Monthly Archives: August 2017

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.