Five Levels of the Soul
The soul is the animating life or consciousness within man (or any other creature, see Sefer HaTanya, ch. 1). The Jew possesses an additional Divine soul which is focused on G-d’s concerns in creation.
Based on an ancient Midrashic source (Bereishit Rabbah 14:9) Kabbalah and Hassidism speak of five levels or gradations of the soul:
1) Nefesh (creature — the lower soul) relates to behavior and action. Nefesh is the particular name of the lowest in the five levels of soul described in Kabbalah, associated with physical vitality.
2) Ruach (spirit) relates to the emotions. Ruach is the second of the five levels of soul, associated with the vitality of one’s emotional life.
3) Neshamah (inner soul) relates to the mind and intelligence. The Neshama is the breath of life? that G-d Breathed into the first man; the third of the five levels of soul, associated with the vitality of intelligence.
4) Chayah (living one) relates to the bridge between the first flash of conscious insight and its super-conscious origin. Experiencing awareness of G-d as continually Creating the world.
5) Yechidah (single one) relates to the ultimate unity of the soul in G-d, as manifest by pure faith, absolute devotion and the continuous readiness to sacrifice one’s life for G-d.
The nefesh נֶפֶשׁ originates in the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Animals possess a nefesh – see Bereishit (Genesis)1.30. In humans the nefesh serves as the foundation for the higher dimensions of soul, it anchors the higher souls.
Nefesh and Neshamah are linked to our evil and good inclinations.
The Neshamah expresses itself in our character and is the connector between ourselves and G-d. It’s source is Divine but the Neshamah lays dormant, existing only as potential until we begin our spiritual journey. As we endeavor to seek G-d, to walk in His Ways the Neshamah develops.
And the L-rd G-d Formed man of the dust of the ground, and Breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (Neshamah Chayim ); and man became a living soul (nefesh – Onkelos translates this as speaking spirit). Bereishit (Genesis)2.7
Ruach is the middle level of our soul. It is often translated as spirit. Ruach HaKodesh (spirit of holiness) is often used in reference the the Spirit of G-d. The ruach is that portion of our soul that can distinguish between good and evil. Like the Neshamah the Ruach is developed over time. This depends on how we use our time to study Torah and perform the mitzvot (Commandments). Included in this would be the refining of our character through the practice of mussar.
Chayah and Yechidah are the aspects of the soul that remain beyond the body, while Nefesh, Ruach and Neshamah are manifest within it. Chayah and Yechidah are hidden aspects of our soul.
Chayah is associated with Chochmah (Wisdom). Chayah is what gives one consciousness of the Divine Life Force. Chayah relates to the bridge between the first flash of conscious insight and its super-conscious origin. Experiencing an awareness of G-d as continually Creating the world. Chayah souls can communicate with one another. It is that time when a parent KNOWs what has happened to their child or when one twin experiences something the other twin is experiencing. They just know.
Yechidah is the highest level of the soul. Yechidah is the level of the soul that is closest to the Source of Creation. It is connected to the body by an ethereal chord, as it were, a lifeline. This is where miracles would come from. Yechidah bypasses the conscious mind and all other levels of the soul.
Man’s forms of behavior are the garments of his / her soul. It is through these garments, thought, speech and deed that his / her soul is exposed, expressed. Through performance of the mitzvot (Commandments) the soul is raised beyond its natural status. As we work to transform and raise our soul levels we come closer to what all souls desire. Tzelem/Demut, Image/Likeness. We yearn to become like our Source, the Creator of the Universe. Our heart’s desire is to be like Him and be one with Him. This awareness of the different aspects of our soul should be the awakening we need to either start of advance our journey toward Tzelem/Demut.
Blessing and Peace
Rebbetzin Revi Belk