by Sam Glaser
The first evening of Nissan, we begin to count until the moon is full on the fifteenth. This is Seder night, our annual anniversary celebration as a nation. About 3,000 years ago, we were a slave people yearning for freedom from a tyrant. With the Haggadah, every year we come together to start our timeline afresh as we recount the saga of the birth of our nation’s unbreakable soul. Pesach reminds us that we have a powerful and unique power neshama (soul) as individuals and are also part of the greater soul of the Jewish people.
chazal (our sages) teach that ideally our neshama is the rider while the body is the horse – honored to accompany our precious divine soul on its mission. Kabbalah offers a window into our souls, a paradigm of the five levels of the soul clarifying the characteristics of the fleeting self. In the interest of enhancing the Passover experience, let’s explore these five levels.
The first level is known as Nefesh. It is an aspect of consciousness that we share with the animal kingdom. It is the basic life force, our instinct, our autonomous survival functions. Unlike all other creatures, humans do not rely on mere instinct; we also have an awareness of good and evil. Our nefesh speaks when we hear the voice of conscience, the cross-cultural awareness of good and evil. Hollywood blockbusters with heroes and villains can be marketed internationally because all humans share a certain internal ethic.
The next level is known in Kabbalah as Ruach. It is a uniquely human attribute and it is based on our pursuit of truth. Ruach is usually translated as wind or spirit, like the passage of wind from our lungs when we speak. Great music lasts forever because our ruach the soul hears it as a truth, a taste of eternity.
The third level of the soul is called Neshama. Neshama is the generic Hebrew term for the soul. But in this five-level model, it refers to the power of our thoughts. We are touched by more than just actions and words. We have ideals. We have a sense of mission, a belief that we have a special purpose and it is our neshama that speaks when we seek happiness.
The penultimate level of the soul is why Passover is one of the most celebrated holidays. We love the traditions, songs and stories associated with our annual homecoming. We enjoy spending time with fellow tribesmen, engrossed in the powerful mitzvah of passing on our heritage. This is called our Chayaâour life force, the âpint yid(Jewish witness) that lights up when we hear a great sermon, a Hasidic story or a Jewish song. This fourth soul level supersedes common sense in regard to the survival of the fittest; thanks to our chayawe are ready to give our lives for the love of the country.
The top of this pyramid of five levels of the soul is known as Yehida. It is the identification with the ultimate universal soul, the connection with the omnipresent entity that we call God or Hashem. Yehida is linked to the idea of ââbeing separated, alone with another. The “yichud hallâ at a traditional Jewish wedding is where the bride and groom end their marriage in seclusion in an intimate space right after the ceremony. We’ve all felt yeshida with the Almighty – those times when we are deeply connected and overwhelmed. Most parents describe yeshida at the birth of a child. Some get it by carving new trails on a day of deep powder skiing or getting lost in a nice piece of music.
I have many friends who know they have been saved from a potential accident by miraculous intervention. Another word for this “knowledge” is yeshida. We can’t stay in the realm of yeshida. We get momentary glimpses and then our ego pulls us away, but we can use moments of “yeshida memoryâ to guide us through times of darkness.
The experience of immersing ourselves in the week of Passover freedom impacts us on all five levels of the soul. This Passover, Embrace the Shameless Rollercoaster Ride neshama intoxication! Use the four cups of wine to step out of time and space to enter into history, a history that is still being written. Remember the five levels of soul and how the realm of spirit can be even more tangible than that of matter.
Hag Passover Sameach!
Sam Glaser is a performer, composer, producer and author in Los Angeles. He has released 25 albums of his compositions, travels the world in concert, produces music for various media in his recording studio Glaser Musicworks and his book The Joy of Judaism is an Amazon bestseller.