From Inner.org, the writings of Rabbi Ginsburgh (hassidic kabbalist in Israel), from his weekly mailing list (available to all, click here):
The Road to Prophecy - Let us now see how the 5 stages of the development of Kabbalah relate to the 5 aspects of the soul:
vital - nefesh (natural faculties)
spirit - ruach (emotional faculties)
breath - neshamah (mental faculties)
life - chayah (super-rational faculties)
singularity – yechidah (one with G-d)
As mentioned, the 5 stages of Kabbalah constitute an unfolding of the Jewish consciousness. We find in the prophets that real prophecy will return to the Jewish people just before the final redemption. Essentially this is not only a sign of the coming redemption, it is also a prerequisite. As we mentioned in the beginning, Kabbalah is actually the unification of wisdom with prophecy and is what prepares the Jewish people for the return of prophecy.
The first text, Sefer Yetzirah, talks about the different phenomena of nature (the seasons, the days of the week, the planets, the human body, etc.) and corresponds them with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, thus it corresponds with the revelation of the natural, vital (nefesh) aspect of the soul.
The second text, the Zohar, when stripped of the deep contemplative explanations offered on this text by the later stages and read at face value, has the special power to arouse the spirit (ruach) of the soul. As stated by one of the Rebbe’s of Chabad, as a text, there is nothing like the Zohar to arouse a person’s emotions. Of course, the spirit aspect of the soul includes the emotional faculties.
The Kabbalists of the third stage, epitomized by the Ramak and his work, sought to use their mental faculties to comprehend the inner mysteries of the Zohar. This stage was continually underscored by Judaism’s greatest philosophical text, Maimonides’ Guide to the Perplexed (Moreh Hanevochim). The ideal was to unify the Zohar’s esoteric wisdom with the Jewish philosophical tradition; to unite Kabbalah with Chakirah (Jewish philosophy). The neshamah aspect of the soul1 contains its mental faculties, which unfolded and reached an apex during this stage.
The new revelation of the Arizal taxes the mind’s faculties to the limit, but more importantly it challenges the soul to go beyond the mind’s rational approach. Its essence is super-rational, though the Arizal did present this essence in intellectual terms. Unlike reading the Zohar which leads to an emotional experience, reading the Eitz Chayim requires a deep intellectual endeavor, which still leaves a sense of being something beyond the intellect. Thus the Arizal’s Kabbalah serves to unfold the level of soul’s aspect of chayah. The chayah is described as having the quality of “touching/not-touching” (noge’a v’eino noge’a); it hovers ever so closely to our mind, yet always eludes it.
The final revelation is known in Chassidic tradition as the “soul of the Kabbalah of the Arizal,” or the “soul of the soul of the Torah” (nishmeta lenishmeta de’orayta). The classic text of Chassidut is the Tanya, written by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi. One of the most important teachings in the Tanya is that the Jewish soul is an actual part of G-d (cheilek elokah mima’al mamash). Though this thought appears in earlier Kabbalistic texts (in various formulations), it was never stated so unequivocally and had not yet formed the basis for an entire conceptual scheme as it does in the Tanya. What this statement says is that we have an eternal continual connection with G-d, and that every action that we do reflects the essence of the Divine. Chassidut thus reveals the level of Divinity before the initial contraction of G-d’s infinite light that allowed the creation of finite reality; Chassidut thus reveals the infinite capacity of the Jewish soul. In order to understand how novel a revelation this is, the Arizal did not expound regarding the stages that came before the initial contraction. It was left to Chassidut to reveal and unfold these stages, in virtue of the fact that the essence of our Divine soul was indeed there. Chassidut is revealing a pristine, unconscious memory of the soul before creation.
(Continued in a future post)
BS"D - בסיעתא דשמיא