exists within you
This is Episode 7 of 10 of XL on the Soul. I hope you enjoy it!
A cursory reading of the Torah could leave one feeling that the greatest wonders in history have been the miracles recorded there: the burning bush that wasn’t consumed, the 10 plagues, the splitting of the sea, manna from heaven, the sun standing still, and many others.
Could there be anything more magnificent than God violating the laws of nature He created?
Yes, there absolutely can be.
When we as human beings overcome the laws of our nature which we were born with.
There is nothing more awe-inspiring in the universe than people who succeed in breaking their bad habits, changing their mindsets, and transcending themselves.
The Soul of Your Soul
Where does a person get the wisdom and clarity, and maybe most importantly, the desire to overcome his or her repeating patterns and rise above the sense of doom of being forever trapped in them?
We started with the body, and realized that there’s more than the gray matter of your brain.
There’s your non-physical Nefesh which inhabits it.
Is there anything higher?
There is. Infinitely higher.
The vast majority of what we do can be explained by our biology and our environments — our nature and our nurture. And looking from the outside, it seems like there’s nothing else at play. However, when you introspect, you know — that deep, deep down — deeper than your awareness, emotions, and everyday thoughts in your Nefesh — deeper than your conscience and good judgment in your Da’at — is a great light, a higher self — the infinite-best-version-of-yourself.
You know it's there because you’ve had epiphanies in your life that struck like lightning. Where you knew exactly what you had to do simply because it was the right thing to do — not to impress or not disappoint anyone. You’ve felt the motivation to do something good, idealistic, genuine, and holy even — and acted upon it.
Where did these pure, profound desires and moments of clarity come from?
You can’t prove it to anyone, nor do you have to, but you know that this sacred drive, when it comes, comes from you.
Somewhere within you.
The Highest Aspirational Version of You
It’s fascinating to compare and contrast the views on the human psyche of three famous 20th century psychologists (who happened to all be Jewish): Sigmund Freud, Victor Frankl, and Abraham Maslow. There’s obviously truth to all of them, and they’re all worth getting to know, but let’s take a quick first look:
Freud spoke primarily of an Id that seeks pleasure, a Superego that fears not living up to the standards imposed by society, and a self-centered Ego that sits in the chasm, pressured to mediate between the other two, subsisting on self-importance and self-affirmation.
Frankl insisted that there was another drive that was even deeper in the human mind — the drive for meaning. His theory was put to the ultimate test when he was taken to four concentration camps including Auschwitz. There he saw thousands of victims who understandably lost their will to live and in many cases lost their sense of their own humanity, but he also records the remarkable number of individuals who against all logic, and all biology, dedicated their remaining energies to taking care of others, giving them their last pieces of bread, and comforting them when they had nothing to give.
Similar to Frankl, Maslow put at the top of his famous pyramid of human needs the desire to self-actualization — expressing all of one’s potential. But towards the end of his life, especially after a heart attack he suffered in 1967, he added a level even above this — self-transcendence — acting not just to fulfill oneself, but to do what one came here to do.
Any attempt to capture who we are without this transcendent depth of our being that defies description is tragically incomplete.
Yes — we all have selfish desires.
Yes — we have random thoughts.
Yes — we’re all works in progress.
But in our heart of hearts, in the soul of our soul, we want to do good, to see good in others, and be good ourselves. Somewhere in our subconscious, or super-conscious to be precise, we know that within us is Divinity Itself (and if you don’t, ask your mother and she’ll remind you).
The Hebrew word for this part of our identity, and also the umbrella term for the soul is the “Neshama” (נשמה), intimately related to the word neshima (נשימה), meaning “breath.”
The Torah introduces this word when describing Adam coming to life with the “Nishmat Chayim,” the ּBreath of Life breathed into him from the Infinite Creator.
Everything else in the universe was spoken into being — God said “Let there be Light,” God said “Let the waters be gathered into oceans.” This can be understood as God programming the universe with Divine code. The spoken word is essentially a code for the information and thought processes behind them.
But for human beings to be called fully “alive” we needed more than simply artificial intelligence hard-coded into us.
Human beings needed to be given so to speak a spark of the Programmer Himself.
We too are destined to be creators.
This is why we needed to be given not AI, but RI (Real Intelligence).
This is evocatively described by the Torah as the Source of Being giving us CPR. Even in English, we speak about being “inspired” by something greater than ourselves, or “aspiring” to be more tomorrow than we are today — both come from the same Latin root as “respire” like the respiratory system.
When we breathe we acknowledge that life requires us to take in our existence from beyond ourselves.
In the case of the Divine soul, the beyond ourselves is within ourselves.
Inside the word Neshama–נשמה (soul) is the word Sham-שם, which means “there” or “beyond,” like in the word for Heavens Shamayim-שמים, which is the true beyond. When you point to the sky, you’re really pointing into the depths of space, and whatever is beyond that.
Something to meditate on is that you have this same infinity — this infinite potential within yourself. You must. Whatever you succeed in becoming you must have had the potential for prior. And like the horizon, which gets further from you as you get closer to it, so too, the best-version-of-yourself is revealed to be greater the more potential you actualize. The more you learn, the more you realize you have yet to know. The better you get, the better you can become.
Not even the sky is the limit.
The infinite beyond is within you. The goal is not to “get there,” but to keep moving towards it.
The Jewish Elephant in the Room
Just one question that may be itching your mind at this point in our journey:
All of this spiritual stuff sounds really nice, but what does it have to do with Judaism? Like shofars, and matzah, and shabbat candles??
See you next time.
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