Part Three: The Nephesh Itself — Just What is It?

There are several references to our having two rather that just one Nephesh. “One of them derives from the klipah and sitra achra (i.e., the side of un-holiness). It’s clothed in human blood and gives life to the body“, while the second is “a veritable portion of God Above (Sefer Tanya Ch’s 1-2, based on Eitz Chaim 3:2). The latter is obviously “holy and not from the sitra achra” (Zohar 1, p. 13a).

The Nephesh is said to be correspond to the Holy Ophanim, as opposed to the Neshama and Ruach, which correspond to the Seraphim, and the Holy Chayot (Tikkunei Zohar Chadash 96a; also see HaRav m’Fano’s Ma’amar HaNephesh 4:3).

“The Lower Shechina (i.e., the Sephira of Malchut, as opposed to that of Binah which is the Upper Shechina) that was granted to man is the Nephesh Sichlit (i.e., the rational soul, which was granted to us) in order to know all the ways of Torah” (Zohar Chadash, Yitro p. 33b; also see Sefer Tanya Ch. 3 for more on the Nephesh Sichlit).

“Those who engage in Torah study inherit a vital Nephesh (i.e., their life-force) from the Shechina” (Tikkunei Zohar 45, p. 82b), and “they (thus) rectify their holy Neshama (Introduction to the Zohar 12b, also see Ra’aya Mehemna, Pinchas p. 42b). And “those sages who study a lot of Torah inherit (a reward) from their vital Nephesh source (Tikkunei Zohar, 47, p. 83b, Hashamatot Breishit p. 52b).

Irradiating Outward, Perched, or Free as a Bird?

Some say that while the Nephesh is fixed in the heart, it spreads outward from there to the rest of the organs, and that it settles in the body’s center from where it irradiates outward to the rest of the body much the way the sun situates itself in the center of the sky. In fact, the body is said to be perched in the Nephesh, the Nephesh is perched in the atmosphere, and the atmosphere is perched in G-d’s presence where everything abides (Zohar Chadash, Breishit 6d). But see Tanya Ch. 9 which differentiates between the “animal” Nephesh which is centered in the left chamber of the heart and the Divine Nephesh which is centered in the brain from where it irradiates outward to the rest of the body as well as the right side of the heart.

R’ Chaim Voloshin depicts the Nephesh as being expressed (and centered) in our actions, the Ruach in our speech, and the Neshama in our thoughts (Nephesh HaChaim 1:14, 16).

Others portray the Neshama as less than rooted in the body, and as something of a free agent if you will, given that it soars upwards out of the body when we sleep (Zohar 1, p. 53a, 121b; Zohar 2, p. 195b; Zohar 3, p. 25a, etc.; also see Ta’anit 11a) after which it returns to us through the nostrils in the morning and doesn’t return to the body proper until we pray in the morning (Zohar Chadash, Ruth, 90d), or to our belly once we say Viddui (the morning confession) (Zohar 1, p. 98a; also see Berachot 8a).

Part Two: Just where is The Soul?

Someone once asked Rabban Gamliel where God could be found. “You’ve asked me something much too abstract,” said Rabban Gamliel; “let me ask you about something that’s very close to you each and every day” he said, “and ask you where it is”. “And what would that be?” the other asked. “The soul, which is with you all the time” Rabban Gamliel offered “– just where is it?” (Shocher Tov 103).

Indeed, just where is the soul?

What’s In a Name?

We’re taught that all five of the Partzufim — the primary clusters of Sephirot that comprise the makeup of the Worlds, hence all the elements of reality — are rooted in G-d’s primary name Yud, Hay, Vav, and Hay (Eitz HaChaim, Sha’ar HaKlallim 2). The five parts of the Neshama are also rooted in that name. “The Neshama of the Neshama (i.e., Chaya and Yechidah according to Ma’amar HaNephesh 1:3, as indicated above) is contingent upon the Yud (apparently with the tip of the Yud standing for the Yechidah and the body of the Yud standing for the Chaya), … the (first) Hay is termed Neshama … the Vav is termed Ruach … and the (final) Hay is termed Nephesh … (Zohar Chadash Rut 78c). (We wonder why the Neshama of the Neshama is said to be “contingent upon” the Yud, while the other parts of the Neshama are only said to be “termed” one letter or another.)

Elsewhere we’re told that Nephesh is in the category of G-d’s name El-ohim; Ruach is Yud, Hay, Vav, and Hay; Neshama is Yud, Hay, Vav, and Hay in a “Full State” (Malei); and Neshama of the Neshama is Yud, Hay, Vav, and Hay in an “Utterly Full State” (Malei shel Malei)(Eitz Chaim, Sha’ar Klipat Nogah 3).

And others say that Nephesh, Ruach and Neshama correspond to Kohen, Levi and Yisrael (Tikkunei Zohar 70, p. 136a), or that Nephesh corresponds to a candle-wick, Ruach corresponds to olive-oil, and Neshama corresponds to a candle itself (termed Ner which is spelled Nun and Resh) corresponding to the phrase “The candle of G-d is the soul of man” (Proverbs 20:27) (Tikkunei Zohar 21, p. 49b; also see Zohar 3, p. 187a). Abraham is said to correspond to the Neshama of the Neshama, Sara to the Neshama, Isaac to the Ruach, and Rebecca to the Nephesh (Zohar 1, p. 79b).

Nurture or Nature?

Are we born with a Nephesh, Ruach, and a Neshama or do we earn them? At one point (1, p. 206a) the Zohar indicates rather broadly that while the Nephesh is “ruled over” by the Ruach which is “on a higher level than the Nephesh and maintains it appropriately”, the Neshama which is the highest level “rules over the other two”. It then states, though, that all three elements are only “incorporated in people who merit them by their Divine service”.

As it explains, when a person is born, he’s granted a Nephesh “which is a … means by which he can be rectified”. Once he comes to “purify that level, he’s then rectified (further) by being crowned with a Ruach which is a holy level that descends upon the Nephesh so as to crown the person who merits it”. Once he’s “elevated by means of a Nephesh and Ruach” and he then further elevates himself serving G-d appropriately, a Neshama “then descends upon him … so that he might be crowned with a high and holy level.” So it seems that we nurture the higher elements of our being. (Also see Zohar 2, p. 94b and 3, p. 70b; as well as Shabbat 104a and Yoma 39a.)

But the Zohar seems to say otherwise elsewhere (unless it’s only talking about a person who has indeed earned all three levels). We’re taught (Zohar 2, p. 141b) that Nephesh, Ruach, and Neshama are intertwined and interdependent, and that “each exhibits its strength in (one of) 3 places (after death). The Nephesh remains in the grave (with the body) until the body decomposes in the soil … The Ruach enters the earthly Garden of Eden (as opposed to the Heavenly one) and it assumes the shape the body had on earth and likewise dons the (celestial) garment it’s to wear there … The Neshama immediately ascends to the place (in Heaven) its derived from … So when a person is in need (of help) when he’s in distress and he goes to (his parents’ gravesite to ask them to intercede for him in Heaven), the Nephesh (of one or both of his parents) is incited and it goes to … incite the Ruach, which goes to incite that person’s parents (at their gravesite), who then go to incite the Neshama, and God then shows mercy on His world”. (For more on visiting gravesites see Ta’anit 16a and 23a; Baba Metzia 85b; and Zohar 3, p. 70b and 71b.)

At a couple of other places (1, p. 79a; and Zohar Chadash, Breishit 10c and 15d) the Zohar makes the point that the Neshama works with the Nephesh to rectify the body once one reaches bar (or bat) mitzvah age, which seems to say that the two (along with the Ruach) are always together. (Though see Ketem Paz to Zohar 2, p. 94b where he indicates that one only gets a Neshama after age 40, which is why the early masters never taught their disciples mysticism until that age.)

Nonetheless, see Zohar 1, p. 218b where it’s pointed out that even wrongdoers have a Neshama.

What Matters Most

It seems that what matters most, as far as we’re concerned, are the three lowest levels of the soul, Nephesh, Ruach, Neshama; as Chaya and Yechidah are totally out of our experience. Only Adam and Moshe (and only as he stood on Mount Sinai at that) were said to have been granted the latter two.

Rav Y.E. Chaver writes in his Biur to Likutei HaGra that the Nephesh is actually lower than man, and that man’s essential self is found in the Ruach. The Neshama is above man, in the Heavens, and only sparks of it touch upon the Ruach.

Megalah Amukot (175) maintains in fact that Adam alone merited a Yechidah in full, which is the whole intent behind the statement, “Behold, the man will be like one of us and live forever” (Gen. 3.22). Moshe experienced it when he experienced the revelations of G-d’s “exalted wisdom” at Sinai, but it was taken away from him at the incident of the golden calf, when he only merited a Chaya.

Ohr HaChaim (Lev. 22:12) also holds that only Adam achieved a Yechidah, as did Limudei Atzilut (36), and Rav A. Shapiro of Dinov in Regel Yeshara (33c). And Rav Chaim Volshiner contends that even Adam only merited the faintest glimmer of Chaya and Yechidah (Nephesh Hachaim 1:15, 2:17).

The Zohar often speaks of the “Neshama of the Neshama”. What is that? According to HaRav m’Fano the combination of Chaya and Yechidah are subsumed under that title (Ma’amar HaNephesh 1:3).

Order, Order

The order used in the parts of the soul cited before — Nephesh, Ruach, Neshama, Chaya, Yechidah — is now largely standard in works of Kabbalah, Chassidut, Mussar, and Hashkapha, but that wasn’t always so.

In fact, the citation from Devarim Rabbah 2:37 lists the order as Ruach, Nephesh, Neshama, Chaya, Yechidah; Zohar 2:158b cites them as Neshama, Ruach, Nephesh, Chaya, Yechidah; Zohar Chadash 91a simply states that there are levels without enunciating them; and Sefer Bahir 53 lists them as Ruach, Chaya, Yechidah, Nephesh, Neshama. And there are various other sources elsewhere in Zohar, Tikkunei Zohar, Midrash, in some piyyutim and elsewhere that list them all variously.

Giving Credit Where Credit is Due

The material and sources to be found in this blog come from the kind of excellent resource one would expect from its author, Rabbi Reuven Margolios zt”l. That resource is known as Kuntress Naran (“A Treatise on the Nephesh, Ruach, and Neshama”) which is found in Margolios’s Sha’arei Zohar (pp. 129-135). As such, the great bulk of the credit is due him; I will simply be putting things together and citing sources.

Part 1: The Source for the Parts of the Neshama

Breishit Rabbah 14:9 states, “She (the soul) has five names; Nephesh, Ruach, Neshama, Chaya, Yechidah. (The first is termed) Nephesh (which) is the blood, as is written “For the blood is the Nephesh” (Deut. 12:23).  (The next is termed) Ruach for it rises and descends, as is written “Who knows the Ruach of men that rises on high” (Eccl. 3:21).  (The third is termed) Neshama (which) is the disposition, for as people say, ‘His disposition is good’. (The fourth is termed) Chaya for all the limbs die and she lives on in the body.  (And the fifth is termed)Yechidah for all the limbs have doubles while she is unique in the body.”

Also see Devarim Rabbah 2:37, Zohar 2:158b; Zohar Chadash 91a, and Sefer Bahir 53.