The Ruach HaKodesh: What can we know of “It?”
We now pick up from where we left off in our study last month. You may not be aware that there were “prophetic schools” designed to prepare an individual to receive the Ruach HaKodesh prior to and during the time of the first Temple. They were in existence up to the time of the Babylonian captivity that put them out of business. The methods used to “receive the Ruach HaKodesh” were generally lost. What knowledge remains I will share. If we define the Ruach HaKodesh as a “prophetic experience” in which we come into the Divine Presence in a very unique way, and as one that was part of the life of Israel in the past and promised in the future, we will be able to develop some realistic expectations concerning “It.”
From the previous examples and others in the Tanakh we learn a few things about this prophetic experience. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan who is now deceased, was a prolific author of esoteric subjects and conducted a great deal of research in this area. From various Jewish authorities of antiquity, he learned that Orthodox Judaism recognizes three levels of the soul. The Ruach affecting the soul in specific ways will determine the level at which we operate under the Ruach’s influence. If we look at the etymology of the three Hebrew words usually associated with the soul, we learn some interesting things. The three words are Nefesh, Ruach, and Neshamah. The word “Nefesh” comes from the root NaFash meaning “to rest,” as in the verse, “And on the seventh day, He ceased work and rested (NaFash) (Ex. 31:17). The word “Ruach” is often translated “Spirit,” but in many other places, this same word means “wind.” Finally, the word ‘Neshamah” comes from ‘Neshimah,” the Hebrew word for “Breath.” Let’s define these levels further.
According to the kabbalah, the nephesh is found in all humans and enters the physical body at birth. It is the source of one’s physical and psychological nature. The next two parts of the soul are not a given but can be developed over time depending on the actions/life of the individual. They are said to only fully exist in people awakened spiritually. That is, those who humbly and diligently seek to know G-d through His Torah (instructions). We cannot hope to even approach attaining such a relationship with G-d if we choose a life in contradiction to His commands, statutes, and rulings.
One way to explain the three parts of the soul is as follows:
• Nephesh (נפש): the lower part, or “animal part”, of the soul. It is linked to instincts and bodily cravings. This part of the soul is provided at birth. (primary place associated in the body is the liver)
• Ruach (רוח): the middle soul, the “spirit”. It contains the moral virtues and the ability to distinguish between good and evil. (primary place associated in the body is the heart). Note the correlation between the knowledge of good and evil and the Tree of Life which is Yahshua.
• Neshamah (נשמה): the higher soul, or “super-soul”. This separates man from all other life-forms. It is related to the intellect and allows man to enjoy and benefit from the afterlife. It allows one to have some awareness of the existence and presence of God. (primary place of association in the body is the brain).
Rabbi Isaac Luriah (the Ari), considered to be the master Kabbalist, explained that these three levels can be understood if we use the process of glassblowing as an analogy. The process begins with the breath (Neshimah) of the glassblower, blowing into the tube to form a vessel. This breath then travels through the tube as a wind (Ruach) until it reaches the vessel. The breath finally enters into the vessel, forming it according to the desire of the glassblower where it comes to rest (Nafash). The order is from the most intimate and esoteric to the physical. We may use this analogy in describing the process of Mary’s impregnation. We read in Luke 1:35 in response to Mary’s question about how she could bear a child when she was a virgin: “The angel answered her, “The Ruach HaKodesh will come over you, the power of Ha’Elyon will cover you. Therefore the holy child born to you will be called the Son of G-d.”
The “glassblower” (G-d) used His energy(essence) to “blow” through the “tube” as a wind (Ruach) until it reached the vessel (Mary). In describing the creation of man, the Bible states “G-d formed man out of the dust of the earth, and He blew in his nostrils a soul (Neshamah) of life (Gen. 2:7). The Ruach, the Breath of G-d that formed man’s soul cannot usually be detected until it is in motion. When the air around us is still we are hardly aware of its presence. But in a storm, we become very aware of it and we sense its strength as a wind (Ruach). For that reason, the Ruach is called a wind; undetectable until stirred/agitated.
Now we need to address the etymology of the word Ruach. It is closely related to the Hebrew word Oreach meaning “a visitor or guest,” and the word Orach meaning “a path.” It is closely related to the Hebrew word Reach which is a fragrance. Just as a fragrance can be detected even though it is not otherwise visible, the inspiration associated with the Ruach can be detected when present.
The highest of the three levels of the soul is the Neshamah, which is the “breath of G-d,” while the lowest is the Nefesh, the level that rests in man. The part that connects the two is that which is called the Ruach. You can see a parallel here between this concept and the role of “conduit” Yahshua fills as the sacrificial Lamb of G-d who reconciles us to G-d IF we choose to accept His sacrifice and follow Him daily. Just as a physical conduit is necessary to connect one system to another such as the physical conduit that is surgically made to connect ureters to the outside of the abdomen in those who require removal of the bladder, there had to be a perfect sacrifice to provide a way “conduit” for man to re-connect to G-d and function under G-d’s instructions in order to realize the hope for eternal life versus eternal condemnation and separation from G-d.
When G-d wishes to enlighten a person or convey a message to him/her, it is transmitted through the level of the Ruach. Such a person is then said to have attained the Ruach HaKodesh, the holy Ruach. This is the concept of Ruach HaKodesh, the enlightenment aspired to in meditation. It is clearly referred to in biblical verses as “A spirit (Ruach) is poured upon us from on high” (Isa. 32;15) and it is also closely related to publication of G-d’s word, as we see from the verse “ I will pour forth My spirit (Ruach) on all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy” (Joel 2:28); “ And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.” The Hebrew word is naba meaning to speak by inspiration, to pour out, to cause to bubble.
Now we can see what Yahshua meant when he told the disciples that the Comforter could not be sent until he returned to the Father. Yahshua was in the role of a physical Messiah; G-d with us (Emanu’el) but needed to go back to the Father so he could assume the role of Comforter and Counselor in the form of the Ruach. His role as Ruach goes back to the fact that he is the Tree of Life; of the knowledge of good and evil as we read in John 16: 8-15 when speaking about the Ruach “ When he comes he will show you that the world is wrong about sin, about righteousness and about judgment- about sin, in that the people don’t put their trust in me; about judgment, in that the ruler of this world has been judged. I still have many things to tell you, but you can’t bear them now. However, when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own initiative but will say only what he hears. He will glorify me, because he will receive from what is mine and announce it to you. Everything the Father has is mine; this is why I said that he receives from what is mine and will announce it to you.”
Next month we will discuss the Ten Divine Emanations (Sefirot), how they relate to our ascension through the levels of the soul including the Ruach, and how it affects those who attain it.
Rabbi Tamah Davis-Hart