The divine soul is an indivisible essence inseparably bound to G‑d, as the verse states, "For part of G‑d is His People" (Deut. 32:9) and as Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai states about himself: "My soul is one with Him, as one flame, cleaving to Him". Nevertheless, as it emanates from the Infinite One -- the Ein Sof -- eventually to be clothed in the physical body, the soul descends via the five worlds mentioned above, leaving a root in each of the worlds, until it is clothed in a physical body. Thus there are five levels of the soul, or levels of G‑d-consciousness, corresponding to the various planes of reality, or levels of divine revelation/concealment manifested in each of the worlds.
The soul enclothed within the body is a reflection of the Divine Form, called the tzelem, or tzelem Elokim. This tzelem Elokim may be described as the spiritual mold of man's physical form, linking his body and soul. This mold is derived from the configuration of the sefirot, which structure the worlds through which the soul descends on its journey down into the body. …man includes all of Creation within him…
At the same time that the soul's outer dimension reflects the configuration of the sefirot, the inner dimension of the soul reflects the Infinite Light, which illuminates the sefirot. This reflection is called the demut Elokim (the image of G‑d). Thus man includes all of Creation within him, from the loftiest spirituality to the most mundane physicality.
Viewed from the point of view of man's service to G‑d, these levels of soul may be described as five ascending levels of awareness of, and communion with, G‑d. They are called (in ascending order) Nefesh, Ruach, Neshama, Chaya and yechida. Regarding these levels of soul, the Zohar states that when a person is born, he is given a Nefesh from the world of Asiya, the lowest world, representing the greatest concealment of G‑d. If, through his divine service and proper action, he makes himself worthy, he is then given Ruach on the plane of Yetzira. With greater effort, he can earn the revelation of Neshama, paralleling the world of Beriya. If he purifies himself greatly, he may be able to attain the level of Chaya paralleling Atzilut, and even yechida -- the G‑d consciousness of the level of Adam Kadmon and beyond. ("Beyond," because the level of soul called yechida in essence transcends all the worlds, since it is never separated from G‑d. It is described as being "truly part of G‑d above," and as "a spark of the Creator enclothed within a spark of the created").
Nefesh Nefesh… is awareness of the physical body and the physical world
Nefesh, the lowest level of consciousness, is awareness of the physical body and the physical world, the world of Asiya -- the world of Action. However, this awareness of the physical body is not awareness in a passive sense; it is merely an observation of the facts. On the contrary, the Nefesh is in fact the life-force of the body, and it is precisely because it is the life-force of the body that the Nefesh has an awareness of the body. This physical awareness is a result of the enmeshing of the Nefesh with the body. Now, although the Nefesh is the life-force of the body, this does not mean that the Nefesh creates the body. The body was and is created by G‑d, just like everything else. After G‑d created Adam's body "from the dust of the earth", He blew into Adam the breath of life (see Bereishit 2:7). This is the Nefesh -- the life-force-- that was blown into the body.
It is this part of the person which dies and goes to the grave with the body. Just as in the world of Asiyah, malchut is the dominant sefira-- so too in the Nefesh, which corresponds to the world of Asiya, the attribute of malchut -- action -- is the dominant characteristic of the soul.
The divine service associated with the level of Nefesh is acknowledgment of, and submission to, the supreme authority of G‑d, particularly in reference to the fulfillment of the commandments. It is therefore called "accepting the yoke of Heaven" -- kabbalat ol malchut shamayim.
Ruach The primary manifestation of Ruach is in the emotions...
Ruach is the next level of soul -- a higher plane of consciousness than the rank of Nefesh. The world (i.e. level of revelation of G‑dliness) corresponding to Ruach is the world of Yetzira. The primary manifestation of Ruach is in the emotions, just as the primary activity of the six sefirot of Zeir Anpin (from chesed to yesod) is in the world of Yetzira. In terms of Divine service this entails arousing the complementary emotions of love and awe of G‑d.
Love and awe of G‑d are aroused by contemplating the divine energy which forms and maintains the world of Yetzira, and by observing the tremendous self-nullification of the angelic beings which inhabit it. Although the intellect may be used extensively on this level of soul, nevertheless, the primary focus of the intellect here is contemplation in order to arouse the emotions. The Talmudic sages therefore refer to it as "the toil of the heart", through which one comes to love G‑d with all one's heart. Nevertheless, this is a lower level of love, since it is generated by contemplating lower levels of G‑d's creative energy.
Neshama Neshama … seeks to pierce through to the essential rather than the ephemeral
The primary activity of the Neshama is in the conceptual grasp of the intellect, as the verse states, "and the soul (nishmat) from the Almighty gives them understanding" (Job 32:8). The level of Neshama contemplates the manifestation of Divine energy in the world of Beriya. Just as in the world of Beriya, the primary sefira is bina, so too in the soul -- the primary activity is understanding. Unlike the world of Yetzira, the world of form and relationship, the world of Beriya is nascent divine energy. It is the notion of coming into being from nothingness, rather than structured, quantified existence. Thus one of the primary meditations of the Neshama is the concept of continuous creation (the coming-into-being) and sustenance of life and existence.
Neshama analyzes underlying principles abstracted from the categories of thought imposed upon them by the human mind and human experience. It seeks to pierce through to the essential rather than the ephemeral. One of the signs that a person is on this level of consciousness is that when the mind is clearly focused on an appropriate Divine concept, all of the senses become temporarily nullified. Subsequently, due to the abundance of spiritual light one experiences at this level, the emotions of love and awe are automatically aroused--and to a much greater extent than in the previous level, where effort was expended in arousing the emotions. This is referred to in Kabbala as "the rapture of the heart" (re'uta d'liba, see Zohar 2, 93b). Here the heart truly desires G‑dliness, and love is revealed in its fullness in the heart. This is referred to in the verse as loving G‑d "with all of your soul". This may therefore be described as communion with G‑d as the Creator of the worlds.
Chaya The soul merges into a state of complete nullification of the ego… knowledge of the absolute truth of things
The aspect of the soul called Chaya gazes upon the Divine energy of the world of Atzilut. Whereas the primary activity of the level of Neshama is to use intellectual comprehension in order to come to communion with G‑d as the Creator of the worlds, the level of Chaya communes with G‑d as He transcends the worlds. Here the soul's knowledge is not in the immanence of Divine attributes which identify the nature of the Divine energy manifested in Creation, but rather with knowing what G‑d is not -- i.e. how He is not limited or defined by the finite universe. Thus the soul merges into a state of complete nullification of the ego. There is no self-seeking and no self-identity outside of G‑d. Chaya is called loving G‑d "with all one's being" (Deut. 6:5). This is knowledge of the absolute truth of things.
Yechida corresponds to the level of soul called Adam Kadmon. Just as the sublime, pure and transcendent world of Adam Kadmon, cleaves to and reflects the original Infinite Light (Ohr Ein Sof), so too does the level of yechida. This is the essence of the soul which is naturally and immutable bound to the Holy One. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai declared, "Throughout the days of my connection to this world, I was bound to the Holy One Blessed Be He with a single knot…at one with Him"; this is the level of soul revealed at the moment of self-sacrifice or martyrdom for the sake of G‑d, His Torah, or His people.
The next article in the Kabbalah for Beginners tutorial is the first article in our series on the Worlds: Oneness and the Infinite.
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