Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Divine Soul

The following paragraph is from Dr. Asher Eder’s book The Star of David, which was published in 1987 in English in Jerusalem by Rubin Mass Ltd. The publication here is courtesy of Oren Mass
The term 'breath of life' is not an adequate translation of the Hebrew ,נשמת חיים nishmat hayim, which designates the spiritual, or Divine soul. It is by breathing this nishmat hayim into him that Man becomes a living soul ( ,(נפש חיה nephesh haiyah.
Animals, too, breathe and are spoken of as living souls, but their souls derive from the earth which brought them forth. True, some of their actions resemble human behaviors, but this is due to the fact that the laws of the One Creator govern the whole universe. It has nothing to do with a nishmat hayim.
Here we should note that the word breathing (the breath of life) does not really convey the meaning of the Hebrew ,ויפח va'yipah, which describes the process of expanding, or extending something. The idea is to extend Man's soul, created in the Divine Image, into the realm of God's likeness; or, to use modern terminology, to elevate his consciousness above the limitations and restrictions of this world into the sphere of the Divine, the עולם הבא , ‘olam ha'ba, the coming world which is already there but is to come into our soul and consciousness. In terms of the Kabbalistic "Tree of Life", we could say the word va'yipah describes the expansion from the Sephirah ,יסוד Fundament, into the Sephiroth above the line נצח-הוד , Victory-Majesty. This, of course, is not a puffing up of the ego but its elevation into the higher reality of the Divine Presence.
Thus, the Scripture, by its speaking of Adam becoming a living soul through the breathing of life into him, makes two important points:
a) A man is considered a living soul, or spiritually alive, not by the fact of his physical breathing but through his being enlivened by the Divine breath. Of such living souls, it is said: "A candle of the Lord is the soul of Man". However, through the "First Adam", we all received a share of the Divine breath, or the Divine spark as it is often called.
b) Neither earth nor Man can generate ,נשמת חיים nishmat hayim. It is a gift of the Lord.
4) The account of the forming of Adam, and the breathing of the breath of life into him are close together. This means to say:
a) that these two acts together make (true) Adam. The form without the breath of life would be spiritually dead (dust from the earth), and the breath of life without the form would not be Adam either; it might be an angel, orרוח , ruah, i.e. spirit, or wind;
b) neither of these acts, forming or breathing, or their concomitant material and spiritual aspects, have any preference over the other.
While some schools of thought tend to treat the material aspect of nature, and of Man in particular, as inferior, dark and evil, Judaism sees it as an equal part of Creation, included in the statement "And God saw everything he made, and behold, it was very good".
Seeing these two aspects as equal does not mean that a harmonious balance between the spiritual and material can be brought about by compromising either. Our basic bodily drives should neither be suppressed nor eliminated, but neither should they rule us; rather, they should be directed and used for furthering the Divine purpose.
For instance, let us look at our daily meals to demonstrate this point. The biblical injunctions concerning clean and unclean food as well as the correct quantities of wholesome food are summed up in Prov. 30:8, which teaches us a proper supplication for it: "...provide me with lawful bread". We should enjoy our daily meals within the framework of the dietary laws and in the right proportion, being grateful for them as a Divine gift. 'He giveth food to all flesh, for His grace endureth forever', says Ps.136:25. We should ingest them with the intent to keep us healthy and fit for our mundane and Divine tasks. In Judaism, and in Kabbalah in particular, we would describe such an approach as elevating the mundane into the Divine. These aspects, the material and the spiritual, or mundane and Divine, if depicted by equilateral triangles, form the harmonious six-pointed star, or in terms of the Kabbalistic Tree, the upper and lower rhomb
Being descendants of the First Adam, we share that same pattern; it is our heritage and birthright. However, we are free to choose whether to take advantage of it or neglect it. As we can long for physical food and joy, likewise we can long for spiritual food and joy. And indeed, this longing is innate in every human being, although it is often misguided or covered up by all kinds of substitutes. Sayings like "Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word which comes from the mouth of the Lord", and "No bread - no Torah, no Torah - no bread", deal with these two equal needs of Man. That these aspects be seen as equal is indeed a pre-condition for Man's health. Any imbalance would cause tensions and consequently diseases in body and soul.

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