The entire “I” of a coarse and lowly person is restricted only to his substance and body. Above him is someone who feels that his “I” is a synthesis of body and soul. … האיש הגס והשפל כל ״אני׳׳ שלו מצומצם רק בחמרו וגופו, למעלה ממנו מי שמרגיש ש״אני״ שלו הוא מורכב מגוף ונפש, …
How do people differ qualitatively? By the breadth of their notion of “ani” (“I”). Rav Shimon might mean “ani” as a reference to the same etymology from which Freud took his term “Ego”, I don’t know.
In his ranking of gradations of soul, we just saw Rav Shimon’s first two levels:
Level 0: The person who thinks r”l that they are only a body. They are totally unaware of their spiritual side, and in fact, just think they are clever animals. The driving force in their lives are creature comforts: food sex, comfortable clothing, rest, etc…
Level 1: The person who is aware of their own soul. This person addresses both bodily needs and spiritual ones. But, their attention to spirituality is all for the self.
There is a machloqes, a dispute among the rabbis, as to how to view man. One side, found often among books of Mussar, views a person as a soul who inhabits a body (Ramchal, Derekh Hashem), or perhaps controls it as a rider upon a donkey (Rav Scherr’s introduction to the reprinting of Cheshbon haNefesh). This then becomes a key symbol in the Gra’s interpretation system — when one finds a chamor / donkey in a narrative, it is generally a symbol for chomer / physicality. Avraham at the Aqeidah or the mashiach come in riding on a donkey as a way to hint to us their mastery over their own physicality.
The other stream of thought includes the body in the definition of person. Man as a fusion of body and soul. Such as when the gemara (Sanhedrin 91b) compares a sinner to a blind man and a lame man who conspire together to steal fruit. Each claims innocence, so the judge puts one atop the other and judges them as a unit. So too, the gemara explains, in order to be judged for our sins, Hashem will bodily resurrect the sinner to reconstruct the person as they were then.
Rav Shimon’s topic is slightly different. The “ani” of a person is a matter of self-definition, not whether that self-definition refers to one entity (just the person), or many (the person’s “me and mine”). As we will see later, the above dispute might be more in terms of what the introduction idenfies with “atzmi“, not “ani“.