The human soul is divided into three, main sections, called the nefesh (animal soul), the ruach (literally, spirit) and the neshama, or Divine soul.
These spiritual sections of a person are mainly expressed via our:
- Emotions – when we’re dealing with the nefesh
- Intellect – when we’re dealing with the level of soul called ruach, and which manifests in spiritual striving, and a wish to attach ourselves to spiritual matters
- The urge to disconnect from this world, and from gashmius (materialism) – which comes from the
Each one of these three spiritual sections of nefesh, ruach and neshama contain both good and bad, and we need to try to strengthen the good aspects, and get rid of the bad aspects. That means carefully observing to see what is really good, and what is really bad within us.
Raising love back to its root
Let’s start with the nefesh, which is the world of emotions. Everyone one us contains many different emotions and feelings, but the Torah tells us that there are two main emotions, from which all other emotions spring, and these are ‘kindness and strictness’, or ‘love and fear’.
Love is connected to the aspects of kindness, connecting to others, and giving, while fear is connected to feeling scared, and the aspect of strictness and harsh judgment that exist in the human heart.
The force of love that exists in the human heart is a positive and holy force for the good – but it also has to channeled to the side of holiness. There are three ‘holy’ loves:
- The love of Hashem
- The love of the Torah
- The love of the Jewish people, aka ahavat Yisrael.
And of course, there are also what’s called ‘fallen loves’, which are in opposition to these, and that’s the ‘loves’ or desire for this world. People ‘love’ a lot of things that can harm them or destroy them. We have to do the work of birur, to clarify that the things that come from the side of ‘holy love’ should be strengthened, while those that come from loving this world have to be rebuffed.
The more a person can push away his ‘love’ for the things of this world, the more he’ll merit to reveal the ‘holy love’ that exists inside of him.
And when we merit to do this, we’ll start to feel that this ‘holy love’ is infinitely stronger and deeper than the love we have for this lowly world. The problem is, that the yetzer hara (evil inclination) is always trying to entice us with the enjoyable experiences to be had in this world, in order to place more and more veils over our hearts, and prevent us from feeling true ‘holy love’.
There is also a ‘lust’ from the side of holiness
The nefesh also contain attributes, or middot, that are closer to the ‘not good’ side, but even these middot contain some good, like for example, anger and harsh judgment. In nearly all instances, these are character traits that need to be rebuffed, overcome and improved.
The very small amount of ‘good’ that they contain can only be used when we harshly judge, or get angry with, someone who is mocking the Torah, or the path of emuna (faith).
It’s brought down in the books of Chassidut that:
There is a connection between a person’s feelings, and a person’s lusts and desires. Whenever a person falls into negative feelings, this wakes up inside of him a very strong lust for the vanities of this lowly world.
And the opposite is also true. When a person merits to rectify his inner world of feelings, his rectified feelings then cause his desire for material things, and his lusts, to weaken.
For example: The lust to eat is connected to the attribute of love. When a person feels a lack of love in his life, that awakens a lust for food. The person is satisfying his ‘lack’ of love by overeating. How can he fix this problem? By strengthening the side of ‘holy love’.
Another example: Our holy books speak a great deal about how must destruction and devastation the trait of arrogance and pride can cause. In fact, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov teaches that the main spiritual rectification of a person depends on distancing ourselves from arrogance and pride as much as possible.
Chazal say: There is a very profound connection between arrogance / pride, and the lust for illicit intimate relations.
When a person is arrogant, when he’s proud, he awakens the lust for intimate relations – and again, the opposite is also true. When a person works on rectifying his arrogance, and he merits to attain some humility and lowliness, he effectively also rectifies his lust for illicit relations.
Ruach, the world of the intellect
The ruach (lit. ‘spirit’) is the second level of a person’s soul, and is connected to the world of the intellect. Just like the nefesh level, this level also contains good and bad. The good is represented by the Torah. A person needs to understand that there is only one correct way of delving deeper into the spiritual realm, and that is by way of the Torah. All other spiritual approaches are deceitful, and based on untruths.
It’s known that there is only one truth, while there is any number of lies. Today, there are so many different religions and spiritual philosophies – but everything except the Torah is based on lies and fantasy.
So, we can rectify the ruach soul level by learning the Torah, and especially, by learning the Torah of the tzaddikim. A person should become accustomed to constantly searching after, and checking what’s really true; and learning what the Torah’s take on things, and what the tzaddikim say about it all.
The Torah, and especially the kabbalistic works and the books on Chassidut, can also teach us about the different ways that Hashem governs the world, and explain why the world looks and operates the way it does. Our ability to think things through and to understand stem from the
What is the main purpose of prayer?
The third section of the soul is called the neshama, or Divine soul. This neshama contains the strength and will we need to be able to disconnect from this world, and all the gashmius and materialism, and to instead connect to those things that can’t be grasped by way of the physical senses, like spirituality and other ephemeral concepts.
Again, even this section contains a mixture of good and bad. The ‘bad’ is less common in Western societies today, but can still be found mostly in the East, in places like India. There are practices that a person can undertake to help him ‘disconnect’ from his body, and to be more connected to spirituality – but the focus is not to connect more to Hashem. This ‘bad’ spirituality doesn’t encourage a person to take upon himself the yoke of mitzvah observance, or to try to rectify his deeds.
Rather, all the focus is just put on experiencing ‘enlightenment’, and then afterwards returning back to his regular way of life.
At the same time, there is also a type of spiritual ‘enlightenment’ that comes from the holy side, and every time we pray, we are doing this by way of our tefillot (prayers). Every time we pray, we are disconnecting ourselves from this world, and joining ourselves to Hashem. The whole point of praying is to accept upon ourselves the yoke of Heaven, i.e. to accept Hashem’s sovereignty over the whole world. And, to receive the strength that will enable us to do more mitzvahs, more good deeds, and to learn more Torah.
It’s by way of their prayers that our Tzaddikim merit to get to such lofty spiritual heights, and to come up with the awesome insights that help them to serve Hashem in a loftier way.
The descent of the generations
Every generation is working on clarifying a different spiritual aspect.
From the time the world was first created up until the building of the Second Temple, the focus of the birur, or clarification process, was taking place at the neshama soul level. That’s why there was the spiritual avodah, or work, related to prophetic visions and ruach hakodesh (the Divine spirit).
The second period of time spanned from the building of the Second Temple until a couple of hundred years ago, when the focus of the birur was at the ruach soul level. The clarification process was happening at the intellectual level, and required very deep exploration of the Oral Torah. The Gemara, Mishna, and books on halacha that we have today all stem from this period.
The third period began in the days of the Baal Shem Tov, when the Torah of Chassidut was first revealed, and continues right up until our time. Today, the focus of the birur is occurring at the nefesh level. As the chassidim say:
God wants the heart.
And right now, we’ve descended to the very bottom of the world of the nefesh, which is where the world of lusts is located. So, we see that in our generation, we generally don’t have intellectual difficulties with the concept of emuna, faith, rather, our test is that we only want to be comfortable and to feel good. We want to have enough money, we want tasty food – and all this is because the birur is taking place within the world of feelings.
The new reality
The world of feelings is creating a completely new reality. It’s not at all simple to ‘clarify’ feelings. Our feelings are intense; our feelings are turbulent. When a person’s feelings haven’t been rectified, he feels unstable.
In the morning, he wakes up feeling like he wants to fix the whole world, and to help everyone, and then by the evening, he’s angry at everyone, and judging them harshly. Today, almost everyone is suffering from some sort of depression, or fear, or anxiety, or sadness – and all the rest.
We have to know that this has been purposefully been designed by Hashem, in order to focus us on clarifying the world of feelings, and separating the good from the bad. God is doing this by arousing in each person a lot of emotional turbulence and difficulties. Our work is to fix the world of feelings.
If a person doesn’t have the correct advice about how to rectify his feelings, he can be so easily swept away by his huge emotional difficulties, and then he’ll start trying to find all sorts of pills to help him to relax, just in order to be able to cope with his emotional reality.
We have to know that there is advice out there that can help us, and a correct path to follow that will enable us to rectify the world of feelings.
The first thing to understand is that our feelings can’t control themselves.
A person who finds himself lost in the world of feelings can’t manage himself. So, the first piece of absolutely fundamental advice is that we need to connect ourselves to the tzaddikim. This binding to the tzaddikim, and then also learning the Tzaddikim’s torah, and following their advice, is what gives a person the ability to really navigate through and properly manage all his emotional difficulties.
The Tzaddik has already managed to clarify the true intellectual approach to the problem, from the holy side. That’s why a person has to effectively ‘throw away his own brains’, and his own ideas, and let the Tzaddik’s intellect guide him, because his own intellect isn’t strong enough to clarify the good from the bad, in the world of feelings.