When we hear Kabbalists speaking on the Levels of Soul it’s easy to get confused.
- A- we’re hitting a language barrier with terms that don’t easily translate into English
- B- most of us aren’t familiar enough with the Bible to recognize when these levels of Soul are being discussed
- C- Kabbalah is a blanket term that covers a myriad of traditions, ideas, and practices.
To simplify the matter we will be reviewing the Levels of Soul as seen through the Hasidic Master Reb Zalman- Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi. (I’ll do a more in-depth YouTube video that broadens our understanding soon. For now, I am going to stand in my own spiritual foundation and offer insight from a purely Abrahamic perspective.) He was a teacher I feel we can trust completely. His work in Gate To The Heart is almost unrivaled in its simplicity and brilliance.
When one thinks of the Levels of Soul it should be understood that these aren’t separate parts but rather one unified being. To deepen our understanding of Soul is to travel deeper into the mystery of Self in relation to God. We’re speaking of moving towards a realized state of unitive consciousness. Our spiritual practice should always be centered on drawing nearer to the source of all being.
As always, this isn’t meant to be something we leave inside of ourselves. The world we live in is just as much a part of us as our thought lives are of it. They are all interconnected parts of the same whole.
BASIC OUTLINE OF THE LEVELS OF SOUL:
- Nefesh- corresponds to the aspect of action/physical movement
- Ru’ahh- corresponds to the aspect of feeling
- Neshamah- corresponds to the aspect of intellect
- Hayyah- corresponds to the life element of all being (it’s an aspect of Godhead beyond our understanding)
- Yehida- expands beyond Hayyah, but isn’t separate from it. (Rabbis speak of an Absolute part of the Absolute even more difficult to frame in words.)
It is my understanding that this is precisely what Yehoshua and Naqdimon(Nicodemus) were discussing. “That which is flesh is Nefesh.” Ru’ahh- Water correlates to Hayyah- because our feeling is tied to our life force. Neshama- Spirit being tied to Yehida in the same sense Hayyah and Ru’ahh work together. I say this because Yehoshua dedicated his life to teaching people how everything is interconnected. That and every teaching on the Levels of Soul goes well beyond our modern concepts of Kabbalah and directly into the realm of Merkhabah. What we call the Prophets ascending to the Throne Room of God and Yehoshua’s Kingdom of God are almost identical. Both are teachings on the realization we are of one breath with God. That’s why Nicodemus was called by the title Naqdimon- breakthrough– rather than an actual name.
Spiritual archetypes, yadda yadda!
NEFESH (נֶ֫פֶשׁ) COMES FROM NAFASH (נָפַשׁ)- “TO REST”
It is a permanent sign of my covenant with the people of Israel. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day he stopped working and was refreshed.-Exodus 31:17
RU’AHH (רוּחַ) MEANS SPIRITED
The lilac says: “I am beautiful; behold me. Come, insects, draw from me pollen for natures work.” That is the animating power of vitality with direction. More than just propagation,it suggests growth and going beyond the boundaries of ‘self.’-Reb Zalman
NESHAMAH (נשמה) IS SPIRIT
The Ari, Rabbi Isaac Luriah, explains how Nefesh, Ruach and Neshamah interact via the analogy of a glassblower (Kaplans Translation):
The process begins with the breath (neshemah) of the glassblower, blowing into a tube to form a vessel. This breath then travels through the tube as a wind (ruach) until it reaches the vessel. The breath finally enters the vessel, forming it according to the desire of the glassblower, and there it comes to rest (nafash).-The Ari
Kind of puts a whole new spin on Genesis 2:7 doesn’t it? “God formed humanity out of the dust of the earth, and He blew into his nostrils a Soul (Neshamah) of life.”
Since both the World Soul- the dust of the earth and the Divine Blower are one and the same we can still see Hayyah and Yehida playing just beyond the threshold of how we understand our existence. Everything is interconnected.
Let’s close with Reb Zalman reflecting on the time honored tradition of Merkhabah:
“Now though we speak of these levels distinctly, they are of course inter-dependent. This is what we mean by the phenomenon of Merkavah, or ‘chariot’ so often spoken of in Kabbalah. Even while I’m in meditation, or contemplating with Neshemah (intellect), I need the assistance of Ru’ahh (feeling) and Nefesh (action) as well as the body. So my Neshemah (intellect) is riding in the ru’ach of an awakened heart, which is riding in the Nefesh of an awakened energy-field, which is riding in the guf of an awakened body. In this kind of chariot, one vehicle is invested in another.”-Reb Zalman (Gate To The Heart)
Thus is the true nature of Merkhabah.