The Talmud: The Soul of the World ‎

What is God? | Total Comments: 1 | Total Topics: 33

			Although somewhat unknown to outsiders, there are many sections of the Talmud that reveal ‎rather deep insights into some aspect of the social, ethical, or spiritual realm. There are ‎amazing rabbinic stories that just have to mean something incredible, even to the most ‎skeptical. There are phenomenally profound truths about the nature of man and the spiritual ‎battles we all face. There are some pretty deep intellectual arguments that can challenge the ‎mind of the most ingenious of geniuses. And there are also some pretty simple words of ‎wisdom that can brighten anybody’s day. ‎
‎ ‎
One little section that could fit into a few of those possibilities is found the first tractate of ‎the Talmud. It’s called Brachot (blessings), and, not surprisingly, it deals with blessings. But ‎in between all the blessing are some insights about God. One of these is found on page 10a ‎‎(each page in the standard printings has two sides, an ‘a’ side and a ‘b’ side). It deals with an ‎interpretation of a famous phrase from the Psalms, ‘Let my soul bless Hashem’. This phrase ‎comes up five times between Psalms 103 and 104. The question the Talmud addresses is why ‎the phrase is stated these five times. The answer is revolutionary: ‎
‎ ‎
‎‘David said they correspond to the Holy One blessed be He and to the neshama (soul). Just ‎as the Holy One fills the world, so the neshama fills the entire body; just as the Holy One sees ‎and isn’t seen, so the neshama sees and isn’t seen; just as the Holy One feeds the entire ‎world, so the neshama feeds the whole body; just as the Holy One is pure, so the neshama is ‎pure; just as the Holy One dwells in the inner chambers, so the neshama dwells in the inner ‎chambers. Let the one which has these five attributes come and praise the One which has ‎these five attributes’. ‎
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Analysis ‎
‎ ‎
At the very least, it is an interesting comparison. God is compared to the soul. Was something ‎missing from the earlier images that a new one had to be created? There was. As wonderful as ‎all the images may have been, none of them hit home in a way that the average person could ‎really relate to. They either described God in God’s own terms – incredibly great, awesome, ‎powerful, etc., or they described God in human terms – shepherd, man of war, dressed in ‎white, etc. None of them were able to bridge the enormous and ever-growing gap between ‎man and God in a way that allowed God to remain God and man to understand God on ‎human terms. ‎
‎ ‎
The soul was the bridge. The soul was always a bit of a mystery. It still is a bit of a mystery. ‎As mysterious as the rest of life may have been, with inexplicable natural phenomena and ‎heavenly bodies that revealed a divine realm, the biggest mystery lie right smack in the ‎middle of the human being. What really was the soul? Was it the force that kept us alive? ‎Animals this force also, so how could it be so unique? Was it the thing that lived on after ‎death? Was it the intelligence or the emotions? Was it the desire to do good or the source of ‎free will? None of these mysterious faculties could possibly be explained, so they were all ‎relegated to the soul. ‎
‎ ‎
This statement from the Talmud takes these two nebulous things – the neshama and God, ‎each equally evident and perhaps equally vague – and uses them to explain each other. Let’s ‎look at the five grounds of comparison. ‎
‎1.‎	God fills the world – the neshama fills the body ‎
‎1.‎	God sees and is not seen – the neshama sees and is not seen ‎
‎2.‎	God feeds the world – the neshama feeds the body ‎
‎3.‎	God is pure – the neshama is pure ‎
‎4.‎	God dwells in the inner chambers – the neshama dwells in the inner chambers ‎
‎ ‎
God fills the world. This is something that we have seen before, but it is stated here without ‎any allusions or fancy names. God is everywhere. This was a step in the intellectual ‎understanding of the nature of God. God could not be localized, even to some place in the ‎heavens of heavens. God was/is everywhere. God fills the world, all the spaces in between ‎the cracks of the physical. God fills the mind and the imagination. God fills this world and ‎the next. The neshama is not everywhere, but it is does fill the body. It fills the cracks and ‎crevices of the bones, floats in the blood, and drifts in an out with the air. It fills the mind ‎with thoughts and desires; it fills the imagination with images; it takes the person out of the ‎mundane world of food and dirt into the ethereal realms of God and the angels. This ‎statement tells us as much about God as it does the neshama. God, in regards to the world, is ‎like the soul in regards to the body. Both fill their respective containers. ‎
‎ ‎
God sees and is not seen. This intuitively obvious but totally unnatural statement expresses ‎the essence of the difference between God and the creation. God sees all and is seen by none. ‎Even an angel cannot make such a claim. They are not quite unseen, as we have already seen. ‎God can be aware and be fully perceptive of all creation, while even the greatest of the ‎creations cannot ever fully perceive God. Only the neshama shares this remarkable attribute, ‎though in a limited way. It sees – it is the awareness of the person. But nobody, even the ‎person who possesses this soul, can ever see it. We just know that it is there. The neshama is ‎every bit as real as we are. That is obvious to anyone who acknowledges their own ‎conscience, their own self awareness. ‎
‎ ‎
God feeds the world. As we shall see in the coming section, the idea that God sustains the ‎universe was absolutely fundamental by this point in Judaism. The world could not exist ‎without God keeping it going. God provided the energy of existence - both the physical ‎elements and the spiritual sustenance. This translates into a parallel ability in the neshama. ‎What is it that keeps us alive? What keeps the mind churning out thoughts? The body needs ‎food but that food has to be transmuted into something that enables it to give sustenance to ‎the body. The neshama/nefesh combination does the transmuting. It takes whatever it needs ‎from the physical world and alters it to provide live-giving sustenance to the body. ‎
‎ ‎
God is pure. There are no taints in God. There are no flaws, no impure motives, no slip-ups. ‎Despite all the multiple images of God and the unfathomable ways in which God is ‎manifested in our lives, God’s essence is really simple and unchanging. This observation was ‎not the least bit obvious to one who cannot see past the physical workings of the world and ‎the glaring ungodliness of life. The neshama matches this template on a personal level. ‎Despite the complexities of the body and the ups and downs of the emotions, the neshama ‎lurks behind it all pure and simple. It rides out the emotional storms and straightens out the ‎most crooked desires with a simple insight of truth.  It is above all that turmoil. ‎
‎ ‎
God dwells in the inner chambers. This sounds like a restatement of God being unseen. But ‎the ‘inner chambers’ are not just the attribute of being invisible – they are those highest and ‎most secret aspects of existence that God is most revealed in. Only in the inner sanctums of ‎reality is God truly unveiled. These are the lofty realms of the spiritual dimension, those ‎arenas that remain untainted by the restrictions of the physical world. They are hard to find, ‎but they do exist. It is there that one can truly find God. The neshama is no different on its ‎own scale. It also dwells in the highest and most secret regions of the personality. Sometimes ‎it cannot be detected at all amidst the hustle and bustle of the physical needs and the ‎emotional desires. Some people may go their entire lives without ever being fully cognizant of ‎their neshama. This is the greatest tragedy of life’s many tragedies. The neshama is our little ‎piece of God that lies within us. It is our ticket to divinity. ‎
‎ ‎
Perceiving the Image ‎
‎ ‎
‎‘Let the one which has these five attributes come and praise The One which has these five ‎attributes’. How do we perceive God? How do we perceive the neshama? Bounce the one off ‎the other. Sometimes the soul is more evident than God. But surprisingly, sometimes we can ‎perceive God more easily than we can perceive our true self. God is the Neshama of the ‎world. God is its mind and its sustenance. God fills it with being, with simplicity. That the ‎universe has a soul may come as no major surprise to us, even at those times when we cannot ‎perceive our own soul. The world is not us. It does not share our petty problems and concerns. ‎It is not bothered by what we wear or who wins the game. It goes on whether we do or not. ‎It has its own life force that enables it to exist and keeps it going. The Soul of the world can ‎be the image through which a person can become aware of his or her own soul. If the universe ‎has a Soul, maybe I do too. Maybe I can look beyond my immediate problems and my limited ‎vision and poke into those inner chambers and see who I really am. ‎
‎ ‎
It works the other way around just as well. Sometimes we really cannot detect God no matter ‎how hard we try. Life seems unfair or unguided. Everything seems to be running on auto-‎pilot with or without God. It is just too difficult to detect any glimmer of a spiritual presence ‎in the world, so it probably isn’t there to begin with. These are common spiritual hang-ups. ‎They happen to everyone. But there is way around them. It may help to take one’s focus off ‎the impossibly huge universe and just look at one’s own self. There may not seem to be any ‎need for God to manage nature, but there sure is a need for my conscience to run my life. If ‎that runs on auto-pilot, I’m nowhere. The neshama is the conscience. It is the god of the ‎human personality. It fills the body and directs the mind. It sustains the life force within. It ‎lies at the very core of the mind and the emotions yet it dwells above the turmoil and the ‎storms. It is so obvious that it is there that it needs no proof. It may help reveal that God does ‎the same for the rest of the world. ‎
‎ ‎
The one should praise the Other. We all possess a neshama. If we want to become aware of ‎God we need look no further than our own souls. The attributes of the soul are the attributes ‎of God. One reveals the other. God is the Neshama. God is the Neshama of the world. God is ‎the Conscience of the world. God makes it be and keeps it going. God is its vision even as ‎God remains as invisible as the conscience is to the body. God dwells in its loftiest heights, ‎remaining pure of the world’s evils while filling it with essence. The soul exalts the Soul. The ‎Soul reveals the soul. ‎
‎ ‎
Reflections ‎
‎ ‎
It is interesting that as human progress takes us towards an increasingly godless world, we are ‎simultaneously denying the existing of our own spiritual self – the soul. The two seem to go ‎hand in hand. If we have one, we have the other. If we lack one we lack the other. Are they ‎both real or both illusions? ‎



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Date: 10/30/17 at 00:27:13

							thank you for such a succinct explanation, truly inspiring.