Nephesh Hachaim 1:12
R. Chaim already spoke 1 of the fact that we could only link celestial worlds, rectify this one, and interconnect with those upper worlds after we’d come to this world as souls encased in bodies 2 in order to rectify the physical world. And that we do that by three things: our actions, speech, and thoughts. He’ll focus here on our actions 3.
Our actions aren’t only to be judged for their qualities, but also for the impact they have on the rectification of the world 4, for what they bring about, and for the effect they have on all the upper capacities and worlds 5.
R. Chaim illustrates this by citing a point he made earlier on 6 that as soon as it occurs to someone to perform a mitzvah 7 something of a “trace” of that mitzvah is implanted in his supernal source, which then goes about strengthening and implanting various worlds and capacities 8,which then prompt and draw down upon him an enveloping light.
And so we see the effects our actions have in the heavens if all of this comes about by our mere intention to do a mitzvah, R. Chaim implies! In any event, this process then enables that person to complete the mitzvah, which then helps the mitzvah’s intrinsic holiness and light to return to his supernal source 9.
R. Chaim then offers here that that same phenomenon affects the quality of our Afterlife 10.
Once one passes away, his soul ascends upward to “delight and be replete in the supernal lights, capacities and holy realms” there, as R. Chaim words it 11. And that will all have been augmented and bolstered by his good deeds. That shows again how impactful our actions are – both here and in the Afterlife!
Now, don’t think that one’s Afterlife situation was already set in place, and that one simply settles into the site he earned by his good deeds once he passes away, R. Chaim contends 12. In fact, each one of us actively constructs, bolsters, and goes about rectifying a World to Come situation right here and now in his lifetime 13.
That also explains the fact, R. Chaim offers, that it’s our good deeds that are our heavenly reward, which is “enlarged, augmented, and rectified” by those deeds 14.
One’s experience of Gehennom, on the other hand, R. Chaim adds, is the obverse of that. The very sins that one commits in his lifetime are his Afterlife punishment 15. For as soon as one sins a blemish and a certain degree of destruction leaves a trace in his supernal source which emboldens and strengthens the un-G-dly capacities 16. And the spirit of impurity embraces 17 him in his lifetime, the moment he sins, and only leaves him when he stops committing that sin.
And so one is literally within and surrounded by Gehennom in his lifetime when he sins 18 — even though he doesn’t sense that and won’t be aware of it until he passes away, when he will literally be caught in the trap he set for himself within the impure capacities that he created by his sins, and because he established and emboldened the impure forces in his supernal source 19. At bottom then, it’s we ourselves who intensify our own Gehennom experience 20 given that it’s we who deepen, widen, and expand it by our sins 21.
In fact in the one instance in which the Men of the Great Assembly were able to take hold of the yetzer harah, the flames of Gehennom were temporarily extinguished 22.while as soon as people started sinning again Gehennom’s flames were reignited, proving that Gehennom only burns by dint of the fire that the yetzer harah sets off.
Thus we see that it’s our deeds themselves – good or bad – that are our compensation, as we’d said above 23.
And so our sages’ warning that we dare not assume that G-d disregards sins 24 is curious, given that a mere kind-hearted human being disregards things done against him from time to time, so why shouldn’t G-d 25?
But the explanation lies in the fact that G-d neither “punishes” someone nor acts out of “revenge” against him even when that appears to be so 26. Rather, it’s the sin itself that’s functioning as its own punishment. For, G-d established a natural order of things from the inception that depends on the effect of man’s deeds upon things. And our actions impact upon our celestial roots and sources. So we must then accept the “sentence” that has been deemed necessary because of the particular impurities that we strengthened with our deeds, and which the retribution we suffered in Gehennom will thus have rectified.
The same rectifications can also come about through repentance, though. For the act of repentance ascends upward to its source in the supernal Realm of Repentance, which is forever illuminated and free 27, and from which beams down more and more holiness and original lights that extinguish all impurity, and restore the world to its original state as well.
As such, R. Chaim concludes, there’s simply no reason for us to think that G-d disregards bad deeds, given that all of our deeds “are written down in a book” 28 which impact upon the upper realms.
R. Chaim is implying, then, that if all of this is true when it comes to our physical actions 29, it’s all the more so true of our speech and thoughts, which are even farther reaching 30.
1 See 1:10:3 above.
2 Yet see Torah Ohr of R. Schneur Zalman (Parshat Beshalach) and Maggid Divarav l’Yaakov 197.
As R. Chaim indicates in the text, our souls are comprised of three elements, in ascending order: a Nephesh, Ruach, and a Neshama. (The latter two will be discussed below in 1:14-15.) There are two higher elements (Chaya and Yechida) as well, but they won’t be discussed at all, seemingly because they’re beyond our ken and irrelevant to our worldly experience.
3 1:13 will discuss speech and 1:14 will discuss thoughts.
4 R. Chaim cites Psalms 33:15.
5 R. Chaim cites Ecclesiastes 12:14 and Job 34:11.
6 In his own footnote to 1:6 above.
7 Curiously, R. Chaim also makes the point here that one’s thoughts (and intentions) would need to be “pure”, which he doesn’t make in 1:6.
8 R. Chaim cites Isaiah 51:16 and Berachot 64a (see 1:3 above).
9 In short, the very light that was created by your having intended to do something good then enables you to accomplish it, and it eventually serves as your reward in the Afterlife.
10 Notice that the Afterlife will only be discussed here. That’s because an Afterlife depends on there being a combination of body and soul which is the subject of this chapter.
11 Understand that no termss can capture the boundless experience depicted here.
See our note 5 to 1:4 above about the supernal lights.
12 R. Chaim bases this understanding of the Afterlife experience on the statement in Sanhedrin 98a. He argues here that one constructs his own portion in his lifetime with each good deed he performs. (Yet, see Yalkut Shimoni, Tehillim 635).
The Afterlife experience being depicted here is traditionally termed Gan Eden, i.e., Heaven, as opposed to Gehennom, Hell (which will be discussed shortly), Like R. Chaim, some define the “World to Come” as the Afterlife experience (see Hilchot Teshuvah 3:5), yet others define the world to Come as the post-Messianic experience (see the commentary of Bartenura to Sanhedrin 98a), The latter would assumedly contend that that realm will have indeed been created beforehand irrespective of our actions.
13 Yet, see Avodat Yisrael, Avot Ch. 1, and Mesillat Yesharim Ch. 1.
Some add that one clings onto G-d as a result of this (see Ma’or Einayim, Vaeirah, and Kedushat Levi, Eikev), while others approach the idea like R. Chaim (see Toldot Yaakov Yoseph, Chayai Sara).
R. Chaim then provides a footnote of his own here. His point in it is that while the celestial lights, increased holiness, and the delight that one experiences because of his goodness are all eternal, the defilement and forces of destruction he created and bolstered on the other hand by his sins will all eventually pass away and be destroyed — once that person will have experienced his punishment.
And that’s because, R. Chaim asserts, the forces of destruction only derive a certain amount of energy from our sins. So as soon as one suffers the consequences of those sins, the energy allotted to them is stopped off and undone.
The point is that while the good produced and experienced by those who do good is eternal, the harm produced by those who do wrong is short-lived. This illustrates the idea which R. Chaim started this footnote off with that Heaven’s mercy is far greater than its vengeance (see Yoma 76a).
14 Yet see Ba’al Shem Tov al Hatorah, Amud Hatefilla 62, and Degel Machaneh Ephraim, Shemini.
15 R. Chaim cites Proverbs 5:22, Jeremiah 2:19, and Ezekiel 26:2.
16 See Eitz Chaim, Sha’ar Haklipot Ch. 3 where a remedy for this is discussed.
17 Notice the reintroduction of the notion of something embracing orencompassing something else — the way bodies encompass souls (notice that the beginning of the chapter’s text speaks of the soul being encased in a body), the way G-d’s being encompasses the universe, and the way the upper worlds encompass lower ones (as discussed in note 4 to 1:5 above. Along the same lines, see note 7C there which discusses being encompassed by the Garden of Eden, note 7D about being encompassed by holiness, and note 7E about being encompassed by Gehennom).
All of this perhaps goes to further explain why R. Chaim concentrates in this chapter on the importance of our being a combination of (an emcompassing) body and (an encompassed) soul. And why it’s that fact alone that enables us to rectify the world.
18 R. Chaim cites Ezekiel 26:2.
19 This is apparently a great act of Divine mercy given that we are in Gehennom then, paying the price of our sins, yet we don’t know or feel it!
20 R. Chaim cites Eruvin 19a.
21 R. Chaim cites Isaiah 50:11.
22 R. Chaim cites Yoma 69b and Zohar 2:150b.
23 R. Chaim cites Job 34:11 and refers to Zohar 3:177a, Pirkei Avot 4:2, and Ecclesiastes 12:14. Yet , see Ba’al Shem Tov al Hatorah, Kedoshim 9.
24 See Baba Kamah 50a. R. Chaim also cites T.Y. Shekalim 5:1, Beraishit Rabba 67:4, Tanchuma 26, and Midrash Tehillim 10:3.
25 I.e., disregard things that go against His better judgment or wishes?
Apparently R. Chaim’s point here is that assuming that G-d sometimes overlooks sins presumes that He intercedes in the administration of justice because of His own personal predilections.
26 R. Chaim cites Proverbs 13:21. See 2:8 below.
27 I.e., of sins, as well as anxiety, guilt, fear and the like (see Gra to Sifra D’tzniusa 34a).
28 From Pirkei Avot 1:1, as R. Chaim cites.
29 Which are connected to the lowest of the three levels of our soul, the Nephesh.
30 And they derive from the more exalted Ruach and Neshama levels respectively (see 1:14 for the interrelationship between our actions, words, and thoughts and the three elements of our soul).
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