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Levels of Soul Consciousness

by Rabbi Moshe Miller

  

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The divine soul is an indivisible essence inseparably bound to G-d, as the verse states, "For part of G-d is His People"1 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  Elo-him. This tzelem Elo-him 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.
 
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 Elo-him (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, Neshamah, chayah and yechidah. Regarding these levels of soul, the  Zohar states that when a person is born, he is given a nefesh from the world of  Asiyah, 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 Yetzirah. With greater effort, he can earn the revelation of neshamah, paralleling the world of Beriyah. If he purifies himself greatly, he may be able to attain the level of chayah paralleling Atzilut, and even yechidah -- the G-d consciousness of the level of Adam Kadmon and beyond. ("Beyond," because the level of soul called yechidah 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").

The soul enclothed within the body is a reflection of the Divine Form
nefesh

Nefesh, the lowest level of consciousness, is awareness of the physical body and the physical world, the world of Asiyah -- 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.2 This is the nefesh -- the life-force-- that was blown into the body.

Footnotes

  • 1. Deut. 32:9.
  • 2. Bereishit 2:7.

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RELATED CATEGORIES

Torah » Kabbalah » Kabbalistic Concepts

Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Zohar
The most basic work of Jewish mysticism. Authored by Rabbi Shimeon bar Yochai in the 2nd century.
Kabbalah
Jewish mysticism. The word Kaballah means "reception," for we cannot physically perceive the Divine, we merely study the mystical truths which were transmitted to us by G-d Himself through His righteous servants.
Adam
The first man, created by G-d on the sixth day of creation. He was banished from the Garden of Eden after eating from the forbidden fruit of the forbidden knowledge. Died in 2830 BCE.
Neshamah
The soul of a Jew. This soul belongs to anyone who was born to a Jewish mother or converted according to the dictates of Jewish Law. The soul is a spark of G-d Himself.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.