Rabbi Yakov Haber
Rabbi Yakov Haber

The Split Personality of Man

"וייצר ד' אלקים את האדם עפר מן האדמה ויפח באפיו נשמת חיים ויהי האדם לנפש חיה" - "And Hashem Elokim formed man [out of] dirt from the earth, and He breathed into his nostrils a soul of life, and man became a living soul" (Bereishis 2:7). Rishonim debate the exact nature of the soul and the interrelationship of its diverse aspects. This verse, as noted by Ramban, at first glance seems to indicate that the human soul comprises a single entity endowing life, growth, movement, intellect and speech. Before the "breathing in" of the soul, man was a lifeless body. According to this interpretation, the first word "man" in the above verse refers to the lifeless, if elegant, clod (golem) of dirt forming the body of man. Only after the "breathing in" of the soul did man become simultaneously a living, moving, thinking, and speaking creature.[1]

However, Ramban quotes Onkelos' translation of "ויהי האדם לנפש חיה" as "and it [the soul] became in man a speaking spirit (לרוח ממללא)". This implies that man already was alive before the entry of the soul which added the power of speech. Ramban continues to explain the verse in accordance with this understanding: In contrast with the first approach, the first word "man" refers not to a lifeless form but to Hashem's creating man with a soul akin to an animal's soul endowing life and movement within man, this soul being rooted in earthly material. Only afterward, did Hashem "breath in" a supernal upper-worldly soul. Ramban prefers this view that there are multiple souls within man: an animal-like soul and a uniquely human soul from the supernal spheres. As a result, Adam did not become a living being through the entry of the soul through his nostrils for he already was one but became controlled by this higher-level soul. More clearly, the letter "lamed" of "לנפש חיה" according to the first interpretation connotes "transformation" from dead to alive. According to the second, preferred approach, it means "controlled by". Ramban further verifies this approach quoting additional sources in Chazal corroborating this view of the dual soul.

In the daily prayer service we recite, "אלקי, נשמה שנתת בי טהורה היא" - "My God, the soul You have placed in me is pure". The prayer at first glance seems circular. Declaring before God, "the soul You have placed in me" implies that there is a distinct self-indicated by the word "me" who is making this declaration of the soul having been placed inside him. But the body is not alive without the soul! This implies that man has life even without this higher-level soul. Presumably, this is an allusion to the animal soul.

In trying to understand the widespread view apparent in the words of Chazal that Olam Haba, the world to come, is a world after the messianic era, after the national resurrection , consisting of body and soul, Rishonim question the need for a body in an eternal world of reward where human action is no longer needed. The body, at first glance, being merely a tool in attaining eternity, would seemingly be useless in the world of reward.[2] Rabbeinu Bechaye (Devarim 30:15) answers that since the body earned the reward together with the soul, Divine justice dictates that it too should receive the reword. Initially, this view seems difficult. If the body without the soul is lifeless then what is the meaning of bestowing reward upon it! It is not a sentient being without the soul; only the soul is the living entity in the body. This would be the equivalent of paying the plumber only when he is holding his wrench or the computer programmer only when holding his laptop! It seems clear that R. Bechaye also assumes Ramban's[3] view that there is a lower level animal soul within man which gives basic life. But this is not the soul which endows him with Divine-like qualities and connects him to his Creator; that is accomplished by the higher-level Divine soul. Divine justice dictates that even this lower level human entity animated by the animal soul also share in the reward of the afterlife.

Ramchal in Derech Hashem (1:3:7,12) goes a step further. The higher-level soul was meant to elevate the body to become a holy entity itself. As a result of the sin of Adam and Eve, this ability was limited as a result of the corruption of the body. Only after death and recreation of the body, only after the soul exits the body after death and its enormous spiritual power is rejuvenated and 'recharged' can it re-enter the body and elevate the body as it was originally designed to do. In so doing, the soul acts in a God-like manner bestowing kindness on the needy, less fortunate body. But the body is lifeless by itself; what is the meaning of bestowing chessed on a lifeless entity! Ramchal by the term "body" seems also to be referring to the body-animal soul entity not just the biological body. It is this entity to which the higher soul bestows its kindness and elevates.

This view is assumed as the cornerstone of all kabbalistic discussions of the soul and serves as a major point of the analysis presented by works such as Nefesh Hachaim and Seifer HaTanya in turn quoting from the writings of the Ari z"l rooted in turn on sources in the Zohar HaKadosh.[4] This complexity of the human entity: on the one hand human animal - homo sapiens , but on the other, angelic and majestic being as reflected by his two souls serves as an important driving force in understanding ourselves and what we have the ability to accomplish. Science unfortunately focuses too often on the animalistic side of man comparing him to apes and other animals.[5] A reflection of the true nature of man should allow for a fuller appreciation and, as a result, utilization of true human ability.

Chazal (Chagiga 16a) express this duality succinctly:

There are six characteristics of people (sons of man): three are similar to the ministering angels; three are similar to animals. The three similar to ministering angels are: they have intellect like angels, they walk with an erect posture like angels and speak in the Holy Tongue like angels. The three similar to animals are: they eat and drink like animals, they reproduce like animals and they excrete like animals.

Furthermore, Chazal (Berachos 10a) extol the virtues of the higher-level soul:

The five phrases "let my soul bless [God]" (Tehillim 103-104), about whom did David declare them? About HaKadosh Baruch Hu and the soul. Just as the Holy One blessed be He fills the world, so too the soul fills the body. Just as Hashem sees and is not seen, so too the soul sees and is not seen. Just as HaKadosh Baruch Hu sustains the whole world, so too does the soul sustain the whole body. Just as HaKadosh Baruch Hu is pure, so too is the soul pure. Just as Hashem dwells in inner chambers, so too does the soul dwell in inner chambers. Let the entity which has these five aspects come and praise the One who has those same five aspects!

This clearly is a reference to the upper, uniquely human, even angelic, higher level soul which allows mankind to directly relate, and to some extent, however unbelievable it seems, to emulate his Creator!

Alshich has a remarkable statement on the opening verse of Parashas Kedoshim: "Be holy for I am Holy, I am Hashem, your God" (19:1). The question is obvious: how can man be commanded to be holy since God is Holy. How can one compare the created with his Creator! Answers the Alshich, since God breathed in a God-like soul inside of man, we have the ability to somewhat emulate the holiness of our Creator. This helps explain the equally remarkable conclusion of the Midrash Rabba (24:9) on this verse: "I might think [you must be as holy] as Me, therefore the verse states,'I am Hashem, your God'".

We constantly struggle as to who will be the master, the animal soul or the Godly soul. Originally the dominant force was clear as the above-quoted Ramban teaches, "ויהי האדם לנפש החיה", man was controlled by his Godly soul marshaling the forces of the animal soul and the body to heed his true Master's call. After Adam and Chava sinned, they knew they were unclothed (3:7). Malbim (2:25) explains: "Before the sin, the soul was not connected to the body in a fused connection but in a proximal manner. The body was like a garment which could be removed and worn such that in time of contemplation and prophecy their soul removed itself from their body. Since the body was like a garment there was no need for another one. One already clothed is not 'arum. Only after the sin, when the body fused with the soul, and they became as one, from that time onward was he considered 'arum when walking without a garment." This "fusion" leads to "confusion" and the constant struggle of the two souls within man.

R. Chaim Volozinher in his commentary to Pirkei Avos (1:1), Ruach Chaim, writes that the uppermost parts of a person's Divine soul remains on high; the body is like a "shoe" enclothing the lower parts of it. As a result, he has the ability to affect the upper worlds by his actions "filtering" trough the various levels of his unique soul. Elsewhere, (Nefesh Hachaim 1:4) he writes that even the "simple Jew" has this ability to literally affect the spiritual cosmos! He compares the enormous effects of human actions to a rope being moved on one end affecting the other end however distant it may be, as the verse states "יעקב חבל נחלתו",(Devarim 32:9) which can be translated as "Jacob is the rope of His inherence" (ibid.1:17). This powerful ability is rooted within the mystery of the Divine soul.

May Hashem guide us to return as closely as possible to the original state of man whereby the Godly soul is the dominant force in our lives constantly elevating us in our journey every upward serving and cleaving to our Creator.


[1] This approach is espoused by Rambam in his Shemoneh Perakim.

[2] It is precisely this difficulty which leads Rambam to reject this view of soul-body existence in Olam Haba and adopt the view of existence in Olam Haba as consisting of soul alone after death.

[3] His teacher's (Rashba's) teacher.

[4] This author is certainly no expert is these works or any kabbalisitic ideas but has merited slightly studying them.

[5] I have oftentimes noted that Darwin's second volume on evolution focusing on his theory of the development of man from primates in which he writes that man's intellect is different from that of primates only in degree and not fundamentally (!) is entitled "The Descent of Man". Unfortunately, his viewpoint truly serves as a "descent", from man's true nature of majestic, angelic being to higher level primate!

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