WHAT IS MAN?
R’ GEDALIAH AHARON KENIG
I would like to explain the concept of Man, Adam, according to the kabbalah and the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev. There are two things in the world in which everyone is familiar. One is a matter of belief, and the other, a matter of perception. The matter of belief is that there is a Creator of all, Whose existence is absolute. There was never a time when He did not exist. The matter of perception is that we perceive that creation exists. The creation’s existence is based on “possibility” because there was a time when it did not exist. These two things are opposites.
On one hand, the Creator is without end. He is One in the most absolute sense of oneness and there are no limitations to Him. On the other hand, creation is limited by both time and space. It is known that between any two opposites, there is a connecting midpoint. For example, the colors of black and white stand at opposite ends of the color spectrum. The midpoint between them is the color sky-blue, techelet, which combines both black and white. Likewise, in the concept of space, there is a midpoint between right and left, as well as up and down. So too with the Creator and creation. There is a midpoint which connects them both.
This midpoint is called the Shechina, the feminine aspect of God that dwells within creation. The Creator, Who exists as a unity unlimited by space or time, decreed that in order for the creation to receive the abundance of life and blessing from Him, called shefa, the Shechina will act as the intermediary to transmit this abundance from an unlimited to a limited realm. In this way, all the separate worlds that exist beneath Him, limited by time and space in all of their complexity and detail, are able to be nourished and supported.
The Shechina is the mother and root of the one all-inclusive Soul, which is the storehouse for each individual soul. This individual soul, which comes from the storehouse of the Shechina, was given to the last thing created in this world, man, known in Hebrew as Adam. Our soul yearns for us to be conscious of the tremendous favor and goodness the Creator has granted us. It wants to tell us about our awesome ability and power to unite from this lowly and limited world with our Creator, Who is One, endless and unlimited. Just as the Shechina is the intermediary between the Creator and creation, so is her daughter, the soul, a midpoint between good and bad, holiness and impurity.
Impurity is an extremely fine and subtle concept to understand, since impurity itself actually comes from a pure source. For this reason, it is easy to be confused and think that impurity is holiness, even though it is, in fact, impure. Therefore, the concept of purity, the opposite of impurity, is related to the soul. This is expressed every morning in our prayers when we say, “God, the soul you have given me is pure.” The soul serves as a protective fence to purity since it acts as the midpoint between holiness and impurity. In other words, the fact that we have a pure soul, which stands midway between holiness and impurity, means we have the ability to choose between the two.
THE POWER OF FREE CHOICE
Mankind possessed the ability to choose between holiness and impurity immediately after God breathed the soul into the body of the first man. If one wants, a person can choose to become one with everything good and holy. Or one can choose to become a partner and slave to all that is bad and impure.
If he decides to bind himself with goodness and holiness, then from this lowly world he can ascend to the highest of heights, even rising above the angels with the authority to rule over them. However, if he hands himself over and enslaves himself to that which is bad and impure, he descends to the lowest of depths. He sheds his beautiful spiritual clothing and becomes darkened. At this point, even the smallest and lowliest creature in creation is above him and can be the messenger to bring judgment upon him.
At the beginning of creation God wanted man, who is limited by space and time, to choose goodness and holiness. He wanted man to bind himself to his Creator from this lowly physical world, elevating himself above the entire creation, and rule over it. What happened back then is history. Man was not able to pass the test. Unable to overcome the obstacles, he sinned and fell from his lofty level. Afterwards, he felt tremendous regret and repented, still mankind has not yet achieved the will of God which was to unify Him with His creation. Yet God’s will can never be nullified since it is eternal and without limitation. Therefore, His desire that man ultimately elevate himself will come about in the future when he will become purified. The time will certainly come when man will be elevated above the entire creation, even ruling over the angels.
Delving a little deeper, we can discern that the will of the Creator exists even now. From our limited view we perceive that we have fallen and that our ultimate perfection and purification has been delayed to another time in the future. However, the Creator is above time and exists in a sphere where past, present, and future are one. What we perceive as the future, is for Him the same as the present. This means that our eventual completion and perfection exists now. But to us, bound to the realm of time, we live temporarily amidst awesome pressures coming from two opposite sides: holiness and impurity, light and darkness, good and evil.
As we have said, man has free choice. He is built with strength as well as weakness. With his strength he has sufficient power to overcome all tests, even the most difficult. Yet in his weakness, he can fall from the breath of the smallest wind, from the push of a leaf, and stumble over the most meaningless things.
HOPE FOR THE FUTURE
What can give man hope and strength? When he looks deeply forward into time and yearns greatly for the shining future destined to come, it can vitalize him even now by inspiring him to overcome every obstacle and remove them from his path. As a person progresses step by step, winning another battle with his evil inclination, he becomes further purified and shines more and more. He then tastes everlasting life right now in the present. Furthermore, he has the capacity to purify and enlighten his fellow man, bringing to them the taste of eternal life as well. In contrast, if he becomes influenced by temporary brilliance and things which bring only momentary pleasure, his horizon is narrowed and he enters into a type of prison where he lives with great difficulty, confusing others. His portion in life is then only anger and pain. When he finishes his life, he leaves behind nothing.
It is very hard to describe exactly what spiritual satisfaction means to the person who lives with his soul as opposed to one who lives with his body. However, it is easy to understand when looking at one’s way of life. The first allows his body to control his soul. The second makes his soul dominant over his body. The man whose body controls his soul, dims her light, empties her of all content, and removes her glory. She becomes enslaved and is forced to eat the bitterness of moral impurity. The end of this is only nothingness. But the person whose soul dominates his body, polishes and purifies his soul, revealing her radiant points. He elevates his soul to the Garden of Eden, illuminating her with a wondrous upper divine light until even the physical radiates with light and is attached to everlasting life.
RETURNING TO LIFE
This is the secret of the resurrection of the dead. At that time, those whose bodies were vessels for the soul and acted according to the Will of their Creator, will rise from the grave together with the soul. They will be purified and ready to serve the Creator forever. Therefore, even those living presently who make their bodies subservient to their souls, and act in accordance with God’s Will, can taste eternal life now. When the time comes for them to die, they are not frightened and it does not cause them pain. On the contrary, they are happy because they know that this is the Will of the Creator, and that the time has come for them to return the gift that was entrusted to them—the soul. Likewise, their burial in the earth does not frighten them because they understand that it is like one who goes from one room to another, a narrow room to a much wider one. By entering the grave, he enters into a type of “laboratory” designed to purify his body from all of its gross physicality, removing all vestiges of impurity. In this way, he will be able to come to life again in order to completely serve his Creator.
This is the meaning of the word Adam, man. The complete Man is one who has reached perfection by purifying the physical matter of his body with divine light while in the world, just as it was in the Garden of Eden.