Monthly Archives: June 2009

Chabad Theology – The nature of the Soul

The following is from the book "Kabbalah and Meditations for the Nations" by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh

The nature of the soul

In order to understand why God gave these seven specific commandments – the Laws of Bnei Noach – to all humanity, we must first briefly explain how the human soul functions.

The human soul has both a Divine and a physical, or animal aspect. In Hebrew these are referred to as the Divine soul (nefesh Elokit) and the animal soul (nefesh behamit) as defined in the Tanya, by the Chassidic Master, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi. All human beings posses a Divine spark. The difference between one human and another lies in the extent to which the spark has entered and plays an active role in his or her psyche. (We use the term “physche” to refer to both the conscious and unconscious planes of the soul).

When the spark fully enters the psyche it is known as a Divine soul. And so we speak of Jews as possessing a Divine soul. With regard to a non-Jew, the Divine spark hovers above the psyche (not entering it even on the unconscious plane). A righteous gentile (that is, a non-Jew who fulfils the seven laws of Bnei Noach) is one who senses the presence of the Divine spark and is inspired by it to walk along the path of God fitting for all people as outlined in the Torah. On the other hand, a non-Jew who has not yet become a righteous gentile is unaware of the Divine spark hovering above.

To use the language of Chassidut, the Divine spark (or soul) of a Jew is considered an inner light (or pnimi), meaning that it is directly experienced and makes for part of his or her psychological makeup. The righteous gentile’s non Jew’s spark of Divinity is described as a “closely surrounding light” (or makif karov), meaning that it is psychologically experienced only indirectly. The Divine spark of a non-Jews who are not considered righteous gentiles is akin to a “distantly surrounding light” (or makif rachok), meaning that it plays no conscious role in that person’s experience as a human being.

Even in this third case, due to the refinement of character that results from life’s trials and tribulations, and due to the Divinely ordained meetings between non-Jews and Jews which introduce the beauty of the Torah to the non-Jew, the “distant” spark may grow “closer” and the “close” spark may even desire to convert to Judaism. It is because of this latent potential innate in every non-Jew that we speak of all non-Jews as possessing a Divine spark. Indeed all of God’s creations are continuously brought into being by means of a Divine spark, but, only a human being, even if born a non-Jew, is able to convert in his present lifetime and become a Jew.

(Kabbalah and Meditations of the Nations, Chapter 3 “The Mystical Symbolism of the Seven Laws of Bnei Noach, pg 55-56)

Haskama for Steinsaltz Edition of Talmud by Rav Moshe Feinstein

Hat tip to Ishim Vshitot

Oath to Sin (Part 1)

There was a recent post on the Hirhurim blog entitled “Swearing in Court ” that got me contemplating some contemporary usage of "oaths" in our religion. Off the cuff here are a couple of interesting items that I have come up with:

•    The famous “Three Oaths” are a major corner stone of the theological debate between those who support and those who oppose the establishment of the medina. (See the discussion in Rav Shlomo Aviner's "Do not ascend like a wall ")

•    Using oaths as a mechanism of creating “mitzvahs” to solve issues of egalitarianism. [See the post “Voluntary Obligations ” where Prof Joel Roth proposes that oaths can be used by woman to give them the same halachic obligations and rights as men]

However it got me thinking, can Oaths be used to create obligations to sin? As a case in point, what of the episode of Jepthah and his daughter?

29 Then the spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed over Gilead and Manasseh, and passed over Mizpeh of Gilead, and from Mizpeh of Gilead he passed over unto the children of Ammon. 30 And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said: 'If Thou wilt indeed deliver the children of Ammon into my hand, 31 then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, it shall be the LORD'S, and I will offer it up for a burnt-offering.' 32 So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD delivered them into his hand. 33 And he smote them from Aroer until thou come to Minnith, even twenty cities, and unto Abel-cheramim, with a very great slaughter. So the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel. 34 And Jephthah came to Mizpah unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances; and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said: 'Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art become my troubler; for I have opened my mouth unto the LORD, and I cannot go back.' 36 And she said unto him: 'My father, thou hast opened thy mouth unto the LORD; do unto me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the LORD hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon.' 37 And she said unto her father: 'Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may depart and go down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my companions.' 38 And he said: 'Go.' And he sent her away for two months; and she departed, she and her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains. 39 And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed; and she had not known man. And it was a custom in Israel, 40 that the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.

(Judges Chapter 11, verses 29 – 40)

Another example, is this din in the Mishna Torah (Hilchot Shavuot 5:17). "If a man swore to harm himself, eg he swore to wound himself, even though it is not permissible to wound oneself, if he did not harm himself, he is guilty because of Shavuat Bituy". 

The above scenarios seem to create a "Catch 22". On the one hand you made an oath to do x, but on the other hand that x is a sin. Quite clearly killing your daughter or harming yourself is sin. So how can it take effect? Also how would a person get out of it? Imagine going to the beis din and saying "Rabbis I made an oath to kill my daughter, but had I known its a sin I wouldn't have done it" – Muttar lach, muttar lach, muttar lach, they all respond. It just seems quite ridiculous. Any thoughts from some of the more learned readers?

To be continued….


Tikkun: Peace among mankind

Orthodox Jews & African American’s Picnic Together At Crown Heights Unity Fair

1st Precinct Community Council hosted its 15th annual Family Day Picnic Sunday at Lefferts Park, bringing together all the residents of Crown Heights to a fun and family-oriented event.

The event started with a parade along Empire Boulevard, culminating in a picnic in Lefferts Park in Crown Heights.

Entertainment included diverse acts from local elementary public schools, Jewish Hasidic rappers, and a puppeteer telling a story about “How the Elephant Got Its Trunk.”

The children also enjoyed arts and crafts, face painting, moon bounces, horseback rides for children and a Kosher BBQ.

See here for the article and pictures

Musical Interlude: The Crystal Method feat Matisyahu – Drown In The Now

New release by Matisyahu – interesting film clip. Enjoy!

Tikkun: Ordination renewed at Hildesheimer Yeshiva

( For the first time in over 70 years, two rabbinical students were ordained at a German seminary that was closed by the Nazis in 1938. Zsolt Balla and Avraham Radbil received their ordination at the Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary in Berlin on Tuesday.

 See here for the full story