What is the relationship between the external manifestation of the human soul (its "aspects," forces) and the essence of the soul itself? This question lies at the center of much Hassidic speculation concerning human psychology, and is central in the doctrines of the Chabad school.
The founder of Chabad, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, made apparently contradictory statements concerning the nature of this relationship. In his major work, the Tanya, we read: "The soul .. consists of ten aspects (behinot), which correspond to the ten Divine Manifestations (sefirot) from which they are descended … and are subdivided into Intellect (sekhel) and Attributes (middot): (Chapter 3). Later in the same book he writes: "The essence and the being of the soul … are its ten aspects" (Chapter 12). These are clear statements in favor of the position that the sou's essence is identical with its manifestations. Elsewhere, however, Rabbi Schneur Zalman modifies this stand. In his Likkutei Torah (Leviticus 4) he writes that his statements in the Tanya were not accurate, and that even the highest of the ten aspects is not identical with the essence and the being of the soul. All the forces and aspects of the soul are no more than modes in which the essence of the soul is manifest. The reason underlying this reservation is also made clear. Understanding the soul to be made up of separate parts would be to deny its unique nature. Seen in this way, it would no longer be a single entity, but a package of different qualities or aspects.
Observation of life and of human development buttressed the Chassidic view that the manifestations and the essence of the soul are not identical. The soul, the vital force of the body, exists within a human being by virtue of the fact that he was created. In its essence, it is a unique, single, stable and unchanging entity, but as a person grows and develops, his intellect, attributes and feelings, which are all manifestations of the soul, do change. Life, in fact, can be perceived as an ongoing process of change in the manifestations of the soul. Thus, though the manifestations are ultimately derived from the essence, they are in fact separate and discrete.
If the soul is not identical with its manifestations, what is it? The traditional Chassidic response to this question is that we do not know, nor can we know. Whereas the manifestations of the soul are knowable, the essence is beyond the limits of our comprehension. The essence of the soul, like the being of God, is inaccessible to the human mind, and is not a subject for human enquiry. The questions that may be asked concerning the soul, then, concern the various manifestations, their relation to the essence, and the relationships between them.
Revealing: Garment and Adornment
The manifestations of the soul are, as we have seen, separate from the essence, but this does not imply that they are simple vehicles by means of which it is revealed. There is a wide range of fundamentally different manifestations of the soul, including Intellect, feelings, cognitive powers, speech and action. In order to understand their nature, we shall have to clarify what is involved in the process of revealing.
The image used in earlier kabbalistic and Chassidic works to describe revealing is that of "garbing." The distinction between the two concepts, "garbing" and "revealing," is extremely important. The implication of "revealing" in the sense in which it is normally used is that the entity itself, in is essence, is made apparent, is uncovered, and that there is no intermediary between it and the perceiver. "Garbing," on the other hand, refers to a situation in which there is precisely such an intermediary, a "garment." The garment is a separate entity, though it generally possesses no character or personality of its own: it serves as an instrument, whose function is to reveal the nature and the goal of another entity.
The use of the two linked images, "garbing" and "garment," highlights the two-sided nature of revealing – it is both a covering and an uncovering. A person does not appear in company undressed; without his garments, he is not seen. The garment is an instrument by means of which the entity is revealed, but, on the other hand, it hides the true essence and nature of that which it grabs: from without, we can see only the garment. Speech, for example, is frequently described in the Tanya as a garment for thought. Thought is an inner, spiritual process that cannot be transmitted to others. For it to be communicated, it must be garbed in the garment of speech (from this point of view, writing is considered tobe a special case of speech). What is revealed, that which is made manifest, is not the thought itself, which remains hidden and concealed, but a kind of projection, a shadow of the reality. Speech is incapable of transmitting thought perfectly; it can convey the content of thought, but not its essence.
Another aspect of the garbing and garment symbolism is the close connection between that which is garbed and the garment. The garment is an external entity, but it does reproduce or copy the essence of that which is garbed. This is an important characteristic, and it makes the difference between garments and other instruments. For the most part, an instrument does not reproduce the content of the entity that employs it. The garment, even though it conceals, does provide background material that will help us to understand the inner essence. Thus, speech can be considered a garment for thought only by virtue of the fact that the "alphabet of speech" is a kind of transcript, a translation, of the "alphabet of thought."
There are various kinds of garments. A particular essence can be revealed or made apparent in numerous ways, and each of these modes of "garbing" is different. It is possible to analyze these forms in great detail, but two broad categories can be distinguished – that of inner garments and that of outer garments.
In a certain sense an outer garment is the simplest form of revealing – the making apparent of concealed content to others. Nevertheless, such a garment is generally relatively far removed from that which is garbed, both in its essence and in the accuracy of the reproduction. Speech is an example of an outer garment. An inner garment, on the other hand, does not reveal to the external world, to others; it is more of an inner revealing, to one's self. It is the bringing to light, making manifest. Of something previous either not understood or not present in the realm of consciousness. An example of such an inner garment is thought, when it is seen as garbing the soul; thought reveals to the subject something of his own soul, and yet is never seen on the outside.
A characteristic common to all garments is that they possess no intrinsic connection with what is garbed, and always remain separate entities. Nevertheless, in certain circumstances they may affect the entities that they garb. Thus, what a person says may provoke his thoughts, but such stinulation is not a function of the garment as a garment, but as a new entity uwhich may or may not have such an effect.
There is another mode of manifestation, that known symbolically as an "adornment." Its connection with the essence that is reveals is much closer than that of even an inner garment. To a limited degree, the adornment does unite with the essence; from the perspective of the external world, the inner essence; from the perspective of the external world, the inner essence and the adornment appear to be identical. The adornment is thus more than a garment, for it is intrinsically connected with the essence it garbs; it is not a totally separate entity, but assumes part of the personality of the essence. There are, however, two aspects of the adornment. In terms of its own primary being, it remains separate and discrete, and is never one with the essence. As seen from the outside, however, there is no way of distinguishing between the two. The essence does not merely "use" the adornment as a medium to establish a connection with the outer world; the bond is much more profound. When the essence is revealed by an adornment, it becomes, in a way, a sort of adornment itself, for it is totally identifiable with the particular mode of manifestation operating at that time. Even though the adornments may change, for whatever period of time the connection exists, the identity with it is complete.
Garment and Adornment and the Soul
Let us now apply the distinction we have made between garment and adornment to what is knowable of the soul. Thought, speech and action are among the garments of the soul, whereas Intellect and Attributed are its adornments. As we have noted, the function of the garment is to reveal the essence to the exterior. In other words, thought, speech and action are the means by which the soul is manifest, by which its Will is revealed. Nevertheless, the soul is not identified with any of these garments. Even thought, which is an inner garment, is not to be identified with the sould itself. Thought does no more than convey or express a particular content, desire, idea or impulse that arises in the soul. Thought transcribes that which it receives from the soul into its own alphabet – words. This is not the case with the adornments, the so-called powers of the soul. Let us take, for example, Will, one of the highest of these powers. Will is more than just a means of expressing the soul. Although it does serve as a medium through which the soul is manifest, when it is operative, Will is united with the essence of the soul and from the perspective of the external world, it is the soul.
A characteristic of garments, both inner and outer, is that they may be imperfect or flawed. When this occurs, as it does to some degree in every individual, the manifestations of the soul are likely to be distorted. This can impair the establishment of a connection between the soul and the exterior, or result in a faulty connection. Thus thought may be unable to express fully the true essence of the soul, when it is limited by defective methods of reasoning or by erroneous concepts that are not compatible with the essence of the soul. Such distortion does not occur with the adornments, the powers of the soul: as we have said, in a sense they are the soul, and they do express the soul correctly.
These differences are of far-reaching significance when we wish to understand the distinction between Intellect and thought. As we have noted, the two are not identical. Thought is only a garment, and, as such, its basis is the revealing of a particular content. The fact that thought, word and action are connected in a kind of permanent bond shows that they are all modes of manifestation of more inner essences, and that the differences between them are only of degree. Though thought is an "inner" garment, close to and almost inseparable from the soul, it is still in the same category as speech and action. Like the other garments, thought is a function of the physical body, to which the soul gives life and the ability to exist. The difference between the activities of the various garments is ultimately a function of the instruments with which they express themselves. Thus, the differences between action (the hands) and speech the mouth) and between speech and thought (the brain) are functions of the sensitivity and subtlety of the instruments. Thought is an activity of the physical body, but at a more spiritual, refined level.
Intellect is the capacity of the soul to comprehend, the basic essence of the soul's power to understand. It is the soul's intrinsic ability to attain holistic intellectual understanding. Comprehension by the Intellect (as opposed to that by thought) is of the totality of whole entities, and to a certain degree, of things-in-themselves. At this level, the concepts and words of thought are not manifest. When, however, thought emerges from this general state of potentiality and enters the instruments of thought – the brain – there is a transformation from potential content to actual content, a translation of the abstract capacity for comprehension into words and concepts which, in turn, are expressed in the Alphabet of Thought, and are "garments." "Thought," a physiological-mental activity, serves as a performing instrument, carrying out the directives of the Intellect.
The relationship between the Attributes of the soul and the emotions is similar to that between the Intellect and thought. The Attributes are the first sparks, the forces that activate the emotions in their development; they are simple essences, the primary impulses. When such an impulse reaches the brain, it unites with the capacity of thought, and an emotion can take form, in all its mental and sentimental complexity.
The Relationship Between Intellect and Attributes
In the Tanya, the relation between the Intellect and the Attributes is usually described as that of cause and effect. The primacy of the Intellect over the Attributes is supported by observation of human life and of the changes that take place in Attributes. Special attention is paid to the objects of the Attributes in children, "whose affections are for little, unworthy objects, because they have not the knowledge to love that which is worthy of love, love being according to Knowledge." This statement of the ontological primacy of Intellect is subsequently modified, and it seems that the intellect does not create the Attributes, but rather provides the objects for the. Even if only the Intellect can activate the Attributes, Intellect cannot in itself relate to them. At most it can be said that the Intellect is the midwife of the Attributes.
We would seem to be moving in the direction of an unexpected nationalism: even though the emotions are not created by the Intellect, nevertheless their coming into existence is conditioned by it. In fact, further examination of the distinction between Intellect and thought shows us that the relationship is more complex. Intellect is essentially the capacity to comprehend and to absorb reality – whether this is outer or inner; Attributes, on the other hand, are the impulses inherent in man, although only in potential, as first sparks. What they contain is the possibility to love or to hate (or more precisely, to be drawn to or repelled by), to respond to beauty, etc. but such impulses are blind as long as there is no object upon which their particular energy can be focused. Without the background of mental contents provided by thought, they cannot make contact with reality, and remain in potential. It is the Intellect which chooses the objects to which human impulses can relate; only after such an initial selection of objects, and a complex process during which the primary attitude of the Intellect towards them is fixed, in thoughts and words, cant he inner impulses begin to be manifest and to act as genuine human emotions.
It cannot be said that a child loves or hates less than an adult. His primary impulses (Attributes) exist within him to the same extent, and they are certainly very active. The difference is that the child's Intellect is less developed than that of an adult, and selects different objects for love or for hate, from a more restricted range of possibilities. By generalizing the comparison of child and adult, we can see that the smaller the guiding, directing power of the Intellect, the greater is the relative influence of the Attributes-as-impulses on thought and behavior.
The Chassidic theory of moral growth was based on what may be called a system that prescribed the way in which the individual could become a more complete human being – by directing the Intellect towards more noble objects.