Science Of the Spirit: The Transcendence of Man

"The real you is more than the biological, neuronal, and chemical systems allowing you to read this article. The real you must be something that transcends the physical. The human being's superiority to animals seems to be only because of the divine soul."

"For man to introduce more divine light into his physical self, he does not have to “create” divine light. The light of his soul was already given to him and is waiting to flow into him. He must simply make himself into a better vessel for containing it."

Evolution Of The Soul

Rabbi Yitzchok Finger


Is the human being inherently different from any other creature?

In August 2005, the London Zoo was the first in the world to highlight a new exhibit: human beings. After an exhaustive contest, eight candidates (a chemist included) were selected to serve as pioneers for this trailblazing attraction. In cages, with keepers in tow, these eight men and women “monkeyed around.” Like the rest of their caged neighbors at the zoo, the humans had a variety of toys to keep them entertained — board games, music, paints, and balls.

“Warning: Humans in Their Natural Environment” read the sign at the entrance to the exhibit, where the captives could be seen on a rock ledge in a bear enclosure, clad only in bathing suits and pinned-on fig leaves.

Tom Mahoney, age 26, decided to be a participant. He said, “A lot of people think humans are above other animals. When they see humans as animals, here, it kind of reminds us that we’re not that special:”

Twenty-first century science believes that the human being is just a sophisticated primate. According to this view, there is nothing wrong with behaving like an animal, because we are, after all, animals.

What is the truth? Are human beings mere animals with a better-evolved intellectual capacity? Or, as Judaism teaches, is the human being only part animal with a special soul, modeled in God’s image?

The most emphatic contemporary effort to obliterate the distinction between human beings and animals comes from Princeton Professor of Bioethics Peter Singer. Professor Singer, the inaugurator of the animal rights movement, is a champion of “animal liberation;’ which he equates with the liberation movements of blacks and women.

Professor Singer coined the pejorative term “speciesists;’ akin to “racists” and “sexists;’ to describe people who “give greater weight to the interests of members of their own species when there is a clash between their interests and the interests of those of other species.”

Is it a coincidence that Professor Singer, whose career started by championing the equality of animals with humans, has in later years become infamous for his enthusiastic support of infanticide and euthanasia? He has written, “Killing a defective infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person. Sometimes it is not wrong at all.” (Washington Times, Oct. 22, 1999)

Professor Singer cannot be dismissed as an eccentric intellectual. His book Practical Ethics is one of the most widely used texts in applied ethics, and he is the author of the major article on Ethics in the current edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Could Professor Singer be right? Is there no essential distinction between humans and animals?

And what difference does it make, anyway?

The ramifications are simple. In the animal world there is no moral accountability. A lion is not labeled a “criminal,” “murderer,” or “deviant” for killing.

Survival of the fittest is the rule of the day. Social Darwinism, a spin-off from Darwinism, resulted in the idea that the human being, a sophisticated ape, is also subject to natural selection and survival of the fittest.

Darwin himself foresaw the consequences of his theory. He wrote: “At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will certainly exterminate and replace the savage races throughout the world.” (The Descent of Man, 1871)

Using this idea, Hitler was able to convince much of the civilized world that a certain people, the Jews, were savage and deplorable — worthy of annihilation. German racist theory viewed man as just another species of animal, to which the laws of “natural selection” applied in full. From a purely Darwinist viewpoint, the Germans were as justified as the organizers of the London Zoo’s “Human Being” exhibit. In theory, what could be wrong with a Darwinist, who didn’t like the color or style of your hair, weeding out your genes from the human gene pool?


Is there a distinction between humans and animals, and if so, what is it?

Physiologically, we are more or less the same. Science recently revealed that chimpanzees have a 99.4 percent genetic similarity with humans. There are even those scientists who are seeking to propose that chimpanzees be classified as Homo sapiens.

Even our daily activities are more or less the same as those of most animals. Both humans and animals eat, sleep, socialize, play, mate, propagate, tend to their young, and live in social groups. Where do we differ from animals?

Professor Singer, in his attempts to prove that “the differences between us and the other animals are differences of degree rather than kind” summons — and dismisses — a list of supposed differences:

It used to be said that only humans used tools. Then it was observed that the Galapagos woodpecker used a cactus thorn to dig insects out of crevices in trees. Next it was suggested that even if other animals used tools, humans are the only tool-making animals. But Jane Goodall found that chimpanzees in the jungles of Tanzania chewed up leaves to make a sponge for sopping up water, and trimmed the leaves off branches to make tools for catching insects. The use of language was another boundary line — but chimpanzees and gorillas have learnt the sign language of the deaf and dumb, and there is evidence that whales and dolphins have a complex language of their own.

Perhaps Professor Singer is right. If the singular difference between animals and humans is based on the mere fact that we genetically surpass monkeys by 0.6%, then we are only different in degrees and not kind. How dare we then discriminate between animals and human beings?

In fact, in many ways, we are inferior to various animals. We could in no way compete with the swimming speed of the majority of fish. Our agility cannot compare to that of the monkey. And elephant can lift weights with its trunk that would cause the strongest human being to collapse. A dog’s olfactory sense is 10,000 to 100,000 times stronger than ours. A blind bat, through its sonar ability, can maneuver its way through the most complex obstacle course.

Professor Singer notes, “That there is a huge gulf between humans and animals was unquestioned for most of the course of Western civilization.” Why? Because most people believed in the biblical account of God creating man “in His own image,” as the Bible states that God blew into Adam a soul — an immortal soul — and this soul formed the essential distinction between humans and animals.

The Bible recounts God’s plan for the creation of man and the divine mandate for humans to have dominion over animals (significantly, in the very same verse):

God said: “Let us make man… and they shall exercise dominion over the fish of the sea and the birds of the sky and over the beasts of the land and over all creeping things that creep upon the earth.”

The science of cybernetics has discovered many similarities between computers and the human brain. Computer technology allows one to program a memory transfer, taking all the information contained in one computer and transferring it to another. Imagine that electromagnetic brain transfers were also possible. Information from the brain of one human being would be electromagnetically transferred to another person’s brain.

Imagine that all your “information” — your memories, knowledge, etc. — were transferred to another person. Would that person now be you? And, now devoid of your memories and knowledge, would you still be you?

Philosopher of science Sir Karl Raimund Popper wrote, “I intend to suggest that the brain is owned by the self.” That means that the real you is an entity separate from the brain.

The famous neurosurgeon Dr. Wilder Penfield stated that the mind is a basic element in itself, which cannot be accounted for by any neuronal mechanism. 

Dr. Gerald Edelman is the preeminent director of the Neurosciences Institute and a Nobel Prize winner in immunology. Despite the fact that he set out to prove that the mind does not exist as an independent entity but is a product of Darwin’s selectional process, he capitulated recently and admitted, “It’s not totally reductive, meaning that it can’t be totally attributed to mere physical reality or evolution.”

It seems to be that  what scientists refer to as the “mind,” Judaism would call the “soul.”

In other words, the real you is more than the biological, neuronal, and chemical systems allowing you to read this article. The real you must be something that transcends the physical. The human being’s superiority to animals seems to be only because of the divine soul. 

That is the essence of a human being. We nourish our bodies with food, sleep and exercise. We nourish our brains with books and seminars. And we nourish our souls through doing acts of kindness, prayer and Torah study — which is the key to unlocking the science of the soul.

Excerpted from Search Judaism: Judaism’s Answers to a Changing World by Rabbi Yitzchok Fingerer.

Your Divine Soul

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Leibowitz


Understanding the nature of the divine element that exists within man.

The Torah relates that mankind acquired a soul – a neshamah – when God “breathed” it into him at creation.

And God formed man from the dust of the ground, and He breathed into his nostrils the soul of life, and man became a living soul (Genesis 2:7).

Why does the Torah use this peculiar imagery of breathing to describe God’s granting to man a soul?

Our Sages explain: “One who breathes, breathes from within himself.”1 Breathing requires one to exhale air from deep within themselves. When the Torah states that God “breathed” a soul into man, it teaches us that God gave over to man something of Him, so to speak. The breath of God imparted to man a spiritual, transcendent, and even God-like essence.

The abstract idea of a divine element existing within man is hard to understand in concrete terms. Therefore, our sages utilize borrowed terms – such as divine “light” or “energy” – when referring to this divine element in man. When the divinity of man’s soul isactualized, illuminating an individual with divine light, man is referred to as “holy” or “sanctified” (kadosh). Holiness exists when the divine is revealed in a physical entity.

The divine energy of man’s soul is so intense, so spiritual, so other-worldly, that it is not able to fully reside within man’s physical being. It is simply too overwhelming for a human body to contain. For this reason, only a small amount of man’s soul resides within him. The rest remains outside or “above” him.

This means that man’s potential for spirituality is far greater than he senses. Like the deceptively small tip of an iceberg that barely protrudes above the ocean surface yet hides a huge mass of ice below, man’s divine soul barely finds a foothold in man. The lion’s share of its divine light remains beyond man’s reach, its power and illumination imperceptible to man himself. (Nonetheless, all of the divinity of man’s soul is part of him. It is given to him from God, and is part of his personal identity, even though a large segment of it does not actually enter his physical body.)

Yet, the allocation of the divine soul is not stagnant. It is possible for man to increase the flow of divine energy into his physical being. When this occurs, man becomes more spiritual, more holy, more divine. The same is true in the opposite direction. The divine energy of man’s soul can flow out of his physical body. This makes man less spiritual, less holy, and less divine, as the soul’s energy returns to the reservoir of divine energy that exists outside of him, concealed from the physical world.


Due to this relationship between the part of man’s soul that exists outside of him and that which resides within him, the Sages describe the soul as containing three parts.

The first part of the system is the “lowest” part. It is the part of the system most closely linked with man’s physical self, and it is the receptacle within man that can receive the divine light and store it within man. It is called Nefesh in Hebrew, a word stemming from the root “to rest,” for through it, the soul’s divine light “rests,” or resides, within man and enlightens his body with holiness.

On the other extreme is the “highest” part of the system. It is the reservoir that contains the part of man’s soul that is unable to enter him due to its intensity and his inability to house it. It is called Neshamah, a term already used for the entire system.

The final part of this system is the agent that links the two other parts. It is the channel that connects the vessel within man that can house divinity with the reservoir of divinity that is concentrated outside of man. In other words, it is the “pipe” that allows for a flow between the two parts of man’s soul. This facilitator of divine flow is called Ruach.

The classic parable for this system is an oil candle.

  1. The flame defies physicality and hence represents the reservoir of divine light that exists outside of man.

  2. The wick is a physical object and represents the human body. It has the potential to be illuminated by the flame, but can also be consumed due to the intensity of the fire.

  3. The oil is the agent that brings the flame to the wick in a fashion that it can reside within the wick — i.e., illuminating the wick without consuming it.

Together, the oil, wick, and fire produce a lit oil candle, representing the successful flow of divine light into man and resultant illumination of his physical self with spirituality, holiness, and divinity.


The amount of divine light that can enter man and reside within him is dependent upon man himself. When man begins life, he has a greater identification with his physical being and is, by nature, a foreigner to holiness. Therefore, only a very small amount of divinity can initially enter and reside within him. But through great human effort, man is able elevate himself and upgrade his inner receptacle for divinity.

It is important to remember that for man to introduce more divine light into his physical self, he does not have to “create” divine light. The light of his soul was already given to him and is waiting to flow into him. He must simply make himself into a better vessel for containing it.

Let us consider an overly simplified parable (from an electrical standpoint) of an electrical system in a home. In our parable, the physical body is compared to a darkened room. The light bulb that is in the room is part of the room. Outside the room, there is a source of electricity, such as the local power station. Between the light bulb and the power supply are electrical wires that bring power to the light bulb and light to the room. If a person uses very thick wires, the flow of electricity from the power source is great. If the wires are thin, the flow of electricity, and resulting light, is less.

How can greater illumination occur in a darkened home? The light bulb is already in place and ready to be illuminated. The store of electricity is already in the power station and ready to flow into the home. At this point, Illumination is solely dependent on the electrical wiring.

Man’s mission is to work on his “pipe” (or in our parable: the capacity of his wiring), and to increase the flow of divine energy into himself. Through increasing his capacity for divine energy, man is illuminated with more divine light and emerges as a more spiritual being. As this occurs, man begins to change his purely physical existence into a spiritual, holy, and divine-like existence.

This is the Torah’s commandment to man (Leviticus 19:2): “You shall be holy.” Man is charged to continually seek to increase the amount of divine light that can reside within him, and through this increase his level of spirituality, holiness, and divinity.


God created man with a divine soul which grants man tremendous intellectual abilities. Through utilizing his in-borne intellectual faculties, such as intuition and rational insight, man can access and acquire wisdom.

In fact, man’s mind, operating on its own, can acquire significant amounts of wisdom. One path is through the contemplation of nature. A thoughtful observer of nature will gain great insight into the world around him.

Beyond observing nature, man can also gain great insight by studying his fellow humans and the history of mankind. Analysis of human beings and their cultures can lead a person to emotional, moral, and philosophic wisdom. Not surprisingly, we find people in all cultures who are ethical and moral, possess emotional sensitivity, and have acquired deep philosophic perspectives on life. The products of the human intellect in its search for wisdom can be found in the innumerable works of science, psychology, philosophy, and other related fields that line the walls of libraries.

Since the very beginning of time, humans have used their minds to seek out wisdom and have recorded their findings to share with the rest of humanity. Mankind is blessed to have access to these works, and their study will enlighten man with wisdom.

What field of study provides man with the absolute truth of reality? What wisdom ought man pursue if he wishes to truly live an elevated life?

Jewish tradition believes that the teachings in the Torah define the objective truth of morality because they stem from God — the Infinite source of truth and reality.

The more man uses his mind in the pursuit of wisdom, specifically Torah wisdom, the more man becomes a vessel for containing the divine light of his soul. 

This is an edited excerpt from a new book by Rabbi Aryeh Leibowitz: “The Neshamah: A Study of the Human Soul.” It can be purchased online (from Feldheim Publishers or Amazon) or at a local Jewish bookstore.


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