to us (R’ Chaim directs our attention to Eitz Chaim, Sha’ar Kelipot Nogah 2; Sha’ar Gilgulim 1; and Berachot 17a, Shabbat 146a. See Chovot Halevovot 5:5, and Hilchot Geirushin 2:20, as well).

(This last point is a very telling insight into our own misunderstanding of things. It offers that we tend to “misread” our hearts, for it’s not we ourselves who want to sin but rather the forces of un-holiness using our own voices like unholy ventriloquists!)

D. All of that thus brings about a great admixture of things in our hearts so that we’re sometimes righteous and other times wrongful, In fact, even our deeds can be somewhat right and sometimes wrong at the very same time (see Rambam’s remarks at the end of his commentary to the Mishnayot of Makkot). As such, no one is utterly righteous and no one is utterly wrongful (see Hilchot Teshuva 3:2), as we all have imperfect intentions from time to time.

E. The state of affairs in which wrong entered our beings as a consequence of Adam and Eve’s sin continued on until the time we received the Torah at Mount Sinai (Shabbat 146a, also see 3:11 below), though it tragically returned when we constructed the golden calf (Ibid. 89a).

F. The statement that Adam and Eve would die if they sinned (Genesis 2:7) wasn’t a threat of punishment so much as a warning that they’d internalize impurity by sinning and that the only thing that could rectify that would be the decomposition of their body and the subsequent purification of their beings (see Derech Hashem 1:3 and Da’at Tevunot 72).

G. In any event, death and human impurity will continue until the End of Days, when death will be undone (Isaiah 25:8) and the spirit of impurity will be removed (Zachariah 13:2) (also see Ma’amarim 5).

(The central point here seems to be that now that we’re in this less-than-perfect situation, whatever we do is a combination of right and wrong, thus we affect the universe both for the better and for the worse. So, R’ Chaim’s point at the beginning of the chapter that we don’t really serve as the “soul” of the universe — which he’ll address in the very next chapter in another light — could also be explained this way: we’re not exactly the world’s “soul” because we’re no longer on the level we’d need to be. After all, how could the world’s “body-parts” respond to us immediately if we’re at one and the same time telling them to do one thing [i.e., the right thing] and its opposite [i.e., the wrong thing]? And the repetition in this chapter of a lot of what’s offered in 1:4 above about our capabilities and inner makeup likewise serves to make the point that those factors are now on a lower status.)

6                Cited are Zohar 2:85b 165b; Tikkunei Zohar 129b-130a; and Eitz Chaim, Sha’ar Hayichudim 2. See 4:29-30 below.

7                But, again, we can no longer affect them to the degree we could have had Adam and Eve not sinned and had our ancestors not erected the golden calf.

R’ Chaim offers another note here that is likewise full of insights into Jewish Thought.

A. As soon as someone has it in mind to perform a mitzvah something of a “trace” (i.e., an impression) of that mitzvah is implanted in its celestial source above — even before the person actually performs it. And that enables a “surrounding light” to shine down upon him, and for a degree of holiness to encompass him (cited are Zohar 2:31b, 2:86b, 2: 128a, 3:122a. Also see 1:12 below and Ma’amarim 29).

(Notice the reintroduction of the idea of one thing encompassing another, the way bodies encompass souls of course, G-d’s being encompasses the universe — and how upper worlds encompass the lower worlds they control as discussed in  note 4 to1:5 above. Along the same lines, see 7C below which discusses being encompassed by the Garden of Eden, 7D about being encompassed by holiness, and 7E about being encompassed by Gehenom.)

B. That holiness and the encompassing lights then enable that person to “attach himself onto G-d”, if one could say as much, in his lifetime.

C. The “encompassing light” then helps him to actually fulfill the mitzvah, which then strengthens that light. And that then gives him the wherewithal to fulfill yet other mitzvot given that he’s “literally sitting in the Garden of Eden” then (as R’ Chaim puts it. See 1:12 below, Ruach Chaim 6, and Ma’marim 2 at end) where the yetzer harah has no power to thwart him (see Ma’amarim 20, 24).

D. You can actually sense the holiness you’re surrounded by at that time if you concentrate, and can thus grow in your soul.

E. The opposite is true, too, though. For when you sin — not just think about sinning (see Kiddushin 39b where it’s pointed out that one would have to actually commit a sin for harm to be done, and yet would only have to think of fulfilling a mitzvah to reap the benefits of that) — you draw a spirit of impurity down upon yourself (see Zohar 2:31b and 2:86b cited above), become surrounded by an impure spirit, and the very “air of Gehenom surrounds you” even though you’re alive (see Avodah Zara 5a).

8                The term used here is merkava or “chariot”. That’s to say that you’d be the “driver behind the wheels” of the instrument that accomplished all of that.

9                R’ Chaim cites Zohar 2:155a; and Raiyah Mehemna, 3:239a. See 4:15 below.

10              R’ Chaim cites Zohar 2:85b, Tikkunei Zohar 129b.

11              R’ Chaim’s final note to this chapter is presented at this point. It cites the fact that the idea that the upper realms are all connected to man can be found in Tikkunei Zohar Chadash 97a; Raiyah Mehemna, 3:219b; as well as in Sha’arei Kedusha 3:2; Likkutei Torah, Ki Tisa and Ha’azinu; and in Bereishit Rabba 8:3 and Kohelet Rabba 2:12.


(c) 2017 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Feel free to contact me at



Rabbi Feldman’s new annotated translation of Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag’s “Introduction to the Zohar” is available as “The Kabbalah of Self” on Kindle here. His annotated translation of Maimonides’ “Eight Chapters” is available here and his annotated translation of Rabbeinu Yonah’s “The Gates of Repentance” is available here.

He has also translated and commented upon “The Path of the Just” and “The Duties of the Heart” (Jason Aronson Publishers).

Rabbi Feldman also offers two free e-mail classes entitled “Spiritual Excellence” and “Ramchal” that can be subscribed to.

Nephesh Hachaim 1:5

Nephesh Hachaim Gate 1, Ch. 5


Whatever gives us the ability to do such momentous things, though? At bottom, it comes down to the very high source of our soul, which is the animating spirit behind everything, as we’ll see.

But to understand that we’d first have to see what drives things in general.

R’ Chaim begins with a discussion of the heavenly worlds 1. We’re to know that they’re intertwined, that they descend from the uppermost reaches all the way down to the material world 2, that each world is controlled by the one above it much the way that a body is controlled by a soul 3, and that — of course — G-d is the ultimate “soul” and controller of everything 4.


Now, there are four heavenly worlds 5. In ascending order they’re the world of the Ophanim, of the Chayot, of the Throne of Glory, and of Divine Emanation 6. And each one functions as the soul of the one below it.

As such it’s said that, “When the Chayot were lifted …, the Ophanim were lifted in correspondence to them, for the Ruach 7 of the Chayot was in the Ophanim as well. And when they (the Chayot) would go, they (the Ophanim) would go (too), and when they (the Chayot) would stand still, they (the Ophanim) would stand still….” (Ezekiel 1:19-21) 8. And we know that the Chayot were also controlled by the Throne of Glory above them, since we’re taught that “the Throne of Glory carried whatever carried it” and that “the Chayot carried whatever carried them… and the Throne carried the Chayot” (Zohar Chadash 66b) 10.

After portraying the interdependence of the worlds and the fact that the upper ones control the lower ones R’ Chaim then makes his main point, which is that it’s our soul’s high root and stature that sets us apart and enables us to do the world-altering things that we can do. As he puts it, “And the Throne’s living 11 soul is the root of the soul of the Jewish Nation 12, which is far loftier and higher up even than the Throne of Glory, as it’s the ‘man’ 13 atop it”; as it’s written, “On the likeness of the Throne was a likeness of a ‘man’” (Ezekiel 1:26) 14.


R’ Chaim then adds that we’re ironically the first and last things to have been created 15: first in the heavens, given our soul’s stature in the upper realms and given that our souls are rooted in G-d’s own breath which was blown into us 16. And we’re last because Adam and Eve were the last beings created on earth 17. Nevertheless, essentially the idea is that we’re most able to animate things because our souls are from the very innermost of worlds 18 thus we function as the “soul” to the world’s own “body”.


1                A “world” as used here isn’t a planet or the like but rather a complex mix of phenomena that are united in a specific way (much the way we’d speak of “the Torah world”, “the music world”, “the business world”, etc.). But the worlds under discussion here are utterly non-material and are directly related to creation and G-d’s interactions with the physical universe.

And as the Kabbalists teach us, each world is comprised of a number of esoteric non-material components termed Sephirot (which are the basic non-material elements of creation and Divine interaction), Partzufim (complex mixtures of Sephirot), and more.

2                That is, the Divine worlds descended downward in the course of creation – from G-d’s own Will down to the created world. (Divine beneficence continues to flow down through them.)

3                Of course a soul isn’t above a body so much as within it. The point is that superior phenomena (like upper-worlds and souls) control inferior ones (like lower-worlds and bodies). Let this serve as just one example of the need to “translate” and explain Kabbalistic ideas.

4                R’ Chaim cites various sources to corroborate these ideas. He offers Zohar 1:19b that speaks of the worlds enclosing and encompassing each other, which bolsters the idea of their being intertwined.

Then Idrah Zuta 291b that speaks of lights (i.e., worlds) enclosing other lights and shining upon them, which also reiterates their interconnectedness and subtly alludes to the idea of one controlling (i.e., shining upon) the other. The Zohar there also indicates that while the “revealed” (i.e., the outermost) light is termed “the King’s garment”, the “innermost” light (which drives it) is hidden. And that alludes to G-d’s hidden, soul-like qualities here.

And he offers The Ari’s Eitz Hachaim (Sha’ar Penimiyut v’Chitzoniyut 2) and Pri Eitz Chaim (Sha’ar HaShabbat 7-8, 24) that indicate that the outside of each world over-covers the one under it and becomes its inside (i.e., its controlling force) and soul, which underscores the idea of the more sublime aspects of each world controlling the less sublime ones.

See 3:10 for more on this as well as the beginning of Ruach Chaim.

5                There are actually an infinite number of them but they fall into four main categories.

6                Curiously enough, R’ Chaim doesn’t use the Kabbalistic terms here for the worlds as we’d expect (though he uses them in his footnote to 1:13). He’s assumedly using the terms cited here from Ezekiel both to underscore the antiquity of the concepts and to make it easier for the reader to follow his points as he reads the verses.

7                I.e., Soul.

8                Thus we find that the worlds are indeed intertwined, and that each is animated by the one above it which functions as its soul.

9                That is, the Throne of Glory eventually carried or supported from up above whatever initially carried it from below.

This doesn’t seem to be a direct quote from the sages as R’ Chaim claims. But see Ricanti to Exodus 32:19 in reference to Sotah 35a. (Also see Eitz Hachaim, Iburim Ch. 4 which also cites it as a quote from the sages without attributing a source),

10              This once again indicates that each of the worlds is controlled and animated by the one above it. But where is the highest world, G-d’s Emanation? That will be explained now.

11              I.e., Animating.

12              See Ma’amar 15.

13              Sitting…

14              I.e., the “man” sitting atop and controlling the Throne of Glory (as well as the worlds below it) is the source of our soul, which is why we have the abilities to animate and control this world.

Now, R’ Chaim adds a relatively lengthy and curious footnote here. In short, it says that the soul (which is termed “a literal portion of G-d up above”) passes through millions upon millions of worlds in its course downward to our world. And that only a small part of it occupies our body. (See 1:17 below for more of this.) That’s meant to underscore the unfathomable loftiness of our soul, of course. In fact, later on in his note R’ Chaim cites the Idra Rabbah (141b) which makes the point that everything depends upon this so very high and exalted soul.

But R’ Chaim also notes that of course we’re also comprised of a body, and that we’re in fact part “supernal being” and part “mundane being” (citing Breishit Rabbah 12 and Vayikrah Rabbah 9). And he indicates that the two are inexorably linked and function as two ends of a rope, so that when one “shakes” the rope by doing something physical down here, he then “shakes” and animates the rope up above. But doesn’t that seem out of place here? See footnote 18 below.

15              He cites Zohar 2:70b here.

16              See Genesis 2:7. This will be discussed in more detail in 1:15 below.

17              He cites Zohar 2:70b here.

18              See R’ Chaim Vital’s Sha’ar Hakedusha 3:2.

Now, mentioning our having been created last seems to weaken R’ Chaim’s argument that we serve as the soul of all of creation because of our high station. Why then does he cite this? And why does he focus on our physicality in his own note to this chapter (see our footnote 14 above)?

He apparently means to accentuate the fact that while we’re indeed heavenly in our core, we’re also very earthy. But that — like the heavenly worlds (cited at the beginning of the chapter) — those elements of our being are intertwined. So, while we’ve indeed been granted the ability to affect monumental change in the universe thanks to our soul, we’d still have to “shake” the “rope” (see footnote 14) down here through our physical actions to activate the upper worlds (which would then “shake” the “rope” up above in order to benefit this lower world, though R’ Chaim doesn’t address this latter point here).

This also touches on an important theme presented later on in Nephesh Hachaim to the effect that while much can be done in our hearts and minds (i.e., our “souls”) to draw close to G-d, we’re still and all obliged to do things with our bodies to that end at bottom (see 1:22, “Chapters” 4-5, etc.) .

(c) 2017 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Feel free to contact me at


Rabbi Feldman’s new annotated translation of Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag’s “Introduction to the Zohar” is available as “The Kabbalah of Self” on Kindle here. His annotated translation of Maimonides’ “Eight Chapters” is available here and his annotated translation of Rabbeinu Yonah’s “The Gates of Repentance” is available here.

He has also translated and commented upon “The Path of the Just” and “The Duties of the Heart” (Jason Aronson Publishers).

Rabbi Feldman also offers two free e-mail classes entitled “Spiritual Excellence” and “Ramchal” that can be subscribed to.

Nephesh Hachaim 1:4

Nephesh Hachaim Gate 1, Ch. 4


Now, no one should ever say, Who am I to think that I could do anything of consequence with my meaningless actions 1? In fact, R’ Chaim asserts, each one of us has it within him or her to bring about the sorts of profound things we’d cited above with our actions 2.

As he puts it, “not a single one of our actions, words or thoughts … is ever lost!” 3. Every action that each one of us takes is “great, far-reaching, and momentous” 4 and affects the very heavens and the supernal lights 5.

In fact, were we astute enough to understand what actually happens in the heavens as a consequence of our deeds we’d tremble, R’ Chaim asserts. For we’d come to realize just how much damage could come about by even our most minor misdeeds 6!

R’ Chaim then makes a very astounding, incredibly distressing statement.

In fact, he says, what we’d be doing with our sins would be even worse than what Nebuchadnezzar and Titus did when they (seemingly!) destroyed the first and second Beit Hamikdash!


In point of fact, Nebuchadnezzar and Titus could have no effect on the sup-ernal realm7, because they weren’t linked to it and couldn’t influence it 8. But we, on the other hand, who are so quite intimately linked with the supernal realm, can affect things in the heavens and the supernal Beit Hamikdash 9.

And so while Nebuchadnezzar and Titus could “only” destroy the phys-ical Beit Hamikdash, we could destroy the corresponding supernal Beit Hamikdash with our sins 9.

It should also make us tremble to realize that not only do we have it within us to do that, but it’s also true that we ourselves incorporate all worlds and their resources and capacities 10 which themselves comprise the supernal Beit Hamikdash!

For, just as our heart incorporates everything vital to our being and sits in the center of our body and thus corresponds to the Kodesh Kedoshim 11 in the Beit Hamikdash which sat in the center of Jerusalem 12, our heart also corresponds to the even shetiyah 13, which incorporates within it all of the sources of holiness 14.

So when we dwell 15 on adultery, for example, we set a virtual harlot 16 in the supernal Kodesh Kedoshim, G-d forbid! And we thus empower the forces of impurity and the “other side” there and actually do more harm that way than Titus did when he set an actual harlot in the physical Kodesh Kedoshim! And the same goes for any sin: with each one we commit we allow “strange fire” 17 to enter our hearts, as when we become angry or express any other untoward desire 18, G-d protect us 19.

For by virtue of the soul that has been implanted within us, we are the very soul of, the driving force behind, and are in command of innumerable supernal and earthly worlds 20.


1                See Mesillat Yesharim Ch’s 2 and 3 for the dangers of this attitude.

2                This democratic assertion that everyone’s actions count in this way contrasts with R’ Chaim’s statement in his second footnote to this chapter that it’s tzaddikim that affect such things! But see R’ Chaim’s remark in his Rosh Hashanah Drasha to the effect that no two people are alike, in that some can bring about great changes thanks to their spiritual standing while others can barely bring about any such changes at all (citing Ramchal’s Da’at Tevunot 126). As such his point here seems to be that we each do indeed affect changes, but tzaddikim can do even more.

3                I.e., is ever in vain.

4                After all, as R’ Chaim points out in his first footnote here, aren’t we told that we ourselves instigate what happens above, citing Pirkei Avot 2:1? But in point of fact, the Mishna there says that if you’re ever to avoid sinning you’d need to מה למעלה ממך דע – literally, to “Know what’s above you” (i.e., “an eye that sees and an ear that hears”; and that “all your actions are recorded in a book”) and to thus be mindful of what you do.

But R’ Chaim legitimately but quite non-literally translates מה למעלה ממך דע as saying, “Know that all that happens above is from you” in order to make his point. (See Ruach Chaim on that Mishna, too). Interestingly enough, though, the Ba’al Shem Tov and his disciples understood the Mishna the same way as R’ Chaim did (see for example Kedushat LeviParshat Metzorah). Is this then an instance of R’ Chaim acknowledging the legitimacy of Chassidic thought? Perhaps so, given that R’ Chaim seemed sympathetic toward the movement: for one thing, he didn’t sign the ban against Chassidism that his teacher, the Gra, initiated. And R’ Chaim was known to have all of the major works of Chassidic Thought in his library.

(The reading of the Mishna itself, though, might actually derive from Zohar 2:117b).

5                The “supernal lights” spoken of here (צחצחות האורות העליונות) will be cited in 1:6, 12 (R’ Chaim’s footnote in 1:13) and 4:21 below.

6                It goes without saying that if our misdeeds cause such great harm, then our laudable deeds do great good, of course.

7                Where all of this counts, as we’ll see.

8                R’ Chaim nonetheless cites a statement in 3:12 below from Eitz Chaim that speaks to the powers that Nebuchadnezzar had in fact on the upper realms with his use of certain impure powers. Apparently then while Titus and he had some degree of power up above, they didn’t have the nearly ultimate power that we do.

9                See Da’at Tevunot 160.

9                R’ Chaim asserts that their act was as superfluous as grinding flour (which, by definition, is already ground), citing Eicha Rabba 1:41. That’s a striking statement, saying in effect that everything Titus and Nebuchadnezzar did was redundant for all intents and purposes since we’d already done the hard part with our sins!

10              R’ Chaim points out that this will be explained later on in 1:6 and 2:5.

11              I.e., The Holy of Holies.

12              See Zohar 2:157 and Kuzari 4:24.

13              The “Foundation Stone”, which is the point from which the rest of the world was formed (Zohar 1:131 and Yomah 54b). Also see Zohar 1: 71b and 2:222 for it resting in the center of the world.

14              R’ Chaim also cites Zohar 3:161a here to further prove his point.

R’ Chaim touches upon the centrality and potency of the Beit Hamikdash, its correspondence to our own beings, and he calls upon each one of us to make ourselves into a human Beit Hamikdash in his second footnote here — along with the dire warning that the earthly Beit Hamikdash will do us no good (i.e., it will no longer help to purify us and expiate our sins) if we violate the one within us!

 15             In our heart.

16              R’ Chaim terms a harlot “the image of jealousy”, in reference to Ezekiel 8:3, 5. See Rashi there as well as Zohar 2:3b and Avodah Zara 55a.

17              I.e., foreign and unwanted potencies; see Leviticus 10:1.

18              Notice that R’ Chaim is terming anger a ta’ava here: a lustful desire – one that’s perhaps on par with the sorts of immoral desires that would have set a harlot in the supernal Beit Hamikdash!

19              R’ Chaim cites Isaiah 64:10 and Ezekiel 43:7-9.

20              R’ Chaim cites and explains the import of Genesis 2:7 to make this point.

(c) 2017 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Feel free to contact me at



Rabbi Feldman’s new annotated translation of Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag’s “Introduction to the Zohar” is available as “The Kabbalah of Self” on Kindle here. His annotated translation of Maimonides’ “Eight Chapters” is available here and his annotated translation of Rabbeinu Yonah’s “The Gates of Repentance” is available here.

He has also translated and commented upon “The Path of the Just” and “The Duties of the Heart” (Jason Aronson Publishers).

Rabbi Feldman also offers two free e-mail classes entitled “Spiritual Excellence” and “Ramchal” that can be subscribed to.

Nephesh Hachaim 1:3

Nephesh Hachaim Gate 1, Ch. 3


Is R’ Chaim saying then that we’re in control of the world’s resources and capacities just as G-d is? Well, yes, in a way 1.  As he puts it, G-d created us to indeed control and affect millions upon millions of those resources and capacities, and to govern an infinite number of celestial worlds 2!

How so, though? Through our actions, speech, thoughts, and overall behavior; and for better or for worse 3.

For thanks to our good actions, speech, thoughts, and behavior we’re said to maintain and empower any number of celestial and holy capacities and worlds, and even make them holier yet and more luminous 4. In fact, our sages termed us “builders” 5 given that we set whole supernal worlds in order much the way that builders arrange their projects and bolster them 6.

But it’s also true that as a result of our bad actions, speech, thoughts, and behavior we correspondingly destroy many celestial and holy capacities and worlds 7, or we darken them or dim their light and holiness. We can even empower the forces of impurity, G-d forbid 8.


This, then, is the meaning of our having been created in “G-d’s image”: just as He controls and arranges all worlds each and every moment according to His will, He saw to it that we, too, have some degree of that control.

For G-d has granted us the ability to open and close 9 infinite numbers of resources and whole worlds by dint of the supernal sources of our actions, speech, and thoughts, and depending on how we utilize them each and every moment 10. As if we were actually in charge of them all, if one could say as much 11.


1           We’re now entering into R’ Chaim’s own original enunciation of what came to be a well-known Mussar idea termed Gadlut Ha’adam – Human Greatness – as taught by R’ Nosson Tzvi Finkel of Slobodka and his students.

Yet, R’ Chaim prefaces his remarks about our abilities with the term כביכול – “if one can say as much”. The expression is usually used when one is depicting G-d in too human terms, but it’s rarely used in the context of man (though see Rashi to Megillah 21 a ”K’viyachol”). Thus, what we’re about to hear about mankind’s abilities are true, but let’s not dare depict humans in too G-dly terms either (see note 10 below).

2             Understand that this phenomenon sets us apart from all other beings, including angels (see 1:10 below and see Zohar 1:5a for their jealousy about that). It enables us to be the model that everything else will follow (see 1:7 below), and it’s also the epitome of the often cited idea that our acts serve lofty purposes (see end of 1:9 below).

Now, while we’d have expected our physical actions to affect things as they do here on earth, who’d have expected our speech, thoughts and general demeanor to? R’ Chaim is thus underscoring the fact that those more subtle and often concealed qualities also have that effect. 

See 1:6 below for a reiteration of how we affect things for better or for worse.

3                R’ Chaim is of course referring to all the mitzvah-related actions (see 1:12 below), speech (see 1:13 below), and thoughts (see 1:14 below). But we don’t always engage in mitzvot, so how can we control the universe to the degree he’s indicating that we do (and how could it function)? But see Hilchot De’ot 3:2 where Rambam explains how we can turn everything we do into a mitzvah (also see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim  232:1). The fact that our “overall behavior” also affects things this way underscores the importance of our personality traits, which could be even more important than our physical, verbal, and mental actions (see Sha’arei Kedusha 1:2).

4                Isaiah 51:16 is cited here which reads, “And I placed My words into your mouth, and with the shadow of My hand I covered you, to plant the heavens and to found the earth”.

5                     See Berachot 64a.

6                    See R’ Chaim’s depiction of us as “builders” in the previous chapter, where he highlighted our limitations in that capacity versus G-d’s own omnipotence. This, too, will be referred to in note 10 below.

7                     Isaiah 49:17 which speaks of “those who destroy you and those who lay you to waste will come from you” is cited.

8                See R’ Chaim’s note to 1:12 below on this as well as Eitz Hachaim, Sha’ar Haklipot 3.

9                … the doors that allow for the free movement of…

10              R’ Chaim is making an exceedingly important point here: that we ourselves don’t ultimately affect the workings of the universe and its resources, since we’re not G-d, but we do enable them to function more or less easily one way or another by virtue of the fact that we are the gatekeepers. Thus, the power we have is to open and close doors, which is tremendous, but it’s quite secondary to G-d’s own power, needless to say (see notes 1 and 6 above).

And some of us are better at this than others, of course (see 1:14, 19 below about these two ideas).

See Gra on Sifrah D’tsiuitah 16b.

11              R’ Chaim concludes this chapter by citing the statement in Eicha Rabbah 1:33 to the effect that we “strengthen G-d” when we fulfill His wishes and “diminish His strength” when we don’t, if one could say as much. Zohar 2:32b which reiterates the point is also cited.

(c) 2017 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Feel free to contact me at


Rabbi Feldman’s new annotated translation of Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag’s “Introduction to the Zohar” is available as “The Kabbalah of Self” on Kindle here. His annotated translation of Maimonides’ “Eight Chapters” is available here and his annotated translation of Rabbeinu Yonah’s “The Gates of Repentance” is available here.

He has also translated and commented upon “The Path of the Just” and “The Duties of the Heart” (Jason Aronson Publishers).

Rabbi Feldman also offers two free e-mail classes entitled “Spiritual Excellence” and “Ramchal” that can be subscribed to.

Nephesh Hachaim 1:2

Nephesh Hachaim Gate 1, Ch. 2


But, just how are we like G-d? To know that, though, we’d first have to realize that we’re actually told that we were created “in the image of E-l-o-h-i-m1. R’ Chaim underscores the fact that that’s the name of G-d that speaks to His being in control of all the universe’s resources and capacities 2.

And how much is G-d in control of all the universe’s resources and capacities? Completely. For, when we humans build something out of wood, for example, R’ Chaim points out, we don’t start off by actually creating wood: we simply take whatever available pieces of wood we need and set them in place. And when we’re finished, we leave, and the edifice we built stands on its’ own.

But when G-d (as E-l-o-h-i-m) “built” the universe He created it out of sheer nothingness by means of His limitless ability 3. And each and every moment literally He willfully imbues the world and its contents with “being and new light” 4. In fact, were G-d to withhold that for an instant, everything would then simply return to sheer nothingness 5. That’s why The Men of the Great Assembly worded the prayers to read “He renews the act of creation daily” 6, which means to say that G-d does that literally, moment by moment 7.


Thus G-d is said to be in control of all the universe’s resources and capacities as signified by the term E-l-o-h-i-m 8 in that each and every resource and capacity is under His control, He provides them all with their capacity and power each and every moment, and He alone is capable of changing them and setting them in order as He sees fit 9.

And we’re somewhat like that, too, as we’ll see.



1                We’ve translated the term as “the image of G-d” of course, since E-l-o-h-i-m is one of G-d’s names, but that translation is still and all somewhat misleading as we’ll see.

                  Now, we find that particular names depict specific characteristics. Someone named Shmuel, for example, may be called “Shmulie” by family, “Shmulke” by friends, “Samuel” (its English equivalent) by co-workers, “Sam” by others, etc. And this same man will likely act and be perceived by others according to the name in question. The same could be said about G-d, if you will. He too is represented by different names, seven of which are sacred (see Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah 6:2) and scores of which are more like “appellations” (see Chizkuni to Exodus 14:22), and each represents a trait.

R’ Chaim’s point is that particular names of G-d depict specific Divine characteristics and that we’d need to know which characteristic is being expressed here by the use of the name E-l-o-h-i-m.

2                R’ Chaim refers to the citation of that in Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chaim 5:1.

3                This depiction explains the following detail: E-l-o-h-i-m is the name for G-d that’s used in the recounting of creation (rather than the usual name Y-h-v-h).  So we’d have expected R’ Chaim’s point to be that our having been created “in the image of E-l-o-h-i-m” implies that we’re creative beings. Instead R’ Chaim points out just how unlike G-d we are on that level. For while humans certainly affect change, we still and all arrive in the middle of things then leave. We’re thus a vital element in the universe, but only an element nonetheless. Indeed, R’ Chaim is underscoring the idea that we humans are not creative so much as re-creative.

And he cites Zohar 2, 96a in a note below which differentiates between the names E-l-o-h-i-m and Y-h-v-h, and he addresses the subject in 3:9 below.

As for G-d creating the universe out of sheer nothingness, see 1:13, 3:2 below, as well as Ramban and Gra’s Aderet Eliyahu to Genesis 1:1, and Ramchal’s Da’at Tevunot 194.

4                “New light” means to say, additional degrees of animation.

See note to 1:13, 3:11 below and R’ Chaim’s remarks in Ruach Chaim 4:22, as well as Ramban to Genesis 1:4, Maharal’s Netzach Yisrael Ch. 1, and Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah 1:1,

5                See Shabbat 88a and Ramban to Genesis 2:17.

A point to be made is that since everything can thus come undone and become sheer nothingness if G-d so willed it, and yet He hasn’t brought that about, G-d clearly intends for the universe to go on and isn’t utterly displeased with it, as some might think.

6                This is found in Yotzer Ohr before Kriat Sh’ma.

7                R’ Chaim also offers the fact that G-d is said to “be making” them now rather than to have made “the great luminaries” (Psalms 136:7) in the distant past.

He then offers a note here, his first in a long series of them throughout the book. We’ll offer the gist of this one and others like it that help us understand the point at hand, but few others.

The note raises the question as to why none of this moment-by-moment activity is discernible to us. And it offers that it’s because all of that goes on below the surface of things, in each thing’s spiritual “elements” and “fathers” (i.e., its non-material roots and antecedents) (R’ Chaim cites Zohar 1:23b as illustration of that fact. See 3:10 below for this same citation. Also see R’ Yitzchak’s note to 1:1 and Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah 4:1-2, 5 on this idea), which are themselves rooted in the four letters of G-d’s name Y-h-v-h (see 3:11 below), and which all join together to produce each and every thing moment by moment as is also spelled out by the concept of the different “parts” of time (see Hilchot Kiddush Hachodesh 6:2 and Pardes Rimonim 2:1).

Also see R’ Chaim’s note to 1:13 below.

8                … specifically, which is a plural term, thus alluding to G-d as E-l-o-h-i-m being in control of infinite numbers of things…

9                R’ Chaim’s next note at this instance makes the point that the term E-l-o-h-i-m is sometimes used in other contexts in the Torah, as when it refers to idols and national overlords (see Psalms 96:5, Micha 4:5, Zohar 3:8a, 208a), and judges (see Exodus 22:9 and Rambam about that in Moreh Nevuchim 2:6). But given  that none of these have inherent so much as G-d-given abilities (see R’ Chaim’s Ma’amarim 3 and Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah 1:1-4), they’re clearly un-G-dly.

(c) 2017 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Feel free to contact me at


Rabbi Feldman’s new annotated translation of Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag’s “Introduction to the Zohar” is available as “The Kabbalah of Self” on Kindle here. His annotated translation of Maimonides’ “Eight Chapters” is available here and his annotated translation of Rabbeinu Yonah’s “The Gates of Repentance” is available here.

He has also translated and commented upon “The Path of the Just” and “The Duties of the Heart” (Jason Aronson Publishers).

Rabbi Feldman also offers two free e-mail classes entitled “Spiritual Excellence” and “Ramchal” that can be subscribed to.