Let’s breathe. And let’s breathe again. I feel my chest rising and falling, and I allow myself to deeply breathe. I let the ruach or “air,” of my breathing engulf my body, my inner organs, and I feel the air anchoring me down. My breath connects me to earth, to the ground below me. I breathe. I let air in, and then I exhale as though I am observing my own body from above. I try to think of nothing else. My mind is a blank slate, and for just a few moments, I feel emptiness. I invite you to join me in this practice today. I know how stressed we all are. I can feel it. So, let’s breath…
In Hebrew, neshima (נשימה) is “breath.” This Hebrew word always fascinates me because it shares the same root as the word neshama נשמה or “soul.” The only difference is the addition of the small letter yud (י). In Genesis, we are told that when God created man, he breathed into his nostrils, and Adam, the first man, came to life. God is represented in the letter yud (י), the letter that, when placed in the center of the word soul, becomes the word breath. When God enters our neshama, he enables us to take a breath, neshima.
Simply put, when we allow God in, we can exist. We can live.
As Jews are known as people of the book, we have a tradition that began hundreds of years ago. As we read the many Jewish texts, rabbis, throughout the generations, wrote stories as a way of interpreting and highlighting a concept or a hidden meaning within a biblical text. We call these stories midrash.
I once heard a story about a time when God created human beings. He told the souls, who up to that moment were only in the company of the angels and God, they would have to go down to earth. The souls did not want to leave God, as they loved to be in the higher world, and they begged to stay. However, their objections were to no avail, as they were needed below. God promised they would not be tarnished, and therefore he would hide them in our human bodies. He would clothe the neshama with human flesh, and when we (humans) passed on, the souls would return to be with the Holy One, blessed be He. The souls had no choice but to obey God’s command.
I think our task in life is to uncover the neshama that is within us, to know and to understand who we are and how we need to feed and nourish our neshama. This task will be ours from the moment we are able to think until the moment we rejoin our Creator.
Although in English there is only one word for “soul,” our sages say our
soul actually has three elements, each one contributing a different dimension to the soul: nefesh—the physical side of our soul, the instincts; ruach—the emotional side and what creates our personality, our spirit, and our energy, the seat of good and evil; and finally, neshama—the intellectual and rational part of the soul.
I love the story of why God decided to put His breath into
us through our nostrils to bring us to life. The angels asked God
how He would bring a man to life.
God replied, “Man has a few openings. Will I breathe into his ears? No, the ear hears gossip and unkind rumors. Will I breathe into his mouth? No, the mouth speaks lashon harah, or evil gossip and lies. Will I breathe into his eyes? No, the eyes see injustice and cruelty. I will therefore breathe into his nostrils.”
The nostrils are the gatekeepers; outside particles that are not harmful can enter, but those that are harmful stay outside the body through the filtering system that naturally exists in our noses. Breathe in, inhale. Breathe out, exhale. Breathe in through your nostrils, bringing the goodness of God and the possibilities of tomorrow into your awareness. Breathe out the impure breath, the CO2 and waste from our bodies. Exhale the unnecessary particles of today. Allow them to melt away, to become part of the past. Breathe in and look inward to the neshama God has bestowed in you, in each one of us.
In our morning prayers, we say that God has instilled in us a pure soul. We are worthy of existence. We are here today. Let’s focus on what is good in our life and let go of what could be harmful or toxic to us.
Be thankful and grateful you are here, today. The present time is a gift. Today is a gift. Thank you, God, for giving me today.
A reflection opportunity for you–
Do you think your soul is hidden from you? How do you know what your soul desires?
Think of instances when you felt the different aspects of your neshama come to life.
Have you been feeling anxious? Do you believe in mindful meditation? If you have never experienced this, find a podcast, a class, a lecture, or a recording and follow for a few nights.
Observe the difference that mindful meditation makes in your body.
What actions do you take each day that express your neshama? What makes you feel positive and good? Once you write this down, practice these actions for the next week. Your neshama will thank you!
“If you won’t be better tomorrow than you were today, then what need do you have for tomorrow?”
–Rebbe Nachman of Breslov