The Double Nature of Man (Parsha Acharei Mot)

This week’s Torah parsha is Acharei Mot (Lev. 16-18). Included in this week’s reading is the commandment against consuming blood:

[10] And whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, that eateth any manner of blood; I will even set my face against that soul that eateth blood, and will cut him off from among his people.
[11] For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.
[12] Therefore I said unto the children of Israel, No soul of you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger that sojourneth among you eat blood.
(Lev. 17:10-12 KJV)

The Hebrew word for “life” in Lev. 17:11 is NEFESH, meaning “soul, life or self.”

Philo of Alexandria infers from this precept, that man has two natures, a vivifying animal nature, and a rational, reasoning nature:

(80) for in many places of the law as given by Moses, he pronounces the blood to be the essence of the soul or of life, saying distinctly, “For the life of all flesh is the blood Thereof.” (Lev.17:11.) And when the Creator of all living things first began to make man, after the creation of the heaven and the earth, and all the things which are between the two, Moses says, “And he breathed into his face the breath of life, and man became a living soul,” (Gen. 2:7) showing again by this expression that it is the breath which is the essence of the life. (81) And, indeed, he is accustomed diligently to record all the suggestions and purposes of God from the beginning, thinking it right to adopt his subsequent statements to aid to make them consistent with his first accounts. Therefore, after he had previously stated the breath to be the essence of the life, he would not subsequently have spoken of the blood as occupying the most important place in the body, unless he had been making a reference to some very necessary and comprehensive principle. (82) What then are we to say? The truth is, that every one of us according to the nearest estimation of numbers, is two persons, the animal and the man. And each of these two has a cognate power in the faculties, the seat of which is the soul assigned to it. To the one portion is assigned the vivifying faculty according to which we live; and to the other, the reasoning faculty in accordance with which we are capable of reasoning. Therefore, even the irrational animals partake of the vivifying power; but of the rational faculty, God–I will not say partakes, but–is the ruler, and that is the fountain of the most ancient Word (Logos).
XXIII. (83) Therefore, the faculty which is common to us with the irrational animals, has blood for its essence. And it, having flowed form the rational fountain, is spirit, not air in motion, but rather a certain representation and character of the divine faculty which Moses calls by its proper name an image, showing by his language that God is the archetypal pattern of rational nature, and that man is the imitation of him, and the image formed after his model; not meaning by man that animal of a double nature, but the most excellent species of the soul which is called mind and reason.
(Worse is Wont to Attack Better 80-83)

Philo of Alexandria also saw a dichotomy in Genesis 2:7, between what he called “body” or “flesh” and what he called “soul” or “mind” with the mind being a fragment of the divine:

There are two several parts of which we consist, the soul and the body; now the body is made of earth, but the soul consists of air, being a fragment of the Divinity, for “God breathed into man’s face the breath of life, and man became a living Soul.”(Gen. 2:7) It is therefore quite consistent with reason to say that the body which was fashioned out of the earth has nourishment which the earth gives forth akin to the matter of which it is composed; but the soul, inasmuch as it is a portion of the ethereal nature, is supported by nourishment which is ethereal and divine, for it is nourished on knowledge, and not on meat or drink, which the body requires. (Allegorical Interpretation, III, 161)

He does well here to attribute the flow of blood to the mass of flesh, combining two things appropriate to one another; but the essence of the mind he has not made to depend on any created thing, but has represented it as breathed into man by God from above. For, says Moses, “The Creator of the universe breathed into his face the breath of life, and man became a living Soul,” (Gen. 2:7) who also, it is recorded, was fashioned after the image of the Creator. (Who is the Heir of Divine Things? 56)

For among created things, the heaven is holy in the world, in accordance with which body, the imperishable and indestructible natures revolve; and in man the mind is holy, being a sort of fragment of the Deity, and especially according to the statement of Moses, who says, “God breathed into his face the breath of life, and man became a living Soul.”(Gen. 2:7). (On Dreams 1, 34)

In the ancient Hebraic Stoic work, 4Maccabees (also known as On the Supremacy of Reason) we read concerning this verse:

21 Now when Elohim fashioned man, he planted in him emotions and inclinations,
22 but at the same time he enthroned the mind among the senses as a sacred governor over them all.
23 To the mind he gave the Torah; and one who lives subject to this will rule a kingdom that is temperate, just, good, and courageous.
(4Macc. 2:21-23)

And as Philo of Alexandria concluded:

“For these passions are the causes of all good and of all evil; of good when they submit to the authority of dominant reason, and of evil when they break out of bounds and scorn all government and restraint.”
(Life of Moses 1; VI, 26)

The neshoma that was breathed into man, is the rational mind. It is a spark of the Logos, the rational mind that permeates the Universe. Hebraic Stoicism teaches us that our rational mind, should be in control over our emotions.

This is very similar to the teaching of the Tanya, which says:

The second soul of a Jew is truly a part of G‑d above (Job 31:2), as it is written, “And He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life,” (Gen. 2:7) and “Thou didst breathe it [the soul] into me.” (Morning Prayer b.Berachot 60b) (Tanya; Likutei Amarim Chapter 2)

The Tanya contrasts man’s Animal soul with his Divine soul, and deals with the conflict in man between the animal soul and the divine soul:

Just as two kings wage war over a town,
which each wishes to capture and rule,
that is to say, to dominate its inhabitants according to his will,
so that they obey him in all that he decrees for them,
so do the two souls— the Divine and the vitalising animal soul…
wage war against each other over the body and all its limbs.
(Tanya Chapter 9)

The Tanya divides each of these two souls into two parts “sechel” (intellect) and “middot” (emotional attributes). The intellect is said to have three aspects: chochmah (wisdom), binah (understanding) and da’at (knowledge). while the emotional aspects are divided into seven aspects. The name “Chabad” is derived from the first letter of each of the aspects of the intellect. These ten aspects are seen as associated with the ten sefirot of the Tree of Life of Kabbalah, three upper sefirot and seven lower sefirot.

The Tanya teaches that in the animal soul, the seven emotions dominate the intellect, but that in the divine soul, which it also calls the “rational soul” (נפש המשכל), it is possible for the intellect to dominate the emotions and thus gain mastery over the animal soul. (The Hebraic Stoic author of 4th Maccabees, also taught that there are seven basic emotions).

The Tanya teaches that by programming our minds with Torah, the intellect of a man’s divine soul allows him to subdue the seven emotions of his animal soul, allowing him to, with a pure motive, be set free from the selfish motives of his animal soul:

For when the intellect in the rational soul deeply contemplates and immerses itself exceedingly in the greatness of G-d, how He fills all worlds and encompasses all worlds, and in the presence of Whom everything is considered as nothing— there will be born and aroused in his mind and thought the emotion of awe for the Divine Majesty, to fear and be humble before His blessed greatness, which is without end or limit, and to have the dread of G-d in his heart. Next, his heart will glow with an intense love, like burning coals, with a passion, desire and longing, and a yearning soul, towards the greatness of the blessed En Sof. This constitutes the culminating passion of the soul, of which Scripture speaks, as “My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth,.. .” and “My soul thirsteth for G-d,…” and “My soul thirsteth for Thee….” This thirst is derived from the element of Fire, which is found in the divine soul. As students of natural science affirm, and so it is in Etz Chayim, the element of Fire is in the heart, whilst the source of [the element of] Water and moisture is in the brain, which is explained in Etz Chayim, Portal 50, to refer to the faculty of chochmah, called “The water of the divine soul.” The rest of the middot are all offshoots of fear and love and their derivations, as is explained elsewhere.

Similarly is it with the human soul, which is divided in two— sechel (intellect) and middot (emotional attributes). The intellect includes chochmah, binah and da at (ChaBaD), whilst the middot are love of G-d, dread and awe of Him, glorification of Him, and so forth. ChaBaD [the intellectual faculties] are called “mothers” and source of the middot, for the latter are “offspring” of the former.

The explanation of the matter is as follows:

The intellect of the rational soul, which is the faculty that conceives any thing, is given the appellation of chochmah—כ”ח מ”ה— the “potentiality” of “what is.” When one brings forth this power from the potential into the actual, that is, when [a person] cogitates with his intellect in order to understand a thing truly and profoundly as it evolves from the concept which he has conceived in his intellect, this is called binah. These [chochmah and binah] are the very “father” and “mother” which give birth to love of G-d, and awe and dread of Him.
(Tanya; Likutei Amarim; Chapter 3)(Tanya; Likutei Amarim; Chapter 3)

Philo is teaching us not only that there are two natures within man, but that the commandment against consuming meat with the blood still in it, teaches us that we should be led by our rational mind, and not our irrational animal nature.

If you would like to see more of these weekly Stoic Torah studies, please support this work of restoration of Hebraic Stoicism by donating by Paypal to

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *