Mind, Perception, and Metaphysics

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13 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    Is there some logical necessity for nissim to follow their own rules, as opposed to being separate singular events? If not, what is the reason to believe nissim categorically do follow rules?

  2. micha says:

    I’m just quoting the Maharal’s intro to Gevuras Hashem, as well as the Michtav meiEliyahu who further develops it.

    However, there is a theological reason to say that Hashem’s plan is perfect, and thus that His system accommodates every possible human interaction, without needing one-off exceptions.

    IMHO, the two positions only have an illusory difference. The gap between Hashem responding in a once-off way to human action and His having a system set up in advance is on when you pretend Hashem makes the decision. Hashem has no “when” to His decisions, so it really is a pretense; a model we have to use in order to approximate what is really going on. See this post.


  3. Yona says:

    Shiurei Daa’s (R. Yosef Leib Bloch) also discusses some of these themes at length in many different contexts. Specifically see “ki kol bashamayim va’aretz” and “dor haflaga.”

    BTW, R. Bloch has some connection with the Leshem, and is one of the finest examples of Litvishe Kabbalah.

  4. CA says:

    So, how do you analyze the statement: “No blade of grass grows without its mazal above telling it to grow”? Does it mean that the mazal:

    1) send a signal to the blade that interacts with its matter/physiology
    2) creates the matter of the blade
    3) creates the properties of the blade
    4) creates the particular local instance of laws of physics that allow the physiology of the blade to work and grow

    (not sure that 2, 3, and 4 are different)

    • micha says:


      You’re referring to Bereishis Rabba 10:6-7:

      אמר רבי סימון: אין לך כל עשב ועשב, שאין לו מזל ברקיע, שמכה אותו ואומר לו גדל, הדא הוא דכתיב (שם לח): הידעת חקות שמים אם תשים משטרו בארץ וגו’. לשון שוטר (שם י).
      התקשר מעדנות כימה, או מושכות כסיל תפתח.

      I would say that the mazal doesn’t create the local instance of the laws of physics, but is that instance. Caused by, or as the Rambam would put it “contingent upon” the more general mal’ach who is the law in general.

  5. CA says:

    So, extending that to the soul, would you say that the same applies (locally*) to the soul? I.e., given soul = an instantiation (to use OOP moshol) of laws of physics that create/govern given instance of the brain?

    * Difference from mazal being that soul extends all the way to keilim of Atzilus (or, perhaps, to Atzmus E”S), while the mazal extends only to Yetzira.

  6. micha says:


    Yes, in a human soul, the nefesh is the embodiment of the laws of thought that are implemented in this brain. But the soul is the entire “column” of Or Ein Sof from “10 tefachim below the kisei hakavod” (the height the gemara tells us Moshe’s consciousness reached) down to the brain. Once one goes above the nefesh, the influence runs both ways. One can enmire one’s consciousness (a function of ruach) in gashmius or elevate it in ruchnius. That is bechirah — that feedback loop between more abstract and less abstract laws.

    (In this hashkafah, the Tanya’s stark contrast between kinds of human souls doesn’t exist — I mean all human souls. I also put that parenthetic remark about consciousness being within ruach because I figure the terms may be used in a way that is alien to someone who had more exposure to Chassidus than to the Gra’s Qabbalah.)

    Another distinction, inherent in a single “s” in your comment. A mazal is /a/ law. A soul is a dynamic of multiple laws.

  7. CA says:

    But do you think that neshama creates the matter of the moach, yesh m’ayin, or the laws of physics (e.g., V = IR) that result in the emergent properties and processes of cognition? (Again, I am not sure we can differentiate between the two.)

    The “laws of cognition” result from local anatomy of brain circuits and cells, as well as from the laws of physics that govern interactions between molecules.

  8. micha says:


    As I wrote before, “I would say that the mazal doesn’t create the local instance of the laws of physics, but is that instance.”

    The soul is a beam of Or Ein Sof. Unlike physical objects, which is the “bottom” slice of that beam as it exists in the olam ha’asiyah, or mal’akhim which are the kochos (RCV) as they exist in higher olamos. RCV makes a strong point about how the soul alone is the unity of forces from all the olamos, which is how people have the power to effect spiritual change.

    The neshamah doesn’t create the moach, the tzurah of the moach is the bottom “surface” of the neshamah. As the Leshem puts it, the chomer of one world are the tzuros of the world below. It’s not a causal connection but an identity. I discussed this in more length at the previous post.

  9. CA says:

    But what is the difference between, say, alive brain (or blade of grass) and a dead one? Looking “from the bottom”, it’s just that the matter is scrambled up in a non-useful way (the cells are ruptured, the electrochemical gradients are down, etc.). A dead brain resembles more a broken engine (some gears are cracked, or the belt is torn) than a computer that is disconnected from electricity (the hardware is there and in the right combination, but no juice to power it).

    The laws of physics are the same in the dead brain as in alive one. Chomer is also the same. Tzura is different… so, would you say that what creates this tzura is a different mazal than the neshama?

    Also, what about brain slices from animals, or, for instance, pieces of brain tissue that are taken from epileptic patients. Those pieces of tissue are still alive; one can record from them and arguably even study building blocks of “thought”. (Although, one could argue that it takes large populations of cells synchronized together to make a unit of thought.) Is neshama somehow present in them, or, once they are taken from the main brain, they are given over to a mazal?

    (Interestingly, as my wife points out, there is an opinion that a person is halachically alive as long as even a single cell of his brain is alive.)

    Why doesn’t Tanya’s contrast between different souls not exist in your model? (Btw, I found a ma’amor Chassidus that discusses soul–body relationship. I’ll post it, iyH, on my blog.)

  10. CA says:

    Also: for instance, when one surgically modifies the brain, for instance, by splitting corpus callosum, does it affect neshama, or does it just not allow neshama’s “bottom surface” to fully map onto the tzura of the moach?

  11. micha says:

    A living brain or blade of grass has a tzurah capable of supporting a dynamic process. This means the tzurah itself is amenable to higher levels of abstraction — tzuros in higher olamos. In the case of a human, much much higher. We can contemplate morality and sanctity — our souls have tzuros in every olam.

    The soul of a niftar lacks a physical implementation. It ends just above olam ha’asiyah. The brain has a physical form, but there is no spiritual tzurah, no love, no moral calling, no spiritual pull, that was the tzurah of the physical tzurah. The soul of someone with brain damage or a mental incapacity is only partially implemented. Less of the form reaches olam haasiyah. For that matter, every soul is only partially implemented, as no brain fully expresses the potential of the soul; compared to their souls, even R’ Chaim Brisker’s or Einstein’s brains are too limited.

    You ask a third time about mazalos creating tzuros… And a third time I must reply that the mazal IS the tzurah, not its cause. It’s like asking whether the bit being saved in your computer’s memory caused the transistor to shut off. The bit is a higher level abstraction, and when it reaches that transistor, it is part of the form of the transistor.

    In the Gra’s writings, there is no dichotomy of nefesh beheimis and nefesh Elokis. (And for that matter, his conception of nefesh vs. neshamah within naran is closer to the Tanya’s NB vs NE than to the Tanya’s naran.) The entire language you are assuming in order to discuss the Tanya’s position doesn’t exist.

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