Alexander I. Poltorak

What is a Soul? III (4). The Many Souls of Man—Other Souls

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In the previous installments of The Many Souls of Man, we discussed the animal soul, Nefesh HaBahamit, the godly soul, Nefesh HaElokit, and the intellectual soul, Nefesh HaSichlit. Today, we will discuss other souls.

Other Souls

In the literature of Chabad, one can find references to two other souls: Nefesh HaChiyunit (“living soul” or “essential soul”) and Nefesh HaTiv’it (“natural soul”). In fact, these souls already appear in the writings of Maimonides. The first two souls mentioned by Maimonides in his introduction to The Ethics of the Fathers (quoted at the beginning of this essay) are indeed Tiv’it (which parallels Nefesh HaTiv’it) and Chiyunit (Nefesh HaChiyunit).[64] The Maharsha [65] also writes:

A person has three souls—tiv’it (a ‘natural soul’), chiyunit (a ‘vital soul’) and sichlit (an ‘intellective soul’). [66]

Similarly, the Malbim [67] describes these three souls in greater detail. [68]

In the literature of Chabad, one finds seemingly conflicting references to a person having either two souls or three souls. [69] Thus, Rebbe Rashab wrote:

As is known, there are three souls in every Jew (although Likutei Amarim[70] only mentions two, in reality, there are three)—Nefesh Elokit, Nefesh HaSichlit, and Nefesh HaChiyunit (the Nefesh HaSichlit is the bridge and intermediary between the other two souls– Nefesh Elokit and Nefesh HaTiv’it). [71]

The quote is interesting not only because it introduces the third soul, Nefesh HaSichlit, but because Rebbe Rashab uses the two expressions—Nefesh HaChiyunit (the essential soul [72]) and Nefesh HaTiv’it (the natural soul) interchangeably. As we shall see, other sources distinguish between the two. [73]

On the other hand, the term Nefesh HaChiyunit is often used to refer to Nefesh HaBahamit. For example, Rebbe Rayatz [74] writes:

. . . [T]he Nefesh HaChiyunit [vital soul], which animates the organs of the body and enables them to fulfill their respective functions, such as sight and hearing and walking and touching. . . [75]

Nefesh HaChiyunit is a general soul[76] that contains both Nefesh HaBahamit and Nefesh HaSichlit. As the Lubavitcher Rebbe writes, “Nefesh HaChiyunit from the first chapter [of Tanya] splits to two: [Nefesh] Sichlit and [Nefesh] Behemit.” [77]

There is even greater ambiguity as far as Nefesh HaTiv’it (the natural soul) [78] is concerned. In some contexts, it is used as synonymous with Nefesh HaBahamit. For example, Rebbe Rayatz writes:

There are three souls. There is Nefesh HaTiv’it, the Natural soul, also called the “animal soul” [Nefesh HaBahamit]; Nefesh HaSichlit or intellectual soul… and Nefesh HaElokit, the godly soul.[79] [emphasis added]

However, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, clarifies this by distinguishing Nefesh HaTiv’it from Nefesh HaBahamit. Thus, writing about the folly of sinning, he says:

If for just a moment he [the sinner] would think about how distant his desires are from his common sense, even the common sense of his Nefesh HaBahamit, and how distant the sechel [intellect] of his Nefesh HaBahamit is from the sechel [intellect] of his Nefesh HaTiv’it; and how distant the sechel of his Nefesh HaTiv’it is from the sechel of his Nefesh HaSichlit (etc.), he would realize that even his common sense has no place among the high levels of his neshamah. . . [80] [Emphasis added]

It appears from the above that Nefesh HaBahamit, Nefesh HaTiv’it, and Nefesh HaSichlit are three types of self-centered souls that are progressively more refined: Nefesh HaBahamit is the coarsest of them all; Nefesh HaTiv’it is more refined than Nefesh HaBahamit; and Nefesh HaSichlit is more refined than Nefesh HaTiv’it. Their common denominator is that they are all created beings, unlike the godly soul that was not created (and is eternal). Thus, they come from an unholy source that conceals their Creator, as each of them feels its selfhood, that is, its independence from the Creator. In the language of Kabbalah and Chasidic philosophy, these souls come from klipah (“husks” [81]).

Some say that Nefesh HaBahamit, after it has been completely nullified and converted by Nefesh HaSichlit, is transformed into Nefesh HaTiv’it. [82] Thus Nefesh HaTiv’it is the righteous person’s (tzadik’s) equivalent of Nefesh HaBahamit. After all, it is argued, even tzadikim (righteous people) have different natures, personalities, tendencies, natural character traits, tastes, etc. All these are the domain of Nefesh HaTiv’it. [83]

There is yet another “temporary” soul—neshamah yeterah, granted to every Shabbat-observing Jew on Shabbat Eve. At the conclusion of the Shabbat, this soul leaves the body.[84] As it is stated in the Talmud, “Every Friday, G‑d gives the Jew another individual soul, which He takes back again at the end of the Sabbath.” [85]

Yet other types of “temporary” additional souls include mystical ibbur (“impregnation”) [86] and dybbuk (from davok—to “cling” or to “adhere.”)[87] An ibbur is a holy soul (or an aspect of the soul) of a departed tzadik grafted onto the soul of a leaving person (with his consent) to give that person extra spiritual energy to do a mitzvah or accomplish the task at hand.[88] For example, in the biblical story of the spies, according to some kabbalistic commentaries, the spies sent by Moses to survey the land of Canaan were impregnated (ibbur) with the souls of the twelve sons of Jacob (each spy representing a particular tribe was impregnated with the respective son of Jacob who was the progenitor of that tribe), to give them strength to accomplish their task. However, it did not help—the spies, except for Caleb and Joshua, sinned. The soul of a departed tzadik can also be temporarily grafted on a sole of a living person to help the soul of the tzadik to accomplish something it needs to accomplish using the body of the living person as its vehicle. Once the task is accomplished, the soul leaves. In contrast, a dybbuk, is a possession by a malicious and unwanted spirit. Jewish mythology is full of legends of the evil dybbuk—a wandering soul of a dead person possessing a living person for nefarious purposes—and stories of the exorcism of such unwelcome spirit. [89]

So, how many souls do we have? We will discuss this in the next installment. 


[64] Maimonides, Shemone Prakim (Eight Chapters), ch. 1:1 (see, retrieved November 25, 2021).

[65] Maharsha—the acronym of Rabbi Shmuel Edels, a prominent Talmudic commentator (d. 1631).

[66] Maharsha’s commentary on the Talmud, Pesachim 68b.

[67] Malbim is the biblical commentator Rabbi Meir Leibush ben Yehiel Michel Wisser (1809 – 1879).

[68] “The Jewish soul: In the human soul according to its powers there are three parts. (1) Nefesh HaTivis—the natural soul that grows in the lower part of the body, and its powers will be seen in the abdominal vessels to grow the human body from its food… (2) Nefesh HaChiyunit—the vital soul that dwells in the body in the human heart, from which results life… (3) The educated soul resides in the human body in the head and the skull, operating in the vessels of the brain with the powers of wisdom and understanding” (Malbim, Sefer HaCarmel, quoted in the post on retrieved November 26, 2021.)

[69] “The ma’amarim [Chasidic discourses by the Rebbes of Chabad] go either way—two or three Nefashot [souls].”—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, Maamar Dibur Hamaschil “Ashrei Habechor,” p. 716.

[70] Likutei Amarim is the first part of Tanya, the principal work of Chabad philosophy.

[71] Rabbi Dovber Schneersohn, Sefer HaMa’amarim RaNaT, Dibur Hamaskil “Lechol Habalah,” Kehot, p. 5659.

[72] Not to confuse Nefesh HaChiyunit with chayah (the fourth level of the soul), which is translated as the “living soul,” we translate Nefesh HaChiyunit as the essential soul. Note that Nefesh HaChiyunit, like all souls, has at least four levels, including chayah.

[73] In Chasidic philosophy, when two words are synonymous, they are not necessarily identical; rather, they merely denote the same general concept. However, when two different (albeit synonymous) words are used, they always highlight different aspects of that concept.

[74] Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn of Lubavitch (1880–1950), a.k.a. the Frierdiker Rebbe or the Rebbe Rayatz—the sixth Rebbe of Chabad. He was the son of the Rebbe Rashab and the father-in-law of the last Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson.

[75] Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn of Lubavitch, Sefer HaSichot 5703, “Klalei HaChinuch VehaHadrachah –Principles of Education and Mentorship” Kehot (See in English, retrieved November 23, 2021.)

[76] Nefesh HaChiyunit is a general soul in another sense. In Kabbalah and Chasidut, tzadik is seen as neshamah klali (a “general soul”) from which the souls of all those attached to this tzadik branch out. This is particularly true about the relationship between the Rebbe and chasidim whose souls are seen as branches of the general soul of the Rebbe. Nefesh HaChiyunit appears in some sources as the neshamah klali—the general soul of a tzadik.

[77] Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, Igeret Kodesh, 11, Igeret 107 (Note, that Bahemit as another way to refer to Nefesh HaBahamit.) See also Sefer Kitzurim, p. 81, and Likkutei Pirushim, Shinuyei Nuscha’ot, ch. 1-28, p. 37.

[78] Rabbi Shemuel Dovber of Lubavitch, Yom Tov Shel Rosh HaShanah (“Samach Vav”), Acharei Havayah, Part 8. See also Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn of Lubavitch, Sefer HaSichot 5705, Purim (see in English, retrieved November 23, 2021).

[79] Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn of Lubavitch, Chasidic Discourses, vol. 1., “G‑d does not make tyrannical and unreasonable demands of His creatures,” ch. 2. (See in English,, retrieved on November 23, 2021.) See also HaYom Yom, Monday, Chof Teves, 5781 (in English,, retrieved November 23, 2021).

[80] Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, Biurim on Mesechta Sota (see online, retrieved November 23, 2021).

[81] The role of the husk or the shell is to conceal the fruit—its essence. This is emblematic of evil, which conceals the godly essence of the creation.

[82] An interesting story is told by the Rebbe Rayatz: “[A] prominent misnaged once said to my great-grandfather: ‘In every context and on every subject, your learned grandfather [i.e., the Alter Rebbe] cites the language of Rambam, and with regard to most of the Talmudic debates and halachic decisions he follows his approach. Why, then, when Rambam (Maimonides) 12 names the three souls of man tiv’is (‘the natural soul’), chiyunis (‘the vital soul’) and sichlis (‘the intellective soul’), does your grandfather name them chiyunis (‘the vital soul’), sichlis (‘the intellective soul’) and Elokis (‘the Divine soul’)? What did he do with the tiv’is (‘the natural soul’)?” The Tzemach Tzedek replied: “Out of the [person animated by a] nefesh hativ’is (‘natural soul’) my grandfather made a chassid. That ‘natural’ person who was transformed into a chassid has three souls: the chiyunis (‘the vital soul’), which regulates how a chassid ought to live, and the sichlis (‘the intellective soul’), which [provides] the mind that a chassid ought to have. And when a person lives as a chasid ought to live, and has the mind that a chasid ought to have, he can then have some appreciation of his nefesh Elokis (his ‘Divine soul’). At that point it is his nefesh Elokis, his Divine soul, that animates him” (Rabbi Joseph I. Schneersohn, Sefer HaSichot 5700, Shabbat Parshat Bamidbar, at the Daytime Seudah; see, retrieved November 26, 2021).

[83] There is also an opinion that Nefesh HaTiv’it is the midot of Nefesh HaChiyunit, whereas Nefesh HaSichlit is the sechel (mind) of Nefesh HaChiyunit. See Rabbi Hillel of Paritch, Kuntres HaHitpaalut, ch. 3, p. 103, in the footnote.

[84] The ceremony of Havdalah is meant to console the person for the loss of the extra soul at the conclusion of Shabbat (Tur, Ohr HaChayim, 297:1).

[85] “Resh Lakish said, ‘On the eve of the Sabbath, G‑d gives man an additional soul, and at the close of the Sabbath He withdraws it from him, for it says, “He ceased from work and rested,” i.e., vaynafash (Exodus 31:17): “once it (the Sabbath) ceased, the additional soul is lost.’” (Vaynafash is a play on words since it could also be read as vai lenefesh—woe to the soul). Talmud, tr. Beitzah 16a.

[86] In Kabbalah, ibbur is differentiated from gilgul (reincarnation) in that it inters the living person’s body not at birth (or in utero during gestation) but during adulthood with the person’s permission.

[87] “Dybbuk” is an abbreviation of dybbuk me-ru’ach ra’ah (a cleavage of an evil spirit.”) This term, which does not appear in the Talmudic or Kabbalistic literature, is of later origin in Jewish folklore. Talmud and Kabbalah sources calls this phenomenon an “evil spirit.” Great Kabbalist, Rabbi Moses Cordovero, called dybbuk an “evil pregnancy.” Sha’ar ha-Gilgulim (1875), 8–17; Manasseh Ben Israel, Nishmat Chayim (book 3, ch. 10, 14). For other sources, see G. Scholem, Dybbuk, Encyclopedia Judaica, 2008. (see, retrieved December 9, 2021).

[88] See Sha’ar HaGilgulim; Manasseh Ben Israel, Sefer Nishmat Chayim (Amsterdam, 1652).

[89] See Avner Falk, A Psychoanalytic History of the Jews. (Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press, 1996), p. 538; Matt Goldish, Spirit Possession in Judaism: Cases and Contexts from the Middle Ages to the Present, (Wayne State University Press, 2003), p.41; and Howard Schwartz, Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism (Oxford University Press, 2004), pp. 229–230.

Originally published on on 2021/12/15.

About the Author
Dr. Alexander Poltorak is Chairman and CEO of General Patent Corporation. He is also an Adjunct Professor of Physics at The City College of New York. In the past, he served as Assistant Professor of Physics at Touro College, Assistant Professor of Biomathematics at Cornell University Medical College, and Adjunct Professor of Law at the Globe Institute for Technology. He holds a Ph.D. in theoretical physics.
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