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Why the World Needs Its Soul

Why the World Needs Its Soul


There are many things the world needs to know. Most crucial of all, it needs to know it has a soul.

Joe’s Soul

In school, from an early age, Joe learned how stuff works. Joe learned how pulleys work, how electrical circuits work, how cells divide and how neurons process thoughts. He learned that the whole world is a big machine, and we are all little machines inside it.

Joe graduated college, got a job, got married, had kids.

Then Joe had a crisis. He needed help. He picked up books of today’s most popular genre—self-help. Lots of them. The books told him he has a soul, he has purpose, that there’s something beyond just being a pleasure-seeking machine.

Joe felt better. He was able to go back to work, keep his marriage and enjoy his kids.

There are many things the world needs. It needs nothing more than a soul.

Joe needed to know he has a soul.

Julie’s Planet

Julie wanted to save the world. She could not forget the viscous corpses of seagulls rotting on the beach of her childhood hometown after an oil spill. She loved wildlife, she found beauty in nature, and she became obsessed with saving it from the unrestrained rape of reckless human exploitation.

Julie studied environmental science at one of the best universities in America. She is a talented writer. She landed a job with a public relations firm with major clients in the environmental movement.

Julie told people we have to save the Amazon rain forest. They wanted to know why. For Julie, there was no why. It was obvious. But Julie had to find reasons.

Julie told people we have to save the elephants, the tigers and the pandas. They wanted to know why. Julie loves elephants, tigers and pandas. But Julie had to find reasons.

Julie told people that if we don’t clean up our act, start making big sacrifices and change our lifestyles drastically, there won’t be much of a world left for our grandchildren. People didn’t want to listen.

People said, “I have enough guilt to deal with already.”

They said, “I’m not taking care of my own life—how do you expect me to take care of the world of my grandchildren, never mind make major sacrifices for the sake of that future? How many sacrifices have I made for the sake of my own future?”

Julie stares at a photograph of planet Earth—the classic one, taken from a satellite years back. She sees something there, but she can’t say what it is. She sees something of it in every cloud and in every drop of water, in the elephants, in the tigers and in the pandas. In the oily corpses washed up upon her childhood beach, and in the ecological systems and subsystems that fascinated her in college.

If Julie could say what it is, she could communicate it to others. She could save the world. But it is a world that does not want to hear. A world that is terrified to recognize it has a soul.

Sasha’s Genes

Sasha works in a lab making groundbreaking progress studying the human genome. He believes in what he is doing, and is furious with those who fight to hold back biotechnological progress. Sasha believes that soon we will be able to eliminate aging, wipe out all major diseases, and begin to make major advances in guided neurological development of the human species. After all, he says, no organ adapts to change faster than the brain.

She could save the world. But it is a world that does not want to hear.

Sasha is involved in research that identifies genotype 577R, shared by all male Olympic power athletes. He’s read the studies of the ACE genotype—if you don’t have one, don’t try reaching the peak of Mount Everest without oxygen. Another genotype seems to be associated with mathematical genius. Some research seems to point to a genotype for laziness, and another appears to encode depression.

Sasha also knows some history. He knows that biologists, neurologists, psychiatrists and others recommended schemes to guide the evolution of humanity not very long ago—and eagerly implemented them—through forced sterilization, immigration restrictions, intelligence testing and, eventually, euthanasia. He knows how this culminated in the gas chambers of Nazi Germany.

That is why he is thankful that these discoveries were not made under the totalitarian regime in which his parents lived, or in Germany in the first half of the last century—or in America at that time, for that matter. China worries him. So does Iran. But, he says, better that we should make the advances first, and not them.

Ask Sasha what saves us today from the dangers of abuse of genomic technology, and he’ll answer quite simply: Fascism is dead. It proved its own failure. Today we all agree that human beings have rights as individuals, and that those rights supersede the benefit of society as a whole. All modern states guarantee those rights. The human-rights movement embedded in our minds the equality of all humankind, and those values are here to stay.

But then Sasha looks at that human genome. He knows there are differences—differences that concern only a tiny percentage of the genome, but significant nonetheless. Significant enough that some may consider certain families of human beings to be another species.

Under the microscope, it seems, we are not all equal. Under the microscope, human rights seems a hollow, senseless value, propelled by nothing more than irrational human emotion.

Unless there is something the microscope cannot show. Unless there is something beyond the genome. Unless each of us contains the image of G‑d.

The need for meaning in our personal lives is sacrosanct today.

Our Purpose

The need for meaning in our personal lives, the sense of responsibility for the ecology of our planet and the respect for the dignity of every human life—all these are sacrosanct today. Which is a good thing, because without them we would have destroyed ourselves in the century just past.

Yet they are entirely hollow. More than that: they are in utter conflict with the materialist concept of reality that we are taught in school and practice in the laboratory.

In short, we suffer an aching disconnect between our brains and our soul.

Our soul believes life has purpose and meaning, while our brains consider our bodies to be no more than walking containers of biochemical reactions. We teach small children to cry over the future of the elephants, the pandas and the blue whale, that they have a responsibility to save the planet and sustain it, and then we teach them that all this arrived due to a big bang and a series of accidents. We will not tolerate any voice that suggests the superiority of one family of human beings over another, all the while reducing this creature to a string of DNA in which serious differences have already been uncovered.

Nothing could be more precarious.

So if you think a website like this, that speaks about the soul of the human being, the soul of the universe, the world as a continuously projected creation and the human being’s relationship to its Creator—if you think this is all cool, nice stuff—think again. This is stuff we need to know. To cognate. To absorb into our lives. To integrate into our world, until it becomes the way we think about everything.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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Discussion (21)
March 22, 2013
The cosmic soul
Just as the world has a soul, and Mother Earth should be respected, I have always felt that all thoughts from living things, which is energy-vibration, directly influences the cosmic soul as well. The entire universe is a tide of cosmic soul, which I suspect is dark matter.
L.A. West'
September 5, 2012
Why the World needs a Soul
Great article and great responses.
The World has a soul, just as each of us, an the conglomerate Soul of all aspects of the Earth since the beginning of time...
As in the 5 levels of soul, there are disparate parts,, but unity where the strings come together in unity.
God bless you
Henry Chanoch Brown
Miami Beach, FL
August 15, 2012
Very interesting
I am a neuroscientist and was very interested to read your essay. It is very good. But I would argue that only the most naive scientists would argue that we are 'walking containers of chemicals'. There are clearly phenomena that we cannot explain rationally or scientifically, so a religious, spiritual, or a magical explanation is sufficient. There will always be such observations or phenomena. And so spiritual explanations may make us feel better, which to me is a perfectly good way to deal with the "human condition."
Birmingham , AL
August 15, 2012
I am reading a book called The Nature Principle by a man named Richard Louv, and I cannot help think that his last name resembles LOVE, and in fact might be pronounced this way. He is writing about how we need wilderness, time outdoors, time in Nature, and how this is soul sustaining. The book also discusses recent observations and research on whales that shows they share with us, specialized neurons associated with higher cognitive functions such as self-awareness and compassion. I think it's time to lay to rest the notion that we are the ones with free will and "they", meaning the animals move to a different kind of drummer. I read this all the time on Chabad. But anyone who has spent time with what animates this universe, will know this is just simply not true. Look to the elephants and their social networks and tell me about animal nature vs our greater being and I will say, that notion is so wrong.

The soul of a universe is all that is within. We are not greater than...
ruth housman
marshfield hills, ma
August 15, 2012
Having a soul.
Thanks for the story. I grew up with computers and they became a dominant force in my life. Then I abandoned it all and went to nature where I reconnected to the memories of the Garden and realized just how much Satan had control of the world -- so that we'd forget.

Do you know the story of "Stockholm Syndrome"? That is the story of the world to a large degree. Though Jesus didn't take the bargain offered by the devil, most of America did. Hence, the soullessness.

I hope someone understands this.
Mark Janssen
Gothenburg, Nebraska
August 15, 2012
Abdullah's note
Dear Abdullah,
"University" would ordinarily be capitalized only if a specific university was named.

Yes, the word "behaviors" could definitely be substituted for "acts".

Both good questions!
August 15, 2012
This is very good.
I don't normally leave comments on things, but this is very well done. A beautiful defense of why religion isn't the "stupid" way out, or something only for people who can't "face reality."
Sydney, NSW
August 15, 2012
Why the world need a soul
Thank you so much Rabbi, this is very strong, we must keep this in mind and in heart in what so ever we do. Also I have a daughter that is a biothecnologist.
Patrizia Luna
Tarragona, Spain
August 15, 2012
What is soul and where is it?
Mine is in my gut. Soul is listening to the child trusting G-d's voice without thought/it is feeling it (intuition) and seeing the big picture.
Dr. Jeff Eger
mesa, az
August 14, 2012
the world has a soul
it has always possessed a soul. Poets write about this all the time. What people need is to recognize this soul, to feel the aching beauty of the seasons, the soul of Wilderness, the deep metaphoric connectivity that binds us all to the everything. When we regain awe in all that we observe around us and in each other we reverberate to the sanctity of all that simply IS, to hold and behold.
ruth housman
marshfield, ma