The levels of the Divine Soul
By way of preface, there are five levels of the Divine Soul. Below they are listed in ascending order of magnitude:
· Nefesh: the part of the soul vested within the soul’s expression to the outside world through thought, speech, and action
· Ruach: emotions of love and awe of Hashem, and so on
· Neshamah: intellectual appreciation of Hashem
· Chayah: faith
· Yechidah: the soul’s very essence
Yechidah: An essential, suprarational bond
Chassidus refers to the Jewish soul, the Neshamah, as the Nefesh Ha’Elokis, the Divine Soul. Although this term encompasses all the above levels of this soul, since Hashem is beyond intellect, when the expression “divine” is used in reference to the soul, this denotes the level within the soul that is truly beyond intellect—the level of Yechidah.
Although we may not sense it, the Nefesh Elokis, or Divine Soul, of every Jew possesses an intense yearning to transcend its existence within the body and become subsumed within the Essence of Hashem. This desire is not precipitated by any external stimulus; rather, it is an innate urge that stems from the soul-level of Yechidah, which yearns to become subsumed in its source. (This is in contrast to the soul-level of Chayah, whose desire to surrender to Hashem does stem from an external stimulus.)
In the Jew’s normal day-to-day functioning, the Yechidah (along with the level of Chayah) is usually not manifest; rather, it is primarily the lower three faculties of Nefesh, Ruach, and Neshamah that are externally dominant. Nevertheless, in reality the Yechidah is the most important level of the soul. Thus, the soul’s other, lower faculties are secondary and subordinate to the level of Yechidah.
A natural yearning of all the soul-levels
In fact, the natural yearning for G–d characteristic of the soul-level of Yechidah is present in all the levels of the Jewish soul. Now on a conscious level, when we employ the soul’s faculties, we are surely not in a state of yearning and self-transcendence; on the contrary, using the faculties involves a certain sense of self (albeit a very refined one, as is characteristic of the Divine Soul).
Yet this is only at the external level of each of the soul’s faculties. However, at the core of each soul-level, it yearns to become subsumed in G–d’s very Essence. Concerning this the Alter Rebbe writes in Tanya 24b: “... the [level of] Neshamah of man, as do the levels of Ruach and Nefesh, naturally desires and craves to become detached and to depart from the body and connect with its root and source in Hashem, the Source of all Life, blessed be He.”) This is the reason that Chassidus refers to the entire soul, on all its levels, as the Divine Soul.
This is also the reason that when a Jew learns explanations of G–d’s unity and greatness—especially as explained according to Torah, in the teachings of Kabbalah and Chassidus—he is able to grasp them well and enjoy them thoroughly, and then, when he meditates upon them, he can arouse deeply-felt emotions of love and awe of Hashem.Hence, for a Jew, the process of learning about G–d’s unity and greatness is different from the way in which he assimilates a secular concept, lehavdil. It is not merely a technical matter of learning, understanding, and arousing emotions. Rather, since the mind and heart of the Jew’s Divine Soul naturally yearn for G–dliness, they are inbuilt with a heightened receptiveness to G–dliness that is not possible to attain through natural, human intellect and emotions alone. This enables the Jew to reach lofty heights of intellectual comprehension and emotional inspiration inaccessible to non-Jews.
Based on Sefer HaMa’amarim 5670, p. 149.