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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, in contrast, holds the reductionist view that every system is a collection of parts, and the system can be known only 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, [...]

The 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: the problem of the initial conditions of the universe at the time of the Big Bang.[1] Before we can explain this problem, however, 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 explains universal decay. And entropy is the measure of that decay.[3] Shining stars produce entropy. Stars collapsing into black holes produce entropy. Evaporating black holes produce entropy.[4] Entropy is increasing in the universe.[5] Let us [...]

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

A Wheel Within a Wheel

Now as I beheld the Chayot [living creatures], behold one Ophan [wheel] at the bottom hard by the living creatures, at the four faces thereof. The appearance of the Ophanim [wheels] and their work was like unto the colour of a beryl; and they four had one likeness; and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel within a wheel. . . . As for their rings, they were high and they were dreadful; and they four had their rings full of eyes round about. Ezekiel 1:15–18 One of the most difficult theological questions is how Eternal G‑d relates to the world created by Him, the world that is always in flux. Indeed, the prophet Malachi says in the name of G‑d: For I the Eternal change not.Malachi 3:6 G‑d does [...]

Counting Weeks and Days

There is a Biblical Commandment to count the days between the Passover and Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks (a.k.a. Pentecost). We start counting on the second day of Passover (the first day of the barley harvest in the land of Israel, when the wave-offering of the omer, i.e., “sheaf,” of ripe barley was made in the Jerusalem Temple) and finish on the eve of Shavuot—the day when two loaves of bread made of wheat were offered at the Temple. There are exactly seven weeks (forty-nine days) between these two holidays; we are commanded to count the weeks and the days. These forty-nine days are called days of Sefirat HaOmer (the ays of “counting the Omer”) or simple days of Sefirah. This commandment is given in the following verses of the Torah: And ye shall count [...]

The Surrounding Light and the Penetrating Light

The Torah portion Vayakhel deals with the construction of the Mishkan, i.e., the “Tabernacle.” In Kabbalah, the Mishkan is viewed as a microcosm that represents a miniature model of the entire universe—both physical and spiritual. The Mishkan was comprised primarily of two categories of objects. The first category included the coverings that made up the roof and the walls surrounding the Mishkan. The second category included kelim—the objects inside the Mishkan. This is not the first time the description of the coverings and kelim appear in the Torah. In the Torah portion Teruma, G‑d gives Moses detailed instructions for the construction of the Mishkan. Interestingly, in Teruma, G‑d first speaks of the kelim and then of the coverings, whereas in Vayakhel, when Moses instructs the Jewish people, he reverses the order and first [...]

Ki Tisa Hints at the Coronavirus

On the Eve of Shabbat, we received a government mailing containing documents that we were required to fill out and send back to the Census Bureau. The connection between the Census and the plague was not lost on me. The Torah portion we read last Shabbat, Ki Tisa. It begins with the story of the census: When you count the children of Israel according to their numbers, let each one give to the Lord an atonement for his soul when they are counted; then there will be no plague among them when they are counted.” (Exodus 30:12) This verse, linking the census with a plague, was uncanny in view of the COVID-19—Coronavirus pandemic—the modern-day plague, in the midst of which we find ourselves today. Interestingly, the word “count” in the verse above is [...]




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