This week’s Torah Portion is called Aharei Mot. The words mean “After death!” One does not have to read the portion to be struck by the question. It is a question asked out loud or in the deepest recesses of our hearts. Is there anything after death? What is the trail of the soul when the garment that we call body has been returned to replenish the earth? The Jewish path speaks of 5 levels of soul. Each is a pointer towards a different way of looking at life and our soul connection to G, to each other, to the earth and to ourselves. Together they offer us a way to explore our own feelings regarding the infinite that is hidden just below the surface of our finite lives.
NeFeSh is the physical soul that returns to the earth with the body. It becomes one with the spirit of the earth as our body becomes one with the matter of the earth. Some might refer to this as becoming one with the ‘Gaia spirit’.
The next level is RUaH, the wind spirit aspect of our soul. My father (zt’l) would speak of anonymous immortality. Imagine that you share some important life lesson with a friend. That friend is moved by your teaching. S/he shares it with others in your name. They share it with others and so on. But during the passing of the teaching, your name disappears from the story. The story lives on and in this way you live on in the realm of RUaH but your name does not; anonymous immortality. The stories and lessons that we share regarding our parents, our teachers, our ancestors keep their RUaH, their wind spirit alive in our realm. This is why tribal folk keep an oral history. The tribe lives on in the oral history and in the actions based on that history. When I tell stories of my parents and grandparents, or when we tell the stories of Sarah and Avraham, Moshe and Miriam, Ester and Mordecai, their RUaH feeds us, feeds the tribal RUaH.
The third level is NeShaMaH, which is the breath of our soul. I envision a tiny, invisible silver thread connection to the Wholly One of Being. Since all humans have this connection, the picture is of a spider web of inter-connection between us all and with G. Our joys and sorrows strengthen the web connection of NeShaMaH. Each of us from the greatest Tzadik (righteous one) to the most mean spirited Rasha (evil one) is part of the web. On our computers we see WWW/World Wide Web but that is a pale shadow of the greater WWW that connects us to the Wholly One of Being. Ignore it if we will, it is always there. I remember a story of a Bar/t Mitzvah who said: “I don’t believe in G!” The Rabbi’s response was: “Don’t worry about it. G believes in you!” The World Wide Wholly One of Being Web (WWWOBW) is always connected and no virus can create a disconnect.
The fourth level is HaYah, which can be translated as life and sometimes as a hungry wild beast. But here it refers to longing. We may long for more money, more stature but this is a deeper form of longing. This is a longing to elevate ourselves into a oneness with the Wholly One of Being. “Oh G, how I long to be with you, to feel you in my life!” HaYah is the holy longing. “Oh G, I am hungry for your presence!” In prayer we are in Hayah. We are, as Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel might say, in longing to be part of that which is greater than the self. We are in preparation and in longing for the final level of soul, of soulfulness.
That level is YeHIDaH. YeHIDaH refers to being in total oneness. In Hebrew there are 3 words having to do with ‘One’. There is YaHaD in which I am one with… My belovedest and I are one. We are one made of parts. Indeed everything that is of matter is one, made of parts. All matter can be broken down into smaller parts. The next level is EHaD as we find in the Shema. EHaD is one without parts, impossible to dissect into aspects. Maimonides speaks of G in this way. G has no parts, G cannot be separated, broken down into components. G is the Wholly one; G is the Wholly One of Being. And the third level of ‘one’ is YeHIDaH. Not only is it one without parts, it is one alone. There is nothing else. There is not even a ‘nothing else’. The image is of G before creation. YeHIDaH is the oneness without parts and without ‘the other’. My mind has trouble wrapping itself around the concept. And yet that part of our soul is us yet not us it is a part of the One Who has no parts. On this level of soul, we do not exist as other than G.
So what happens Aharei Mot, after the passing of our physical? According to this paradigm, our NeFeSh returns to Gaia spirit. Our RUaH lives on in the souls touched by us in our journeys in this realm. Our NeShaMaH is wound back to G; our HaYaH disappears completely. For there is no longer longing as we become YeHIDaH, enfolded into the total oneness of the Wholly One of Being.
I sometimes capitalize the transliteration of the Hebrew letters and keep the vowels (which were added later to the language) in small letters. This accentuates the root of the word.