At times, the most promising method available to unravel the workings of a living organism is to trace the process of its disintegration. This method is especially applicable to a study devoted to the description of the inner mechanisms of a living soul. We shall attempt to discover how the human soul functions as an integrated entity by learning about how and why it dissolves into its constituent parts as a result of the commission of certain types of sin.
Let us selectively extract the information we learned in previous articles to orient ourselves properly towards the present discussion. The soul is made up of Naran, an acronym for Nefesh, Ruach and Neshama. Its source is in Azilut, where it is called Knesset Yisroel, which is also the Shechina, a name for the Divine Presence, the reason why the soul is called a part of God. (Responsa, Chavot Yair,210) Each of these soul parts is independently self-conscious and is subdivided into ten constituent sub-parts joined together according to the pattern of the Ten Sefirot from Keter to Malchut (see Soul #3 hyperlink). Each represents the human being in one of the four levels of reality; the human being of Azilut is called Knesset Yisroel; of Briah he is called Neshama; of Yezira he is called Ruach; and of Assiyah he is called Nefesh.
The most efficient way to tackle our present topic is to state a set of conclusions concerning reality constructed on these axioms, and only then explain how we fit into this reality as spiritual beings. Without a glimpse of the overall picture, even though at this early stage in our understanding of Kabbalah it can only be poorly understood, it will be difficult to unravel the tapestry of knowledge into individual threads.
Beginning at the conclusion
1. Nine of the ten Sefirot of the lowest part of the soul called Nefesh are detachable from their attachment to the higher part of the soul called Ruach by a process referred to in the Torah as Karet, excision.
2. There are different degrees of Karet. The most severe form has the effect of detaching nine Sefirot of the Nefesh from the Ruach, starting with Chachma and ending with Malchut, while the mildest form of Karet will detach only the bottommost level of the Nefesh, the Malchut of the Nefesh, leaving the remainder of the Sefirot of the Nefesh attached to the Ruach.
3. The levels of the Nefesh that are so detached are trapped by the forces known as Klipot who draw their life force from detached Nefoshot.
4. The highest portion of the Nefesh, the Keter of the Nefesh, can never be detached from the Ruach, because the Keter of the Nefesh is also the lowest Sefira of the Ruach, known as the Malchut of the Ruach. The parts of the soul are held together like the links of a chain. The Keter of every lower level functions as the Malchut of the level above it. The Keter of Nefesh is the Malchut of Ruach; the Keter of Ruach is the Malchut of Neshama; the Keter of Neshama is the Malchut of Knesset Yiroel.
5. Because this highest Sefira of the Nefesh cannot be detached, the parts that were severed by the Karet can always be rescued from the Kelipot and reattached to the Keter and thus to the Ruach once again through Teshuva, or repentance. Teshuva draws a bright spiritual light from the source of the Neshama in Azilut, which flows through the Neshama, passes from the Neshama through the Ruach until it enters the Malchut of Ruach, which is also the Keter of the Nefesh. The intense light that is generated in the Keter of the Nefesh cuts through the Klipot, and reattaches the severed Sefirot of the Nefesh back to itself, and as the Keter of the Nefesh is also the Malchut of the Ruach, the Karet is healed and the Nefesh and the Ruach are once again joined together.
6. Sins have the very reverse effect on the opposite extremity of the soul, the Neshama. The top nine Sefirot of the Neshama are detached from the Malchut of the Neshama, which is the Keter of the Ruach by certain types of sins. Again, the link between the Neshama and the Ruach can never be completely severed, as the top Sefira of the Ruach is also the bottom Sefira of the Neshama; the potential for healing the break is always in place.
7. As in the case of the Nefesh, the detachment of the Neshama from the Ruach is not an all or nothing proposition; not all nine levels will necessarily detach. The most severe form of detachment drives away the nine top levels of Neshama from their connection with the Ruach, from the Yesod to the Keter of the Neshama, while the mildest form of detachment will involve the separation of the level of Keter alone.
8. When the Neshama detaches from the Ruach it returns to Kneset Yisroel, its roots, the source of the Neshama in Azilut, where it is once again a portion of the Divinity itself.
The healthy integrated soul is an expression of the Shechina.
9. The Ruach is the only portion of the soul that cannot detach from the rest. This prompted the Gaon of Vilna to declare that the true spiritual level of living human beings is the Ruach. The Neshama is above us and the Nefesh is beneath us. Each tugs at the Ruach in opposite directions, and it is on the level of the Ruach that we choose the overall direction of our spiritual development. But while the Ruach is unable to detach, certain sins have the effect of causing it to contract and shrink, reducing its effectiveness as a passageway that connects the Nefesh with the Neshama.
10. The healthy integrated soul is an expression of the Shechina. The Nefesh in the body connects to the Ruach; the Ruach connects to the Neshama; the Neshama connects to Knesset Yisroel, the Shechina; the spiritual light emanating from the Shechina flows all the way down to the Nefesh unimpeded and is expressed by the actions of the body as the light of God in the world.
These are the points that we shall spend the next few essays developing. There is far too much to learn to be able to include everything we need to understand all these conclusions in a single essay. Nevertheless, it is essential to focus on the entire picture as summed up in these ten points to be able to comprehend the detailed dynamics of spiritual functions.
In this specific essay we shall be focusing on Karet, which is a phenomenon that affects the Nefesh.
Karet and Nefesh
All Karet is a byproduct of sin, but we cannot understand what Karet is without realizing that there are different sorts of sin. There are sins that involve forbidden actions; sins that concern forbidden forms of speech; sins that revolve around forbidden thoughts. Sins relating to actions are harmful to the Nefesh and the most severe among them cause Karet, which is a problem that affects the Nefesh specifically. Sins than involve the power of speech cause injury to the Ruach. Thought related sins drive away the Neshama. Karet is mentioned many times in the Torah but always in association with the Nefesh and most often associated with the word Assiyah, meaning action.
Let us attempt to trace the consequences of these ideas in the context of a specific example of Karet. One of the sins that carry the penalty of Karet is the sacrificing of one's child to the idol known as the Moloch. "I shall concentrate My attention upon that man, and I shall cut him off from among his people... (Vayikra 20,3)." When a person formulates the thought of offering such a sacrifice into a concrete plan he affects his Neshama. A serious plan to worship the idol drives away the Neshama; the brain is the receiver that is sensitive to the light broadcast by the Neshama. But the Neshama cannot broadcast its light into a receiver that is occupied by the darkness generated by plans of idol worship. It detaches from the Ruach as far as it is able, leaving only the level of Malchut of the Neshama attached.
As all light that emanates from the Source must flow through the Neshama in order to reach the Ruach and subsequently the Nefesh, to the extent that the Neshama detaches, there will be no fresh Divine light flowing through the Ruach into the Nefesh emanating from the source of the Neshama in Kneset Yisroel. As the top parts of the Neshama have detached, there is no channel through which such light can flow. The spiritual input into the soul is diminished; there are no fresh holy ideas to offset the negative effects of the plan to worship the Molech. However, the Nefesh and the Ruach still retain their full capacity to function normally at this point. The person still has feelings of revulsion to the deed of child sacrifice that he plans to execute.
If the person persists in actualizing his plan, his next step will be to communicate his wish to offer the forbidden sacrifice to the priests of the Molech who will presumably arrange the scheduling etc. of the ceremony. The thoughts of idol worship are formulated into specific words that bind the parties together through the power of communication, a power associated with the Ruach. The Ruach becomes a conduit for the transmission of the forbidden communication to the seat of action, the Nefesh. This act of transmission spiritually injures the Ruach. A channel that serves as the conduit for the profane is unsuitable to serve as a conduit for the spiritually pure. In a spiritual sense the Ruach contracts and shrinks; the arteries of the spiritual heart become clogged and the person suffers spiritual arteriosclerosis. His heart seals itself to any attempt at dissuading him from executing the forbidden deed. The light of Divine energy shining through to the Nefesh is dimmed.
Nevertheless, there has been no action of forbidden sacrifice as yet. The Nefesh has not yet suffered injury. The situation is still redeemable. The feelings of revulsion to the deed still persist. No action that is the antithesis of serving as expression of the Shechina has taken place in the outer world. So far we are only dealing with an inner reality.
But when the actual sacrifice is carried out, the Nefesh is severed from its moorings, falls into the Klipot and experiences Karet. The damage to the soul becomes irreversible in the absence of Teshuva, repentance. The departure of the Neshama becomes permanent. The contraction of the arteries in the Ruach requires a spiritual bypass surgery to correct. The Karet of the Nefesh becomes a permanent reality. The feelings of revulsion toward atrocities fade away. The person turns into a savage being capable of wreaking immense damage on the innocent.
To sum up: there are three levels of spiritual barriers designed into the human being that must be crossed before the Karet of the Nefesh becomes a reality. The entire enterprise of sacrificing the child can be rejected in the planning stage. Negotiations could be broken off in the discussion stage. The person can back out in the actualization phase. At each stage there is a struggle as the antibodies provided by the remnants of the spiritually healthy soul struggle to battle the destructive virus of the abomination. When all three levels of defense are overwhelmed by the stubborn persistence of the commission of the sin the injury to the soul turns into a permanent gaping spiritual wound.
To understand the spiritual implications we must now grapple with the idea of Klipot. A Klipa is a peel in Hebrew. A peel is an external layer of tissue surrounding the fruit; it is not part of the fruit but has the power to parasitically draw suck life force from the fruit to nourish itself. Any part of the fruit, no matter how far it is from the core is interchangeable with any other part. It has the same flavor and offers the same nourishment. But the peel is something that must be separated and discarded before it is possible to enjoy it. [We are talking symbolically. In actuality, the peel is often full of important vitamins and can be quite tasty and nourishing.]
Everything in a created universe must draw fresh energy ceaselessly from the Creator in order to continue in existence.
Everything in a created universe must draw fresh energy ceaselessly from the Creator in order to continue in existence. [see The Soul, Part 2 hyperlink] Nevertheless, in order to allow for the existence of free will, God fashioned a two-faceted universe. Part of the created universe is impenetrable to the Divine light. For this portion of the universe, direct connection with God amounts to annihilation, a total cessation of existence. Continued survival demands the maintenance of distance from God. But there is no alternate energy source to Divinity. This portion of the universe is thus challenged with a complex strategic problem. It must somehow continually draw fresh Divine energy, but without connecting to the source of this energy. This portion of the universe is the Klipa.
The human solution
Man himself was created with the potential to provide the solution to the strategic problem facing the Klipa.
Man is the only creature in the universe with the capacity for free will. This means that he was created to serve as the interface between the 'fruit', the Holy part of the universe, and the peel, the Klipa. Man's physical body is formed from a Klipa called Klipat Nogah. Remember that the Nefesh Elokit is wrapped within the Nefesh Habehamit, the physical life force, and connected through it to the body. The Nefesh Elokit is permeated with the Divine light of the Shechina that flows into it through Naran, but it is also inextricably intertwined with the Nefesh Habahamit of man, the most delicate Klipa in the universe.
Through the Nefesh Habehamit, which serves as the wrapper around the Nefesh Elokit, the Klipa can draw the Divine energy it must have for its survival. But it can only draw the Divne Energy in the Nefesh Elokit safely into itself if it detaches the Nefesh Elokit from its connection with the Shechina. By definition, if the Klipa ever connected directly with the Shechina, it would discorporate.
There are certain actions a person can perform which are totally irreconcilable with the idea of serving as the expression of the Shechina in the world. For the purposes of illustration let us look at forbidden sexual relationships, the simplest form of this sort of action to understand. Specifically let us consider having relations with one's mother. The purpose of such a physical relationship is certainly not procreation. Nor are such relations undertaken with the idea of constructing a meaningful bond with a soul mate. The sole aim of such relationships is physical gratification.
As we explained in The Soul, Part 2, reality begins in Azilut, expands from there to Briah, to Yezira, and finally to Assiyah, the physical world. Each level of creation contains its own version of man. The Nefesh is the man in Assiyah for whom the physical world was created. The soul of man is the conduit through which the Divine energy that sustains the world is transmitted outwards from the source.
The Divine energy that powers physicality
The Nefesh Elokit is the immediate source of the Divine energy that powers the physical world. If this life force is harnessed to power the physical performance of mitzvot, it has the effect of reattaching the physical world to its source in Azilut. When this life force powers the execution of survival related activities which are not in themselves mitzvot, but are not prohibited, it has a neutral effect on spiritual connectedness. But when this life force is applied to activities that are totally antithetical to the Divine purpose of creation, and are prohibited on the grounds that they are expressive of a world that is a totally self contained physical entity with no connection to anything spiritual, the Nefesh Elokit that delivered the life force which powered these activities is severed from its moorings to the spiritual world and trapped by the Klipot.
In The Soul, Part 3, we explained that the Sefira of Malchut is the final concrete expression of the original will invested in the Sefira of Keter. Just as each level of the Naran is divided into ten Sefirot, the entire soul, taken as a whole, is also divisible into ten Sefirot. The Nefesh Elokit is the Sefira of Malchut of the overall soul. We explained that Malchut, which is constructed to express the vision of Keter as a reality can be stolen and diverted into other channels. In The Soul, Part 3, we employed the example of the fully constructed Extra-terrestrial Trade Complex being diverted to be used as a government shelter in case of nuclear attack. The theft of the Malchut of the soul by the Klipot is a parallel to this.
The soul was constructed to actualize the will of Knesset Yisroel, the Keter of the soul; to transform the physical world into a place that can express the majesty of God's Divine rule in the furthest spiritual reaches of the universe, the world of Assiyah. When the Klipot detach the Nefesh, the world of Assiyah no longer expresses the majesty of Divinity. Instead, the Divine energy invested in Assiyah through the Nefesh is employed to express the majesty of Nature. The physical world of Assiyah is perceived as a self-contained reality where man is nothing more than a physical construct of Nature, the creature that managed the greatest climb from the primeval slime up the ladder of evolution. Malchut no longer reflects the Divine Will expressed in Keter.
Karet as an existential reality
In terms of the individual human being, Karet expresses itself as the departure of the human drive towards spirituality. While the spiritually integrated human being is infused with a burning desire for holiness that bursts into flame in his heart whenever he learns Torah or prays, a person who suffers from Karet is rendered insensitive to this fire. He feels nothing when he prays or learns and is therefore likely to arrive at the conclusion that these are artificial activities that do not belong in his world. The spiritual fire of the Nefesh Elokit is diverted; it kindles at the prospect of physical excitement, bursting into flame in the pursuit of the ambition for worldly advancement and fame. The vast spiritual energy that is invested in every human being, designed to fuel the intense drive to reach the highest pinnacles of holiness and attachment to God fizzles out in a frenetic blaze of consumerism in a demand driven economy.
But the greatest damage is the spiritual confusion that is the hallmark of Karet of the Nefesh. The potentially spiritual human being introspects and detects no inner spiritual fire. He argues to himself: if I am truly a spiritual creature with a holy soul that is a portion of God Himself, how is it possible that I find no traces of holiness within myself? How is it possible that I inhabit such a materialistic, cruel world that reflects so perfectly the spirit of 'the survival of the fittest,' where the mighty and the ruthless rise to the top while the spiritually deserving are persecuted at the bottom? If the Torah is true, how is it possible that the reality that surrounds me reflects the diametric opposite?
To see reality properly we must release the Divine energy of the Nefesh from the clutches of the Klipot. This can be done through Teshuva, repentance.