E-lokai Neshmah, redux
In an earlier post, I extrapolated from a point made by R’ YG Bechhofer, contrasting Pinocchio with Adam haRishon to give a perspective on the yeitzer hara vs. the yeitzer hatov. I wrote:
Until Adam ate the fruit, he consisted of free will and internalized yeitzer hatov (inclination to do good). He had no yeitzer hara; the inclination to do evil was external to him. … Since the desire to do evil was external, taking the form of the snake, it would have to present its argument to Adam. Adam’s only desire was to do good, so the snake’s argument would have to be a lie, presenting what it was promoting as though it were the greater good. Adam faced two conflicting stories about which path is better, and had to choose which was the truth.
In contrast to Adam, in the story of Pinocchio the main character[,] … rather than [being given] a yeitzer hatov, the call to do good is externalized as a cricket. He is told to identify with the voice in his head suggesting wrong choices, but good choices are things someone else foisted on him. … Pinocchio was set up to fail.
Here I want to suggest a similar point, but rather than on the subject of yeitzer hatov vs. yeitzer hara, on a different plane of the spiritual model.
We say in the morning berakhos, E-lokai Neshamah: “אֱ-לֹהַי נְשָׁמָה שֶׁנָּתַתָּ בִּי טְהוֹרָה הִיא. My G-d, the soul which you placed within me is pure.” When I gave a shiur on the topic, I asked: Who is the “me” saying “the soul which You put within me”? Aren’t I my soul (and I live within a body) — how can it be placed within “me”?
At the time I answered by raising the topic of naran, and making a distinction between various aspects of the soul. The aspect which performs conscious thought, and thus which is the “I” who I see in my mind’s mirror is the ru’ach. The neshamah, which we describe in this berakhah as still being pure, is that of the soul which exists in heaven, which “hears” man’s higher calling.
Thus, the berakhah is being said from the perspective of the ru’ach; that is the “me” that the neshamah is placed within. And we thank G-d that no matter how much our actions create illness in the rest of the soul, or soil it, we can still reestablish contact with the neshamah which remains pure.
Note that the lowest element, the nefesh, is missing. The berakhah speaks of I the ruach having within me a neshamah. The nefesh is the mammalian aspects of being a human, the soul’s faculties designed to keep us alive and that are influenced by living in a brain and exposed to hormones and physical desires.
We can therefore see E-lokai Neshmah as an exercise. We take a position similar to Adam’s, but rather than being about good vs. evil, on the plane of identifying with our higher callings rather than our more animalistic aspects. My neshamah, my drive to live a meaningful life, is within me. I can say these words, “the soul which you placed within me is pure” spending a moment identifying my neshamah as part of myself that no matter what I do remains pure, and if I choose to be aware of it, could return the rest of me to purity.