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Jewish Journal

The 4 Spiritual Dimensions of Humans

by Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz

June 23, 2014 | 12:40 pm

Which level of your soul have you accessed today?

Those with a nuanced sense of spiritual introspection and self-awareness know that there are multiple dimensions to their inner world. When we invest in inner exploration, we can discover worlds within worlds. The many spiritual dimensions of humans are absolutely awe-inspiring and warrant serious contemplation.

The rabbis point out that there are four distinct terms for a human being: adam, ish, gever, and enosh (Shabbat 54b). Each means “person,” but they represent four distinct spiritual dimensions. For example, adam is considered the most elevated, as a person is created in the image of G-d. The Kabbalistic tradition advises that each of these four aspects of the human being represents a different level of soul—in descending order: adam is chaya, gever is neshama, enosh is ruach, and ish is nefesh. In each soul level, there is a unique human capacity for immanence, transcendence, and transformation. There is also the maaveh, a damager, but this is a Talmudic, not a biblical, term. Rav teaches that a maaveh is a human damager (Bava Kama 3b). A maaveh is one who is alienated from the spiritual self. Though this terminology is complex and difficult to grasp, the idea is important—that each human being is composed of several spiritual dimensions.

Today, we often seek quick and profound spiritual highs (external stimuli that spark elation and an intensity of emotions). However, the Torah comes to teach that we should not look for thrills but for consistent spiritual commitment. We should change the way we search for spiritual transformation and follow the teachings of the Torah; with practice, exercise, and discipline, one can access inner worlds and the inner light that can be truly transformative.

One central part of spiritual reflection is temporal:

Akayba ben Mahalel says: Anyone who gives four things to his heart will sin no more: from where he comes, to where he goes, what in the future he will be, and who is his judge.

From where he comes—from a place of darkness.

To where he goes—to a place of darkness and gloom

What in the future he will be—dust and worm and maggot.

Who is his judge—the King of the kings of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He. (Ethics of the Fathers 3:1)

 

Another key aspect of spiritual reflection is eternal. One must attempt to access the eternal levels of the soul within the self in order to spiritually progress.

One important facet of discovering one’s inner spiritual world is to learn from others and support others in their spiritual journeys. Rabbi Yisrael Salanter taught that another’s physical needs are my spiritual needs. When we take care of others as adam, ish, enosh, gever, and even when they are maaveh, we develop important spiritual depth in ourselves as well.

It is our task to see the spiritual complexity in other people and to humbly serve others. In the process, we continue to flourish in our own spiritual and religious complexity and grandeur. We must embrace these different existential human characteristics, recognize our spiritual dimensions, and seek spiritual transformation through service. Imagine next time you are speaking with someone casually that they are not mere flesh and blood but that they are multi-dimensional spiritual beings with depths of spiritual worlds within them. 

 

Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Executive Director of the Valley Beit Midrash, the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek, the Founder and CEO of The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute and the author of five books on Jewish ethics.  Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Executive Director of the Valley Beit Midrash, the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek, the Founder and CEO of The Shamayim V’Aretz...

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