Dear Rabbi Fried,
According to the Book of Genesis, God gave man a soul. “And the LORD God formed man [of] the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” (Genesis 2:7). My wife and I have been trying to define the term “soul.” She says that a person can have a soul and not be religious. I say that a soul is connected to God and the person must be religious. Please help us out.
Sorry, your wife wins this one! Every human being was endowed with a soul; it is the very fiber of his or her existence as a human being. The soul is what separates between mankind and the animal kingdom. The definition of death is the soul leaving the body; the soul gives the body its life in every human being, religious or not.
What you are correct about is that not everyone is “in touch” with their souls. We often find people whom are so caught up in the trappings of the physical world and have become so secular that they have no connection to their souls. That doesn’t mean the soul is not in such a person; there are just many layers of “stuff” between the soul and that person’s consciousness. We could say there’s a short-circuit between the soul and the heart.
At times, not commonly, it is possible for a person to perform sins which are so severe that the Torah pronounces, as the outcome of such acts, that the person receives kareiss or a cutting off of their soul. Yet it is still possible for that person to perform tshuvah, repentance, and even such a misdeed will be forgiven and the soul reconnected.
You might ask: If the soul was, for a time, “severed” or cut off, how is it possible to return?
The answer is based on a profound Kabbalistic understanding of the soul and its connection to our bodies. The Kabbalah calls our bodies a “shoe” (na’al). Consider a shoe; the body is in it and supported by it. The only part of the body in it, however, is the lowest part, the heel. The heel in the shoe represents a body towering far beyond the shoe and the heel within it. The same applies to our bodies and our souls. The soul also has a lower part, and many higher and more elevated components until the Jewish soul reaches, at its zenith, the very Divine Throne of G-d itself. The soul transcends all the upper, spiritual worlds to reach its apex.
Our souls were given to us pure and pristine. Every morning upon rising from sleep we recite the blessing “G-d, the neshamah (soul) which you endowed within me is pure….” We can soil our souls through our sins and misdeeds, at times heaping piles of grime and filth upon them. Even so, we only are dirtying the part of the soul within the “shoe,” the lowest part connected to our bodies. The higher parts of our souls remain pristine and pure. This gives us what to aspire to, to rise to and to return to. It continues to grant us life even when the part of our soul that we recognize seems to be extinguished.
The study of Torah and the observance of mitzvot connect us to our souls. The number of mitzvot, 613, comprises 365 negative and 248 positive commandments, each one corresponding to a different part of our body. Our souls are also made to correspond and bring life to those same body parts. The part of the soul which matches a body part is brought in sync with its match when that part of the body is sanctified by performing its life-giving mitzvah. May we merit to be connected with our souls!
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.Tweet