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Nepesh HaChaim 1:14

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.
9 Merely.
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
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 1:13

Nephesh Hachaim 1:13

1. T

The things we say can also link celestial worlds, rectify this one, and interconnect with the upper worlds, as we’ll now see. After all, we’re taught that “He who forms mountains and creates the wind, and 1 declares to man what he has said” (Amos 4:13) 2. And we’re told that the word “declares” here refers to the hidden dimension of each thing we say 3.


We’re thus warned that even though we’re in the physical world and can’t fathom the sort of destruction or construction we bring about up above with each and everything we say so we take our words lightly, we’re nevertheless to know that everything we say has supreme consequences 4.

Words of Torah are especially auspicious. Joy and light permeate the entire universe as well as the supreme palaces and they’re all adorned by diadems of holiness when words of Torah are uttered 5. A slew of holy angels is created with each and every word and utterance of Torah and of prayer too, while each harmful or untoward utterance creates senseless and satanic worlds 6, G-d forbid, which destroy celestial worlds and put the arrangement of the Holy Chariot which corresponds to the source of speech in disarray 7.


Woe to those who “see but don’t understand what they’re looking at”, R. Chaim says 8, as there is no utterance without its effect. Thousands upon thousands of angels take hold of each utterance and bring it before celestial judges who evaluate it as being for the good or not 9. And if it isn’t for the good, then many angels of destruction join it and bring it down to the abyss, which has a terrible effect upon the person uttering it 10!

In fact, it’s said that sinful speech is worse than sinful action 11, and that it’s tantamount to idol worship 12.

That’s why we’re taught that once one has died and stands before G-d to be judged for what he’d done, G-d then reveals to him the hidden dimension of his words in life 13, which is to say, He reveals to that person just what his speech brought about up above.


1                  I.e., Also.

2                  That is, the very same G-d who forms mountains and creates the wind system is intimately aware of everything you say. It also implies that everything you say affects the lower worlds (i.e., mountains) and the upper ones (i.e., wind),

3                  R’ Chaim cites various locations in the Zohar that make this point including 1:86b, 234b, 249a; 2:80a; 3:50b, 161a, 293a; and Zohar Chadash 2:17b.

Apparently because he has just referred to the hidden dimension of things, R’ Chaim now feels obliged — or at liberty — to explicate the hidden, recondite and Kabbalistic dimensions of the cosmos in a very arcane, fulsome, and stunning note of his own here.

R. Chaim starts off by explicating the makeup of the various supernal “worlds” or realms he’d cited only abstractly until now. In general, there are four such worlds which are termed in descending order Atzilut, Beriah, Yetsirah, and Assiyah (see 1:5:2 for another layout).

He notes that there are even more sublime and unfathomable realms than these that are known as the “supernal lights”, which R. Chaim referred to before, starting at 1:4:1 (see our footnote 5 there), and which will be discussed below in 2:17 in terms of Adam Kadmon

In any event, the first world most commonly discussed in Kabbalistic literature is Atzilut (termed “The World of Emanation”). The word Atzilut implies being in close proximity to something or someone as in the word aitzel, “next to”; to emanate (as in the passing on of something intangible from one’s being to another’s, see Numbers 11:25); and it also refers to the armpits (see Ezekiel 13:18) which, as R. Chaim points out, are permanently connected to the body while also being the point at which the arm and hand begin to emanate outward from the body.

This world is utterly Divine (R. Chaim cites Tikkunei Zohar 3b and Eitz Chaim 42:5, 43, 2:3, 26: 1, 44:1, and 47:2. But also see 2:2 below in R. Chaim’s note, and 3:4 below), since it emanates from and is connected to the pure G-dliness out of which it derives. So celestial is this realm in fact that it’s unfathomable and metaphorically termed “nothingness”. That’s not at all to suggest that there’s nothing there, G-d forbid. It only means that from our very limited perspective it seems to be nothing, given that there’s absolutely nothing about it that we can fathom or even imagine (see 3:2 below and Gra’s comments to Sifre D’tzniyusa, Ch. 1 “Milya tulya d’bdulcha”).

The world below it is Beriah (termed “The World of Creation”), where “creation ex nihilo” (creation out of a sheer void) occurred in the course of the six days of creation (R. Chaim cites Zohar Chadash 1:29b and directs to the earlier commentators who dwelt on this). In fact, R. Chaim adds, this phenomenon occurs all the time! G-d is constantly infusing things with being, each and every moment (see 1:2 above), as we’re taught in Pirkei Avot (4:22) where G-d is termed “the one who formulates, who creates” (in the present tense).

The world below it is Yetzirah (termed “The World of Formation”), where rather than creation out of sheer nothingness, there’s a process of formulating a new thing out of pre-existing material (the way we use preexisting materials to formulate new ones. See 1:2:1 above).

And the last world is Assiyah (termed “The World of Action”). It’s the culmination of everything that preceded it which it “fleshes out”, if you will. It’s the physical world that G-d ultimately intended to bring about, and where humankind does the things that affect and rectify those upper worlds (R. Chaim cites Genesis 18:7 and 2 Samuel 8:13).

See 4:10 below for more on all 4 worlds.    

There is obviously a plethora of things to be said about all of this,, as the Ari and other kabbalists subsequent to him did, but we’ll take our cue from R. Chaim and stop here.

4                  R. Chaim cites Zohar 2:100b, 3:55a, 105a, 121b. But also see R. Chaim’s own remarks in Ruach Chaim 4:3 and in his Drasha on Rosh Hashanna, the Gra’s remarks in Even Shleima 6:1-2, as well as others’ in Arvei Nachal, Vayeishev 1; Maggid Devarav L’Yaakov 26; and Tanya, Iggeret Hakodesh 28.

5                  R. Chaim cites Zohar 2:217a, 3:85a.

6             See Zohar 2:5a.

7                  R. Chaim cites Zohar 3:31b for the idea of all things in this world (i.e., speech, etc.) having a source up above.

8                  See Chagigah 12b.

9                  R. Chaim cites Zohar 1:92a.

10               R. Chaim cites Zohar 3:85a.

11               R. Chaim cites Arachin 15a.

12               R. Chaim cites Sanhedrin 92a.

13          This draws us back to the reference to the hidden dimension of our words cited at the beginning of this chapter.

(c) 2020 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 1:12

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).

(c) 2020 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 1:11

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.

See the contemporary Chassidic counterpoint that only Tzaddikim (the righteous, learned or otherwise) have the ability to affect such changes. See Me’or Ainayim, Yitro and Avodot Yisrael, Avot 4:6.


(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 1:5

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.