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ONE of the various laws taught in the beginning of this week’s Torah portion is an inheritance law dealing with the division of the property of a man who has more than one wife. It states (Deuteronomy 21:15), “Should a man have two wives – the one, beloved, and the one, hated … and it turns out that the firstborn son belongs to the hated [then the man must not play favorites with the son of the wife whom he loves. Rather, he must leave the true firstborn son his rightful inheritance].”

In Hebrew, this verse is worded as more than a more possibility; the Hebrew phraseology seems to imply that the firstborn son belongs to the hated wife as a matter of course. Why should this be?

As with every aspect of Torah, this can be understood on a variety of levels. One of the deeper of these insights interprets the verse allegorically as a reference to the fundamental teaching that each and every Jewish person has two souls, and provides us with an inspiring message concerning our own worship of G-d.

As Rabbi Chaim Vital of blessed memory teaches in Sha’ar HaKedusha (see also the beginning chapters of Tanya), each Jewish person possesses not one but two souls. This is alluded to by the verse (Isaiah 57:16), “and I [G-d] made souls” – the context of which can imply that the plural (“souls”) is used to refer to a single individual.

One such soul is known as the “animating soul” (nefesh hachiyunis in Hebrew) or the “animal soul” (nefesh habahamis); it is this which gives life to the physical body, and is said to reside within the blood. For all that it is associated with corporeal existence, however, this soul is derived from a particularly lofty spiritual source. In order to descend from this sublime and purely spiritual level to the point at which it actually invests itself in our physical flesh and blood, the animal soul must undergo an innumerable series of steps through which its spirituality is progressively concealed. As a result, it ultimately comes to depend for its continued spiritual life-force on the complex hierarchy of intermediaries by which G-d channels His life-giving spirituality to the creatures of this world, in accordance with the Midrashic teaching (Genesis Rabbah 10:7), “You will not find even a blade of grass below that does not have a spiritual mentor above that smites it and directs it to grow.” Because of the great distance this interposes between the animal soul and G-d, the animal soul as we know it comes to include elements of both good and evil, or at least, vestiges of its spiritual origin (manifest as the capacity to desire things which may be used for holy purposes) and vestiges of the “coverings” and concealing elements which it picked up in the transition to the physical realm (manifest as the capacity to desire things which are not for the purpose of serving G-d, or even things which are (G-d forbid) outright contrary to the will of G-d). Indeed, all a person’s bad character traits originate in the animal soul.

The animal soul possesses intellectual functions as well, because the basic structure of any soul consists of both intellectual and emotional attributes. (The intellectual ability of the animal soul is primarily expressed in finding justification for the appetites and desires of its emotional component.) From its perspective, it is possible for a person to sin (G-d forbid): by the time the G-dly life-force reaches the animal soul in this lowest material existence, it has assumed such a multitude of coverings and disguises (in a manner of speaking) that the animal soul is deceived into thinking that it is an independent being unto itself – i.e., not an entity created by and dependent upon G-d. This allows for the possibility of sin, of disregarding the will of G-d.

This point is hinted at by the verse (Leviticus 5:1), “If a soul should transgress ….” The word “soul” in this verse is most simply understood as “person,” as in the expression, “Don’t tell a soul,” but its literal meaning alludes to the fact that transgression is a function of the animal soul, as explained above.

Now, the second soul of a Jew is called the “G-dly soul” (nefesh haElokis in Hebrew). It is literally, to paraphrase the biblical expression (Job 31:2), a “part of G-d above,” and unlike the animal soul, it comes to a person directly, without any intermediary whatsoever. We may find this too hinted at in a verse (Ecclesiastes 7:29): “G-d has made man straight,” which can be understood in the sense of “directly.” This is also one implication of the liturgical phrase (which we say each morning in the “Elokai Neshama” prayer), “You [G-d] blew it [the (G-dly) soul] into me,” that is, You personally, so to speak, without any intermediaries. Similarly, it is written (Genesis 2:7), “And He [‘personally’] blew the soul of life into [Adam’s] nostrils.” All this is to teach us that just as the very breath of one’s mouth is identified with and inseparable from the person him- or herself, so is the G-dly soul one with and inseparable from G-d at all times – even as it exists within this physical world.

From the G-dly soul’s perspective, sin is impossible: how can it transgress G-d’s will when it is itself one with G-d and always conscious of His constant presence and influence?

The relation of the two souls to one another may perhaps be compared to a person sitting within the control chamber of some powerful machine, like a person operating a crane, for example. The operator in this position, although unable to accomplish the task in question alone, can use the machine to carry out his or her will. From another perspective, though, the machine engulfs the person within and effectively serves as a barrier between the person and the outside. The G-dly soul is a purely spiritual entity and has no means of expressing itself in this material world. Accordingly, it is enclothed within and engulfed by the animal soul, as it were; in this way the G-dly soul has the ability to use the faculties of the animal soul, which relate to the physical body, as the G-dly soul’s means of expression (for example, to physically extend a helping hand or to speak words of Torah). By the same token, however, the G-dly soul is thus surrounded by the animal soul and its perception of G-dliness is blocked. Although the G-dly soul is inherently stronger than the animal soul, and would always come out the victor in a contest of wills, so to speak, between the two, as a practical matter it is this blockage of the G-dly soul’s perception that allows for the possibility of sin, as explained in Tanya.

(In scripture, the two souls are referred to by the verse (Genesis 1:26), “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”: “our image” – b’tzalmeinu in Hebrew – refers to the G-dly soul, and “our likeness” – k’d’museinu – to the animal soul.)

By the G-dly soul’s using the animal soul’s faculties to express its will in the service of G-d, the animal soul is itself refined and purified of the coverings and impure tendencies discussed above. This is in fact the very purpose of the G-dly soul’s descent into this physical world (for after all, one could otherwise ask, why did the already spiritual and pure G-dly soul need to come into this coarse world at all?): to elevate and refine the animal soul. The G-dly soul’s task in this world is to “infiltrate” into the animal soul, do battle with it, separate the good from the evil in the animal soul’s makeup and elevate it back to its holy spiritual source. Unlike worship by the G-dly soul alone, the resulting worship of G-d by the animal soul may be described as converting darkness to light, which is especially precious to G-d.

Yet, in truth, the above leaves an important point unaddressed. Saying that the G-dly soul’s descent into this material realm is justified by its task of battling and elevating the animal soul is only satisfying superficially, since, as explained above, the animal soul itself has a lofty spiritual source. If so, why was it necessary for either soul to come into this world and struggle with the refinement of the animal soul: why not let them both remain on the lofty spiritual level they each started with and save everyone a lot of trouble?

To understand this, we must examine the nature of the battle and how it is waged through prayer. The morning prayer service essentially consists of the Shema prayer (“Hear O Israel, G-d is our G-d, G-d is One, etc.”) followed by the Sh’moneh Esrei (meaning “eighteen,” so named because it was composed with eighteen blessings); these are introduced by a series of chapters from Psalms containing praises of G-d and therefore called P’sukei D’Zimra (verses of praise). During P’sukei D’Zimra one should reflect upon the praises being recited, which extol G-d as the Creator of All and lead one to realize that, great and many as His creations are, G-d gives existence and life to them all and even the greatest and most awesome of them all is literally as naught before G-d Himself. G-d is supremely transcendent over the entirety of creation, not only this physical universe but all spiritual realms as well; before G-d, nothing else exists. The only thing that possesses true existence, that is truly real, is G-d, and anything else is but an illusion. By meditating upon and internalizing this idea, one in fact separates good from evil: “good” is that which is holy, G-dly; while “evil” in this context is anything else. When one realizes, not just intellectually but also practically, that the only true reality is G-d Himself, and that anything else is insignificant, one automatically avoids sin and that which is contrary to G-d’s will, because it is insignificant and unreal to the person as well.

This function of P’sukei D’Zimra as a means for separating out the evil from the good is alluded to in the verse (Psalms 149:6), “The praises of G-d are in their throat, and a double-edged sword in their hand.” When the praises of G-d are in one’s throat, that is, during P’sukei D’Zimra, then a metaphorical “double-edged sword” is in one’s grasp: one edge to separate and elevate good and one to weed out and cast down evil.

However, merely “separating” the evil from the good is insufficient. One must actually destroy the evil, as it says (Deuteronomy 20:17, referring to the seven nations representing the archetypical embodiment of evil), “You should utterly destroy them”; one must not be content with merely distinguishing darkness from light, one must actually transform the darkness itself into light. This is accomplished through the Shema prayer. (See also P’ri Eitz Chaim, Sha’ar K’rias Shema Al Hamita, chapter 11.)

In describing how Pinchas took decisive action to destroy the sinners who were bringing down G-d’s wrath upon the Jews, it is written (Numbers 25:7), “and he took a spear in his hand.” The Hebrew word for “spear” is romach, and its Hebrew spelling hints at the efficacy of the Shema in the actual destruction of evil. The written letters making up the word romach (the Hebrew letters reish, mem, and ches) are numerically equivalent, by the Hebrew grammatical principal of gematria (which assigns a numerical value to each letter), to 248. This stands for the 248 positive commandments (“Do such-and-such mitzva,” as opposed to “Do not commit such-and-such sin”) of the Torah. Furthermore, according to Hebrew grammar the word romach is understood to contain a fourth letter (a vav, which has the numerical value of 6) implicit between the reish and the mem.

The verse comprising the Shema prayer (Deuteronomy 6:4) contains six Hebrew words: “Hear O Israel, G-d is our G-d, G-d is One.” Additionally, the scriptural passages we recite as the complete Shema prayer (including the Shema verse itself, the phrase “Boruch Shem K’vod…,” and the customary repetition of the last three words, “Ani Hashem Elokeichem”) contain 248 words. The word romach, the “spear” which destroys evil and which is numerically equivalent to 248 plus six, thus hints at the Shema, which contains six words in its main verse and 248 words altogether.

The significance of this is implicit it the Shema’s words, “G-d is our G-d” (Hashem Elokeinu in Hebrew). The first Hebrew name of G-d is the Tetragrammaton, the holy Name which refers to G-d as He is in Himself, so to speak, as opposed to G-d as He manifests Himself in one way or another. (This name, which, owing to its holiness, is forbidden to be pronounced even in prayer, is sometimes pronounced Havaye (a scrambling of its Hebrew letters) in everyday speech, and is pronounced Ado-noy in prayer.) The second Divine name used in “G-d is our G-d” is Elokeinu, meaning “our G-d.” The meaning of this is that Havaye, that inexpressibly holy and exalted spiritual level, is, for us Jews, “our own G-d”: G-d, in His unbounded love for us Jews, has miraculously made His very Self, so to speak, accessible to us in an immediate and personal way, as “our G-d” – a distinction which even the angels and the loftiest spiritual beings cannot attain.

We Jews, however, are privy to this because, unlike anything else in Creation, our own spiritual origin is of the very Essence of G-d Himself, and we remain at all times directly linked to Him, as explained above in connection with the G-dly soul.

Now, the Hebrew word Shema in the verse Shema Yisroel… (“Hear O Israel…”) connotes not simply hearing, but understanding (as people sometimes use it in English, for example, by saying “I hear you” to mean “I understand your point”). When a person “hears” – truly reflects upon to the point of actual appreciation and understanding – that Havaye Elokeinu, that G-d forsook the sublime transcendence of the highest Heavens and brought the exalted level of Havaye from on high to be our personal G-d; when a person further appreciates that his or her own soul, which is literally a part of G-d above, now finds itself immersed in the lowest depths of the physical world, enclothed in a physical body and an animal soul far from manifest G-dliness – then the person truly feels a yearning and a love for G-d Himself, a boundless and all-consuming desire which seeks nothing short of actual re-absorption into G-d’s very “Self,” even though this means ceasing to exist as a separate entity.

This is alluded to in the Shema’s verse (Deuteronomy 6:5), “And you shall love G-d your G-d (Havaye Elokecha).” The word “love” in this context can be understood in its usual sense as an intransitive verb (you shall experience love and desire for Havaye to be Elokecha), and also as a transitive verb, meaning that G-d will “enloven” you, that is, that through your sincere attainment of your own limit in loving G-d, G-d Himself will grant you an even greater capacity for loving G-d than could be achieved by mortal effort alone. Then one can achieve that unbounded degree of love for G-d described above, the love the Torah refers to in the same verse (Deuteronomy 6:5) as “with all your might” (b’chol m’odecha) – a love which knows no limits because it is bestowed from Above after one has already reached one’s limit.

In ancient times, the Jews were able to achieve this degree of love for G-d by means of the Shema prayer alone, since evil did not have such a strong hold on them. However, today – a period which is referred to as being on the very heels of the Messiah’s arrival, as it were, and in which the forces of unholiness are rampant in the world – it is necessary also to recite the Sh’moneh Esrei prayer to attain this level. The blessings in the Sh’moneh Esrei (like all blessings) begin with the formula “Blessed are You, G-d our G-d,” which is “Boruch atto Havaye Elokeinu” in Hebrew. These words constitute additional prayers for G-d to relate to us as above. The Hebrew word boruch connotes an elicitation or drawing down of Divine influence upon us from on High; atto (meaning “You” [G-d]) is the second person, direct, form of address, which reflects the fact that the source of the spirituality we seek to elicit is none other than a level which transcends any name at all and can only be referred to as “You”; and the phrase Havaye Elokeinu, as explained at length above, means that we yearn for G-d Himself – Havaye – to relate to us personally, as Elokeinu, our G-d, to the point where the appreciation of the spiritual level of Havaye is actually manifest within our personal hearts and souls. This will automatically nullify utterly any and all evil or non-G-dly desire within us, as discussed above.

We are now in a position to understand the purpose for which both souls descended into this world. The limitless love for G-d known as “with all your might” is only attainable as a result of the struggle between the G-dly soul and the animal soul, the battle to weed out and indeed, to destroy, the evil within the animal soul, to convert darkness into light by making the animal soul itself a vessel for serving G-d. This love is far higher than that which the soul was capable of prior to coming into this world, and its achievement is a worthy purpose for the soul’s descent.

We may further understand the involvement of the animal soul in this process as follows:

As explained above, the animal soul’s spiritual source and origin within G-d (so to speak) is very high indeed – in a sense higher even than that of the G-dly soul. The animal soul’s spiritual origins are alluded to by the verse (Genesis 36:31), “These are the kings that reigned in the land of Edom before there reigned a king over the Children of Israel.” This is a reference to the spiritual state known as olam hatohu, the “Realm of Chaos,” the state of affairs before G-d brought about the present order, known as olam hatikun, the “Realm of Rectification.” As explained elsewhere in connection with the kabbalistic concept of sh’viras hakeilim, the “breaking of the vessels,” the entities (“vessels”) of olam hatohu were unable to remain intact and “broke,” plunging them into what we now call olam hatikun. The higher they were in olam hatohu the lower they fell into olam hatikun. The animal soul was of this lofty primordial order, and it is only as a result of all the “disguises” and transformations it underwent in the descent that it contains unholy elements in this realm. However, it is, at root, superior to the G-dly soul (as indicated by the statement that these kings reigned “before there reigned a king over the Children of Israel,” a reference to the G-dly soul), and its spiritual capabilities are therefore necessary for the G-dly soul to achieve its goal of love of G-d. When the evil is separated out from the good of the animal soul – through the efforts of the G-dly soul – these capabilities come into play to bring the soul to a level it could not have achieved otherwise.

Finally, this is the significance of the statement in this week’s Torah portion concerning a man with two wives, one beloved and one hated, and that “the firstborn son belongs to the hated.” The two “wives,” of course, symbolize the two souls: the beloved one is the G-dly soul and the hated one, the animal soul. Because of the superior spiritual capabilities of the animal soul, it is only from it (by its elevation at the hands of the G-dly soul) that there can be “born” a level whose source is “before there reigned a king over the Children of Israel,” and which is therefore described as the “firstborn son.”

Lo Tov Heyos HaAdam Levado
Mayim Rabim Lo Yuchlu L'Chabos
B'Etzem HaYom Hazeh Nimol Avrohom
Erda Na
Chayei Sara
V'Avraham Zakein Ba Bayamim
Vayachp'ru Avdei Yitzchok
Vayashkeim Lavan Baboker
Vayeavek Ish Imo
VeHinei Anachnu M'Almim Alumim
Ner Chanukah Mitzvah L'Hanicha
Vayigash Eilav Yehudah
Chachlili Einayim Miyayin