Posted on July 17, 2009 By Rabbi Yaakov Feldman | Series: | Level:


Now let’s return to the soul itself.

If, as we’d said, its whole raison d’être is to purify the body et al, that then says a lot about its own exalted nature. After all, it’s thus capable of doing something almost as phenomenal and thoroughly sacred as creation itself, since it allows for the re-creation and the re-composition of humankind.

So we’re taught in explanation of the soul’s makeup, that its state in this world is very different from its inherent one; it’s rather dim and weak here compared to how it really is. And that’s so for a couple of reasons: first, because if the body encountered the soul in its full capacity here, the body would be purified immediately, since the soul is that sheer and luminescent. But as we’ve said before, that simply can’t be, due to the reality of death.

The second reason why the soul is in a weakened state here is because if it manifested itself fully in this world, then the yetzer harah would be undone and there’d be no free choice either [1].

But as we discovered earlier on, the undoing of our yetzer harah and free will simply cannot be — not yet, at least [2]. That will only come about when no one will ever again “harm or destroy (another) in all My holy mountain” — when “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the L-rd as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9), and when G-d grants us “a new heart … and a new spirit” as He “take(s) away the stony heart of (our) flesh” and grants us “a heart of flesh” and full-spirit in the end (Ezekiel 36:26).

And lastly, the soul would so overpower the body with its presence that the latter would simply be undone if the soul was in full gear here, much the way a baby would be undone if he or she were suddenly exposed to adult realities [3]. So G-d diminished the soul’s presence in this world in order to stave all that off [4]. Understand, of course, that if the soul were always and as inherently limited as it is while in the body, it could never purify the body. So it won’t remain in that state forever by any means.


In fact the soul’s essence is more mighty and towering than we could ever imagine, as it’s rooted in the highest and most recondite sources. Still, though, it resides deep within the body and animates it in its reduced state in a nearly servile, subordinate way. And it must also endure all the vicissitudes of the yetzer harah and its blandishments while in this world [5].

Of course it’s the actual resisting of the yetzer harah and the fulfilling the mitzvot that earns the body and soul their progress and ultimate rewards. But the soul’s=2 0frustrations can’t be denied either. The point is that the soul will indeed regain its original radiance and glory – and more — when it re-enters the body in the course of the resurrection. Because not only will it have been restored to its inherent full state, but it will also have lived out its mission by purifying the body, as we pointed out above, and will be rewarded for having done that [6]. And it will also have been nourished by all the mitzvot it had had the body engage in.

The final thing to reiterate is that the purity which the body will have acquired by its association with the soul doesn’t manifest itself in life, as no one exudes that sort of purity other than some very rare and holy individuals like Moses, Enoch, Elijah and others of that ilk. That purity will be manifest in the World to Come, though, when body and soul will reunite forever [7].


But let’s backtrack. As we said earlier, Ramchal will be explaining a number of things in this second section of the work: man’s makeup, what he’s capable of doing, and the consequences of his actions [8]. Our discussion of the resurrection and of the World to Come in this chapter touches on the consequences of our actions; so we’ll now go on to delve into man’s essential makeup and the gist of his actions [9].

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[1] S ince the existence of the body allows for the existence of a yetzer harah, which then allows for free choice, as the two go hand in hand.

[2] See 1:8:3.

[3] As Bachya Ibn Pakudah wrote in The Duties of the Heart, “It’s actually for a person’s own good that he can’t fathom or distinguish the difference between good and evil when he’s a child. For if he could …, he’d realize how much more self-sufficient adults were than he … and he’d die from worry and despair realizing the contrast between himself and adults” (2:5).

[4] As R’ Shriki points out (note 49) Ramchal likens the soul’s situation in this world to that of the moon’s (as cited in Chullin 60b) which was told to diminish its light in relation to the sun’s own until the time when “the moon will shine like the sun” (Isaiah 30:26) in the World to Come. The metaphor seems to be mixed in fact, since the moon would seem to represent the body which, while less than holy now, will nonetheless be on par with the soul after the resurrection. Apparently the analogy isn’t meant to be taken too literally; the point only seems to be that the soul is diminished now but it will eventually be re-empowered. R’ Friedlander understands the analogy to be that of the Jewish Nation in exile, which will someday regain its stature (note 137), but that doesn’t quite fit the analogy either. But see 1:15:3 where we discussed G-d’s emanations likewise being diminished in this world; as such Ramchal’s point seems to be that nothing is as it should or eventfully will be in this world, but that will all change.

[5] We might liken the situation of the soul here to that of the Messiah’s when he first comes upon this world. For he, too, knows the way things can be (and will be, with his help), but he must nonetheless temper his urge to begin the process instantaneously in order not to shock people or frighten them, and not to foster a quick negative reaction to him which would be rooted in the very human urge to maintain the status quo.

[6] R’ Friedlander makes a fascinating, expansive point in his comments (see Iyyun 20). He speaks of a far wider and more potent reciprocity between body and soul. For in fact, as he puts it, “the process (of interaction) grants the soul the opportunity to grow to endless heights”. After all, “the soul itself is perfected to a greater degree by perfecting the body, which then enables it to perfect the body to a greater degree, which then enables the soul to be even more perfected for having done that …” ad infinitum.

[7] But see our remarks in note 3 to the previous chapter.

Ramchal offers the following synopsis of his main points so far in this section: “The body is (by nature) dark and fault-ridden, but i t can be purified by the soul. The soul (itself) derives from a lofty source, but it suppresses itself when it enters the body so as not to bring on the soul’s purification instantaneously and so as not to change its character (from the first). (Instead,) it does it slowly by affecting it with good deeds. And then it elevates it in accordance with those deeds. The soul itself is then elevated by its good deeds, and grows stronger as a result, which then enables it to further purify the body according to its good deeds, until the two can then stand together in G-d’s presence and appear in His Sanctuary forever.”

[8] See 2:1:2 above.

[9] See R’ Friedlander’s note 144.

See R’ Goldblatt’s notes 2-3 on p. 113 of his edition as well as notes 29-31 on pp.477-478 there for the Kabbalistic underpinnings of both this chapter and the previous one.

Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has translated and commented upon “The Gates of Repentance”, “The Path of the Just”, and “The Duties of the Heart” (Jason Aronson Publishers). His works are available in bookstores and in various locations on the Web.

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