The Soul – Part IV. The Whole vs. the Parts

This is the fourth installment in the series of essays on the nature of the soul. The first three installments can be found here: What Is a Soul? I. The Spiritual vs. the Materia What Is a Soul? II. Anatomy of the Soul What is a Soul? III. The Many Souls of Man At the dawn of classical philosophy, there were two leading schools of thought: holism and atomism. Holism holds that a system (e.g., physical, chemical, biological, social) should be viewed as a whole rather than a collection of parts. Atomism, by contrast, holds the reductionist view that every system is a collection of parts, and the system can only be known by studying its parts. Holism[1] essentially stands for the proposition that the whole is greater than the sum of its [...]

What is a Soul? III. The Many Souls of Man

  …[H]e who tries to cure the soul, wishing to improve the moral qualities, must have a knowledge of the soul in its totality and its parts…Maimonides[1] Maimonides opens his introduction to The Ethics of the Fathers with this statement: Know that the human soul is one, but that it has many diversified activities. Some of these activities have, indeed, been called souls, which has given rise to the opinion that man has many souls, as was the belief of the physicians, with the result that the most distinguished of them states in the introduction of his book that there are three souls, the physical, the vital, and the psychical.[2] While Maimonides lists three souls—the physical (tiv’it), the vital (chiyunit), and the psychical (nefoshit)—he believes them to be aspects of one soul—“Know that [...]

What Is a Soul? II. Anatomy of the Soul

In the biblical story of the creation of Adam, the Torah states: Then the Eternal G‑d formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.Genesis 2:7 The word translated into English as “soul” in the original Hebrew is nefesh. This is the first and the lowest level of the soul given to Adam. The taxonomy and anatomy of a soul in Judaism are quite complex. Original biblical sources speak of three levels of the soul: nefesh (“soul”), ru’ach (“spirit”),[1] and neshamah (“breath”).[2] The Kabbalah speaks of the five levels of the soul: nefesh, ru’ach, neshamah, chayah, and yechidah. This is based on classical rabbinic sources. As stated in the midrash, “By five names is the soul called: nefesh, ru’ach, [...]

What Is a Soul? I. The Spiritual vs. the Material

Introduction Most Americans believe in an immortal soul.[1] Most scientists think the soul does not exist. Why do so many people believe in an immortal soul? Why do scientists not believe in it? What is a soul, anyway? Do we need a soul? We will explore these and related questions in this essay. The French philosopher and mathematician René Descartes famously said “If philosophers were always in agreement about the meaning of words, almost all their disputes would evaporate.”[2] There is hardly a better example to demonstrate this truism than the concept of a soul—one of the most misunderstood and ill-defined concepts. A soul is perceived as spiritual, spooky, and otherworldly. While there is nothing spooky or otherworldly about a soul, it is indeed a spiritual concept. However, that knowledge does not help us, [...]

By |2021-11-18T22:42:50-05:00October 22nd, 2021|Soul, Space, Spirituality, Uncategorized|2 Comments

Three Donkeys

And Abraham rose early in the morning, and saddled his ass.Geneses 22:3 And Moses took his wife and his sons, and set them upon the ass, and he returned to the land of Egypt.Exodus 4:20 Behold, thy king cometh unto thee, he is triumphant, and victorious, lowly, and riding upon an ass.Zechariah 9:9 The Torah tells us of a famous donkey riding through biblical history—Abraham used it; Moses used it; Mashiach will use it in the future.[1] In Hebrew, an “ass” or a “donkey” is chamor. In the verse in Exodus, Moses set his wife and children on the donkey—ha-chamor. The donkey means a known donkey. How is it known? Rashi states, based on the midrash Pirke d’Rabbi Eliezer, that this is the same donkey that Abraham saddled with wood on the way [...]

By |2021-10-20T10:16:27-04:00October 19th, 2021|Uncategorized|1 Comment


In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.Genesis 7:11 As the Torah tells us, at the dawn of human history, the flood swept the world. Most people, except for Noah and his family, drowned in that flood. Today, we too are drowning in a flood of a different kind—the informational flood. To put the current flood in perspective, consider this: according to one estimate in 2003, between the beginning of human civilization and the spread of computers, humanity generated cumulatively about 12 exabytes (12x1018 bytes) of data. However, in 2002 alone, we generated 5 exabytes of data. According to another estimate, [...]

Fill the Earth

And G‑d created man in His own image, in the image of G‑d created He him; male and female created He them. And G‑d blessed them; and G‑d said unto them: “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it . . . .Genesis 1:28 G‑d created man, male and female, and commanded them to be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth, and subdue or conquer it. While the literal meaning of this verse is apparent—fill the earth with your progeny by procreating[1]—it begs a question. Specifically, the phrase “fill the earth” seems superfluous—wasn’t it enough to say “Be fruitful and multiply”? Indeed, the Hebrew word milupim[2] (“to multiply”) is etymologically related to the word mil’u[3] (“to fill”).[4] If humans were to multiply, as commanded by G‑d, they would naturally fill the earth. It seems [...]

Cosmological Problem of Initial Conditions and the Universe of Tohu

Now the earth was unformed and void…Genesis 1:2 We have a big problem in cosmology. It is a problem of initial conditions.[1] However, before we can explain this problem, we need to review some basic concepts of thermodynamics. Thermodynamics developed by Boltzmann and others[2] described the behavior of gases and liquids and the transfer of heat. A key concept in thermodynamics is entropy. Entropy is a measure of disorder, of chaos. The second law of thermodynamics states that in an isolated system, entropy always increases with time. The second law of thermodynamics is the reason behind universal decay. And entropy is the measure of the decay.[3] Shining stars produce entropy. Stars collapsing into black holes produce entropy. Evaporating black holes produce entropy.[4] The entropy of the universe is increasing.[5] Let us assume that now, [...]

Let’s Make this Sukkot About Ananei HaKavod, not about Ananei ha-COVID

During the Holiday of Sukkot, we celebrate the divine providence that protected Jewish people from the sun and other dangers of the desert during their forty years of wandering in the desert. This providence came in the form of the ananei ha-koved (“the clouds of glory”). The clouds of divine glory hovered over Jewish people protecting them from the elements—hashgachah pratit (“divine providence”) was openly revealed. The concept of divine providence is often misunderstood. People expect open miracles. Nowadays, we no longer merit the open revelation of divine providence, which is concealed. However, it is still here guiding and protecting us, if we open ourselves to its protection. This reminds me of an old parable. After a shipwreck, a Jew was stranded on an uninhabited island. The Jew prayed to G‑d for a [...]

By |2021-09-20T16:30:04-04:00September 20th, 2021|Uncategorized|1 Comment

Yom Kippur—The Day of Pure Delight

Yom Kippur means “The Day of Atonement.” However, on a deeper level, Yom Kippur is the day of pure delight. To understand why, let us start with the day before—Erev Yom Kippur, the Eve of Yom Kippur. Erev Yom Kippur is considered a semi-holiday—a festive day, on which we do not say tachanun (penitent prayers) and on which we wear festive attire and eat two festive meals (as required on holidays). This is rather strange. The Eve of Yom Kippur is one of the Ten Days of Repentance (Asseret Yemei Teshuvah). Shouldn’t we be busy regretting past mistakes (and, indeed, we do!) and repenting our evil ways, instead of indulging in sumptuous meals? Moreover, it’s the day before Yom Kippur—the day on which every person is judged, and everyone’s fate is sealed for [...]

By |2021-09-16T22:09:47-04:00September 15th, 2021|Uncategorized|0 Comments




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