Monthly Archives: December 2009

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.