On the first night of Nisan, we start counting until the moon is full on the 15th of the month. This is Seder night, our annual birthday party as a nation. Some 3,000 years ago, we were an enslaved people yearning for liberation from a tyrant. With the Haggadah, every year we gather to start our calendar anew by retelling the saga of the birth of the unbreakable soul of our nation. Pesach reminds us that we have a powerful, unique neshamah (soul) as individuals and are also a part of the greater soul of the Jewish People.
Chazal (our Sages) teach that ideally our neshamah is the rider while the body is the horse – honored with shlepping our precious, divine soul on its mission. Kabbalah offers a window into our souls, a Five Levels of the Soul paradigm clarifying the features of the ephemeral self. In the interest of enhancing the Pesach experience, let’s explore these five levels.
The first level is known as Nefesh. This is an aspect of consciousness we share with the animal kingdom. It is the basic life force, our instinct, our autonomic survival functions. Unlike all other creatures, humans don’t rely on mere instinct; we also have an awareness of right and wrong. Our nefesh is expressed when we hear the voice of the conscience, the cross-cultural awareness of good and evil. Hollywood blockbusters with heroes and villains can be marketed internationally because all humans share certain internal ethics.
The next level is known in Kabbalah as Ruach. It is a uniquely human attribute and is based on our quest for truth. Ruach is typically translated as wind or spirit – like the passage of wind from our lungs when we speak. Great music endures forever because our ruach soul hears it as truth, a taste of eternity.
The third level of the soul is referred to as Neshamah. Neshamah is the generic Hebrew term for soul. But in this five-level model, it refers to the power of our thoughts. We are affected by more than mere actions and words. We have ideals. We have a sense of mission, a belief that we have a special purpose, and it’s our neshamah speaking when we pursue happiness.
The penultimate level of the soul is the reason that Passover is one of the most widely celebrated holidays. We love the traditions, songs, and stories associated with our annual homecoming. We love spending time with fellow members of the tribe, engrossed in the powerful mitzvah of the transmission of our heritage. This is known as our Chayah – our life-force, the “pintele Yid” (Jewish pilot light) that gets sparked up when we hear a great sermon, chasidic story, or Jewish song. This fourth level of the soul supersedes common sense in regard to the survival of the fittest; thanks to our chayah, we are willing to lay down our lives for the love of country.
The top of this pyramid of the Five Levels of the Soul is known as Yechidah. It’s the identification with the ultimate universal soul, connecting with the omnipresent entity we call G-d or Hashem. Yechidah is related to the idea of being separate, alone with another. The “yichud room” at a traditional Jewish wedding is where the bride and groom complete their marriage with seclusion in an intimate space just after the ceremony. We’ve all felt yechidah with the Almighty – those times when we are deeply connected and overwhelmed. Most parents describe unbridled yechidah at the birth of a child. Some get it while carving fresh tracks on a deep powder ski day or getting lost in a beautiful piece of music.
I have many friends who know they were saved from a potential accident by miraculous intervention. Another word for that “knowing” is yechidah. We can’t stay in the realm of yechidah. We get momentary glimpses, and then our ego pulls us away, but we can use moments of “yechidah memory” to guide us through times of darkness.
The experience of immersing in the Pesach week of freedom impacts us on all five levels of the soul. This Pesach, embrace the rollercoaster ride of unabashed neshamah inebriation! Use the four cups of wine to get just a bit out of time and space in order to enter the story, a story that is still being written. Remember the Five Levels of the Soul and how the realm of the spirit can be even more tangible than that of the material.
Chag Pesach samei’ach!
Sam Glaser is a performer, composer, producer, and author in Los Angeles. His book The Joy of Judaism is an Amazon bestseller. Visit him online at www.samglaser.com. Join Sam for a weekly uplifting hour of study every Wednesday night (7:00 pm PST, Zoom Meeting ID: 71646005392) for learners of all ages and levels of knowledge.