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.

The Decalogue

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
In the Decalogue, we find a basic instruction on how to progress.
Given by the Lord, the Decalogue, a central part of the Torah, reflects again the underlying unity of Grace and Law . While it is well known that one tablet deals with the commandments between Man and God, and the second with those between Man and Man, we should also note that the Torah tells us about these two tablets: "on the one side and on the other side were they written". The one side reflects the strict order of law "not to make graven images", "not to kill", "not to steal", etc., while the other side reflects the grace by which the one who has been taken out from the house of bondage is guided by the Lord's spirit so that he "shall not make graven images", "shall not kill", "shall not steal", "shall not covet", etc.
In dealing with both law and grace, the Decalogue provides a clear instruction as to the right path. Grace can never contradict law. Rather, grace is a state of constant awareness of, and guidance by, the Divine presence. This idea is borne out by the very term Matan Torah. This Hebrew phrase does not speak of a one-time giving of the Torah in the distant past. It rather conveys the idea of a permanent giving of the Torah - a gift to be received by each generation anew.
We may now also understand why the Torah stresses that "The Lord is our God". We should not worship the forces of nature, including astrological charts, by considering them as ultimate truths; nor may we worship the gods and goddesses of fertility, nor brute physical force, nor the body as such by presuming that "in a healthy body would - automatically - dwell a healthy spirit", nor should we worship the more modern god of science as the 'ultimo ratio' which can answer all the needs of man.
To be sure, all these things contain some grain of truth. They are there to assist us, provided we have the right attitude. Yet adhering only to them would make them our masters, and we would stay 'undeveloped'. The Divine soul, ,נשמת חיים would remain retarded or wither away, leaving behind human husks in a state comparable to that of animals with some IQ.
Unfortunately, human history has provided ample evidence of this condition. However, the goal of Creation is Man in God's image and likeness, and not the 'animalization' of humans.
Numerous possibilities of development unfold in this process of man-making, This is partly due to free will on the part of Man which can be exercised within the framework of the natural and the spiritual laws governing Creation. Life itself, as well as the message contained in all the chapters following the record of Creation, show these possibilities vividly.
Thus, both the life of Adam and the structure of the Holy Scripture - which is in fact the Book of Man and his world - can be seen as complying with the Divine pattern outlined in the chapters "Meaning of the Triangles", and "Polarities".
The interwovenness of chapters I and II of Genesis and their meanings, i.e., the oneness of the material and spiritual aspects of our human nature, finds perfect expression in our star, whose two triangles may well stand for these two aspects.

I Shall be that I Shall Be

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 process of forming Adam, and breathing life into him, is related to the term "Lord God". The addition of the term Lord to the term God should by no means be understood as the introduction of a new God besides Elohim of the first chapter of Genesis. It rather points to a specific and decisive aspect of one Creator: the aspect of mercy.
In order to understand this Divine aspect of mercy, let us consider the Hebrew word for Lord, i.e. the tetragrammaton which stands for this aspect. It cannot be pronounced, nor can it be translated, for it comprises everything which can be expressed in words as well as that which is beyond words. Moreover, its structure can be seen as an invocation of the past, present, and future tense of the Hebrew root word for BE. We humans are not able to pronounce these three aspects of time (or, indeed, entertain these three concepts) simultaneously, so how much less can we dare to pronounce the tetragrammaton? Instead, it is often referred to as "the Name" or "the Name of Names".
We find one of the most revealing interpretations of the meaning of the tetragrammaton in Ex.3:14, where, in accordance with the Divine plan, emphasis is placed on the future. God reveals himself to Moses with the words: "I shall be that I shall be".
This rendering of the Divine name in a future tense does not, of course, reduce the Lord's Divinity to a mere aspect of time. Time as such is not a force, and is therefore no deity at all. As forces may need a certain time span in which to operate, similarly the Lord apparently wants to take us, as individuals as well as collectively, through a time-bound process of education and growth, which would apply to our physical and spiritual natures.
This becomes clear in the verses and chapters following the revelation at the burning bush. These verses describe the exodus from Egypt, the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and the 40 years in the desert as a learning process, a preparation for entry into the Promised Land, the essential venue for implementing the Divine instruction. All this goes on under the aspect of Divine grace. In this way, Israel's history serves as a model for all Humankind; the Lord of Israel symbolizes the unifying of Man's will with the will of God, the Creator of all..
This process can be illustrated by applying the revelation ,אהיה אשר אהיה I shall be that I shall be, to both the Kabbalistic Tree and the six-pointed Star. Since we, being created in God's image, are to grow unto His likeness, we may infer that we are to become what we are by Divine will; and, vice versa, that the Lord God wishes His Divine qualities to be expressed to the fullest in Men.
This two-way process is indicated also by the wordאשר , asher, (rendered in the above revelation by the word that) as its basic meaning is to step forward, to progress. When we put this revelation on the Kabbalistic Tree, we would have to apply the two words אהיה , I shall be, to the upper and lower rhombs respectively, and the word ,אשר that, to the central and connecting Sephirah Splendor. When applying it to the six-pointed Star, we would have each of the two triangles representing the two words ,אהיה and the center representing the word אשר and what it conveys.