Rabbi Dr Zvi Aviner
The Journey of our Neshamah
When we learn the Noahide Seven Commandments from the Book of Genesis,
We first identify a commandment and then look around in the text around it.
For instance, when we started with IDOLATRY, Noah’s first Commandment,
we identified it in Chapter One, in the verse saying:
“Let Us Make Ada in Our Form and Our Image…”
Here, as we’ve learned, ELKM opened the door for idolators to think
that there are more than One CREATOR.
We could have stopped here, using this verse only. Yet we took a look
at the surrounding text, and we found out that the entire Chapter One
is relevant to IDOLATRY. Not only it defends the idols, but also presents
G-d, His Attributes and Names, the End of Days’ Judgment, the Sabbath,
and how Adam was created to withstand the IDOLATRY challenge.
Thus, learning IDOLATRY this way from the entire Chapter One
has given us the broadest perspective of what IDOLATRY is,
information we won’t get otherwise.
Similarly, we recognize in the story of Eden only one verse
that presents ADULTERY, the Second Commandment of Noah. It says:
“Therefore, a man leaves his father and mother
cleaves to his wife, and they become One Flesh,” (2: 24)
Here the Torah prohibits ADULTERY and INSENCE.
Thus, a person should leave, sexually, his father’s wife,
his mother, her mother, his sister, his daughter and granddaughters,
as well as another person’s wife.
Hence, the verse lists the classical six sexual prohibitions
for Mankind, or Noahides. It also prohibits Homosexuality and Bestiality.
In fact, the Torah presents in this verse also MARRIAGE, saying:
“A person cleaves to his wife and they become One Flesh.”
where ‘One’ refers to G-d who is One.
Hence, in the Torah eyes, Marriage is not merely legal contract
between Man and a Woman, but rather a sacred institution
modelled by YHVH ELKM, the two Attributes coming close to each other
to form their child – Adam.
We could have said that this verse tells us all that the Torah say about ADULTERY.
But when we examine the entire story of Eden, we discover that it sheds
much light on the Commandment, that we would never get otherwise.
Moreover, the story of Eden is where the Commandments are given
to Mankind the first time. Hence the story presents not only ADULTERY
but the Commandments in general. We can expect, therefore, to get information
here about the Commandments, that we would not get elsewhere.
So, let’s read the story of Eden together.
1. Eden Name
As we’ve said, the entire story of Eden sheds light on ADULTERY
For instance, let’s pay attention to Eden’s name.
‘Eden’ in Hebrew is rooted in the word edna,
a delicate, sexual pleasure.
You see that in Sarah’s words. When she was told by the three angels
that she would have a child at age 90, She said in a wonder:
“My master is old, yet I have had dan edna”. (18: 13)
Thus, the Garden of Eden is the perfect background
for the primordial sin of ADULTERY to take place. .
2: Forming the Adam
You’d expect the Torah to simply say that G-d made
a Garden and a Man and put them together.
Instead, the Torah tells first about forming’ Adam,
then about forming the Garden, elsewhere.
Then, the Torah says, G-d placed Adam in the Garden.
Here is the verse describing the forming of Adam
“And YHVH ELKM FORMED the Adam
as a dust from the ground, and He (singular verb)
blew in his nostril soul of life (nishmat) and Adam became
a (nefesh chayah) a living creature.” (Genesis 2:6)
Three Levels of Adam’s Soul
The verse mentions three parts of our soul –
Neshama, Nefesh, Chaya, referring to three levels
that control our body.
The Midrash illustrates this as a glassblower blowing his breath
into a glass tube, to form a ‘vessel.’
Neshamah Nefesh Chayah
The Chaya, is the part of the Breath down the tube,
that controls the most basic elements of life.
The word Chaya, comes from the Hebrew Chayim, life.
Hence the Chaya controls even the tiniest unite of life.
Today we would say it controls life even in a single cell,
like in bacteria and viruses and the DNA and RNA in each cell.
The Nefesh, is the part of the CREATOR’S Breath
that occupies the middle of the tube. It controls the organs
of our body, such as the heart, liver, kidney which we share
with the animal Kingdom.
The Neshamah, is the part of the CREATOR’S Breath,
that sits close to the CREATOR’S Lips. It is specific
to Mankind, connecting us to the CREATOR’s Lips.
There is another, fourth layer of our soul, called YeChidah,
the Unique one, which is said to surround us during our lifetime.
We’ll learn more about the YeChidah soon.
We may think of those three levels as our spiritual Umbilical Cord,
connecting us to the CREATOR’s Lips.
The description of the Soul, Neshama, is a prelude or introduction
to the Commandments in general, since it explains the purpose
of the Commandments and their impact on our soul.
Bad and Good Inclinations
In addition to the Soul, the Torah hints that Adam was born
with two opposing Drives: to do good, and to do bad things.
This comes from the Hebrew word for “Formed” – VaYetzer,
which is written in such a way to suggest that Adam had in him –
A Bad Drive, Yetzer Rah,
A Good Drive, Yetzer Tov.
This too is a perfect introduction to the Commandments.
3: Forming the Garden of Eden
After describing the forming of Adam,
the Torah turns to the ‘forming’ of the Garden of Eden, as follows:
“And YHVH ELHM caused to sprout from the ground,
every tree that was pleasing to the sight and good for food.
Also, the Tree of Life in the midst of the Garden,
and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.” (Genesis 2: 9
At the time when there wasn’t yet any shrub or tree nor
any other life forms on real ERTH, not even rain,
YHVH ELKM FORMED the Garden of Eden,
a virtual garden, as we’ve seen last class.
Among the many Trees in the Garden, two stood out:
The Tree of Life, and
The Tree of Knowing Good and Evil
The Tree of Life protected the Garden’s inhabitants from the Angel of Death,
The Tree of Knowing Good and Evil would render whoever ate of it the awareness of Good and Evil.
4: Placing Adam in Eden
“And YHVH ELKM planted a Garden in the East of Eden,
And He placed there the Adam that He had formed…”
Initially, Adam was formed apart, and the Garden of Eden apart.
Then, says the Torah, YHVH ELKM placed Adam in the Garden.
The process reminds us of the natural conceiving of an embryo.
First the fertilization of an egg takes place apart,
then the uterus is prompted to receive the fertilized egg,
then the egg travels to the uterus to settle there and grow.
Now who told the process of egg fertilization to Moses,
3500 years ago, when he lived in Pharaoh’s house?
Isn’t it another miracle of the Torah, like the story of the six Days?
Does it mean that a fertilized egg has in it a whole human soul?
5: Work it and Preserve it
For what purpose was Adam placed in Eden?
“And YHVH ELKM took the Adam,
And He placed him in the Garden of Eden
to work it and preserve it” (1: 16)
There was no need for Adam to till the soil of Eden and work it, literally.
Eden, after all, was a miraculous, virtual Garden, and all fruits were grown
by the CREATOR. So, what does that verse mean?
The Rabbis therefore explained:
To work it – to perform positive Commandments,
To preserve it – to avoid negative Commandments.
Hence, immediately after mentioning Adam’s soul,
the Torah turns to the Commandments that he
would soon receive.
The Torah says here that some would be positive –ordering to do something,
some negative – ordering what NOT to do.
But looking at Adam’s Six Commandments that he would soon get, namely –
IDOLATRY, ADULTERY, BLOODSHED, THEFT, JUSTICE, BLASPHEMY
they all seem to be negative, prohibitions, telling Adam what NOT to do.
But the truth is, that each Commandment has in it also
a strong positive aspect. Thus –
To comply with IDOLATRY, we need to actively avoid the idols
withstand their attraction, and also direct our mind and heart to worship HaSheM.
To comply with ADULTERY, we need to actively struggle with our desires
and cleave only to our spouses.
To comply with BLOODSHE, we need to control our anger and ego and divert
our energy to build rather than destroy.
To comply with THEFT, we need to struggle with our temptations and
cherish Private Ownership.
To comply with JUSTICE, we need to set up a just judiciary system, including
passage of just laws appoint righteous and learned judges and
build a loyal police force.
Hence, although the Noahide Commandments are usually
thought of as negative, ‘thou shall not do’ laws,
yet in fact, they all carry a positive aspect,
instructing Adam also what to DO.
(Only that the positive aspect is derived logically,
without a direct Command.)
How do the Commandments affect our soul?
Since the Torah presents the Commandments immediately after presenting the soul,
It implies that our souls are deeply affected by the Commandments.
The Zohar says that the Neshamah is blown into us
to be perfected during our life by keeping G-d’s Commandments.
We elevate our Neshamah during our lifetime
from being good to Very Good, so that after
we’ve passed away our Neshamah would return
to Her Sender, G-d, hopping to sit higher than before
at His Throne.
Her position depending on what we have accomplished
in our lifetime.
The Journey of the soul
The Zohar teaches that in Eden, Adam’s body became
like a ‘coat’ protecting his soul, his Neshamah.
In Eden, Adam had to face and overcome only two Commandments
that were relevant to their life there –
IDOLATRY – by not eating the forbidden fruit,
ADULTEY – by Eve, had she not cohabited with the cunning Snake.
Had Adam and his Wife not sinned,
Had they invested their will to withstand their bad drives,
their Neshamah would have been enforced to become
Very Good, so that they could proceed to the Sabbath.
Since they did sin, they were driven out of Eden
and their Neshamah travelled to Earth. –
through a ‘tunnel’ described at the end of the Story
“And He (YHVH ELKM) banished him (the Adam,)
He stationed at the East of the Garden of Eden
The Cherubs, and the Flame of the Ever-turning Sword,
To guard the road to the Tree of Life.” (3: 24)
The Neshamah, now coated by Adam’s body that was formed in Eden,
would be coated again on Earth by a material, physical body.
As the verse says, when Adam and Eve were driven out:
“And ‘YHVH ELKM’ MADE Adan and his wife
coated of skin and He clothes them.” (3: 21)
Those “coats of skin” were MADE, on real Earth,
rather than “CREATED” or “FORMED.”
The ‘skin coat’ covers Adam’s body from the outside,
making a material coat of the Neshamah.
That idea is expressed by a blessing
we recite every morning:
“My G-d, the soul which you have given me is pure,
You have CREATED it, You have FORMED it,
You have breathed it in me and You preserve it within me.
And You will eventually take it from me and restore it within me in Time to Come.
So long as the soul is within me, I offer thanks to You
YHVH (HaSheM) my G-d (ELKM) and the G-d of my fathers
Master of all works, the Owner of all the souls,
Blessed are You Who return Souls to dead bodies.”
Now on Earth, when Adam is tempted to sin,
Whenever he wins the struggle he would strengthen his Neshmah
so the after passing away, the Neshamah
would ascend higher than She could do in Eden.
How does the observance of the Commandments affect our soul?
The Sefat E meth explains that in fact, our Neshamh does not wish
to leave Her ‘source’ – shoresh – and come down to Earth
to dwell inside Man.
She agrees, however, when told that only this way,
only by Adam’s effort and hard work in this world,
She could get purer and stronger and be elevated
to be Very Good.
“This is the Will of the creator,” She is told,
“This is the way He created the world.”
Three Coats for our Neshamah
At our conception, our tiny body is controlled by the basic Chaya,
which we share with all living creatures large or small.
As we are formed in the uterus, we also get the Nefesh,
which controls our organs that we share with the
rest of the animal kingdom.
At our birth, we get the Heavenly Kiss that installs
our Neshamah, close to His Lips. The Neshamah is uniquely ours,
and we do not share it with the animals.
The Neshama is sent by the CREATOR, to get stronger
and fill the rest of “our tube”.
Neshamah Nefesh Chayah
It is customary to call the Neshamah “the Divine Soul”
While the Nefesh and Chayah are called “the Animalistic soul.”
The Devine Soul aspires to overcome and replace the Animalistic Soul
So that a person would become completely controlled by the Devine soul.
Whenever we fulfill a godly Commandment, says the Sefat Emeth,
We initiate or prompt our body to host the Neshamah.
It replaces the Nefesh and the Chayah – or ‘controls’ them.
The part of our body in which the Devine Neshamah has entered,
Would create a new Neshamah OUTSIDE our body,
Forming the YeChdah mentioned above.
This YeChidah burns like a Candle in the Menorah o fthe Holy Temple,
And Her Light, which is the Light of Torah, is spread into the world.
When we pass way, and our physical body have disappeared,
Our innermost Neshamah and the outer YeChidah murge,
Becoming one, stronger and purer Neshamah that can now
ascends back to her Maker through the same tunnel in which
she had entered our world. Hopefully, she would sit now higher
by the Maker than ever before.