Judaism compares a human being to a ladder with its feet on the ground and its top reaching up to the heavens.1 Each rung of the ladder represents a different realm that exists inside of us, each one loftier and more hidden than the one beneath it. This inner world is called in Hebrew our nefesh, which is commonly referred to as our “life force.”

Because each one of these inner realms possesses its own character, needs, and drives, it is not uncommon to feel turmoil inside of us, as if there are different personalities living inside of us. Within the same day, we can feel both completely content as well as dissatisfied with our life; we feel like we can conquer the world as well as completely helpless; we feel inspired and completely burned out, etc.

Our mission is to become a master over each realm, using it as a stepping-stone to reach even higher. Through this process, we will achieve a much more perfected and elevated version of ourselves. And if we are to really become masters of ourselves, we must understand how all these different faculties inside us operate and how we are supposed to bring inner harmony to all the parts of the machine.

Jewish tradition compares the building blocks of our nefesh to the four fundamental elements of creation: earth, wind, fire and water. These four elements reflect the four states that all matter exist in: Solid, Plasma, Gas, and Liquid.

This series will explore how these four states of matter reflect our inner world. We will give an overview of what each level is, and four additional articles will go into greater detail about the various struggles that happen in each of these domains.

Earth: The Element of the Physical Body

The element of earth is the element that is connected to our physical bodies. At this level, our consciousness is most connected to our bodily needs, and our main drive is for survival and the basic needs that keep our body working and properly maintained, such as the need for food, shelter, safety, and reproduction. When we are tuned in to this plane of consciousness, the only active parts of our brain are those necessary to sustain our body and keep us alive. We focus on the world and its resources, and even other people, in terms of what they can provide for us.

This level corresponds to earth because just as earth has the most form and the least movement, this part of our consciousness craves security, stability and consistency, and it takes care of our physical body, which is the most dense part of the human being.

Water: The Element of Emotions and Pleasure

Water is the element that corresponds to emotions and desires. At this level, we begin to see beyond just survival but look for ways to gain pleasure from this journey that we are on. It is here that we begin to experience sophisticated emotions such as love, fear, and hope, as well as lusts and cravings. Human interactions become less transactional, less self-centered, and more about companionship for emotional reasons.

The movement and life-giving power of water is symbolic of the pleasure and emotion that is found at this level. Just as water can be wild and rushing, our emotions can sometimes overwhelm us. However, when we are experiencing healthy emotions, they are like calm waters. The same is true with our desire for pleasure. Sometimes our cravings are raging and intense like the crashing waves, and sometimes that are very subtle like a lake at low tide.

Wind: The Element of the Intellect and Communication

Wind is the element connected to our intellect and our ability to communicate. It is here that we seek wisdom, knowledge, understanding, and information to develop the perspectives and direction for our lives. It is driven not by pleasure and emotion but by logic and sensibility. Feelings are replaced with ideas, intuition, and creativity. At this level, human relationships center around shared visions and common beliefs, and it is here that our feelings and thoughts are concretized to the point that we can process, articulate, and communicate.

Just like there can be a rapid wind or a calm wind, here too there are sublevels where thoughts can be scattered, wild, and, distracting, or they can be calm and blissful. When the winds are rapid, we tend to talk a lot, but when the winds are calm, we experience less need to talk, or feel the need to say only what is necessary.

Fire: The Element of Willpower and Self-Awareness

Fire is the spiritual element connected to willpower, self-esteem, and motivation. It is here that our yearning for self-actualization and even greatness is rooted. At this level, we want to feel like we really matter. Feelings and thoughts are replaced with an inner yearning and drive. In our relationships, we feel a responsibility for others as if they are an extension of ourselves.

This level corresponds to fire. The element of fire is the most formless, just as the will is detected least from all the other levels. Just like fire rises up, this level is about that inner yearning to go higher and higher. And just as fire destroys, this is the part of ourselves that we are tapping into when we are trying to overcome obstacles or remove anything blocking us from our path forward.

In the upcoming articles, we will delve into each one of the inner elements and explore the struggles that happen within each realm and the tools to achieve self-mastery in each of these areas.

Click here to read the next article in the series on the element of Earth.

Based on the new book Four Elements of an Empowered Life A Guidebook to Discovering Your Inner World And Unique Purpose. Click here to order.

  1. See Alshich on Genesis 28:12.