Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Who is speaking in "Elokai Neshama"? The Body or the Soul?

Here is an interesting discussion about the relationship that exists between the body and the neshama in the context of the tefillah, "Elokai Neshama" that took place on the bilvavi yahoo discussion group.

D.M. asked:

On the subject of identifying as a neshama . a quick story will bring out a kasha. My eight year old son and his nine year old cousin were having a discussion. My son mentioned that we are a neshama and his cousin argued that we have a neshama. I overheard and thought of a small kasha that has been nagging me . We say every morning "Elokai, neshama she'nasatah be." implyies that I am a being and a neshama was placed in me rather than me being the neshama; how can we reconcile this lashon of the bracha with the concept of being a neshama rather than having a neshama.

B.W. responded:

The way I read it is that that tefillah is for a person speaking from his own subjective perspective, not from the perspective of reality.

As Rav Shwartz says in his piece that starts on page 208 in Bilvavi 5, you always have to ask at which level Chazal are speaking and understand in which place what they say is meant to be applied. Sometimes things are written from the perspective of reality, Hashem's reality. More often, they are spoken from the human perspective. At a level at which human beings can sanely and understandably understand and function.

While it is absolutely true that we are a neshoma enclothed in a guf, and not the other way around, psychologically, we usually identify ourselves with our guf/mind. (The mind/personality is also part of the guf.) Therefore, I would say that it is likely that the tefila of Elokai Neshama is speaking from the perspective of how we usually feel. We feel that the neshama was placed within us so the tefillah is written from that perspective, from our perspective, even though it doesn't reflect the truth from the point of view of "reality" or "Hashem's perspective."

M.B. responds:

One of the things I quote more often is the Gra's distinction between tefillah and tachanunim.

In short, there are three mitzvos in what we call "davenin": qeri'as shema, tefillah, and tachanunim. Everything else is preparation and ramp down for those three mitzvos.

Tefillah is davening for what we're supposed to consider important. It's an excercise in bringing oneself up to the A-lmighty. (To stray from the Gaon for a moment, both R SR Hirsch and R' YB Soloveitchik make this point based on the fact that the verb is usually used in the hitpa'el, reflexive (something done to oneself), "lehispallel", not "liflol".)

Tachanunim are an expression of what one actually needs to turn to one's Father and pour out. The ideal time is after tefillah. As in the list in Berakhos (17a) of various tannim who "basar tzelosana -- after their tefillah [Shemoneh Esrei] would say", including Mar berei deRavina who said E-lokai Netzor.

Even more ideally is that the two modalities mix, that one insert personal requests and qavanos into Shemoneh Esrei, and that one start with a scaffolding (such as E-lokai Netzor or Tachanun -- not the name!) for tachanunim.

(Tachanunim today are mostly associated with Breslover hisbonenus. However, how many of us remember our grandmother's old book of Yiddish "techines"?)

One of the things the Gra points out in distinguishing tefillah and tachanunim is the plurality. Shemoneh Esrei, the essence of tefillah, is in the plural. E-lokai Netzor is in the singular. Tefillos are always in the plural, because we should never feel isolated from the whole of Kelal Yisrael. Tachanunim can be either plural or singular.

I gave all of the above because it connected when I read B.W.'s reply:
> The way I read it is that that tefillah is for a person speaking from
> his own subjective perspective, not from the perspective of reality.

> As Rav Shwartz says in his piece that starts on page 208 in Bilvavi 5,
> you always have to ask at which level Chazal are speaking and understand
> in which place what they say is meant to be applied. Sometimes things
> are written from the perspective of reality, Hashem's reality. More
> often, they are spoken from the human perspective. At a level at which

"E-lokai Neshamah" is written in the singular; eg the opening word is "My G-d" not "Our G-d". By the Gra's rule, this means it has to be tachanunim, an expression to the Father of how we are feeling now. IOW, if we fold the two ideas together, the Gra is telling you that anything in the singular is from what RIS called "human perspective".

Like E-lokai Neshamah!

So, it all fits.

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10 comments:

Crawling Axe said...

Sometimes things are written from the perspective of reality, Hashem's reality. More often, they are spoken from the human perspective. At a level at which human beings can sanely and understandably understand and function.

While it is absolutely true that we are a neshoma enclothed in a guf, and not the other way around, psychologically, we usually identify ourselves with our guf/mind. (The mind/personality is also part of the guf.) Therefore, I would say that it is likely that the tefila of Elokai Neshama is speaking from the perspective of how we usually feel. We feel that the neshama was placed within us so the tefillah is written from that perspective, from our perspective, even though it doesn't reflect the truth from the point of view of "reality" or "Hashem's perspective."


Perhaps it’s speaking from our perspective, with “us” being neither neshama nor guf, but Yechida, the essence of neshama, which is also “part of G-dliness above”. It is neither material nor spiritual, neither body nor soul. It is just Essence. To which both the reality of spiritual world and the reality of the physical world applies at the same time.

I write “reality of spiritual world”, not “reality of Hashem” as in the above quote, because spiritual reality is no more (and probably less) reality of Hashem than the physical reality. It is reality of G-dliness, but not G-d (who is a reality all on His own).

The same question can be asked and answered regarding the struggle between the G-dly soul and the animal soul, or between the body and the soul — who is making the decision in the struggle? We learn that the decision-making is done by the Essence of the Soul, Yechida. Because only the Essence which derives from G-d’s Essence can make a free decision.

yehudis said...

You know, we stand apart from the body too in that particular tefillah. B'kirbi means, "in my body," and if I am referring to "my" body, there is an I that is not the body either.
So we are talking about the aware self that is a composite of body and soul, and in that composite exists its self-awareness that encompasses both aspects of its nature.

Micha said...

Yehudis (shetichyeh),

"Beqirbi" means "within me" (painfully literally: in my closeness). I therefore would not say it refers to my body in contrast the the "I" doing the talking. In fact, quite the reverse.

As I tend toward the Gra's anatomy of the soul rather than the baal haTanya's, my descrption would wildly differs from Crawling Axe's, although the basic idea is the same.

I would say that "I" is something the ru'ach does, and it rests in tension between the nefesh and the neshamah, having to choose between their callings. Unfortunately, since Adam's sin, most of us spend most of our lives identifying with the nefesh's perspective.

-micha

yehudis said...

I didn't specify which soul aspect this self-awareness is, because I am not privy to such knowledge. All I know is that, in the tefillah, we end by thanking Hashem who "restores neshamos to dead corpses," pretty strange language since we are referring to ourselves! Both the corpse of the re-animated Jew awakening in the morning, as well as the future reanimation of the very dead and decayed body.
Kerev, although it it does mean what you say, also refers to the actual physical mid-abdominal region, as in kerev u'klayos.
Kerev is a reversal of the letters of Kever, with the obvious connection between the corpus and the grave.
And it is karov to me, but it is not me.
The nefesh is the genius of the body, its vital force, and is linked with the body through the last revi'is of blood that, when still circulating and oxygenating the brain, maintains life. So I learned from Rav Yosef Shani, shlit"a, a chacham and mekubal yaduah of Israel.
It's interesting, this I of Elokai Neshomah; I remember having a whole discussion in seminary with Rebbetzin Barkin about it. And He is going to take this neshomah "from me" and then "restore it to me" in the ultimate future. This "me" is very persistent!

Yeshaya "Danny" Moskowitz said...

The Bilvavi Rebbe was asked this very question and answered it in the third shiur of
the da et atzmecha series, the answer in which "shenasata bi" is
addressed is from 51:30 to 56:41 [this souce was posted by one of the members of the bilvavi yahoo group] Here is an abridged transcript of the answer ...
there is in a person, a neshama, this is a general "hagdara", Chazal say that there are 5 names to the nefesh, from the bottom up they are, nefesh, ruach, nishama, chiya, yichida. Consider for minute [missed words], the kochot ha'raim of the guf are not all bad, they are a mixture of bad and good. Rah = mostly rah. To understand the word "Guf", Chazal say that melachim, their guf and neshama are from shamiyim... What guf do melachim have? They do not have a physical guf, they have a ruchnius guf. Therefore, it's written in Chazel [ missed words] that any utensil for the neshama is classified as a guf. Do you think that melachim can't make a mistake? We see that there are explicit pesukim stating that melachim are susceptible to rah.
First of all, the yeitzer hara is a malach. So it must be that melachim are not only good. Additionally we have explicit proofs in pesukim that melachim did chataim. Its brought by the Saba m'Kelm and Michtav m'Eliyahu that up above, in ruchniyus, there is bechira. If they have bechira between tov and rah, then there exists by them rah. Therefore, the classification of the neshama of not having rah, we must understand that just like the guf having rah is not complete, i.e. it is a mixture of tov and rah; it goes by rov. The only part that is fully tov is the yichida. The chaya is tov relative to the tachtonim; the entire tachtonim, relative to the elyonim is classified as rah. For example, a person gets a knock on the door asking for tzedaka. He gives 5 shekel, for one person this is a good act. If he himself [has many obligations] then this is good. If he is the richest man in town [missed words]. If you want to classify good and bad, it is similar. ...Now we will get back to the point of the question...When we talk about "Elokai nishama shenasata bi" .. who is the "bi"? If the neshama is the object of the giving, who is it given to? It is given to the person. Who is the person? The answer is ... every lower part is a kli for the upper part ... the chaiya is a kli for the yichida, the neshama is a kli for the chiya and the yichida within it, etc. The innermost part of a person that is in his neshama is completely tov. Elokai neshama sh'nasata BI ; you gave me the neshama i.e. the chaya, the yechida, within [me] the neshama. [You put in me [in the neshama] a part that is completely tov, tahor.] This is classified as completely tov. [missed words] When we speak about the neshama that is tahor we speak about the most inner part, not the outer rings. There are neshamos in gehenom that have rah in them. The tov of the neshama is only referring to the inner most part. Therefore, when a person's neshama is revealed, it is not certain that it will be only good. Not all ruchnius is tov e.g. the chartumim in Egypt used kochot of rah. So the classification of the neshama as tehorah is only referrring to the most inner part of the person [that is wihin his neshama]

Menashe said...

The Alter Rebbe recently [in the daily chitas cycle] brought this brocha as proof that when a beinoni says "I" he is referring to the guf/nefesh habahamis which was given to him ie. he identifies with the guf/NB and the neshama is somewhat of a seperate being.

My pshat is that it all depends on what your goal is. The context of that perek is discussing how to overcome timtum halev by beating the yetzer hara into submission [as a starting point of course, this isn't the goal of avdoas Hashem] But elsewhere in the same sefer the implication, at least to me, is that we should identify with the neshama which descended..\

So if the goal is to bring yourself down from gaiva [think pesach] then taka identify with the coarser part of you. But once you reach bitul hayesh the goal should be strengthening the neshama rather than weakening the YH. So identifying with the neshama would be more appropriate.

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver said...

"The Alter Rebbe recently ... "

It's in Tanya ch. 29.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if in order to bring onself down from gaiva a person should identify with the coarser part of themselves. I don't think a person should ever on purpose try to identify with the coarser part of themselves. I think with a benoni its just the reality is that they somewhat view the neshama as a seperate being, but i feel like the goal is to always strive to identify more and more with the neshama. It's not all or nothing.

To quote (in english) "the bilvavi Rebbe" (I like that term :) in chapter 5, chelek bais of da et atzmecha:

"Even if good seems to win, the positive self-esteem generated must have come from inner conceit, not from the pure and holy force of true goodness. That is to say, even if one succeeds against evil, banishes his low self-esteem, and attains a positive self-esteem (and the psychologists can present testimonials attesting to their success), this is not an exchange of evil for good, but of evil for evil. There was initially a negative self-concept, and one exchanged it for ga'avah (conceit), which is a kelipah (negative force). It is a fault and is one of the four primary elements of evil. A person's avodah, when carried out with inwardness and truth, is to exchange evil for good by removing the low self-esteem and discovering the goodness contained in the soul.

The goodness of the soul has nothing to do with conceit. We say, "You have chosen us from among the nations." Hashem has given us a holy soul, and it is only good. There is no room for conceit about this. It is purely a gift. "Hashem does not desire you because you are greater than the nations, for you are the smallest." Chazal explain this phrase to mean that we are unique because we humble ourselves (knowing that all we have is a gift). The good in a person is a gift from Above; there is no place for conceit. It is just a matter of recognizing the truth: that I am good, because that is how Hashem created me.

We must understand, then, that the avodah to rectify all the elements of evil can only come from an appreciation of the inner holy soul placed in us by Hashem."

He seems to be saying that when a person identifies with their guf it can cause gaava but when a person truly identifies with their neshama it can never cause gaava

Menashe said...

Anonymous,

You're speaking about a beautiful avodah. It is obviously a higher level than what I was speaking about. So good for you if you can accomplish that.

But (in my humble opinion) this is [one of the things which] separates the Alter Rebbe from other Rebbeim and other derechs. The Alter Rebbe didn't write a sefer for tzadikim. He wrote a sefer for the common man and the common man's avodah, which is accessible to all. I read over your interpretation of the Bilvavi's approach - I find it beautiful. But I don't find it tenable or feasible for most people. I welcome what I expect will be your disagreement but I hope you will forgive me for the confidence I feel in my words.

Anonymous said...

i do not disgree- i know that the Alter Rebbe was a tzaddik to a degree i cannot even fathom. and the Tanya is of course part of Toras Moshe- emes. The truth is I just don't know enough.

It's like how I feel about new jersey- I've been to many placesin nj but I still don't know where all the cities and locations are in relation to one another.

I wish there as a "map" of the Tanya as opposed to Likutei Moharan as opposed to Bilvavi/da et atzmecha as opposed to mesilas yesharim etc...- if these contradict at all and if they do how, where, why.