Contact Us
On the "hard" problem of consciousness, Hasidic panpsychism, and the transformation of the abject into the exalted

Do Chabad Teachings Say Anything About the Mind-Body Problem?

Do Chabad Teachings Say Anything About the Mind-Body Problem?


Introduction: Philosophical Questions

As human beings we are constantly confronted by the mind-body problem. On the one hand we have physical bodies, complete with arms, legs, a heart and a brain. On the other hand we have mental states, we think, we become emotional, we desire things, we understand things, we enjoy sunsets and the scent of flowers. This led the 17th century René Descartes to a conclusion that schisms the mind from the body. He postulated that there is a mental substance, res cogitans, and a physical substance, res extensa. He understood G‑d to be a third substance that is neither mental nor physical, and which chooses to make these created substances exist.1

From a philosophical point of view Descartes’ position, known as dualism, is deeply problematic. If mind and body exist independently of each other, if the mental and the physical are in fact two completely different substances, how do they interact with one another? How does the brain, a physical lump of grey meat, apprehend ethereal mental concepts?How does the brain, a physical lump of grey meat, apprehend ethereal mental concepts?2

The question of how the mind, or the soul, and the body, relate to each other has concerned philosophers from ancient times till today. But Descartes’ dualism has often been rejected, usually in favour of monistic theories positing that mental and physical phenomena actually consist of the same substance. There is physicalism, claiming that all is matter. There is idealism, claiming all is mind. There is neutral monism, which suggests that all is neither one nor the other, but a third, unified substance that is the combination of both.3

Today, many people assume that everything is physical, that there is no mental state independent of the physical brain. Accordingly, there is no mind and no soul, and hence no mind-body problem. But rather than solving the mind-body problem, this simply replaces it with a problem of a different name. A leading contemporary philosopher thinking about this new conundrum is David Chalmers, and he calls it the “hard” problem of consciousness: Chalmers wants to understand how and why we have subjective experiences.4

A computer, for example, processes large quantities of information—apparently without having any mental awareness or subjective experience of those processes. But when humans process information something happens besides the physical, electronic or chemical changes happening in the body and in the brain: We experience these processes subjectively, there is a feeling of “what it is like.” Philosophers call these subjective experiences qualia.5

Chalmers argues:

It is undeniable that some organisms are subjects of experience. But the question of how it is that these systems are subjects of experience is perplexing. Why is it that when our cognitive systems engage in visual and auditory information-processing, we have visual or auditory experience: the quality of deep blue, the sensation of middle C? How can we explain why there is something it is like to entertain a mental image, or to experience an emotion? It is widely agreed that experience arises from a physical basis, but we have no good explanation of why and how it so arises. Why should physical processing give rise to a rich inner life at all? It seems objectively unreasonable that it should, and yet it does.6

This line of thinking has led Chalmers away from physicalism and persuaded him to consider the view that all physical substance—including rocks and electrons—fundamentally possesses some kind of mental quality.7 Today this line of thinking is seen as innovative and controversial, but in truth it is one of the most ancient and persistent ideas in the history of philosophy. Similar theories can be found both among early Greek thinkers, and in the Jewish philosophical, kabbalistic and midrashic traditions. Philosophers refer to this as panpsychism, which means that everything (pan) has a mind or a soul (psyche).

It is important to note, however, that not all panpsychic theories are the same. As with other complex philosophical questions, we should realize that different thinkers often fit similar ideas into vastly different systems of thought, and we should always be weary of false equivalences and conflations.8

Chabad: A Parallel Conceptual Universe

As a counterpoint to the prevalent assumption that everything is physical, the Chabad view is that everything is divine.9

The Chabad intellectual tradition might be described as a conceptual universe that runs parallel to the Western one. It engages with many of the questions raised in the western philosophical tradition to which Descartes, Chalmers and their interlocutors belong, but brings a different set of concepts, assumptions and goals, and a different terminology to the table. This is true of the mind-body problem and the “hard” problem of consciousness, The Chabad intellectual tradition might be described as a conceptual universe that runs parallel to the Western one…and it is true of many other philosophical quandaries as well.10

In Chabad thought these questions are made all the more problematic because we are not simply talking about the interface of the mind—or the soul—and the body, but also about the interface of G‑d and the world. As the Talmudic sages put it, “just as the soul fills the body, so G‑d fills the world.”11 This is taken to a whole new level of difficulty when we consider that G‑d is infinite and the world seems to be composed of finite matter. How can the finitude of creation possibly be filled with infinite divinity?

The crucial point for the present discussion is that in Chabad thought these paradoxes are all resolved by what can be described as a panentheistic false-dualism: Chabad does not subscribe to a monistic idealism (“everything is ideas”) according to which our experience of the physical is some kind of mirage. The physical is at least as real as the spiritual. But both physicality and spirituality are refractions of singular divinity. From this perspective, the designation of the physical realm as a “world of falsehood” (עלמא דשיקרא) should not be understood as a denial of the reality of its existence. The falsehood lies in the impression that the utter singularity of all-encompassing divinity is compromised by the dual modes of divine manifestation.

The unavoidable reality of the physical universe is emphasized in an oft cited discourse by the fourth rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch, Rabbi Shmuel Schneersohn (“Maharash,” 1834-1888):

The existence of the world, and all that is created, is a reality… For if we say it is only that it so appears to us, if so what is the meaning of the verse “In the beginning of G‑d’s creation” (Genesis 1:1)? Did not no creation occur at all, but rather it was made to appear to us as if it was so? Therefore we must say that the world does exist as a substantive reality (yesh ve-davar)…12

In the same breath, R. Shmuel also emphasizes that the physical reality of creation is not something other than G‑d:

In truth there is no physical existence other than divinity, for in truth the capacity for concealment is also divinity like the capacity for revelation… All the physical things that are created are themselves literally divinity.13

Even more radical than the equation of physicality with divinity is a phrase oft repeated by the seventh rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson of righteous memory, which emphasizes that physical existence is ultimately a deeper expression of divine reality and truth than spirituality: “The created being is itself [an unmediated manifestation of] the true being [of G‑d]…” For the most part, however, this truth remains concealed by the very facade of otherness and duality that most gives it expression. It is only “through the work in this world to remove the concealments and veils…” that “it will be revealed in the created being that it itself is [an unmediated manifestation of] the true being.”14 As will be further explained below, it is precisely in the most abject sphere of cosmic being—or more precisely, in the transformation of the abject into the exalted—that the greatest expression of divine transcendence is found.


Hasidic Panpsychism

There are many relevant texts that could be cited as examples of the different ways in which Chabad teachings approach the problem, its solution, and various resulting implications. Already in the first generation of Chabad we find that panpsychism was an issue of particular interest and controversy. One early chassidic work, titled “Testament of the Baal Shem Tov” records the following “major principle:” “In everything that exists in the world there are holy sparks, there is nothing empty of the sparks, even wood and stones, and even all the actions that a person executes…”15 Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi similarly cites the Lurianic teaching that “even in the literally inanimate—like stones, dust and water—there is a soul and spiritual life… which enlivens and creates the inanimate, All reality is divine thought thinking itself.that it may emerge as an existence from nothing…”16

In a direct attack on this concept, Rabbi Eliyahu—the famed gaon of Vilna— wrote that the chassidim “proclaim of every stick and every stone, ‘These are your gods, Israel!’” By borrowing a phrase from the biblical episode of the golden calf, he equated chassidism with Judaism’s worst example of public idolatry.17 The Gaon apparently sought to uphold a dualistic schism between the spiritual and the physical, between G‑d and the world. Elsewhere, he explicitly argued that G‑d transcends the world, and that it is only divine knowledge and superintendence that extends into the created realm.18

The Gaon’s attack was countered by R. Schneur Zalman with a sharp argument proving that divine superintendence could not be accounted for without resort to a form of divine panpsychism. Following the Maimonidean principle that divine knowledge is self-knowledge—G‑d being the knower, the subject of knowledge, and the knowledge itself19—R. Schneur Zalman concludes that G‑d’s knowledge of the world entails that the world itself is not in any way separate from G‑d. Implicitly referring to those who shared the Gaon’s position, he wrote:

Since they believe that G‑d knows all created beings in this lowly world and superintends them, they are compelled to accept that His knowledge of them does not add to Him any plurality or novelty, for He knows all through knowing His self. It as if His being and essence and knowledge are all one.20

Aristotle famously described G‑d as “thought thinking itself.” But the Maimonidean view, as interpreted by R. Schneur Zalman, is that all reality is divine thought thinking itself. In technical philosophical terminology the complexity of the Chabad position might be captured with the designation “theological panpsychic false-dualism.” But even as we speak of panpsychism we must also recall that “G‑d’s thoughts are not as our thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8). G‑d’s thoughts extend beyond the realm of ideas to animate and encompass physical reality as well.21 We must also recall that G‑d ultimately transcends the category of thought altogether.22 However central the principle of divine panpsychism is to the Chabad system of thought, it must always be considered in terms of what Elliot Wolfson has designated “the logic inherent” to Chabad thought: “a way of thinking that begets an annihilation of thinking.”23

The Mitzvah: Fusing Body and Soul

From the Chabad perspective there is no “hard” problem of consciousness. Consciousness is not an anomalous product of the physical universe. Rather, the physical universe is an anomalous product of divine consciousness. The “hard” problem of Chabad thought is: How does the finite universe exist without compromising the infinite singularity of G‑d?24

Rather than an outright rejection of dualism, Chabad teachings constantly affirm that G‑d at once fills the finite realm immanently (memale kol almin) and infinitely transcends it (sovev kol almin). Yet G‑d’s essential being (atzmuto u-mahuto) is neither finite nor infinite. Nor can G‑d’s essential being simply be reduced to that which encompasses those poles. G‑d is instead understood to transcend all definable categories and limitations, and can therefore be equally manifest in the finite and the physical as in the infinite and the spiritual. The result of this false-duality is the impression that the finite world is something other than the infinite G‑d. The limbs of the person’s body that are performing the mitzvah… become a literal vehicle for the supernal will.But the truth is that G‑d is the immanent core of all reality.25

Moving from the cosmic to the microcosmic, a similar model of false dualism—or more precisely, false multiplicity—is applied to the relationship between the soul and the body. In the second chapter of Likutei Amarim—Tanya, R. Schneur Zalman describes a hierarchy of souls, but emphasizes that “all of them, from the beginning of all levels to the end of all levels… are drawn from the supernal mind [of G‑d].” The difference between one soul and another is only in the degree to which they openly reveal G‑dliness in their own lives and actions, and in the world around them. But all souls are fundamentally bound up in the circle of divine consciousness. Here too, R. Schneur Zalman cites Maimonides’ principle that G‑d is the knower, the subject of knowledge, and knowledge itself.

The divine quality of the soul extends to the physical body as well, but it only becomes overtly revealed therein through the performance of mitzvot, divinely mandated commandments. In Likutei Amarim—Tanya, chapter twenty-three, R. Schneur Zalman explains that when a person performs a commandment “the lowest faculty of their divine soul (levush ha-hitzon shel nefesh ha-elokit), which is its capacity for action, is vested in the animation of that mitzvah performance… Therefore, also the limbs of the person’s body that are performing the mitzvah… become a literal vehicle for the supernal will [of G‑d]. By way of example, the hand that distributes charity to the poor… the feet that walk in the cause of a mitzvah, and likewise the mouth that speaks words of Torah, and the brain that thinks of Torah matters, fear of heaven, and the greatness of G‑d.” Body and soul function as one, yet mirror the false-duality of the cosmic singularity.These limbs and organs, R. Schneur Zalman explains, are themselves “sanctified” because they have become transparent to their divine core.26

The divine nature of the body can only be openly revealed through mitzvah observance and Torah study. But in truth, the Baal Shem Tov taught, even the body’s most mundane cravings are identical with the cravings of the soul. “Hungry as well as thirsty, their soul enwraps itself within them” (Psalms, 107:5). In its original context this is a poetic image describing wanderers lost in the desert, whose souls contract as their hunger and thirst intensifies. But the Baal Shem Tov decontextualized the verse and reinterpreted it to mean that the divine soul is enwrapped within the hunger and thirst of the physical body. Externally the body’s cravings seem mundane, even crass, but in truth they stem from the soul’s craving to raise up the divine sparks that are concealed throughout all reality. Not only is the body not the enemy of the soul, on the contrary, the body and the soul are actually in sync. They function as one, yet mirror the false-duality of the cosmic singularity.27 The soul’s mission on earth, accordingly, is to make the body—and all aspects of earthly life—transparent to the divine core of all reality.28

Yehidah: The Singular Substance of Everything

The above passages allude to another oft discussed theme in Chabad teachings. Drawing on earlier rabbinic sources, each individual soul is understood to have five general levels.29 The lowest, nefesh, corresponds to the soul’s capacity for action, which is channeled through the body to have transformative impact in the physical world. The highest is referred to as yehidah, meaning singularity, because it is utterly bound up with the singular essence of G‑d. The yehidah transcends the false dualism that distinguishes between the physical and the spiritual, and therefore cannot even be associated with the loftiest of spiritual soul faculties. Yet it is precisely the transcendence of the yehidah that is the immanent core of all levels of soul expression, including the lowest, Once the essence is revealed it illuminates all faculties of the soul and all aspects of reality.which animates the actions of the body.

Though the yehidah is discussed in many Chabad teachings, its significance is most fully articulated and emphasized in a treatise by the seventh rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson of righteous memory. In this treatise, On the Essence of Chassidus, the essential core of divine being and the essential core of the soul are described in precisely the same terms. In both cases, the disclosure of the essence is synonymous with the dissolution of the false opposition between spirituality and physicality, light and darkness, good and evil:

All [spiritual] revelations, even the very loftiest, are bound in the category of light and revelation… Consequently, the existence of evil… is in opposition to them, and it is therefore not in their power to transform it to good (only to battle with it till it is effaced). Only the essence of G‑d… which is uncontained by any form and which can have nothing in opposition to it… has the power to transform it to good.30

The essential transcendence of G‑d, in other words, is such that spirituality and physicality alike—and even good and evil—are equally inadequate to give it expression. It is axiomatic that the physical realm conceals the all-encompassing presence of G‑d. But here it emerges that the same is true of the spiritual realm, of spiritual experience and activity as well. The only way in which the essence can be tangibly disclosed is in the overcoming of binaries, through transforming evil into good, through infusing physical reality with the spirit of divinity.

Paradoxically, Chabad’s radical conception of divine transcendence leads us to find the greatest expression of that transcendence in the most abject sphere of cosmic being, or more precisely, in the transformation of the abject into the exalted. The same applies on the microcosmic plane—the essential potency of the soul is only expressed in transformative activities that overcome the divide between body and soul, revealing the G‑dly core even of physical existence. But once the essence is revealed it illuminates all faculties of the soul and all aspects of reality:

Only when the [soul] faculties come to refine a physical object beyond the individual self… (using it for the sake of heaven)—specifically then is the yehidah revealed in them.31

In the final paragraph of his treatise on yehidah—which he also associates with the essence of chassidic teaching itself—the Rebbe cites the messianic vision articulated by R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi in Tanya, chapters thirty-six and thirty-seven:

The physicality of the body and the world will be purified… as it is written ‘all flesh [shall see] together etc.’ ‘all dwellers of your universe’… This ultimate wholeness of the messianic era… is dependent on our actions and work throughout the era of exile…32

In philosophical language we might say that the ultimate goal of all human endeavor is to overcome the false sense of dualism that leads us to the mind-body problem in the first place.33 We achieve this through Torah study and mitzvah observance, through serving G‑d in all aspects of earthly life, and through transforming evil into good.34 We are not simply bodies, nor are we minds, nor do we merely combine the two. Ultimately, there is but one single substance, uncompromised by the mind-body duality. The multiple dimensions of existence are real. Yet they are all refractions of the singular substance of G‑d.

See Justin Skirry, “René Descartes: The Mind-Body Distinction” in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, viewable here.
See Howard Robinson, "Dualism", in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), viewable here. A classical Jewish reference to the mind-body problem, often referenced in Chabad teachings, is the remark of Rabbi Moshe Isserles (“Rema,” 1520-1572), in his gloss to Shulkhan Arukh, Orakh Hayim 6:1. Rema suggests that the liturgical formulation praising G‑d as “the one who acts wondrously” (ha-maphlia la’asot) can be understood as an allusion to the fact that G‑d “preserves the spirit of man within him, binding something spiritual to something physical, all through Him being the healer of all flesh, for then man is healthy and his soul is preserved within him.” (Emphasis added.)
See Leopold Stubenberg, "Neutral Monism", in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), viewable here.
See also Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is almost Certainly False (Oxford University Press: New York and Oxford, 2012), 45-46: “On a purely materialist understanding of biology, consciousness would have to be regarded as a tremendous and inexplicable brute fact about the world. If it is to be explained in any sense naturalistically, through the understanding of organic life, something fundamental must be changed in our conception of the natural order that gave rise to life.”
See Michael Tye, "Qualia" in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), viewable here.
David J. Chalmers, “Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness” in the Journal of Consciousness Studies 2(3): 200-19, 1995, viewable here.
See David J. Chalmers, The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory (Oxford University Press: New York and Oxford, 1996), 299: “I hope to have said enough to show that we at least ought to take the possibility of some sort of panpsychism seriously: there seem to be no knockdown arguments against the view, and there are various positive reasons why one might embrace it.” See also the relevant discussions of panpsychism in Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is almost Certainly False (Oxford University Press: New York and Oxford, 2012), 57-58 and 61-63.
For an overview of some important proponents of various forms of panpsychism throughout the history of western philosophy, see William Seager and Sean Allen-Hermanson, "Panpsychism" in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), viewable here. For a classical rabbinic example of panpsychism that is often cited in Chabad literature, see Bereishit Rabbah, 10:6: “There isn’t a single blade of grass that does not have an angel in heaven that smites it and tells it to grow…” For more direct examples from kabbalistic and chassidic teachings—including the particulars of Chabad’s panpsychic conception, which is rooted in a Maimonidean axiom—see below.
See Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, Sefer Hasichos 5690 (Kehot Publication Society: New York, 1995), 86, (ער איז אַלץ, אַלץ איז ער) and further sources cited there, n. 10. Also notable are the words of Rabbi DovBer Schneuri (“the Mitteler Rebbe”), son and successor of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad (“the Alter Rebbe”): “The central object of my father’s teachings, was to fix the simple singularity of G‑d—that is, the essence of the infinite—in the mind and heart of each individual according to what they can conceive, each according to their ability…” ( Introduction to Imrei Binah.) The singular existence of G‑d is a topic that is dealt with in great richness and depth throughout the Chabad corpus, but its locus classicus is the second section of Likutei Amarim—Tanya, Shaar Hayikhud Ve-ha-emunah. For a more succinct treatment see the first section of Likutei Amarim—Tanya, chapters 20-21.
For more on the relationship between Chabad teachings and the western tradition of philosophy, touching on the work of William James, Isaiah Berlin, Hilary Putnam et al, see Eli Rubin, Can You Square the Circle of Faith? How to preserve an open mind and a unified core of cohesive meaning.
Midrash Tehillim, 103a
Rabbi Shmuel Schneersohn of Lubavitch, “Mi Komokhah” in Likutei Torah—Torat Shmuel, Sefer 5629 (Kehot Publication Society: New York, 1992), 161-162.
Rabbi Shmuel Schneersohn of Lubavitch (“the Rebbe Maharash”), Ibid., 163. See also Rabbi Shalom DovBer Schneersohn, Torat Shalom (Kehot Publication Society: New York, 1970), 198: “All is encompassed in G‑d’s essence, accordingly no other being exists at all. Yet, this implies that nothing was created, which is impossible to say, since creation is itself the divine name elokim. It is a divine name and therefore true. That is, elokim exists, and accordingly there is concealment (that is, there is otherly existence, which is the concealment). However the concealment is encompassed in the essence, because the divine name elokim—which is the divine power that contracts—is also of the essence…”
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (“the Rebbe”), “Ve-hit’halakhti”, in Torat Menachem—3—Shnat 5711, 115. The word manifestation is inserted into my translation of this passage to emphasize that it is not to be taken as a reductive description of divine being, but rather as an apotheosistic description of physical being: In contrast to the revelation of G‑d via the medium of spirituality, physicality is a direct manifestation of divine being. While this idea was most emphasized by the seventh rebbe it has a long history in Chabad thought. For a discussion of the concealing and concrete dimension of reality as the more unmediated embodiment of divine being in the thought of the third rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek (1789-1866), see Eli Rubin, Covert Luminosity: The reshimu, the kav, and the concretization of creativity.
Tzavaat ha-Rivash #141. Page 71 in the Kehot Publication Society, 1998 edition.
Likutei Amarim—Tanya, Shaar Hayikhud Ve-ha-emunah, Chapter 1.
See Mordecai Wilenski, Hasidim and Mitnaggedim, vol. 1 (Bialik: Jerusalem, 1990), 188-189.
Aderet Eliyahu to Isaiah 6:3; Supplementary notes in Be’ur ha-Gra to Sifra di-Tzeni’uta, Sod ha-Tzimtzum, p. 75 [38a in Hebrew pagination]. For a more detailed discussion of these sources see Eli Rubin, Immanent Transcendence Chassidim, mitnagdim, and the debate about tzimtzum.
Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Yesodei ha-Torah 2:10.
Shaar ha-Yichud veha-Emunah, ch. 7, pp. 165–166 [83a–b in the Hebrew pagination].
See Likutei Amarim—Tanya, end of Chapter 48: “His thought and knowledge, with which He knows all the creations, encompasses each one of them from top to bottom, and its interior and innermost being, all literal actuality…” On the distinctions and similarities between thought and speech as applied to the concept of divine creation see Likutei Amarim—Tanya, chapters 20 and 21, see also the relevant discussion of those chapters in Eli Rubin, “Speech, Externalization, and Divine Singularity,” in 'The Pen Shall Be Your Friend': Intertextuality, Intersociality, and the Cosmos - Examples of the Tzemach Tzedek’s Way in the Development of Chabad Chassidic Thought.
See Shaar Ha-yikhud Ve-ha-emunah, note to chapter 9, p 173 [87a in Hebrew pagination]: “After the infinite light is vested in the receptacles of chabad, then it is possible to say what Maimonides writes ‘He is the knower, the subject of knowledge, and the knowledge itself, and in knowledge of himself etc.’ …But without the tsimtsum and investment mentioned above it is not possible at all to say ‘He is the knower, and He is the subject of knowledge etc.’ For he is not in the category of knowing and knowledge at all, but entirely transcendent without limit beyond the category of wisdom, to the extent that wisdom [even divine wisdom] is considered in comparison to Him as [the realm of] physical action.”
Elliot R. Wolfson, “Nequddat ha-Reshimu - The Trace of Transcendence and the Transcendence of Trace: The Paradox of Simsum in the RaShaB’s Hemshekh Ayin Beit,” in Kabbalah 30 (2013), p. 94. The idea that the ultimate goal of Chabad thought is to go beyond the entire category of thought altogether is given explicit expression by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn in Likutei Dibburim Vol. 1 (Yiddish Edition, Kehot Publication Society 2009), 305 [153a in Hebrew pagination]. Commenting on the biblical prophecy that in the messianic era divinity will be revealed so that “all flesh shall see,” he argues that this signifies a fundamental shift in the way we apprehend divinity: “We will see, and the seer will be the body… In the present era, the soul allows the body to understand an intellectual concept. This means that the soul is the communicator [of divine revelation] and the body the recipient. But when the messiah will come the body itself will apprehend; it will see divinity with the sight of its physical eyes literally; and it will be the communicator [of divine revelation] while the soul will receive [that revelation] from the body.” Our current mode of apprehending G‑d is conceptual and spiritual, and therefore chiefly mediated by the soul. But in the messianic era we will apprehend G‑d somatically and physically, and the soul will receive this more essential form of revelation through the mediation of the body. This passage is particularly relevant given the present discussion centering on the relationship between body and soul, and the relationship between singular divinity and physical reality.
See the closing passage of Shaar Ha-yikhud Ve-ha-emunah, chapter 3.
See for example, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, Maamarei Admur Hazaken 5569 (Kehot Publication Society: New york, 2005), 262: “Such is the immense exaltedness of the essence of the infinite… just as He is not grasped and limited in the physicality of the created realms (b”ya) so He is not grasped in the spirituality of the realm of emanation (olam ha-atsilut), for before Him are literally equal spirituality and physicality, [the realms of] emanation and action, as it is written “as dark, as light” (Psalms 139:12), and up and down are equal…”; Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, “Patach Eliyahu 5715” in Sefer Ha-maamarim Melukat Vol. 2 (Kehot Publication Society: New York, 2002), 106: “The binding of nature and that which transcends nature is through the revelation of the [divine] essence, which transcends both of them.” See further sources discussed and cited below.
See also Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, Likutei Dibburim vol. 1 (Yiddish Edition, Kehot Publication Society 2009), 310 [155b in Hebrew pagination]: “The hidden power [namely, the essence of divine being] that is in the physical is only revealed when the physical is used for the purpose for which the creator created it.” This concept will be further elaborated below.
Keter Shem Tov (Kehot Publication Society: New York, 2004), section 194, in the name of the Baal Shem Tov, also discussed and elucidated by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, Likutei Sichot vol. 19 (Kehot Publication Society: New York, 2006), 295-297.
See also Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, Veshavti Be-shalom 5738 in Sefer Ha-maamarim Melukot Vol. 2 (Kehot Publication Society: New York, 2002), 17-38.
See Bereishit Rabba, 10:9 and Devarim Rabbah, 2:37. See also Zohar Vol. 1, 81a and 206a; Zohar Vo. 3, 152a.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, “Inyannah Shel Torat Ha-chassidut” in Sefer Ha-erchim Habad vol. 1 (Kehot Publication Society: New York, 1970) section 19, p. 5771. The present translations are all my own, for a full English translation of this treatise see On the Essence of Chassidus (Kehot Publication Society: New York, 1986), viewable here.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, Ibid., section 20, p. 5772-5773.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, Ibid., section 21, p. 5773; Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi Likutei Amarim—Tanya, chapters 36 and 37. In a footnote to the main body of the text in Inyannah Shel Torat Ha-chassidus, the Rebbe takes the opportunity to further underscore Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s inclusion of the non-Jewish nations in his vision of universal transformation. The latter writes that “from the overwhelming revelation to the Jewish people the darkness of the nations will also be reached (יגי' חשך האומות ג"כ).” Drawing on a text from Rabbi DovBer Schneuri (“the Mitteler Rebbe”) the Rebbe suggests that this can be read to mean “the darkness of the nations will also be transformed,” adding that this is “similar to what was explained above that [through the revelation of the yehidah] bad itself is turned to good.” This remark is particularly significant as it complicates the assumption that Chabad discussions of the soul and its relationship to G‑d, and discussions of the yehidah in particular, apply uniquely to Jews. In this definitive treatise, which consciously lays bare the essence of Chabad chassidic teaching through the central motif of the yehidah, the Rebbe concludes with a statement implying that this transformative vision must ultimately overcome the distinctions between Jew and non-Jew as well. For an important and illuminating discussion of the highly complex discourse in Chabad texts on this issue, see Elliot R. Wolfson, “Apocalyptic Crossing: Beyond the (Non)Jewish Other” in Open Secret: Postmessianic Messianism and the Mystical Revision of Menahem Mendel Schneerson (Columbia University Press: New York, 2009), pages 224-264. See also Jonathan Garb, Yearnings of the Soul: Psychological Thought in Modern Kabbalah (The University of Chicago Press: Chicago and London, 2015), 200 n. 12; Wojciech Tworek, Time in the Teachings of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (Unpublished PhD dissertation, University College London, September 2014), 126-136. Here it is also worth citing a related passage by Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, Kedushat Levi Ha-Shalom, Vol. 2 (Jerusalem, 1958), 413-414, as recently discussed by Shaul Magid, “Jewish Ethics Through A Hasidic Lens”, in Hasidism Incarnate (Stanford University Press, 2015), 62-66, and by Eli Rubin, 'The Pen Shall Be Your Friend' Intertextuality, Intersociality, and the Cosmos - Examples of the Tzemach Tzedek’s Way in the Development of Chabad Chassidic Thought.
For more on the overcoming, or overturning, of the mind body duality in the messianic era, see Likutei Dibburim Vol. 1 (Yiddish Edition, Kehot Publication Society 2009), 305 [153a in Hebrew pagination], and the relevant discussion above, n. 23.
For an extended exposition on why the sanctification of the mundane, and the transformation of evil into good through a fundamental process of return to G‑d (teshuvah), provides the ultimate expression of the transcendent essence, see Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, Veshavti Be-shalom 5738 in Sefer Ha-maamarim Melukot Vol. 2 (Kehot Publication Society: New York, 2002), 17-38.
Eli Rubin studied Chassidic literature and Jewish Law at the Rabbinical College of America and at Yeshivot in the UK, the US and Australia. He has been a research writer and editor at since 2011, focusing on the social and intellectual history of Chabad Chassidism. Through his writing, research, and editorial work he has successfully participated in a range of scholarly interchanges and collaborative endeavors.
Max Ariel Abugov recently graduated with a B.A. in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, where he worked at the Boundaries of Anxiety and Depression Lab. He also attended Yeshivas Kol Yakov Yehudah Hadar Hatorah in Crown Heights, where he developed a deep appreciation of Chassidus. He is passionate about the interdisciplinary study of psychology, philosophy, and religion.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with's copyright policy.
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
1000 characters remaining
Anonymous Wisconsin September 28, 2016

The Mind-Body Problem? Baruk HaShem....quite an in depth article. A good one though. I'm not certain whether I should agree, or disagree. About all can say is that I settled this quandary for myself by realizing that Torah has both Negative & positive mitzvoh. That The Creator has Two Major Names, and probably many more considering the number of languages. Which brings me to the point. Words, the two Main categories are Nouns, and Verbs. Physicality, and Momentum. These two are combined when a Verb is used as The Subject of a sentence, or a question. That IS the point, when discussing Spiritual matters. What is being used as the Subject? Energy: are we speaking in terms of Potential, or Kinetic? If we are talking about Potential, it seems more inert, more about physicality, but if Kinetic energy is the subject it is seen and measured by its'activity, as compared to the Potential. Potential, is based upon the word, 'potent', which in turn connects directly to an aspect of The Creator, who is Omni-Potent. Reply

daniel bortz san diego September 27, 2016

Another Beauty by Eli "Consciousness is not an anomalous product of the physical universe. Rather, the physical universe is an anomalous product of divine consciousness." Reply

O. Turcotte Cambridge September 25, 2016

Seeing Through the Veil The object of a life well examined... Thank you for this essay. Reply

Anonymous USA September 21, 2016

Date September 14, 2016 Reply

Sara Ilana Australia September 20, 2016

Date? Fantastic and timely essay. What is the publication date of this essay? Reply