Project Genesis

Five Levels of the Soul

Question: What are the five levels of the soul?

Answer: Nefesh is the lowest level, call it the animal level, the level which animates and gives function to the body.

Neshama is the third level, call it the human level. (I’ll get to level number 2 in a minute). Neshama is what allows one to distinguish between good and evil.

The nefesh could be argued not to be a soul at all. It is the most ethereal of all physicality, like a wisp of air disappearing into a small breeze. All animals and all humans have a nefesh, each programmed with the bodily stimuli G-d wanted for the particular individual or species. Only humans have a neshama. If you want to see the difference, watch the animals. Anything both animals and humans do is of the nefesh, for example, eating an
apple. Anything only a human does, is of the neshama. For example, saying a prayer of thanksgiving before and after eating that apple.

The nefesh and neshama are easiest to understand. Between them is Ruach, which one might call an emotion generator.

Chaya is the next emanation and Yechida is the highest level. Understanding these are beyond our grasp but relate to our closest attachments to G-d.

Regards, Eliahu Levenson

Seven-Armed Menorah

Question: When is the seven-armed Menorah used?

Answer: The Menorah that G-d commanded Moses to construct for the Tabernacle had 7 arms. This was used in Temple as well. The menorah that we use to commemorate the Chanukah miracle has 8 arms to commemorate that upon winning back the temple from the Greeks, and relighting the Temple menorah, the oil lasted for 8 days.

Rabbi Aron Yehuda Schwab

Lessons from the Manna

Question: What is the significance of story of the Manna?

Answer: Many commentaries explain that the story of the Manna teaches us about the mechanics of earning a livelihood. Although we must put forth an effort to obtain an income, our livelihood is ultimately a gift from above – like the Manna. This being the case, a person should recognize that putting forth more effort than required will not yield more money.

To this extent we read in the Torah that those Jews who gathered more Manna than their family needed found their extra Manna spoiled in the morning.

It seems to me that the reason that G-d commanded Moses to place a portion of Manna in a flask that would remain in the ark forever, was that G-d desired that the Manna serve as an eternal sign that it is ultimately G-d who provides.

Yochai Robkin

[Reposted from the Archives]

Mass Murder in the Torah

Question: The Torah is filled with stories of the early Jews making war on the various locals as they enter the “promised land”, and killing every man, woman, and child in a given village. In some cases they even killed the animals. In one case Moses himself saw his men returning with some local women and children, and ran out and ordered them killed on the spot, lest they create “impurities” in the Jewish camp. In another case he ordered all locals killed, except young women who “have known no man”. These his men could keep.

How can we reconcile this mass murder ordered by Moses with his status among Jews as a prophet and holy person?? He appears to be a murderer on a grand scale. How can the Torah be filled with murder, rape, adultry, idol worship, conquest, etc., from front to back, and still be considered the “Divine Word of God”. Many of my Christian friends have the same questions, and never get a useful answer from priest or pastor. I believe in the one God, may his name be blessed, but I do have a problem with all this murder, rape, etc. in the Torah.

Answer: First of all, I am unaware of any reference in the Torah to any act of rape, adultery or idol worship that was sanctioned or encouraged by either Moses or the Torah itself. So that leaves killing and conquest. These references do exist and can easily and understandably cause discomfort.

Now, if someone were to consider the Torah to be a fraud which only claimed to be the word of God (see Deut. 31:24), but was really created by human beings, then these brutal acts are indefensible. Which moral human being could possibly order such acts? However, we believe that the Torah is actually a true record of God’s communication with Moses. Based on that assumption, Moses never ordered any violence nor did he initiate any conquest. Everything was God’s will (see Deut. 7:1).

What is morality? You might like to read my essay on subjectivity here, which discusses the inherent difficulties that exist in establishing absolute principles of good and evil from a secular perspective. Without God input, any values we adopt are always subject to debate and change. 500 years ago there weren’t many who questioned the moral right of the Spanish to virtually eradicate native populations in the Americas. Today, standards have changed. Tomorrow they’ll change again…and no one can say in which direction.

Jews (and others) who believe in a personal God who created this world and is its true master, will consider His definition of justice to be absolute. Even if we can’t understand it, if God wills that one nation should conquer another then it isn’t just His right, it is intrinsically moral.

I hope this is helpful.

With my best regards,
Rabbi Boruch Clinton

How Could the Generation of Moses Sin?

Question: In the book of Exodus great miracles were performed against Egypt, and when the nation of Israel was in the wilderness again God did great miracles, ie…manna…Why did the nation of Israel keep falling back on sinful ways, ie..the golden calf? One would think that after seeing such great miracles one would definitely believe. Did they keep forgetting about God? It just doesn’t seem possible.

Answer: Many feel, “If only G-d would show himself to me, I wouldn’t have any more problems of faith.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. Most of what we do is because of what we want, not because of what we believe. Part of a person is always trying to distract him from what is truly important. Anyone who has ever tried to diet knows how hard it can be to put knowledge into practice.

In terms of knowledge, the generation of the desert was the greatest there ever was. They saw; they knew!—All of our knowledge about the Torah is derived only from their testimony. Still, they were very human, and subject to human frailties. We should understand that the Jews in the desert were not all saints. Our Sages teach that many of our people died in Egypt during the plague of darkness. They had sunk so far into the immorality of Egypt that they were completely beyond hope and spiritual growth. The ones who did leave were not beyond hope. Still, lots of them must have been very close to the line. They still had potential, but were sunk deep in depravity. If they had stayed in Egypt any longer, it would have been too late! These people may have seen very clearly the need for growth, but they had yet a long way to go.

All that being said, the Jews in the wilderness did not do as badly as a cursory reading might indicate. Some of their tests were very difficult – three days without finding water, no food source, forty days with their leader gone, etc. And not all of them sinned by any means. At the sin of the golden calf, those who worshiped the calf were guilty of a capital crime. Still, the Torah testifies that only 3000 were executed (Exodus Chap. 32) out of 600,000 men. In another place (Numbers Chap. 11) the Torah says that the Jews were punished because the “Asafsuf” (loosely translated as “riff-raff”) were complaining. One of my favorite examples is in Joshua 7(11). G-d explains why Israel has lost their first (and only) battle under Joshua: “Israel has sinned, and violated the covenant that they made with me; they have taken from what was consecrated, and stolen, and lied, and packed it all away…” Terrible! But read a little further, and we find out that one Jew alone sinned. All of Israel was blamed. G-d is not being unfair; he loves us, and wants us to achieve what he knows we’re capable of. He holds us to an very high standard throughout the Torah.

Best wishes,
Michoel Reach

[Reposted from the Archives]

What is Manna?

Question: What is manna? Is it spiritual food? A metaphor for HaShem (G-d), the provider? Is it physical sustenance? If so, were its characteristics the same for every man, woman, child, animal? In texture? Taste? Quantity?

Answer: Before we get to the more famous sources, it’s important to recognize that clear verses in the Torah address your question. See Numbers 11:7-8 that the manna was like “gad (coriander) seed” and tasted like “dough kneaded in oil”. As for its texture, it could be “ground”, “pounded” or “cooked”, if that tells you anything. It also gave the appearance of a “b’dolach”, a brilliant gem.

The only problem is, when we look back to Exodus 16:31, there manna’s taste is described as “dough fried in honey”. Earlier, the verse also describes it as “lechem/bread”, which has a different taste still. The Talmud (Yoma 75b) recognizes this triple teaser and explains that the manna tasted differently depending on the age and needs of its eater. Rebbe Yossi bar Rebbe Channina explains that it tasted like bread to young adults, dough kneaded in oil for the elderly, and dough fried in honey for children.

Earlier (Yoma 75a), the Talmud mentions the idea of the manna having many tastes, comparing it to mothers’ milk which also has many tastes. Rashi explains this as referring to how a mother’s milk may taste like the food she just ate (besides its usual milky taste). From here I would presume that the manna had a regular taste, as described by the verses in the Torah, but a person could also detect other tastes in it, depending on their interests and appreciation.

I assume this may be similar to wine connoisseurs who focus on appreciating many different subtleties in a simple glass of fermented grape juice. If we focus on appreciating the kindness of Hashem, there is no end to the wonder we may encounter. (To quote a Yiddish adage: if we’d only focus on thanking G-d for the good, we wouldn’t have time to complain about the bad / Ven me zol Got danken far guts, volt nit zein kain tseit tsu baklogen zich oif shlechts.)


As far as sources to look into this more, the main discussion of manna in the Talmud is found in Yoma 75a-b, though it begins discussing manna a little before that and continues a little later. A debate between Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Yismael is recorded there over whether manna is identical to the sustenance of angels or just an extraordinary human food. This may relate to your question of whether it was physical or not.

The bottom line is that the manna certainly was a miraculous food, thus it is difficult to come up with an absolutely clear picture of it for ourselves, since miracles are difficult for us to comprehend. On the other hand, we are meant to learn from the manna to appreciate the hidden miracles inherent in the ‘ordinary food’ that we eat today—what a Divine gift it is that the sun shines constantly in the sky, a seed grows up from the ground, a calf from a single cell—and us from all of that.

All the Best,

Shlomo Shulman
Maimonides Society at Yale, CT

The Blessing of the Kohain (Priest)

Question: It is known that the kohanim (Priests) in the temple used to bless the people by holding their hands in a specific position.
1. Could you please explain more on the meaning of it?
2. Why was it not permitted to look at them while they were doing it?
3. Could this heal people? If yes can it be used nowadays to heal?
4. Could a woman be kohain?

Answer: The reason for the spreading of the fingers by the Kohanim during the blessing is that during exile G-d looks at us from behind a wall, so to speak. There are five windows in this wall through which He connects to us and bestows us with blessing. In order to symbolize those five openings, the Kohanim spread their five fingers.

We do not look directly at them in order not to become distracted during the blessing.
A woman whose father is a Kohain has many of the rights of a Kohain. However, these rights do not extend to performing the service in the Temple or saying the Birchat Kohanim.

I am unaware of this blessing being specifically used to heal people. However, being blessed by a Kohain, and bringing the blessing of G-d upon a person, will surely bring him benefits. So there would be no doubt that it could be helpful for one who is ill.

All the best, Rabbi Azriel Schreiber

Blessings of the Innocent Sotah

Question: The Commentary of Rashi when talking about Sotah (unfaithful wife, Numbers 5:11) says that a woman who goes through the process and didn’t actually do anything wrong, will get a blessing for an easy childbirth. The second part of Rashi says that if a woman normally had black children, she will now merit to have white children.  Any insight to understand this?

Answer: It doesn’t quite say that. It states, “If she is used to having darker skinned babies, she will not have fairer skinned ones.” One possible explanation is that they viewed lighter skinned children as more handsome. A lighter complexion (My Fair Lady) was considered to be more appealing in those days. Another possibility is that Rashi in the Talmud states that it is healthy for a man to have intimacy with his wife during the pregnancy so that the baby comes out, “Meluban umezuraz.” Which translates to white and enthusiastic. Now enthusiastic makes sense because a males sperm contains petosin which helps bring on labor quickly, but white was perhaps a sign of a healthy baby – or it may have just been cosmetic. Not sure.

All the Best,
Rabbi Meir Goldberg

Why isn’t there Sotah for men?

Question: My questions are: “Is the article below suppose to relate to now-modern times? Or is it just the biblical background on adultery? And most importantly to me as a woman, why isn’t there anything mentioned about adultery as it pertains to a married man committing it? Women are not the only sex that commits adultery; it seems to be a grossly one sided article, and it there is no reference as to how this ‘halacha’ pertains to present day, then to me it is just history.”

So what I would like to see or know is what is the halacha view on adultery for the present day as all the ‘sacrifice’ stuff really doesn’t apply today, and what is the present day view of a man committing adultery?

Adultery – Sotah
If a woman is deliberately unfaithful to her husband she becomes forbidden to him and he must divorce her, as it says “Her first husband… cannot take her again to be his wife after she has been defiled”[1,a]; and she is also forbidden to marry the man with whom she was unfaithful. If a man tells his wife before witnesses that she must not be alone with someone and she disobeys, she also becomes forbidden to both of them. When the Temple exists she can (if they wish) return to her husband by performing the ceremony of drinking the “bitter waters”, as it says “If a man’s wife strays… he shall bring his wife to the priest and bring her sacrifice with her, a tenth of an ephah of barley flour; he shall not pour oil on it nor put frankincense on it… and [the priest] shall make the woman drink the bitter water…”[2,b]. It is a man’s duty to be particular about the habits of the members of his household and to warn them against sin, as it says “And you shall know that your tent is at peace and you shall examine your habitation and not sin”[3,c].

1. Deut. 24:4
2. Num. 5:12-31
3. Job 5:24 a. Geirushin 11:14; Ishus 24:17
b. 1:1-2; 2:1,12; Ishus 24:24
c. 4:19

Answer: I’ve been asked to respond your question. You wrote:

Is the article below suppose to relate to modern times?

Well, practically speaking, there is no modern correlation to the process of testing a Sotah because there is currently no Temple. Of course, the moral lessons taught by this particular mitzva (law) are universal and the primary underlying lesson – that God is aware of what happens in the human world and that He can and does interfere at will – will not be lost on mature and sensitive readers.

why isn’t there anything mentioned about adultery as it pertains to a married man committing it?

As a matter of fact there is. The Talmud (Sotah 27b) writes: “Just as the waters test the woman, they also test her partner (i.e., the man with whom she sinned).” Which clearly indicates that, assuming they had actually sinned together, both partners will die miraculous deaths.

and what is the present day view of a man committing adultery?

There is a subtle (and legally meaningless) difference between the adultery of some men and that of all women. Since Torah law allows a man to marry more than one wife – even if Ashkenazic Jews rejected polygamy 1,000 years ago and Sephardic more recently – while a woman may have only one husband, a married man engaging in a casual relationship with an unmarried woman is not liable for the death penalty (even when such penalties would have been imposed). However there is no instance in which partners in a forbidden relationship would be treated differently from each other (or at least no instance that comes to mind). What follows, therefore, is that both partners in an adulterous relationship involving a married woman have committed a capital offense. Both partners of an adulterous relationship in which the woman is not married have committed a serious (non-capital) crime, and, assuming they are both consenting participants, are considered equally perverse and reprehensible.

I hope this helps.

With my best regards,
Rabbi Boruch Clinton

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