Source of spirituality – invisible winds

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So many things must have been mysterious to the ancients. The setting sun with its burst of majestic colors and the onset of night. The rising sun and the ability to see and interact with the world. The changing seasons, the constellations moving in perfect synchrony through the night sky. Yet one phenomenon apparently caught their imagination. The movement of invisible air.

Perhaps it’s because unlike all the other phenomenon above, it touches us, directly stimulating our senses – like a cool draft on a hot day. Like a leaf or feather brushing against our skin a draft catches out attention. “What could it be”, imagine the ancients pondering, “What is moving the clouds? Bringing rain or exposing the hot sun?”

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Breath

But more than wind, more than moving clouds, there certainly is something incredible about this invisible mysterious moving force. It is what gives us breath! Life! A live person has this invisible force moving in and out of his mouth, and a dead person indeed does not!

It is no surprise then when looking into the biblical writings that spirituality seems to be synonymous with the movement of this invisible movement of air.

נשמה- Neshama- Soul- is simply another word for breath. The part of a being which enables us to see life. As it’s known, for time immemorial, people would discern life and death by trying to discern breath. Hence when a person dies, he/she breathed their last breath…

רוח- Ruach. Spirit- Simply is another word for wind. What indeed is this movement which I feel across my skin? Perhaps it’s other souls who have departed their bodies. Thus we have the term ‘spirits’. It’s ironic even in today’s culture, when depicting a horror scene with ghosts and spirits, many movies depicts a howling windy old house with a spirit or ghost drifting in the winds…

Ironically the one common word for soul which doesn’t directly correlate with air movement, נפש – Nefesh- another word for soul, is derived as a result of having the ‘wind of life’, which enables us to live and talk. See Bereishis/Genesis 2:7. ויפח באפיו נשמת חיים ויהי האדם לנפש חיה. “And God blew into his nostrils the breath of life and behold Adam had a living soul. The Targum Unkelus translates “And Adam had a living soul” simply as “והות באדם לרוח ממללה” “Adam had a Ruach (spirit i.e. the ‘wind’) of speech.” (see the Targum Yonason Ben Uziel for similar rendition). In other words, the simple translation according to these two definitive works of the sages were “And God blew into his nostrils the breath of life and behold Adam had a ‘wind’ of speech (נפש).”

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What many modern Jews may not be aware of is the origin of the Tenufa rite performed in the Beis Hamikdash (Temple). The Tenufa, waving of sacrificial offerings, are sourced in countering the ‘evil winds’. Most of these practices are no longer relevant in today’s Judaism but two tenufos/wavings certainly are. Waving the 4 species on the holiday of Sukkos and the Hoshanas on Hoshana Rabba. So as where we may find the practice of the ancients trying to invoke spiritual energy to excise the evil winds from the world by shaking vegetation at them and chanting, those who participate in this ancient rite are in fact doing that themselves.

So simply speaking, the ancients, curious of the world around them, simply saw this mysterious wind which emanates from the mouth as the actual force of life. They revered it as much and thereby created the concept of a Neshama- soul.

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Postscript: What is a soul?

If we were to strip away all the layers of commentaries and notions plied upon the text from the later Sages and Rabbis, was the biblical ‘Neshama’, what we translate as soul, even considered spiritual in the way we would today? Or what it simply a way for them to perceive the mystery of life and all of our notions of spirituality was plied onto the meaning of these words in later generations?

Souls, Heaven and Hell

If one were to look at the actual text of the Torah, there is no mention of reward or punishment in the form of Heaven or Hell. The concepts of Heaven and Hell and a vast body of material dealing with afterlife was only incorporated into Judaism during the times of the Talmud when the Jews were under the dominance of the Babylonians and the Persians and were exposed to such notions which were a staple of those ancient cultures. Until then, for a good 1000 years, the Jews simply did not have an afterlife as part of their religious experience, as one can clearly see in the Torah all the rewards and punishments were physical and in this world- simply read the daily Shema recitation. But we should be wary. Even the Heaven and Hell of the Talmud was nothing like the Heaven and Hell we have today. Our Heaven and Hell were strongly influenced by the Zohar which according to many scholars, was in most if not all written in the 15th century (or a compilation of writings that have been amended to the work as years went on) where the work actually adapted many influences from Eastern religions like reincarnation etc…

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17 thoughts on “Source of spirituality – invisible winds

  1. First of all, great photo. Try looking at it upside down. Works for a lot of things in life.

    I think you meant rising son, not sun. Some people would prefer the former.

    What is moving the air? If they had fire, they would have seen or felt smoke rising from it, and therefore have understood that heat moves air. And, although it is invisible, it is still physical, of this world. And of course, breathing shows that air is physical, even though invisible. It is therefore then an unnecessary extrapolation to say that there is a metaphysical neshamah/soul giving spiritual life to the body that lives already through the neshimah/breath.

    Very interesting analysis of the different levels of soul all relating to air/wind/breath/speech. Neshamah relates to inhaling, Ruach to external wind, Nefesh to exhaling; Neshamah gives physical life, Ruach represents sensual, emotional life, and Nefesh intellectual and social life. Interesting that they are usually presented in the opposite order ascending – Nefesh representing the animal soul, then Ruach and then Neshamah. Not to mention Chayah and Yechidah according to Kabbalah.

    It is understandable that the primitive/childish mind would come up with this whole afterlife thing. We know life and living beings, especially human ones, and we make such a strong connection to our loved ones that we just can’t accept that when they die, they are gone forever. So therefore, afterlife and/or reincarnation. But rationally and maturely, why can’t death just be the end? Appreciate the person while they’re here and for what they did here, not for who they still are and what they could hopefully do to help me somewhere else.

    Why does it have to be according to Mishlei, that “Who knows the spirit of the sons of men, which goes upward, and the spirit of the animal, which goes down to the earth?” (3:19-21, quoted in

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afterlife#She.27ol )

    This Wiki article about Afterlife is long, thorough and, typically, fascinating:

    “Some belief systems, such as those in the Abrahamic tradition, hold that the dead go to a specific plane of existence after death, as determined by a god, gods, or other divine judgment, based on their actions or beliefs during life.

    “In contrast, in systems of reincarnation, such as those in the Dharmic tradition, the nature of the continued existence is determined directly by the actions of the individual in the ended life, rather than through the decision of another being.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afterlife

    If one believes in God (as you do, whatever you mean by that which we will hopefully see), then Afterlife is no big chiddush (novelty). Another, higher, determining being created it and decides how it applies to you. That being doesn’t have to be “God”, but could (more likely I think) be some other higher but similarly (to us) evolved being (more on that later). If no such Being, then it happens automatically, as in Buddhism, or doesn’t happen at all:

    “Belief in an afterlife, which may be naturalistic or supernatural, is in contrast to the belief in oblivion after death.” (Wiki)

    Of which there is nothing to fear – at least according to Plato and Cicero – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eternal_oblivion .

    At this point in my truth journey, I just don’t see why it has to be otherwise.

    • Beautiful and thoughtful comment. As for the keen inference that the ancients would determine that wind is physical by how it interacts with physical phenomenon like fire (or even perhaps wind blowing up dust or spraying sea water) is conjectural, we indeed can’t go back in time to deduce why the ancients indeed correlated spirituality and wind in so many references, but my notion was simply based on the fact that they are indeed correlated in many cultures around the world. Thank you for pointing out the typo. 🙂

  2. I looked around a little for more connection between wind and spirituality. If you search wind and spirit, you get a lot of stuff about the Xtian Holy Spirit. They basically say that the HS, like wind, is not seen but can be felt or sensed, and moves.

    Found a very interesting article called “Spirituality Without Faith”. Didn’t finish reading it yet – pretty long.

    http://www.naturalism.org/spiritua1.htm

    The author points out that “If you look up the etymology of the word “spiritual,” you’ll find that it derives from the Latin “spiritus,” meaning “wind” or “breath.” “ Interesting also that “spirit” and “inspire” have the same root. Also “spore”, which is a seed carried by the wind. The author maintains that “just as we can be good without God, we can have spirituality without spirits”:

    “Authentic spirituality involves an emotional response, what I will call the spiritual response, which can include feelings of significance, unity, awe, joy, acceptance, and consolation. Such feelings are intrinsically rewarding and so are sought out in their own right, but they also help us in dealing with difficult situations involving death, loss, and disappointment. “

    • Thank you for sharing that. It was very well thought out. In truth you can look further than western religions to find references correlations between winds and spiritual forces. Far Eastern religions, belief’s indigenous to the America’s and Polynesia also share such references etc…

  3. BTW, when you write your name as “hillelariess”, all you have to do is remove the “lel” and you get “hilariess” – “hilarious”. Did you plan it that way? 😀

  4. Great kick-off post! A couple of thoughts…There’s a BIG distinction between pre-dualism and post-dualism (re: the body vs. soul distinction). In the pre-dualism world of the Chumash, “ruach” = moving, life-giving breath/wind, “neshama” = a life-giving inhalation or gulp of air, and “nefesh” = life-force. Once the dualistic model took hold, these words began to connote different aspects of the “soul”. Nefesh was associated with the more “physical” soul because it’s connected with the blood – which is more tangible/substantial, whereas Ruach/Neshama were of the more “spiritual” soul because they’re connected with air, which is less substantial. FYI, both the Shulchan Aruch and the tefillah before putting on tefillin refer to the neshama as being located “in the brain”.

    • Absolutely, thank you for your thoughts, and thank you for your kind words. You also unknowingly brought a smile to my face to boot, the Maharal and other sifrei machshova discuss these very points (nefesh, neshama and ruach and how they manifest in creation) and I used to expound upon them quite extensively when I believed there was veracity to these expressions of cosmic reality… I always found quite interesting the distinction between what seems to be the more common meaning of nefesh, to rest or lean or place, and the meaning of “desire, or life force”.(i.e. the gemaras terminology of Mimanafshoch- which way you desire-want…) The sifrei machshova tend to emphasize the later in their discussions of spirituality. The brain is one place discussed for the resting place of the soul, other organs are also discussed as resting places for the soul in Jewish thought.

      • I’ve heard of nefesh meaning “rest” or “revitalize” (i.e. recoup one’s life-force), but not “lean” or “place”. Can you point me to an example of that?

        Have you heard of other organs being identified with the “neshama”, other than the brain? “Ruach” is often identified with the heart, and (in the Zohar if I recall) with the lungs. “Nefesh” is also identified with the heart, sometimes with the abdomen.

  5. Good! 😀

    Regarding Nefesh: there is a big connection between the air and blood aspects – oxygen. It’s the main thing in air that gives us life, energy to burn, and it’s moved around the body by the blood. That movement and energizing seems to contradict the other meaning of rest/lean/place, but the connection could be this: since breathing is one of the unconscious activities of one’s body, the body is at rest when this function is working correctly. When it isn’t, like when someone is choking or drowning lo aleinu, the body is definitely not at rest, but rather desperately struggling to inspire the oxygen before the body expires. (Notice the SPR root again, maintained in the XPR root). Just noticed: SPRing is another example, the time of year when life blossoms forth again.

  6. Hi HJR – welcome to the Piercers! Wow – looked at your Site – very interesting.

    http://humanisticjewishinterfaith.weebly.com/about-the-rabbi.html

    Polydoxy – hmmm. Have to think about that one. Looked here, too:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alvin_J._Reines

    “God as “‘the enduring possibility of being,” explained as “the permanent ongoing potentiality from which the universe is continually being realized,” calling this position Hylotheism.”

    Is that a conscious, personal, rewarding and punishing potentiality? Isn’t it enough to just say that time/space reality by definition has potential for change, and not “theizing” it? Maybe you can ask Hillel if you can write a Guest Post about it.

    • I also looked through HJR’s blogs. Although we are holding at different points in our journey I really appreciated HJR’s candid way of expressing his personal trek through theology and how he arrived at where he is today. I am also working out what God is, I appreciate why many people arrive at Spinoza’s approach to God (Einstein also did after all) but for various reasons, which I hope to commit to writing one day, I still believe in a personal God. I know it’s counterintuitive but I do have personal reasons which compel me to retain this view. When I have formulated my thoughts enough to express them I will be more than happy to share what I’ve come to, in the meantime it’s a very complex work in process.

      • OK. Well, I for one am waiting to hear. You must have had some experiences that you perceived as personal contacts. The question is whether they were, or that was just your perception.

      • I’m also eager to express it, but until I’ve formulated my thoughts there isn’t much of a constructive dialog to have been had. Thank you for being intrigued, and thank you for your comments!

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