Classical kabbala identifies four levels
of the soul - called nefesh, ruach, neshama and neshama l'neshama. Nefesh
is the animating principle of the physical body and the senses; ruach
is the force vitalizing the emotions; neshama is the vitality of intellect;
and neshama l'neshama is the essence of life of the human soul. The
Arizal refers to this fourth level of soul as chaya, signifying its
function as the essence of life. However, all these four aspects of
the soul he regarded as mere extensions of the essence of the soul,
which he called yechida.
Between the Creator and the created
(i.e., the aspect of spirituality1 in general) there is an intermediate
level - regarding which it states, "You are children of G-d your
Lord ," for our Sages have declared, "the Patriarchs
are the merkava." The intention here is that a tiny spark of G-dliness,
drawn from the lowest level of the Creator, clothes itself in a single
spark of the created in potentia, which is an extremely ethereal soul.
Within this soul-spark, called yechida, are the roots of all the other
four levels of spirituality - nefesh, ruach, neshama and chaya.2
In other words, the soul is both part
of the Creator and at the same time it is created - its luminous essence
is "a tiny spark of G-dliness," and the sheath in which it
is clothed is a created being, albeit a spiritual being and not physical.
As the soul emanates from the Ein Sof - the Infinite One - eventually
to be clothed in the physical body, the soul descends via the four worlds
mentioned above, leaving a root in each of the worlds3 - chaya in the
world of Atzilut, neshama in the world of Beria, ruach in the world
of Yetzira, and nefesh in the spiritual dimension of Asiya.4 All of
this is then enclothed within a physical body.
The soul enclothed within the body is
a reflection of the Divine Form, called the tzelem, or tzelem Elokim.
This tzelem Elokim may be described as the human mold of man's physical
form, linking his body and soul. This mold derives from the configuration
of the sefirot, which form the structure of the worlds through which
the soul descends on its journey down into the body.
At the same time that the soul's outer
dimension reflects the configuration of the sefirot, the inner dimension
of the soul reflects the Infinite Light that illuminates the sefirot.
This reflection is called the demut Elokim (the Image of God).5 Thus
man includes all of creation within him, from the loftiest spirituality
to the most mundane physicality.6
From the perspective of man's service
of G-d, these levels of soul may be described as five ascending levels
of awareness of, and communion with, G-d. Regarding these levels of
soul, Zohar7 states that when a person is born, he is given a nefesh
from the world of Asiya, the lowest world, representing the greatest
concealment of G-d. If, through his divine service and proper action,
he makes himself worthy, he is then given ruach on the plane of Yetzira.
With greater effort, he can earn the revelation of neshama, paralleling
the world of Beria. If he purifies himself greatly, he may be able to
attain the level of chaya paralleling Atzilut, and even yechida - the
G-d-consciousness of the level of Adam Kadmon and beyond. ("Beyond,"
because the level of soul called yechida in essence transcends all the
worlds, since it is never separated from G-d. It is described as being
"truly part of G-d above,"8 the "spark of the Creator
clothed within a spark of the created" described earlier.)
This setup puts man in a unique position,
for through his spiritual and physical composition (soul and body) he
is bound up with all levels of creation. His actions and behavior are
therefore capable of affecting all the worlds and all the sefirot. Thus
man is a microcosm of creation and his actions have cosmic significance.9
He is able to affect the balance of the universe, both spiritual and
physical, by his kavanot (mystical intentions) and yichudim (unifications
of the sefirot). The Arizal revealed an elaborate system of kavanot
and yichudim designed to achieve this very purpose.
. As opposed to physical creation.
2. Etz Chaim, shaar 42, chap 1.
3. See R. Chaim Vital's Shaarei Kedusha, part 3, ch. 5; ã"ä
äñìò in Likutei Torah, Shir Hashirim, Rabbi
Shneur Zalman of Liadi.
4. Shaar HaGilgulim, hakdama 1.
5. See Zohar I, 37a-b; Zohar II, 70b; Hashmatot p. 265a; Pardes, shaar
31, ch. 4.
6. Pardes, shaar 4, ch. 10.
7. See vol. II, p. 94b; vol. III, p. 24b-25a, 70b; vol. I, p. 62a, commentaries;
Pardes, shaar 31, ch. 3.
8. Job 31:2; Tanya ch. 2.
9. R. Chaim Vital, Shaarei Kedusha III, 2-3.
Rabbi Moshe-Leib Miller, a guest teacher at Ascent when
he lived in Israel, was born in South Africa and received his yeshiva
education in Israel and America. He is a prolific author and translator,
with some twenty books to his name on a wide variety of topics, including
a new, authoritative, annotated translation of the Zohar. He currently
lives in Chicago.