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Yehuda Leib HaLevi Ashlag (Baal HaSulam)

Body and Soul

Abbreviated version of this article by Dr. Michael Laitman »

 

Before I clarify this exalted matter, it is important for me to note that although all the readers seem to consider it impossible to clarify and bring such a matter closer to the human mind, except by relying on abstract, philosophical concepts, as is usually the case in such scrutinies, since the day I have discovered the wisdom of Kabbalah and dedicated myself to it, I have distanced myself from abstract philosophy and all its branches as the east from the west. Everything that I will write henceforth will be from a purely scientific perspective, in utter precision, and by means of simple recognition of practical, useful things.

Although I will mention their words below, it will be only to indicate the difference between what the human mind can conjure up and what can be understood using the concepts of the Torah and the prophecy, which are based on practical foundations (as I have shown in “The Essence of the Wisdom of Kabbalah”).

I would also like to thoroughly clarify the terms “body” and “soul” as they truly are, since truth and sound mind are one and the same. This is because the truth is available for anyone, but only by the spirit of the Holy Torah and by removing all the distorted concepts that have taken root among the people. These are primarily taken from abstract methods from which the spirit of our Holy Torah is utterly removed.

Three Methods in the Concepts of Body and Soul

In general, we find that the methods that abound in the world concerning the concepts of body and soul are gathered into three methods:

1) The Method of Faith

The method of faith argues that all that exists is the spirit, or the soul. They believe that there are spiritual objects separated from one another by quality. They are called “souls of people,” and that they exist independently, prior to dressing in a human body. Afterwards, when the body dies, the death does not apply to it, since a spiritual object is a simple object. In their view, death is but a separation of the elements comprising the object.

This is possible with physical objects, comprised of several elements which death disintegrates. But the spiritual soul, which is an utterly simple object, lacking any complexity, cannot be separated in any way, as this separation would annul its existence. Hence, the soul is eternal and exists forever.

The body, as they understand it, is like a clothing over this spiritual object. The spiritual soul clothes in it and uses it to manifest its forces: the good qualities and all kinds of concepts. Also, it provides the body with life and motion and guards it from harm. Thus, the body itself is lifeless, motionless, and contains nothing but dead matter, as we see it once the soul departs it—when it dies—and all the signs of life that we see in human bodies are but manifestations of the soul’s powers.

2) The Method of Believers in Duality

Those who believe in duality think of the body as a complete creation, standing, living, and nourishing, and safekeeping its existence in all that is required. It does not need any assistance from any spiritual object.

Yet, the body is not considered man’s essence. Man’s primary essence is the perceiving soul, which is a spiritual object, as in the view of the supporters of the first method.

The difference between these two methods is only in the concept of the body. Following the extensive developments in physiology and psychology, they have found that Providence has provided for all of life’s needs within the machine of the body itself. This, in their view, restricts the role of the soul’s functionality within the body solely to concepts and virtues of the spiritual kind. Thus, while they believe in duality, in both methods together, they say that the soul is the reason for the body, meaning that the body is a result, extending from the soul.

3) The Method of the Deniers

The method of deniers of spirituality, who acknowledge only corporeality. Supporters of this method completely deny the existence of any kind of abstract spiritual object within the body. They have evidently proven that man’s mind, too, is but a product of the body, and they depict the body as an electronic machine with wires that stretch from the body to the brain, and operate by encounters with external things.

Also, they send their sensations of pain or pleasure to the brain, and the brain instructs the organ what to do. Everything is run by wires and cords built for this task. They move the organ away from sources of pain and towards sources of pleasure. Thus, they clarify all of man’s conclusions from life’s events.

Also, what we feel as concepts and rationalities within our minds are but images of corporeal occurrences within the body. And man’s pre-eminence over all animals is that our minds are developed to such an extent that all the body’s events are depicted in our brains as images that we experience as concepts and rationalities.

Thus, the mind and all its deductions are but products that extend from the events of the body. In addition, there are proponents of the second method who completely agree with this method, but add the spiritual, eternal object to it, called “the soul that dresses within the machine of the body.” This soul is man’s essence, and the machine of the body is but its clothing. Thus, I have laid out in general terms all that human science has thus far contrived in the concepts of “body” and “soul.”

The Scientific Meaning of Body and Soul According to Our Holy Torah

Now I shall explain this exalted matter according to our Holy Torah, as our sages have explained it to us. I have already written in several places that there is not a single word of our sages, not even in the prophetic wisdom of Kabbalah, that relies on theoretical bases. This is so because it is a known fact that man is naturally doubtful, and each conclusion that the human mind deems certain, it deems uncertain after some time. Hence, one doubles the efforts of one’s study and invents another inference and declares that as certain.

But if one is a genuine student, he will walk around this axis all of one’s life, since yesterday’s certainty has become today’s uncertainty, and today’s certainty become tomorrow’s uncertainty. Thus, it is impossible to determine any definite conclusions for more than a day.

Revealed and Concealed

Today’s science has sufficiently understood that there is no absolute certainty in reality. Yet, our sages arrived at this conclusion several thousand years earlier. Hence, concerning religious matters, they have guided and forbidden us to not only refrain from drawing any conclusions based on theory, but even prohibited us from being assisted by such theories, even by way of negotiations.

Our sages divided the wisdom into two matters: revealed and concealed. The revealed part contains everything we know from our direct consciousness, as well as the concepts built upon practical experience, without any assistance from scrutiny, as our sages said, “a judge has only what his eyes see.”

The concealed part contains all those concepts we had heard from trusted people or have acquired by ourselves through general understanding and perception of them. However, we cannot sufficiently approach it so as to criticize it with a healthy mind, with straightforward cognizance. And this is regarded as “concealed,” where we were advised to accept matters with “simple faith.” And with all that concerns religion, we have been strictly forbidden to even gaze at matters that could arouse us to scrutinize and study them.

Yet, these names, “revealed” and “concealed,” are not permanent names, applying to a certain kind of knowledge, as the uneducated think. Rather, they apply only to the human consciousness. Thus, one refers to all those concepts one has already discovered and has come to know through actual experience as “revealed,” and regards all the concepts that are yet to be recognized in this manner as “concealed.”

Thus, throughout the generations, all people have these two divisions. The revealed part will be permitted for study and research, as it relies on a true basis, and the concealed part is forbidden for even a shred of scrutiny, since one has no real basis there.

Permitted and Forbidden in Using Human Science

Hence, we who follow in the footsteps of our sages are not permitted to use the human science, except with knowledge that has been proven by actual experiences, and of whose validity we have no doubt. Therefore, we cannot accept any religious principle from the above three methods, all the more so concerning the concepts of body and soul, which are the fundamental concepts and the subject of religion as a whole. We can only accept concepts of life sciences taken from experiments that no man can doubt.

Clearly, such a proof cannot be found in any spiritual matter, but only in physical matters, set up for perception by the senses. Hence, we are permitted to use the third method, to an extent. It engages only in matters of the body, in all those deductions that have been proven by experiments, and which no one doubts. The rest of the concepts, which combine the reason of their method and other methods, are forbidden to us. One who uses them breaches, “Turn you not unto the idols.”

Yet, this third method is foreign and loathsome to the human spirit. There is hardly any truly educated person who is able to accept it. This is so because according to them, man’s humane form has been erased and vanished. Man has been made into a machine that walks and works by other forces. According to them, man has no free choice whatsoever, but is rather pushed by nature’s forces, and all his actions are compulsory. Hence, man has no reward or punishment, since no judgment, punishment, or reward apply to one who has no freedom of will.

Such a thing is utterly unthinkable, and not only for the religious, who believe in reward and punishment, since believing in His Providence, that all of nature’s forces are guided by Him, assures them that everything has a good and desirable cause. Yet, this method is even stranger in the eyes of the nonreligious, who believe that everyone is given to the hands of a blind, mindless, and aimless nature. These intelligent ones are like toys in its hands, led astray, and who knows where? Hence, this method has become despised and unaccepted in the world.

But you should know that the method of those who conceive duality came only to correct this above-mentioned wrong. For this reason, they have decided that the body, which is but a machine according to the third method, is not at all the real human. Man’s real essence is something altogether different—invisible and imperceptible to the senses. It is a spiritual entity, clothed and hidden within the body. This is man’s “self,” the “I.” The body and everything within it are considered possessions of that eternal and spiritual I, as they have written.

Yet, by their own admission, this method is lame, since they cannot explain how a spiritual entity, being the soul or the self, can move the body or decide anything concerning it. This is because following the philosophical precision itself, the spiritual has no contact whatsoever with the physical. It has absolutely no impact on it, as they have written themselves.

The Accusation against the Rambam (Maimonides)

Yet, even without this question, their method would have been forbidden among Israel, as we have explained above. It is important to know that the whole accusation of Rambam by Israel’s sages and the harsh judgment to burn his books, were not because they had any doubt of the righteousness and piousness of the Rambam himself. Rather, it was only because he used philosophy and metaphysics, which were at their peak at the time, as assistance in his books. The Rambam wished to save them from it, yet the sages did not agree with him.

Needless to say, today our generation has already recognized that metaphysical philosophy contains no real content upon which it is worthwhile to spend one’s time. Hence, it is certainly forbidden for anyone to take any spices from their words.

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