ABOUT SOULS AND THE GRAVITY OF LOVE
A number of years ago at our Shabbat table in Jerusalem, a Catholic woman named Mary sat quietly listening to the stories and teachings that were going around. On a couple of occasions, I noticed that she was gently weeping. We were not discussing sad events, but I knew that her soul was being touched in a mysterious way. Many tears spill in Jerusalem.
During a lull in the conversation, Mary got the courage to speak. She said, "I know this sounds strange, but when I was eleven years old I was fascinated with the Diary of Anne Frank. I must have read it fifty times. I dreamt about it.
"Later, when I was seventeen, something happened that I will never forget. I was taking a trip and had decided to go by train. I had always flown with my parents and this was the first experience I ever had overnight on a train. After the sun went down, I stared out at the darkness. I don't know what happened, but suddenly I was in a crowded space, packed with people. Someone was crying. It was stiflingly hot. The smell of body odor, excrement and vomit was awful. I noticed that we were swaying and I heard the clacking of wheels moving on a track.
"It was like a dream; but I was wide awake. I was frightened. I had relatives close by me. They were not relatives I have now, but from another time. My grandmother was there, my mother and father as well. My sister sat next to me and I knew that my two brothers were somewhere else. I heard a woman moan and cry out on the other side of the boxcar; I knew that someone had just died. I knew as well that we were heading toward our own death and I was strangely calm about it."
The guests at our Shabbat table were spellbound by Mary's story. Shoshana and I have heard similar stories many times, but this was one of the most vivid accounts I can recall.
Mary took a sip of water. I could see that her hand was trembling as she relived this haunting story perhaps for the thousandth time.
"Eventually the train came to its destination. When it stopped, after three days and nights, screaming guards with heavy sticks herded us through fences of barbed wire. Then we stood in a long line, waiting. Slowly we moved toward a room where people were separated to the right and to the left.
"My grandmother, father and mother stood just in front of my sister and myself. I could see ahead that most of the people were sent to the left side. My grandmother was guided to the left, as were my father and mother. I remember exactly how they looked when the guard pulled me to the right. I was seventeen years old. My sister, only eight, was sent to the left. My mother was wailing and I was punching at the guard, but I had no strength and they dragged me away. I never saw my family again."
Mary began to sob. The rest of us were silent and teary. We sat for many minutes. Then Mary said, "I cannot even begin to tell you of the unspeakable horrors. I only lasted six months, but it was an eternity. I know the faces of my murderers.
"And I want you to know that I am certain this really happened. I just know it. I am not sure what I am supposed to do about it, but the memories are so clear. This is as real for me as anything I have experienced in this lifetime."
Mary's story is not at all unusual. We have encountered dozens of people, Jews and non-Jews, who have amazing memories of holocaust experiences yet were too young to have been there. Some do not remember specific events, but have a deep sense of having been victims. A few have expressed the belief that they were Nazis who have returned to work on an emptiness in the core of their being.
Stories of the holocaust wrench the heart. They lead to many questions without answers. All those who died, what happened to their souls?
Yet, people like Mary add a new dimension. Something continues to overflow from the holocaust that fills the memories of a remarkable number of people. Many are embarrassed even to speak about it. This is not simply a phenomenon of fantasy or collective guilt. Something much deeper is happening. The memories are too powerful and in some instances actually have been verified.
This is "real." Souls of victims and guards are quite present, here and now. It is a difficult issue, but gives us hope. It has to do with the mysteries of creation, souls, life, purpose and death.
What is the soul? This question that has plagued theologians for thousands of years. It is not an easy subject to discuss. Where does the soul come from? Where does it go? What is its purpose?
In Western science, the physical universe is held together by electro-magnetic forces. It is hypothesized that the same principle of gravity that keeps the solar system operating, binds the protons, neutrons and electrons of atoms. Various forces may have different strengths, and peculiar nuances, but the general principle remains the same. Physicists continue to search for a universal formula by which to describe this process.
Electro-magnetic force is clearly the most dominant feature of the human body, even though we cannot see it. If we could somehow eliminate the space between the nucleus of the atoms that compose our body, all of the physical matter of the body would compact into something smaller than a grain of sand.2
That is to say, we are a grain of matter scattered through five or six feet of space, held together by electro-magnetic forces that nobody has been able to measure.
As has been pointed out in recent years, theoretical physics and esoteric metaphysics frequently share common touch points. The mysteries of electro-magnetic forces are to science as the soul is to Western theology. It does not exist as an entity, but the universe is dependent upon it. We cannot taste, smell, see, hear, or touch it, but everything we sense, and our senses themselves, cannot operate without it.
The soul in Jewish mysticism is one of the most essential aspects of creation itself. Just as the physical universe could not exist without energy, the spiritual dimension is based upon "soul-matter." The kabbalistic viewpoint, of course, is that we could not have a universe without the spiritual realm and thus we could say that one of the key pillars upon which creation rests is the soul.
Kabbalah describes the soul as a kind of spiritual "magnetic" field. This field is not spacial and does not have boundaries, but it is associated with matter. In describing this association, the Zohar suggests that souls are "patterned" like bodies. It says: "As the body is formed in this world from the combination of four elements, the spirit is formed in the Garden [of Eden] from the combination of the four winds. The spirit is enveloped there in the impress of the body's shape. If it were not for the four winds, which are the airs of the Garden, the spirit would not have been clothed [given shape] at all."2
The "impress of the body's shape" is a primordial pattern that could be described as a mirror image of us in another dimension. The mirror is not like one that reflects our physical shape, rather it is like an unusual x-ray mirror that shows our spiritual substance. The pattern of this substance is not only with us, it is simultaneously in other dimensions of reality.
When we think about the soul, we have a tendency to embody it in some way. We give it an identity: my soul, your soul. We view it as an entity that is somehow connected with the body. Some say that it arrives at birth; others say it arrives during gestation or at the moment of conception. Everyone agrees that the soul departs at death. During life it is with us; but perhaps sometimes it is other places as well. We are not sure where it goes after we die, but some say that they know.
Linking the soul to an identity is a mistake because it requires a sense of separation. This is like saying that the electricity needed to illuminate a light bulb is distinct from its source at the power plant. When we see the light shining, should we assume that the electricity belongs to it? Is the electricity in one bulb distinct from the electricity in the bulb next to it? Obviously, the electricity does not belong to any of the bulbs in question, for when the power at the main plant shuts down, all the bulbs turn off.
However, if I live next to a neighbor whose house is off the grid and who has a different source of electricity, we have a new situation. The electricity in one house is not from the same immediate source as another. Yet, it is electricity nonetheless and it operates on exactly the same principles in both houses regardless of the source.
So too with souls. There is a soul principle, a "great soul" that embodies all souls. Then there are lineages that connect souls with different archetypes.
A survey of religious and philosophical literature in Judaism shows that there are widely divergent points of view concerning the soul. Soul cannot be explored without delving into the mysteries of the purpose of life, reward, punishment, death, heaven, and hell. This may be why the soul is a subject that seems to cause an intellectual rash. One has the sense that a great deal of itching is going on when a philosopher or theologian discusses the soul.
Moreover, one quickly notices that most of the views expressed regarding the soul are tempered by cultural influences, and many theories result from a desire for compatibility with prevalent philosophies. This is particularly true of ancient and medieval theologians who described souls in line with the views of Plato or Aristotle. The magnitude and variety of these differences of opinions provides material for many books.
Mystics, however, discuss the soul with disregard for logic, consistency, or concern about agreement with any accepted system. This is because a mystic "experiences" other realities and therefore has no doubt regarding their existence. Moreover, as these realities are not completely disconnected from the material reality we see in front of our eyes, the conclusion is clear: some aspect of our material world mediates between realities. Thus, we could say that the soul is a medium that dissolves boundaries of consciousness.