The mystics tell us that our Divine soul is comprised of different levels, or layers. Indeed, only part of the soul descends from on High to operate consciously within the body. The other part—the subconscious dimension of the soul—remains transcendent.

Although the subconscious soul is found within the body as well, it remains “beyond” the person. Its effect on man cannot be sensed consciously, unlike the soul’s intellect, for example, which clearly operates within the person. The subconscious soul does not generally influence the day-to-day actions of the conscious soul or its perception of reality.

The subconscious soul’s perception and awareness of the Divine is heavenly. Its reality is Divinity; everything else is theoretical. Divinity is something it has seen, not something it has heard about and come to understand.

Divinity is something the soul has seen, not something it has heard aboutThe reality of the conscious soul is the exact opposite: the earthly perception is reality and Divinity is theoretical.

(The conscious soul, through the study of and meditation upon Divinity, can develop a Divine consciousness and love. But this is a tenuous awareness—it is a contingent love that is only as strong as its source, which is intellectual understanding. It is a “created love”—as opposed to the innate, organic love and connection of the subconscious soul.)

But the subconscious soul does speak to the person and inform his being in some ways. The fact that a person knows the existence of G‑d with an innate awareness (not an intellectual one) is because the mazal1“sees” G‑d. Additionally, the mazal influences the person in many other ways, but always subconsciously.

The colleagues of the prophet Daniel shuddered when Daniel had experienced a vision. “Though they did not see the vision,” says the Talmud2, “their mazal saw it” and caused them to shudder. When flashes of unwarranted inspiration and creativity enter a person he is receiving a communiqué from the mazal3.

The Essence

The mazal is the inferior of two dimensions within the soul’s subconscious. It transcends, yet remains “close.” Although its place is “outside” the conscious person, it still relates to him and informs him, if only subconsciously4.

The superior dimension is the soul’s essence.

There are certain situations that particularly elicit the presence of the soul’s essence.

The soul’s essence, along with its innate oneness with G‑d, does not go awayWhen an ignorant and degenerate Jew is told to bow to a graven image or die—and he chooses death—his act is not inspired by his conscious soul. His conscious soul—his intellect and emotions—are so far from any spiritual sensibility that one would think of him as completely cut off from his source.

His selfless act is dictated by a different voice, the voice of the soul’s essence.

Like a parent’s love for a child, the soul’s essence loves G‑d and cannot be separated from Him. Yet, just as the love of a parent can remain dormant and fail to entirely pervade the parent-child relationship, the spirit of the soul’s essence can remain dormant and fail to pervade the full, conscious person.

So a person’s behavior and conscious being may not conform to the vision and desire of the soul’s essence. But the soul’s essence, along with its innate oneness with G‑d, does not go away. And it will emerge when the soul’s bond with G‑d is threatened. Like an olive, whose oil is expressed when crushed, the soul’s essence is expressed in times of crushing persecution.

But its emergence does not necessarily change the conscious person. Our degenerate Jew remains a degenerate. He has not suddenly become a saint. He still thinks and acts in all matters—aside from his martyrdom—as he always has. This is because the essence operates upon the person, superimposing its will and perception upon the conscious soul. The essence is a transcendent being and its effect is consequently transcendent.

Crying Child

There is another way in which the soul’s essence comes to the fore, through a different type of crushing, one that can occur even in times of prosperity and freedom.

The child came home in tears and asked, “Why does G‑d not reveal himself to me?”The story is told about Rabbi Shalom Dovber, fifth Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe. The day his teacher taught him the verse about G‑d revealing himself to Abraham5, young Shalom DovBer came home in tears: “Why does G‑d not reveal himself to me?”

This future spiritual Master was expressing more than childish naiveté. He was expressing the natural frustration of the soul in the face of Divine concealment.

Even for a Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, whose stature rendered him immune to the spiritual devastation and Divine concealment ushered in by the Temple’s destruction, the pain of Exile is acute6.

As long as even a remote corner of reality is bereft of Divine revelation, it is obvious that the Divine Essence is not revealed; for when the Essence is revealed there is no concealment anywhere

And so the revelation sensed by even a Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai is lacking—and this crushes him, it shatters him to the core. He is broken by the absence of revelation of Divine Essence.

When the spiritual giant Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi turns to G‑d and exclaims: “I don’t want Your Gan Eden! I don’t want Your World to Come! I want nothing but You Yourself!7”—he is expressing the innate desire of the soul’s essence for Divine revelation. And revelation of the Essence. The soul’s essence is not appeased by Divine ambiance.

This may seem a sentiment reserved for the holy mystics, out of reach for the common man. But the fact that we were told these stories implies that the yearning they convey is attainable; for even the common person possesses the soul’s essence—and it is the soul’s essence that cries over the Divine Exile.

Confined By Transcendence

These two expressions of the soul’s essence are in fact expressions of two different dimensions of essence.

What is a person? Is he mind, heart—perhaps deed? A person is defined by their essenceThe soul’s essence, generally speaking, is that aspect of the soul that transcends the soul’s particular facets. What is a person? Is he mind, heart—perhaps deed? None of the above. A person can be defined only by his essence, the soul’s abstract core—indivisible, beyond definition and characterization.

Yet ironically, this itself is a characterization and therefore a limitation—the essence is confined to transcendence and abstractness.

The true essence of the soul is the fact that it derives from the Divine Essence. And just as the Divine Essence is not limited in any way, the soul’s true essence is likewise not limited—not even by transcendence. It is this level of the soul that can speak to and influence the conscious faculties.

When the Jew in Shushan, Cordova, or Moscow put G‑d before his own life, he was experiencing the manifestation of the soul’s transcendent essence. Hence the transcendent nature of the manifestation: the Jew is not affected internally. The essence influences his actions, but it is as if an alien power has entered him. He himself—the way he thinks consciously, and even the way he behaves in all matters not related to the threat upon his very Jewishness—remains as before the revelation of the essence.

And so you have the phenomenon of the Jew who was willing to give his life for Torah in communist Russia, who then moves to the United States and his former self-sacrifice is no longer (so) apparent.

For the soul’s transcendent essence, by its very nature, is incapable of immanence and internalization. And it is the transcendent essence that is awakened by persecution.

It is only the true essence that is truly infinite and has the capacity to “transcend transcendence” and find expression in immanence and consciousness.

The emergence of soul caused by the second type of crushing—not by physical or religious persecution, but the spiritual brokenness in the face of Divine concealment—is the emergence of the true essence. For spiritual brokenness occurs only when the conscious soul is imbued with the nature of the soul’s essence. The conscious person is thinking and feeling like the soul’s essence would. And only the true essence is capable of imbuing the conscious soul in such a way.

Shepherd of Faith

Moses does not need to create anything new; he must merely reveal and actualize that which is already thereIn addition to the conditions of “crushing” that elicit the soul’s essence, in every generation there is a Moses, a spiritual shepherd, whose task is to reveal the essence of the souls of his flock. Moses does not need to create anything new within his people; he must merely reveal and actualize that which is already latent within them and cause it to influence their behavior.

Once the people receive this revelation through Moses, they must, with their own efforts, align the vision of the soul’s essence with their conscious selves.

And it is this task that brings out the soul’s true essence, which has the ability to transcend transcendence and become internalized.

The conscious soul then becomes a constant flame, a ner tamid, impervious to the ups and downs of “day” and “night.” We thereby merit the time when Divinity will be obvious even from the earthly, conscious perspective, when “the knowledge of G‑d will fill the earth like water covers the sea...8

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