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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, [...]

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, [...]

Jacob’s Struggle With a Man: A Metaphor From Neuroscience

So the present passed over before him; and he himself lodged that night in the camp. And he rose up that night, and took his two wives, and his two handmaids, and his eleven children, and passed over the ford of the Jabbok. And he took them, and sent them over the stream, and sent over that which he had. And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was strained, as he wrestled with him. And he said: “Let me go, for the day breaketh.” (Genesis 32:23–26)   The story of Jacob wrestling with a “man” is yet another of [...]

Jacob and Esau—Thermodynamics of Order and Chaos

And these are the chronicles of Isaac… (Genesis 25:19) So Esau went unto Ishmael, and took unto the wives that he had Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebaioth, to be his wife. (Genesis 28:9)   This Torah portion is called Toledot. In Hebrew, toledot means “generations” or “chronicles.” Indeed, this Torah portion starts with the phrase, “These are the chronicles of Isaac.” This is not the first or the last time this word appears in Tanakh (the Hebrew Scriptures). It appears for the first time in the opening verse of chapter 2 of Genesis: These are the chronicles of the heaven and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Eternal G‑d made earth and heaven. (Genesis 2:4) The second time it appears in [...]

Noah’s Ark—Three Layers of Reality

A light shalt thou make to the ark…with lower, second, and third stories shalt thou make it. (Genesis 6:16) We mentioned in the previous posts that Noah’s ark was a microcosm.[1] As we discussed in the previous post, “Noah’s Ark—Three Layers of Being Human,” most structural parallels related to Noah’s ark are based on its tripartite structure —that is, its having three tiers. In Chasidic thought, the three levels of Noah’s ark correspond to three worlds of BiYA—Beriyah (the World of Creation), Yetzirah (the World of Formation), and Asiyah (the World of Action). In this essay, we will investigate how the tripartite structure of Noah’s ark is reflected in the structure of reality. We might say that the totality of existence comprises three layers—physical, informational, and spiritual. The classification of reality into three [...]

Physics of Tzimtzum II — Collapse of the Wave Function

In the previous post “Physics of Tzimtzum I—The Quantum Leap”, we gave a general overview of the mystical doctrine of tzimtzum—the cornerstone of Lurianic Kabbalah. It is time to get into the details. The first phrase that describes the process of tzimtzum in Etz Chaim states: Ein Sof “contracted” (tzimtzem) Himself in the point at the center, in the very center of Ohr Ein Sof. This sentence raises several difficult questions: First, what could it possibly mean that the Infinite (Ein Sof) “contracted” (tzimtzem) Himself? In Hebrew, the word tzimtzum comes from the root TZM, which means “to diminish” or “to fast,” that is, to “diminish” oneself.[1] It can also mean “to be precise,” that is, to remove ambiguity.[2] The repetition of the root TZM is a grammatical form of doubling down, an extreme [...]

Quantum Cheshire Cat vs. Venomous Snakes

A Study in Form and Matter And Moses prayed for the people.  And the Eternal said unto Moses: “Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole; and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he seeth it, shall live.” And Moses made a serpent of brass, and set it upon the pole; and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he looked unto the serpent of brass, he lived. (Numbers 21:8-9)   The Torah portion, Chukat, tells a bizarre story. Jews complain against G‑d and Moses. G‑d gets angry and sends venomous snakes that bite and kill many Jews. The people repent and ask Moses to pray for them. In response to Moses’s prayer, G‑d instructs him to make a [...]

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 [...]

Fractal Tu B’Shevat

When thou shalt besiege a city a long time, in making war against it to take it, thou shalt not destroy the trees thereof by wielding an axe against them; for thou mayest eat of them, but thou shalt not cut them down; for is the tree of the field man, that it should be besieged of thee? (Deut. 20:19) On Tu B’Shevat we celebrate the New Year of the trees. There is much to be said about the legal, ecological, homiletical, and mystical meaning of this day. And, indeed, much has been written about this minor holiday from these perspectives. In this post, however, I’d like to focus on the mathematical and biological aspects of this holiday that, to my knowledge, had not been discussed until now. When the Torah rhetorically asks, [...]

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