One of the hardest concepts to appreciate and understand is the soul of man. And to further exasperate the problem, religions have decided to confound the matter even more by ignoring what is clearly defined in Genesis, that the soul was a particular gift from God to man, and to no other species on this planet. For it is clearly written that even after God had created all the other animals he did something different with man at the time of our inception.
7 Then the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
ז וַיִּיצֶר יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָדָם, עָפָר מִן-הָאֲדָמָה, וַיִּפַּח בְּאַפָּיו, נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים; וַיְהִי הָאָדָם, לְנֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה.
This breath of life was different from the the actual act of living which all the other creatures possessed. Man became the embodiment of this soul. We are the vessel to contain it but it is something very different and apart from our own existence. This was an actual part of God which He infused into man to become the soul and our essence. So even though you will have religious leaders today claiming that dogs and cats have a soul and they too will be granted an afterlife, the fact is that man is unique in this attribute. Only man, and man alone possesses a soul. And we don't even really possess it because as God clearely stated, we become part of it, not the other way around.
Now what I am about to say may upset some of you because even though I am a Karaite, and some Karaites would like to believe there is a final reward, my beliefs are those of a Zadokite and therefore I have no concept of an afterlife. And to those that have come to believe that your soul grants you some form of immortality, and that you find some respite from the hardships of this world by finding a place in heaven where you can idle away eternity in discussion with sages and ancestors of the past, I am afraid those are concepts that have little to do with the 'soul' that I am about to discuss. The only reward to life is this beautiful gift of life we already have. And we should choose not to follow God's laws because we expect some reward of eternity or paradise but because it is necessary for the betterment of the soul that we have been gifted with to nourish and protect for reasons I will attempt to explain.
What I am about to relate to you has to do with the Shekinah, or what Moses described as the cloud which contained the presence of God. It was not God but a manifestation of his creative power, or as we might describe in our scientific language of today, an energy 'sink' or 'pool'. And as I have said repeatedly, all things come form the Shekinah and all things return to the Shekinah. It is the Shekinah that provided us with the origin of what we refer to as our soul. Perhaps we should think of it as a library book that we have borrowed for a time, derived great joy and pleasure from it, but when we are done we must return it so that others may also benefit. I know this is a difficult concept to accept but let me explain:
The Soul of Man
Above all things is the greatness of God, but under Him and above all else on this earth is the soul of man. The soul of man is not separate from God but is in itself a part of God by which He has spanned the gulf between Heaven and Earth. It is the chord which binds man to God and why man is the only creature on earth that recognizes its own mortality. Only man understands that he will grow old and succumb to death and pass into nothingness. No other animal on this planet understands that their lives will end in decay and doom.
And it is this nothingness, this sentence of death which frightens man the most and why he has always desperately searched for an answer to immortality. All of man’s superiority and yet mankind is terrified by the ultimate fate that awaits. Born as a hapless babe and dying like a hapless babe, crying for one more chance, one more hour, fearing the unknown and not appreciating the divine plan where the spark returns to its origin through the chord attached.
To the beast of the field, they have no comprehension of time. Each day is like the next. There is no understanding of the changes of life, the span of time or the desire of youth. The carnivore has no understanding that one day itself will be prey to the ravages of time, its bones bleached beneath the blazing sun no different from the animals it has slaughtered. The cow marched through the abattoir has no concept of what awaits in the stunning chamber. Only man can appreciate what happens next and it shakes him to the core of his bones.
The soul must not be confused with life for all creatures have life. That is nothing more than an electrical-chemical spark that infuses the cells with activity, the heart to beat, the nerves to relay their signals through the synapses. But that is not the soul, that essence of spirit that drives us to achieve more than we think ourselves capable of achieving, to contemplate that which we have no knowledge of. The receptors in the nose smell but it is the soul that brings back sweet memories to a particular odour or fragrance that fills us with a longing and desire. It is the stomach that digests, but the soul that makes us savour a particular flavour that makes our heart sing. Our eyes see but it is the soul that gives us that second sight that transmits what we saw into lessons we treasure for the rest of our lives.
All creatures can sense fear, rage, anger and love. These are basic needs that drive life to survive and exist. But other than man, what creature can have a sense of honour and shame, justice and treachery, or chivalry or cowardice. These are qualities that require not only intellect but willpower and the ability to overcome the basic instincts. Only with a soul can a man react in a completely opposite manner to the fight or flight instincts that are hardwired into all living organisms. It is the soul which provides us with the ability to act noble, to appreciate beauty, to act contrary to our animal directives.
The soul is malleable, waiting for us to shape it well beyond the simple spark that was infused within us the day we were conceived. It is ours to beautify, ours to fill with goodness, ours to glorify with love. In the same manner that we can shape it into a thing of ugliness should we choose to follow a path of darkness, filled with vices and hatred. What you do with the soul is within your own power and therefore it is left to your imagination to carve and shape into a final image of your life. The soul thirsts for its final transformation and it is the product of free will which was God’s gift to mankind. God has provided his guidelines by which man is to shape the soul but the determination of whether one does or doesn’t is left to each one of us.
Though man will never know immortality, the soul is already part of the everlasting existence of the universe. It is returned to the Shekinah when life is done, back to the domain which is God, Himself. How it returns to the Shekinah is our responsibility. Glorified, splendiferous, or scarred and damaged, that is within our power. And only when we realize that our existence does have a purpose, that it just isn’t about being born, living a life of toil and hardship, and then dying but in reality is finding ways in which to care and nurture this soul through the love and happiness that life can offer, then and only then do we face death knowing that we can achieve immortality but in a manner different than we assumed it would be achieved. Once we appreciate that throughout our lives we carry the soul like a foetus in the womb in order to give birth to it at the moment of our death then we have also attained an understanding of the meaning of life. The knowlege and experience that we impart to this soul will then either be of benefit or detriment to those already contained within the Shekinah, awaiting to spark another life, another existence. That is within our power. That is how our life is measured and weighed in the balance when we reach our final destiny. Not seeking some personal benefit and reward as we would like to believe, reducing God to some market haggler for our own fulfillment but instead with nobility and honour knowing that we have done our part to shape a better future for mankind and provided and instilled the love for a kinder world with the spark that we have passed on.