The soul, mind and body in spiritual context

By Rabbi Dan Lewin
Parashat Korach

Last week, I wrote an aphorism based on the Jewish esoteric texts and sent it to a friend, who I thought would appreciate it. He then posted it: The soul, a believer; the mind, a deceiver; the body, a receiver. While there were many viewers who appreciated the mystery within the short phrases, other people asked for elaboration. Incidentally, a large component relates to a central idea in this week’s Torah portion. 

To begin with, each of our core faculties serves a distinct role in our journey toward becoming a whole individual capable of serving G-d. The soul, a divine spark within us, is the storehouse of Emunah — faith. The universal concept of “faith” often refers to a conclusion after analysis or an ambiguous sense within the heart. But according to Jewish mystical teachings, faith is an inherent quality, the soul’s crown jewel that, once awakened, permeates the mind, emotions and actions.

The human intellect is perhaps the greatest gift bestowed upon us among all creations. Its nature is to observe and interpret the world around us while endeavoring to maintain objectivity. (In contrast, emotions are less focused on verifying facts and more concerned with how they impact us.) Why then is the mind called “a deceiver?”

One of the instrumental subjects in the works of Chasidus is elucidating the role of the mind in conjunction with our other spiritual faculties. The advantage of intellect over faith is its tangibility — to integrate a previously powerful yet transcendent or impalpable awareness. However, when the mind operates independently, it tends to steer individuals toward the most advantageous path rather than what is true. 

The ability to be honest and remain objective, free from hidden motives, stems from the influence of a deeper faculty within the soul. Without the essential ingredient of pure faith, which nurtures humility and loyalty, the mind is prone to go askew. In such a case, the cognitive abilities may wind up working for the emotions — driven by factors like fear, social pressure or hatred. This leads individuals to create rational justifications for their hearts’ desires. (In recent times, we’ve witnessed this phenomenon unfold where indoctrination and political agendas exerted such a profound influence that they compromised the integrity of academic research. Even intelligent well-educated people, filled with panic or scared for their jobs, thought they were being objective.)

Korach: the scheming mind

A perfect example is found this week wherein we read about the uprising of Korach and his followers against the Priesthood of Aaron and his sons. Someone closely following the characters and events in the Torah should naturally wonder: What kind of a person was Korach? How could anyone have the audacity to lead a revolt against the divinely appointed guide of the Jewish people, the greatest prophet in history, a person who had demonstrated, time and again, his exceptional abilities and closeness to the Creator. As the Torah relates after the splitting of sea: “And Israel saw the great hand … and the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in Moses, His servant.”

The simple explanation is that Korach was jealous of Moses’s and Aaron’s special status and secretly sought the priesthood for himself: a petty, arrogant, pretentious, know-it-all politician. But the commentaries explain that he was, in fact, an intelligent, sophisticated scholar who possessed great spiritual insight. Spiritual perhaps, but not holy, especially if he couldn’t recognize his place among the greats. 

To be sure, his argument centered around the role of leadership and promoted equality. “The entire congregation is holy,” he argued. “Why therefore do you elevate yourselves?” But his ambitions and ego affected his clarity, even if he convinced himself and others that he was being sincere. 

The tired mind

Other times, the person is honest, yet the intellect (and body) may be so fatigued that it sends all types of negative thoughts of doom; the runaway mind keeps telling us something is wrong, even when it isn’t. Or excess worry takes up so much space that it prevents the person from seeking solutions. Indeed, the mind is the main battlefield of the yetzer harah, the inner opponent, which seeks to bring down a person through mental tricks. So, don’t believe whatever you think!

Does that mean, as some modern gurus preach, that the best approach is just to bypass the mind? “Listen to your soul,” they instruct — as if intuition is always wiser than analysis. That approach is incomplete and often dangerous.

Instead, the goal is to refine the intellect, to train it through regular study of sacred texts to absorb and align itself with godly wisdom. Then the mind can guide the heart accordingly, especially under pressure and during dark moments. In this sense, we use intellect to crystallize and validate the soul’s perceptions and to steer the lower faculties.

The best time for this practice is during morning prayer, wherein our regular contemplations on the words in the siddur infuse the mind with vigor to set the tone for the day. 

The faithful recipient

Finally, the body is a vessel, which receives life from the lowest dimensions of the soul. The brain then sends signals throughout the body. During our journey in this world, the body absorbs all the chaotic emotional waves and pain that the mind creates, needing to carry the burden even when weary and beaten. Each morning, it struggles to reset and restore balance.

Despite being mainly a receiver from the soul and mind, the body has a high mystical source and ancient intelligence that surpasses the intellect. If we give it what it needs, and listen carefully to what it is communicating, this complex and wonderous physical system can relate many secrets to the mind. While the mind will graze in foreign pastures and pluck poisonous thoughts, a healthy body is dependable. And, through good deeds — positive and rigorous activity — this physical receptacle can rescue the ailing mind and lead it to back to safety.

So, although seemingly the lowest on the spectrum, without a strong body to carry out actions (mitzvahs), the soul cannot affect the world, and the mind will inevitably get hurt. Understanding your personal believer, deceiver and receiver is key to spiritual growth and success. 

Rabbi Dan Lewin is director of the nonprofit Maayan Chai Foundation. For information, visit

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