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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, [...]

Physics of Tzimtzum I — The Quantum Leap

Introduction “In the beginning G‑d created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1) “In the beginning G‑d created the heavens and the earth,” the Torah says. However, what was before the “beginning”? It is like asking, What was before the Big Bang? In physics, until relatively recently, such questions were discouraged. The prevailing wisdom was that time and space had been created by the Big Bang, and there was no “before” before the Big Bang. Mishnah discourages such thinking, too. The sages point out that the first letter of the Torah, the letter bet, is open on the left and closed on the right:[1] The text of the Torah and the history of the world proceed from that opening on the left. The closed right side of the letter bet visually walls off [...]

Space – Between Future and Past

Meditations on the Maaseh Merkavah – I We do science by studying nature. We study physics in a lab, peering into space, or working out mathematical models with pencil and paper to see if they fit experimental data. However, great mystics of the past were able to see how this world operates by gazing into spiritual worlds above. On Shavuot, the holiday when we celebrate the revelation on Mount Sinai, we read the prophecy of Ezekiel (the First Vision of Ezekiel) called Maaseh Merkavah (or Ma'aseh Merkabah) – Work of the Chariot. Masters of Kabbalah have taught us that understanding the Work of the Chariot gives the initiated an understanding of the works of nature. This Shavuot, studying and thinking about Maaseh Merkavah, I came to understand some profound insights about the physics [...]

The Beard of the Long Face is Found

The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Rebbe Rayatz (a.k.a. the Fridriker Rebbe) told the story about his father, the Rebbe Rashab. Once the brother of Rebbe Rashab, Rabbi Menachem Mendel (a.k.a. the RM”M) told him that he read in a magazine an article that stated that scientists found a nerve in the brain regulating the cognitive function so that when a person needed to remember something he would tilt his head looking up, whereas when the person needed to concentrate, he’d tilt his head down. The Rebbe Rashab took his brother to his study, took from the shelf a book by the Second Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Mittler Rebbe, in which it stated the same thing. The Rebbe Rashab said to his brother, “You’d think he was a doctor, but he wasn’t. He saw Adam [...]

Paradox of the Red Heifer

Speak to the children of Israel and have them take for you a perfectly red unblemished cow, upon which no yoke was laid… The cow shall then be burned in his presence… The one who burns it shall wash his clothes in water and cleanse his body in water, and he shall be unclean until evening… Anyone touching the corpse of a human soul shall become unclean for seven days. On the third and seventh days, he shall cleanse himself with it, so that he can become clean. But if he does not sprinkle himself with it on the third and seventh days, he shall not become clean… They shall take for that unclean person from the ashes of the burnt purification offering, and it shall be placed in a vessel [filled] with [...]

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