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Soul Matters: #1 - Real Soul Brothers

May 8, 2009 | by Rabbi Pinchas Winston

The soul is a complex spiritual entity made up of five intricately connected parts, which may explain why at times we feel different degrees of spirituality.

When was the last time you saw a soul? (And, we're not talking the bottoms of your shoes or your favorite fish either!)

The truth is, you can't "see" a soul like you can see your hand, because a soul isn't physical.

"So, then," you may wonder, "how do you know you have a soul if you can't see one?"

The answer is, because, a soul leaves "footprints" (pun intended).

For example, doing an act of loving-kindness -- for an altruistic reason -- is not an "instinctive" thing to do.

Instinct tells us to "look out for number one," and it is what rules the animal kingdom.

Instinct usually tells us to "look out for number one," and it is what rules the animal kingdom.

Yet, we humans have been capable of some of the greatest acts of self-sacrifice, to the point that many have often sacrificed their lives for the sake of others. And such acts of self-sacrifice happen every day.

Where does the will to put others ahead of ourselves, or to give of ourselves to "higher causes," come from?

That, the Torah teaches, is the soul at work.

It is the soul within us -- "breathed" into us at forty days after conception -- that allows us to rise above instinct, to act in a noble fashion, and to take pleasure from doing so.


Kabbalah teaches that each person has one soul, but that the soul itself has five parts.

They are called (in descending spiritual order):

  1. Yechidah
  2. Chiyah
  3. Neshamah
  4. Ruach, and
  5. Nefesh.

They are intricately connected to each other and make up one big happy family -- like "brothers."

The first two levels of the soul (Yechidah and Chiyah) are so spiritual and beyond our grasp, that we will ignore them for the time being.

We will being our exploration with the next one down, Neshamah, whose name comes from the Hebrew word which means "breath." The name Ruach means "wind"; Nefesh means "rest."

The Kabbalists compare these three levels of the soul to the breath of a glass-blower.

The Kabbalists compare these three levels of the soul to the breath of a glass-blower. In order to mold glass into a meaningful shape, the artisan must blow through a tube into molten glass. The breath originates in his mouth, travels down the tube, and fills out the glass, where it can be said to come to a stop, or rest.

Likewise, the human soul is said to originate in the "mouth" of God (Neshamah), and then travel like a spiritual wind (Ruach) to the lifeless body, where it comes to a rest (Nefesh), providing the "breath of life."

The Nefesh itself acts as kind of an "interface" between the spiritual and physical world, and, combined with the body, resulting in what we call "personality."

Now, everyone knows that one's personality can vary from moment to moment, and is often influenced by several factors. Likewise, there are times we feel "more spiritual" or "less spiritual."

Standing by the Western Wall in Jerusalem, one usually feels more spiritual than when shopping at the local mall.

For example, standing by the Western Wall in Jerusalem (or another holy site), one usually feels a more enhanced spiritual experience than when shopping at the local mall.

Why does such a different feeling result between two spiritually different environments, or moments in time?

The answer is that it has to do with the interaction of the five levels of soul, and what we do to enhance that inter-relationship, or, to lessen it.

And, as we shall soon discuss, it is the understanding and utilizing of this awareness upon which successful prayer depends.

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