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Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Neshamah: The Jew’s True Inner Self

The Neshamah: The Jew’s True Inner Self

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

The Rambam discusses[1] a case of a husband who refuses to grant his wife a get when the Beis Din (Jewish court) requires it. Although our sages do not usually follow such an approach, in this extreme case, for the wife’s sake, they require that the husband be forced—even, if necessary, by the use of physical force—to release his wife from marriage by issuing her a get.

But, the Rambam asks, how can such a get be valid? Isn’t this a get me’useh, a get given under duress, which is invalid? The Rambam explains that Torah only recognizes an act as coercion when one was coerced into doing an act that Torah doesn’t require. However, if one was coerced to fulfill a Torah requirement, he is considered to have done so of his own volition. For since he is a Jew, his true desire is to perform the Mitzvos. In the Rambam’s words:
... He wants to be a Jew; he wants to perform all the Mitzvos and distance himself from transgressions, and [the] only [reason that he acts to the contrary is that] his evil inclination has overpowered him. So once he is beaten to the extent that his evil inclination has become weakened, and he says I want [to divorce], he has surely divorced of his own volition.
In the language of Chassidus, when the husband refuses to obey the Beis Din, he is being consumed by his Bestial Soul (the term more commonly used in this literature to refer to the Evil Inclination). But his true inner self is his Neshamah, his Divine Soul. When pressure is applied upon the Bestial Soul, it stops obstructing the will of the Neshamah, and the divorce is considered to have been issued voluntarily, for the Neshamah wants to obey the Beis Din.

In other words, although the Bestial Soul is very much a part of the person—in fact, for most of us, it is our conscious self[2]—Torah views it as external and additional; it is not the Jew’s true, inner self. His true self is his Neshamah

The Neshamah possesses a natural love for Hashem that spurs an intense desire to connect with Him, and a natural awe of Hashem that makes him recoil from sin and want to keep a distance from it,[3] even to the point of being willing to give up his life rather than sin.[4] Concerning this, the Alter Rebbe declared: “A Jew neither desires, nor is able, to sever himself from G–dliness.”[5] 

This awareness can also encourage the Jew in his performing the Mitzvah of Teshuvah, of repenting for sin.[6] Since the Jew’s true, inner desire is to serve Hashem, as soon as he sins, he regrets, feels pained, and worries over it. I.e., deep down, he does Teshuvah immediately. I.e., the Jew’s connection with his true, inner self is even more emphasized with regard to Teshuvah than other Mitzvos, for the Jew’s Neshamah not only desires to keep all the Mitzvos, but it actually does Teshuvah as soon as he sins, and so in order to do Teshuvah all the Jew need do is reveal his inner Teshuvah to his external, conscious self.

(For an earlier post on this topic, see here.)

[1] Mishneh Torah, Laws of Divorceend ch. 2.
[2] Cf. Tanya ch. 29: “היא היא האדם עצמו.”
[3] Ibid. chs. 141925.
[4] Ibid. chs. 181924.
[5] Hayom Yom p. 73.
[6] Sefer HaMa’amarim Melukat, Vol. 5, p. 56

This post has been dedicated by Rabbi Dov and Shevi Oliver of Monsey in honor of the yahrtzeit of Rephoel Dovid ben Kasriel, ע"ה, on 13 Tishrei.

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