Tuesday, November 11, 2008

To sum up Lesson 1...

We've begun our exploration of the Tanya by outlining the key ideas of the animal soul and the G-dly soul within every Jew. They are like “two kings vying for the same kingdom,” and only one can rule at any given time.

We looked at the difference between what you want and who you are—your internal essence and external expression. And we identified the “garments” of the soul: thought, speech and action.

It is said that, “knowing is half the battle.” While we have not yet garnered any tools or tactics for affecting the internal struggle, we have laid the foundation. It is only now that we have mapped the structure of our internal workings that we can meaningfully discuss how to go about causing deep, internal change, refining our very essence.

We have described the unique design of this course, which examines Tanya “as a program and not as a book.” Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi composed the Tanya as a substitute for his personal counsel, and our six classes parallel six personal audiences with the rabbi. Now that we have laid the conceptual framework for our journey by identifying the source of our competing instincts, in our next lesson, we can begin to discuss how it is possible to reconcile these battling urges so that we experience internal harmony.

Thank you again for joining, and I look forward to seeing you again next week,

Rabbi Shmuly Altein


  1. WOW! seriously mind boggeling...i cant wait for the next jli meeting!

  2. Rabbi and Mrs. Altien,
    You are taking winnipeg by storm...
    keep up ur great work!

  3. Reb Shmuly,
    Thanks for initiating this forum for greater communication. I hope more people use it to poke and play with the ideas so as to gain more clear, personal understandings. My question relates to the kinds of soul as opposed to understandings I have about layers of soul, to understand how the two apparent systems overlap or contradict each other.

    You speak of animal and Godly soul. Both are called NEFESH. I have learned that according to the received wisdom of the people, the soul has actually five levels, two worldly and two that are ever pure, the fifth being transcendent and transpersonal. I have learned these as, in order of their deepening from Earthbound and affected to transcendent and pure:


    wherein if nefesh is the soul of appetites and affectations (maybe an Aristotlean soul concept), Neshamah, breath-soul, is the level of soul that is pure and unaffected, whatever the emotional or psychic Earthly resonance of an action or an event. I have learned that Ruach, wind-spirit, mitigates between Nefesh and Neshamah. Chayah, meaning life force or animal soul, is deeper still - clearly not the same as Beheimah, animal in that sense.

    From the word Chayah I understand that layer as the wellspring, that which gives soul life or life soul.

    Yechidah, unity, goes beyond each person to the highest layer of interconnection, a quantum ecological soul if you will in that it is based on deepest interconnections and a non-duality between energy and matter, though this is only a metaphor to understand the concept.

    So, nu? Does Nefesh Beheimit - the animal soul - line up with NEFESH and Nefesh Elokit actually imply Neshamah (you may have said this), and if so how does Ruach and how does Chayah figure in? And if not, are these historically two separate expressions or do they weave together?

    Thanks for entertaining this question.

  4. to alon
    i am no expert - and far from it,
    but i thought the lower three levels go together and the upper two are transendent

  5. Hi ___________,
    It might be nice to identify yourself so we can continue the discussions in real life time on a Tuesday and so we can build an I-Thou connective dialogue.
    Meanwhile, don't we say every morning "Elokei Neshamah She'natatah bi Tehorah hee" - My G!d the neshamah that you have implanted in me, she is pure."

    So in a sense you are right: neshamah is within us thus imminent, but being and remaining pure it belongs to the G!dly realms. so it is the embedded 'liaison' between the Earthy, flesh-bound realms and the transcendent realms. I guess then you are right that chayah and yechidah are transcendent. 'Chayah' means life-giving, but is also a Hebrew word for animal, living being. I would be interested to hear from the Rav how these two sysetms line up...

  6. Hey Alon,

    Great question, you got me thinking...!

    Here's the scoop:

    We have learned that, based on Jewish tradition, humans operate on two general souls (almost like a Duo Processor). The first is the "animal soul" or life force that drives the base aspect of the person, including all bodily functions and desires ranging from hedonism, arrogance, ego, anger, laziness, depression to natural kindness and goodness. The second is the G-dly and pure soul from which all transcendent, selfless, and spiritually motivated manifestations originate.

    These two souls, however, do not reside "side-by-side" within the body; rather, the G-dly Soul is enclothed within the Animal Soul--just as the Animal Soul is enclothed within the body. This means that the Animal Soul, too, is vitalized by the "part of G-d above" at its core. So although the two souls are in constant conflict with one another, in essence they are compatible.

    Now the G-dly Soul can further be subdivided into five segments, each serving as the power source for the various aspects and functions of the person. Based on a Midrash that states: “She - the Soul, has five names: Nefesh (soul of vitality), Ruach (spirit), Neshamah (breath of life), Chaya (living one), and Yechidah (singular one)”, the Chassidic masters explain:

    Nefesh is the basic life force that vivifies physical existence. It resides within the blood and relates to the realm of action.

    Ruach is the operating system of our emotions, our personality.

    Neshamah drives our intellect.

    Chayah is the foundation of our wills and desires.

    Yechidah connotes the essence of the soul, its connection to the essence of all life and being--G-d.

    (As you mentioned, these last two aspects are transcendent and do not reside in our physical bodies).

    And to take it to another level, here's another dimension:

    Kabbalah explains that these five names correspond to the level of soul in each of the worlds. Nefesh corresponds to the soul in the realm of Assiyah, Ruach in Yetzirah, Neshamah in Beriah, and Chaya in Atzilut, while Yechidah represents the quintessential point of the soul (Etzem HaNeshamah) which is rooted in the Or Ein Sof.

    So, in answer to your question – the "nefesh habehamis" and the level of "nefesh" are not one and the same. The nefesh habehamis is a soul with a system, a set of faculties (will power, understandings and feelings) while the nefesh is essentially a single aspect of the G-dly soul, the force that implements its feelings and ideas.

    Your other point, where you highlighted the difference between the word "Nefesh" and "Neshamah",

    The term "Nefesh" is a classic term referring simply to our "Soul" and is an appropriate term for any one of our souls. So when Tanya contrasts the two souls he calls them "nefesh".

    However, since everything is relative it would be correct to describe the G-dly soul as a "Neshama" as opposed to a nefesh which would imply a more lofty spirit that emanated or was "breathed" from G-d's essence - if that's what you intend to bring out.

    May our "Neshama" shine forth with its brilliant glow.

    I hope this will suffice.