Nephesh Hachaim 1:14
And finally, our thoughts also have impact up above, R. Chaim offers here 1. But the point to keep in mind is that each person’s thoughts has a different impact 2 there that’s due either to the quality of¬ his mind and the loftiness of his soul, or to the types of thoughts and intentions he’d had while sinning ¬ 3.
Consider the following: we know by analogy that two people can commit the very same sin and yet be punished differently for it 4. That’s because one of them deserves to be punished more, given that he’s brighter than the other 5, 6, and given that his soul is rooted in a higher source, so his untoward thoughts do more harm than the other’s does 7.
But, why should a brighter person’s unseemly thought be punished more severely? Because a person is punished for a sin according to the harm he does up above when he commits it, so the bright person‘s sins brings on more harm than the other person’s simply because he’s brighter and should have known better; and because the degree of harm a person brings up above depends on the quality of his soul, which as we said, is higher in an intelligent person.
And as to the loftiness of a person’s soul affecting his sinning, the fact that the improper thoughts of a brighter and loftier person does more harm than another’s thoughts can be derived from the fact that a person is judged all-in-all according to his soul level 8.
And that’s so, R. Chaim explains through an analogy, because “there’s no comparison between one who 9 soils the king’s courtyard”, to one who “soils his palace” and all the more so, to one who “soils the king’s throne or his regal clothing — to say nothing of one who soils his crown” 10.
And even though truly exalted worlds couldn’t be blemished or affected all that much by our sins, that brighter person would still-and-all be punished more so for his sins, for “anyone appointed to polish the king’s crown” who leaves even a speck of dirt behind is nevertheless punished far more than “someone who’d only been appointed to clean the king’s courtyard and left it filthy” 10.
All that is so because G-d’s judgments are exceedingly precise when it comes to meting out punishments, which He based on the perpetrator’s soul-root and the world it derived from.
Now, how do the types of thoughts a person had while sinning affect things? We see that from the aforementioned fact that people are punished differently for the very same sin because each had different types of thoughts when he sinned, R. Chaim says here. As the damage done to the upper worlds depends on how much his mind was captivated by the sin. For, someone who was truly captivated by and drawn to a sin deserves a greater punishment 11, since a lot of higher worlds would be damaged by his sin 12.
That’s also why someone who accidentally sinned is punished far less than one who purposely did. That likewise explains why we’re taught that thinking about sins is more serious than actually committing them (Yoma 29) 13.
For G-d takes note of one’s thoughts when he sins and adds them on to the actual sin when He metes out punishment, and judges everyone according to the thought he had when he sinned 14, 15.
It’s also important to know that these three phenomena – acts, speech and action – correspond to our Nephesh, Ruach, and Neshama 16. Our actions correspond to the Nephesh 17, which is encased in our blood 18 and it consequently dwells in the liver. And since blood courses throughout the body which is itself the agent of action, the Nephesh is what gives us the wherewithal to perform actions. In fact if the ability to move about was denied any particular body-part it would be “dead” for all intents and purposes.
Speech corresponds to our Ruach 19. After all, can’t we ourselves see the air vapor or “wind” (which translates as ruach) that emit from our mouths when we speak? Speech is mostly centered in our hearts, as are our Ruach, breath and speech.
And finally, thought corresponds to the Neshama which enables us to ponder Torah. Overall it dwells in the brain, the highest faculty of them all 20.
1 R. Chaim cites Psalms 33:13, which was also cited in 1:12.
2 See R. Chaim’s Derasha and Ramchal’s Da’at Tevunot 125.
3 Cited are Tikkunei Zohar (end of Tikkun 43 and 123a), as well as Ari’s Sha’ar Hayichudim (beginning of Tikkun Avonot), Amos 4:13, and Zohar 1:86b, 236b, 249, 2:80a, 3:50b, 161a, 293a.
4 We’ve taken some liberties in the arrangement of this chapter because of the complexities of its original layout.
5 That’s because (as R. Chaim will indicate below) our ability to think is connected to the highest quality of our soul and is our greatest faculty of all, so we’d expect there to be deeper, more recondite elements involved in the evaluation of thought-based sins. Also see R. Chaim’s Derashot Rosh Hashanna and Ramchal’s Da’at Tevunot 126.
6 So he should have inferred the impact that sins have up above.
7 So he brought more harm than the other because his soul is on a higher level.
8 R. Chaim cites Tikkunei Zohar 81b, 124a, Sha’ar Hayechudim (Tikkun Avonot); and Pri Eitz (Introduction to Sha’ar HaShabbat.
10 That is, one who soils the king’s courtyard won’t be punished as much as one who soils his palace, his throne or his clothing (which are more personal to the king), to say nothing of one who soils the king’s crown. That’s to say that someone on a high level can soil very, very exalted things when he sins while someone on a lower level wouldn’t do as much harm when he sins.
11 As he would have been, thanks to the high station of his soul,
12 And the punishment due him as a result. See 1:4 above this in light of the depth of thought, and see Moreh Nevuchim 3:8.
13 Than one who isn’t so drawn to it.
14 As his sin would have been defined by greater temptation and eagerness.
15 Given the damage done by untoward thoughts. See Moreh Nevuchim 3:8. Also note below in the “Chapters” (6) that our thoughts affect the quality of the good things we do, too.
16 R. Chaim cites Psalms 33:15; Ecclesiastes 2:14; Proverbs 3:19; Psalms 33:19; Proverbs 3:19; Ecclesiastes 1:16, 2:14; and the end of Klai’im.
17 Each of these translates as “soul” and are various, levels of it in ascending order. There are higher levels of the soul as well known as Chaya and Yechida; why aren’t they cited here? But see 2:17 where R. Chaim explicates the great loftiness of these levels, which explains why they aren’t discussed here. Also see Arvei Nachal, Vayeira 9 as well as Derech Hashem 3:1.
18 R. Chaim cites Numbers 5:31 and Leviticus 18:29, but also see Deuteronomy 12:23.
19 R. Chaim cites 2 Samuel 23:2, Isaiah 11:4, and Onkelos’ translation of Genesis 2:7.
20 R. Chaim cites 2 Samuel 23:2, Isaiah 11:4, and Onkelos’ translation of Genesis 2:7.
21 R. Chaim cites Breishit Rabbah 14 as well as the Aruch and Rashi there.
(c) 2022 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman
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