Dear Rabbi Fried,
Here’s a question to follow up on the most recent of your always interesting columns: In Judaism, which do you consider the more accurate or normative belief — that (1) all humans have the same soul, reflecting how we are all created in the divine image and that all of humanity started with one person, or that (2) Jews have a soul that is of a qualitatively higher level than non-Jews ?
Larry L., Ph.D.
Hope things are well in El Paso!
Let’s start by saying that no two human beings, Jewish or not, have the “same soul.” Just as no two people have the same face, features or personality, also no two individuals have the same soul. This does not contradict the fact that all human beings descend from the first man any more than you would expect all human beings to display Adam’s face! The Mishnah asks why G-d created only one man and woman and all of mankind should descend from them; why not just directly create many human beings and populate the world immediately? The answer is to teach the uniqueness of each human being; just as the entire world emanated from one person, every individual is also considered like an entire, unique world. Being created from Adam is not to lose individuality, but rather to acquire it at the highest level.
As we mentioned, the same way that our face, hands and feet are uniquely different than those of any others, so too are our souls. This is because each body and soul is exclusively crafted to be a perfect match. Every soul has a different purpose which it was sent to this world to accomplish. A soul can achieve nothing in the physical world on its own; it must have a corporeal partner so that the two unified partners, body and soul, can carry out their distinct role. If the bodies are different, it must be that the souls are different, both reflecting in a hidden, mystical way their ultimate purpose on the stage of history.
If this is true concerning individuals, it surely follows concerning nations. Each professional football team has something unique about it which sets it apart from the other teams. Every player is part of his team and at the same time an individual. Different nations throughout history have their distinct role, and the citizens of that country are recognizable as such: One can tell a Frenchman from an Englishman by their language, mannerisms and attitudes, and often by their philosophies of life. This was true of Rome, Greece and others. The individuals of these nations would function both as part of their respective nations and as unique persons. Their souls were endowed to them in line with their individual purposes and the purpose of their nations.
This is certainly true concerning the Jewish people. We were charged to serve as a “light among the nations” illuminating the world to the higher purpose of creation. To do so we had to receive the Torah at Sinai. You need a larger-capacity light bulb to receive and spread all the energy necessary to light up a baseball field than the small bulb used as a night light in the hallway. Similarly, we needed to be endowed with an expanded soul which would be capable of receiving all the vast spiritual energy contained in the Torah as it was transmitted to us at Sinai. Our unique purpose mandated a unique, enlarged soul. This was not just for the generation of Sinai, as our charge to continue carrying the bright torch of Torah continues throughout the generations. This is our essence and our mission!
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.
Dear Rabbi Fried,