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
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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).