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The Soul and the Afterlife

The Soul and the Afterlife

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As previously stated, Rabbi Schneur Zalman explains in the Tanya that every Jew is composite of two distinct souls. The first soul is the Nefesh HaBehamit which animates the body. This soul is complete with an infrastructure of soul powers ranging from pleasure and will to intellect and emotions.

Common to all the soul powers of the Nefesh HaBehamit is that they all wish to fulfill the base needs, passions, and desires of the body. Essentially the Nefesh HaBehamit is self-centered.

From it stems the negative character traits, such as anger, apathy, and arrogance.

The second soul is the Nefesh Elokit. This soul is described by Job as “a part of G-d,” and exists both before its descent into the body and after the ascent from the body. The Nefesh Elokit in itself is not in need of rectification; rather its descent into this world is to refine the base and the animalistic nature of this material world.

Before its descent to the world the Nefesh Elokit is taken on a heavenly tour. It is shown the various departments in the Garden of Eden and it is also shown Hell (Gehinom). It is made clear to the soul that it is embarking on a perilous journey full of distractions and enticement. The soul is made to take an oath that she will remain righteous, and even if persuaded by those around her that she is perfect, she should always deem herself in need of improvement. The soul is provided with all the spiritual sustenance that it will require on its journey and is satiated with enough spiritual energy required to transform the Nefesh HaBehamit and its portion in the world.

The Nefesh Elokit also has its own infrastructure of pleasure, will, intellect, and emotions, but they are focused on the Divine rather than on the self. When a person is born, the Nefesh Elokit is juxtaposed with the Nefesh HaBehamit and they both operate and express themselves within the thinking mind. The two souls live locked together for their lifespan, both trying to gain control of the thinking mind. Upon death the Nefesh Elokit returns to its Maker. The soul ascends before the Heavenly court and is judged accordingly. Every Mitzvah that a person does creates a defending angel, and every misdeed creates an accusing angel. These angels come and bear witness on a person, and every thought, speech, and action of the deceased’s lifetime is reviewed and taken into account. The Talmud lists the questions that a person will be asked upon arrival at the Heavenly court. They include such inquires as: “Were your business dealings faithful?” and “Did you set fixed times for Torah study?” and “Did you engage in procreation?” If the soul requires cleansing of any misdeeds, the soul is sent to Gehinom, which is a heavenly purification depot. The works of Mussar describe Gehinom as a horrific place where excruciating punishments are meted out to the sinner. Based on the nature of sin is how the punishment is administered.

If a person sinned with heated passion they are placed in a Gehinom of snow. If they were ice cold in their Divine service, they are placed in a Gehinom of fire. It must be understood that Gehinom is not a physical place and the descriptions given speak in human terms that we appreciate, nor is Gehinom a place for eternity, but a temporary—albeit terrible—place for the soul to be cleansed. In fact, the vast majority of souls do not stay in Gehinom for more than eleven months. Because we do not presume most people are so sinful as to warrant a twelve month sentence (reserved only for the wicked), the recital of Kaddish for a departed soul, which brings elevation to the soul and relief from Gehinom, is only recited for eleven months and thereafter only on the anniversary (Yartzeit) of death. On Shabbat all souls have an elevation. Souls in Gehinom are given relief, while those in the world of Yetzirah are allowed through the “Amud,” the pillar that connects the two worlds of Yetzirah and Beriah. After the purification of Gehinom, the soul enters the World to Come—the Garden of Eden—where it receives the rewards it earned through work in this world.

The Talmud speaks of “Heavenly academies” (Mesivta D’Rkia), where souls sit and learn Torah. The Talmud states: “Happy is the man who enters the World to Come with the Talmud in his hand.” What one learned in this world is relearned on a much higher level in the next. As is explained in the chapter on Torah learning (ch. 24), there are numerous levels of Torah learning called Pardes, and they correspond to the four worlds. The Torah one has learned on the level of Pshat, “simple interpretation,” one will merit to learn on the level of Remez (allusion), Drush (homiletics), and Sod (secrets). On occasion, souls will be allowed to hear new interpretations in Torah from higher souls. It is said that on the Yartziet of a Tzaddik (righteous person) all other righteous souls come and hear Torah from the Tzaddik.

What is clear is that although the righteous are in a constant state of elevation in experiencing the revelations of the higher realms, the revelations are only equal with the efforts the soul exerted in this world. An analogy may be drawn from a market place. When the market is open, one may buy and sell and do business. However, once the market has shut, one leaves with the set profit made and no more. This world is like a market place where one can make long term investments, but once the soul departs from this world, it is rewarded on parallel with its deeds and nothing more.

The Midrash states that the soul has five names: Nefesh (soul of vitality), Ruach (spirit), Neshamah (breath of life), Chaya (living one), and Yechidah (singular one). Kabbalah explains that these five names of the soul correspond to the level of soul in each of the worlds. Nefesh corresponds to the soul in the realm of Assiyah, Ruach in Yetzirah, Neshamah in Beriah, and Chaya in Atzilut, while Yechidah represents the quintessential point of the soul (Etzem HaNeshamah) which is rooted in the Or Ein Sof. Hassidism teaches that the Nefesh resides in the blood, Ruach in the heart, Neshamah in the brain. Chayah and Yechidah are transcendent of the body, not enclothing themselves in any particular limb. The Kabbalists explain that through successive incarnations, all levels of the soul are elevated.

Five Levels of Souls and Worlds

The souls that have achieved their place in the Garden of Eden will stay in their heavenly abode until the time of the Resurrection of the Dead. At that time all souls will descend once again into this world to be enclothed in their resurrected bodies. It is possible that a soul may be reincarnated, and this will be discussed in the following chapter. It needs to be noted here, however, that if a soul was reincarnated a number of times, each body which carried a different part of the soul will be Resurrected. See my book To Live and Live Again.

Let us now examine the possible interpretations for the term “World to Come.” It is interesting to note that there is a discussion about what exactly the Talmud means when it makes a reference to the World to Come. Maimonides states that it is a reference to the World of Souls that the soul enters after death to receive its earned reward, while Nachmanides and the Kabbalists state that the reference is to the time of Resurrection. All opinions agree to the concepts of both the World of Souls and the Resurrection as two separate existences.

The real question is: Which is the greater reward?

According to Rambam, the greatest reward is that of the World of Souls, and he maintains that even after the Resurrection, there will be death and the souls will travel to the World to Come. The Kabbalists disagree and maintain that the ultimate reward is in the time of Resurrection. This requires explanation, for surely the soul is capable of experiencing more when it is free of a body than when it is enclothed in a physical existence.

The explanation is as follows: What the soul experiences in the heavenly abode is a revelation of G-dliness as it is manifest in the higher realms. However, such revelation is limited to the spiritual levels of those worlds. It is specifically here in this world, in which the world itself is not receptive to the manifestations of the higher worlds that it is receptive to the revelation of Atzmut. Only Atzmut that can transcend all limitations of material and spiritual and be revealed even within the physical world. Such will be the experience of the time of the Resurrection, and it therefore warrants that souls who have been in the Garden of Eden for thousands of years, even those The Soul and the Afterlife who have had amazing elevations in those worlds, will descend at the time of Resurrection, for it is specifically here that they will experience the greatest level—that of a true Dirah BeTachtonim.

Thus, the creation of a Dirah BeTachtonim is a developmental process. Historically there have been various stages in the revelation of G-dliness within this world. During the times of the Tabernacle and Temple, G-dliness was revealed, and during the times of Destruction (Churban), G-dliness was concealed. As time progresses, we move towards the Messianic Era in which there will be a full revelation of G-dliness within the world, and the ultimate purpose of creation will be revealed in that time. After the coming of Mashiach there will be the Resurrection in which all the souls in the heavenly realms, including the souls of the righteous, will return to their bodily state.

Rabbi Nissan D. Dubov is director of Chabad Lubavitch in Wimbledon, UK.
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Discussion (4)
August 24, 2013
To: Rabbi Dubava,
Question: If indeed there are "two distinct" souls, what becomes of the Nefesh Habehamit?..why is it not subject to the same processies as Nefesh Elokit?. What becomes of it?.. or are they two but one and the same?. please give further explanation. Shalom
Ronnie Pittman
Paterson NJ
January 9, 2013
Shalom and thank you
Thank you very much to be among us in this world, your light is seen although not understood fully. May Hashemm bring the houses of Israel back to him through you.
Keep up the good work Chabad, you are apart of the Atzmut that the Talmud alludes to.

Shalom
Daniel Moshe Johnson
Toronto, Ontario
June 19, 2012
Remembering Reincarnation
Shalom Harav,

I have a question concerning the souls travel after life. If the neshama (soul) is able to be reincarnated into different bodies, does neshama remember which bodies it has dwelled in? If so, where?
Emunah
Dallas, TX
January 13, 2009
Thanksgiving
Shalom,

I am very happy and so humbled to come into contact with the Kabbalistic teachings, the high level of spiritual and rational knowledge...

I will do my best to enter the higher dimensions of such inspiration. Thanks.
Shem'U'El
Oudtshoorn, WC
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