Posted on August 28, 2009 By Rabbi Yaakov Feldman | Series: | Level:


There’s even more to be learned about G-d’s interactions with the world from our bodies and souls as we’ll see, especially when it comes to the ways we (and the Torah itself) depict G-d here.

We’re told that G-d purposely assumed certain qualities for the sake of the entities He was about to create (see Zohar 3, p. 257) before He set out to create them, like compassion, anger, sovereignty, etc. Now, on one level it’s obvious that G-d purposefully assumed qualities in the world. First, because G-d Himself doesn’t exhibit any qualities whatsoever, since in essence He’s pure and unalloyed, unfathomable, and not open to any sort of portrayal. And second, because He never changes in His essence, so He can’t be said to act one way one time and a new way another one [1].

The other thing to keep in mind, though, is that the qualities G-d eventually decided to use in the world still and all lie in His Being from the first in potential (before they were made manifest here), so those traits never had to be created ad hoc i n order to interact with the world. It’s just that there came to be a point when one trait or another was appropriate to what was going on in the world and needed to be “called upon” just then, if you will, when G-d decided to interact.

All this comes into play in the interactions between the body and the soul too, as we’ll soon see, since the Zohar cited above draws an analogy between G-d’s essence as opposed to His assumed traits here and the soul’s essence as opposed to the body’s makeup [2].


For, we’re told that the soul’s functions in the body reflect G-d’s functions in the world. And that’s another of the lessons we’re to derive from our having souls and bodies.

As, even though G-d is fundamentally unfathomable and unchanging, as we indicated above, and thus can’t be called by a name [3], the fact remains that we refer to Him by all sorts of appellations when He interacts under different situations, like The Merciful One, The Zealous One, etc., which seems to be a contradicting. In fact those names also seem to imply a multiplicity of conflicting divine beings, G-d forbid!

And in fact the same could apparently be said of the soul and its functions in the body.


As we alluded to in the last chapter, the body is comprised of many elements that serve specific functions, and yet the soul is a single entity, and it functions in a completely different way. Yet it’s the single, solitary soul that animates each and every function of all body-parts though it’s unlike it. For while the soul listens through the ears, sees through the eyes, etc., it doesn’t see, listen or the like unto itself. It simply … “souls”, if you will. That is, it goes about functioning in its own singular, determined soul-way which is largely unfathomable to us — sometimes making use of the body’s elements and other times not, as it wills. And it’s neither essentially affected by any body-part it makes use of, nor does it limit itself to the body’s functions at all. It simply uses the “tools” it needs to when a particular act is called for and departs from when it no longer needs it, in command and utterly unaffected.

This then is the lesson we’re to derive from the soul’s relationship to the body and G-d’s own relationship to the world. For like the soul, He, too, makes use of various qualities at will when they’re called for, but He’s invariably apart from them and unaffected by them. He, too, is detached from them, and they say nothing about His essential makeup [4].

And so while He’s termed The Merciful One when He manifests mercy, The Zealous One when He manifests zealousness, and the like, He Himself only manifests those traits when He interacts with us and has no need for them otherwise.



[1] That is, He can’t be pure and unalloyed one moment and complex the next, for example.

[2] We’d need to quote this entire section of the Zohar in order to clarify Ramchal’s point.

“It’s important to know that G-d can be termed ‘The Wise One’ par excellence [in one instance], ‘The Understanding One’ par excellence [in another], ‘The Pious One’ par excellence [in another], ‘The Mighty One’ par excellence [in another], ‘The=2 0Counselor’ par excellence [in another], ‘The Righteous One’ par excellence [in another], and ‘The King’ par excellence [in another], ad infinitum …. If that’s so [it’s then asked], that implies that there’s a difference between ‘The Merciful One’ and ‘The Judge’ [since G-d is sometimes called one, and another time He’s called the other; but how could that be, given that He’s essentially pure and unalloyed?]. [The answer lies in the fact that] before He created the world, G-d was called by all these terms in relation to the [equivalent] terms used for the entities destined to be created. For why would He have needed to be called ‘The Merciful One’, ‘The Judge’ [etc.] if the world wouldn’t have been created?”

The Zohar is thus underscoring the fact that all the appellations and characteristics we attribute to G-d are only appropriate to Him once the world was created, when He could exhibit traits like mercy, wisdom, etc. in His interactions with us. The other point also remains that G-d Himself never experiences change, despite the apparent transformation from one trait to another. It then goes on to add this:

“In just such a way G-d created the soul in His own likeness, which is characterized by its actions in each body-part ….20For just as the Master of the Universe interacts with each individual in every generation according to its deeds, so too does the soul [interact with each body-part] according to its deeds. A body-part that fulfills a mitzvah is termed a ‘soul’ for [i.e., to encourage Divine] compassion, loving-kindness, graciousness and mercy. And a body-part that commits a transgression is termed a ‘soul’ for [i.e., to encourage Divine] judgment, wrath and anger. After all, for whom can there be sympathy or antipathy [on the part of the soul] other than for the body [and its associations]? Likewise, for whom could the Master of the Universe have been called ‘The Merciful One’, ‘The Gracious One’ or ‘The Judge’ before He created the world and its entities? Thus all His names are but appellations, and He’s only called by them for the sake of the world’s entities.” We’ll return to this analogy shortly.

The Zohar is clearly alluding to G-d’s use of the sephirot — those extensions of G-d’s being that He functions through in the world that the Kabbalists often discussed. See R’ Friedlander’s note 170 and R’ Goldblatt’s note 2 for references to that.

[3] As Ramchal explains it, “it’s impossible to name something we can’t fathom”, meaning to say that since names serve to readily define, identify and point to the person, place or thing they stand for, G-d really can’t be said to have a name since He can’t be defined, identified or pointed to in His essence. In fact, we’re taught that the various Hebrew terms that are used for Him — including His four-lettered name known as The Tetragrammaton — do not define, identify or point to His being.

Recall what we said early on, though, about differentiating between G-d Himself, and as He’s depicted when He interacts with us. See 1:1’s notes 2-3, 1:3’s note 3, and 1:4:1; especially see note 1 to 1:12 which focuses upon the role of the sephirot specifically indicated in the previous note. See R’ Shriki’s note 54, where he discusses the redundancies in the original text and arrives at a specific understanding of the need for it. We have edited a lot of that redundancy out in our treatment here for stylistic reasons.

[4] This corresponds to the last paragraph quoted from the Zohar in note 2 above (“in just such a way…”).

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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