What is a Man? - a Torah perspective

What is a man?

Some would say no more than a raised ape and some, at the other extreme, would say a fallen angel. 

What is a man - baby in a falling bubble

The Ramban on the creation (Breishis 1:1) says that Hashem’s (God’s) creation of yesh meayin (something from nothing) was the creation of the primordial potential (the basis of all existence.)

For creation of earth this potential was dressed in the 4 yesodot (elements) from which every physical entity is formed:

  • eish - fire
  • mayim - water
  • avir - air
  • afar - soil

Ramban goes on to explain the 4 levels of creation in order of sophistication:

  1. Domem - lifeless (mineral)
  2. Tzemach - plant
  3. Chai - animal
  4. Adam - human

In what is a man different to the other levels of creation?

Each level has a unique and respectively higher essence:

  1. All the levels contain domem
  2. Tzemach has domem plus nefesh (living spirit)
  3. Chai contains domem and tzemach plus a nefesh hatnua (a moving spirit)
  4. Finally adam contains all the above plus a nefesh hamaskeles (intellectual spirit) (Ramban - Breishis 2:7)

Therefore we do have common physical characteristics with all levels of existence and do resemble them in a physical and even metaphysical (life and spirit) sense, as we are all constructed of the same basic substance. 

The difference is in the nefesh hamaskeles which is exclusively human and gives us the power of thought, speech and choice. This nefesh is completely removed from the physical and derives purely from the highest level of spiritual.

Each level of physical existence transcends its level by becoming a part of the next level up. So mineral is absorbed by plant, plant eaten by animal, animal by humans.

Humans have the ability to convert our physical entity and all the levels that are contained within us into spirituality through Torah and mitzvot.

Therefore, Moshe, for example, , the ultimate man of Torah, ascended up to Shamayim (Heaven) to receive the Torah for 40 days and nights, requiring no food or other physical necessities.

Mineral, plant and animal can be converted to pure spirituality by being offered as a korban (offering on the mizbeiach - altar.)

This section deals with the make-up and purpose of a person and reveals tools for ultimate development of the nefesh hamaskeles and thus realisation of human potential.

  • What Makes a Man - Managing life to maximise experience and opportunity and achieve goals - a Torah perspective.

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