ESSAY: The Human Biosphere
Torah law distinguishes between three forms of animal
life: beast, fowl and fish. This reflects an internal division
in the human soul, where mans physical, intellectual
and spiritual selves vie for realization in his daily life
INSIGHTS: The Container
An inside view of man
The Human Biosphere
Land animals, which were created from the soil, are rendered
fit to eat by the severing of both vital passages (the windpipe
and the gullet). Fish, which were created from the water,
do not require any shechitah to render them fit to
eat. Birds, which were created from a mixture of soil and
water, are rendered fit to eat with the severing of either
one of the two vital passages.
Talmud, Chulin 27b
In the terminology of kabbalah and chassidism, soil
and water are analogs for materiality and spirituality.
Aside from the usual association of soil with earthiness and
mundanity, and of water with purity and sublimity, soil and
water express one of the basic distinguishing characteristics
between matter and spirit. Soil is comprised of distinct granules,
while water forms a cohesive expanse. When two types of soil
(or any two solids)
are combined, they remain separate entities, however thoroughly
mixed; liquids, on the other hand, blend to the point of indistinguishability.
Indeed, the way to fuse solid particles to an integral whole
is either to introduce a liquid element (as in the kneading
of dough), or to heat them to the point of liquidity (as in
By the same token, materiality tends to plurality and divisiveness,
while the hallmark of the spiritual is unity and oneness.
The material world presents us with a great diversity of creatures,
elements and forces, each bent on the preservation and enhancement
of its individual existence. The material being is egocentric
in essence, striving to consume whatever it needs (or merely
desires) for itself, and resisting all attempts to consume
it. While there are instances of cooperation and symbiosis
in the material world, these are always toward the aim of
mutual benefit rather than altruistic unity; furthermore,
even this usually represents a triumph of mind over matter,
and must be enforced upon a resisting egocentric instinct
(witness the clash of egos in a marriage or the race and class-related
tensions in a society).
On the other hand, spirituality, like water, is characterized
by unity and cohesiveness, and, like water, is an agent of
unity when introduced into the soil of the material. The soul
amalgamates a diversity of cells and limbs into a life;
the idea connects a myriad of disjointed facts into a cogent
whole; love (that is, spiritual, altruistic love) supplants
the instinctive me with a common we.
And when man shifts the focus of his life from the pursuit
of material gratification to the service of his Creator, the
diverse and belligerent granules of material life coalesce
to singular flow, as his every act and endeavor becomes an
exercise in bringing harmony to the world and uniting it with
its supernal source.
Beast, Fowl and Fish
The laws of kashrut, commanded by the Torah (primarily
in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14) and interpreted and expounded
upon in the Talmud (particularly in the tractate Chulin),
establish which foods are permitted to the Jew, and which
are forbidden. In regard to the consumption of animals, the
laws of kashrut distinguish between three categories
of animal: a) land animals, b) birds, and c) fish.
One of the halachic distinctions between these three groups
regards the requirement of shechitah, slaughtering.
Once an animal is determined to be kosher,
an array of laws govern how it may be slaughteredthe
smallest nick in the knife, or the slightest deviation from
the prescribed manner of slaughtering, renders the animal
tereif and unfit for consumption. However, these laws
differ from category to category. The most stringent shechitah
requirements pertain to the land animal: the slaughtering
knife must cut through a majority of both of two vital passages,
the windpipe and the gullet. At the other end of the spectrum
are fish, which require no shechitah at all. Birds
occupy the middle ground between land animals and fish: they
do require shechitah, but the severing of (a majority
of) only one of the vital passageseither the windpipe
or the gulletis sufficient.
The Talmud explains these differences as related to the primordial
origins of these three categories of animals. Land animals
were created from the earth (Genesis 1:24), and thus require
a full-fledged shechitah; fish were created out of
water (ibid., verse 20), and therefore do not require any
shechitah; birds, which were created from a mixture
of earth and water (ibid., and 2:19), require the lesser shechitah
prescribed for them.
What is the connection? Why is it that the earthier
a creature is, the greater the need for shechitah?
To understand this, we must first examine how all of the above
applies to the inner world of the human soul. Man is
a universe in miniature,
our sages have said, echoing King Solomons adage, Also
the world He placed in their hearts; if there are three categories of animal life on the macrocosmic
level, the same is true of manour interior biosphere
also includes the land beast, the water creature, and the
earth/water composite that rides the winds. Here, too, apply
the laws of kashrut and shechitah, instructing
us how to distinguish the desirable from the undesirable in
our psyche, and how to make its kosher elements
fit for consumption and metabolization in the daily process
The Three Souls of Man
In the opening chapters of Tanya, the bible of
Chabad chassidism, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi establishes
that we each possess two distinct souls: the animal
soul (nefesh habehamit),
and the G-dly soul (nefesh haelokit).
The animal soul is the essence of physical life. Its focus
is entirely self-oriented, its every act and desire motivated
by the quest for self-fulfillment and self-enhancement; in
this, the animal soul shares the nature of every physical
being, whose most basic tendency is the preservation and betterment
of its own existence. In contradistinction, the essence of
the G-dly soul is the striving to unite with its
source, to be nullified within the all-pervading reality of
G-d. Were this striving to be fully realized, the G-dly soul
would cease to exist as a distinct entity;
nevertheless, such is its nature and desire. This makes for
the perpetual struggle of life: the struggle between matter
and spirit, between self-assertion and self-transcendence.
Any thought, desire, or act of man stems from either of his
two souls, depending upon which has gained mastery over the
other and is asserting itself in the person's mind, heart
Chassidic teaching also speaks of a third, intermediary soul
in every mana soul less subjective than his animal soul,
though not quite as transcendent his G-dly soul. This is the
nefesh hasichlit, the intellectual soul.
The intellect of man is the most transcendent element of his
natural self, capable of objective thought and self-examination.
This is not to say that the intellect is entirely free of
the inhibitions of ego and self-interest; but it at least
possesses the capacity to conceive of greater realities, and
thus perceive the insignificance of the self before a higher
truth. The intellectual self is thus the bridge between the
G-dly soul, which strives toward a self-obliterating union
with G-d, and the animal self, which is blind to everything
save the gratification of its egocentric instincts. It is
via the intellectual soul that the G-dly soul can influence
the animal soul: when a person gains a recognition of the
divine truth and an appreciation of the purpose to which he
was created, this very knowledge and understanding serves
to refine his character and behavior. 
These are the beast, bird, and water-creature within man.
The animal soul of man is the land animal in mana wholly material being, individualistic
and self-engrossed as the soil from which it is fashioned.
At the other end of the spectrum is the wholly spiritual G-dly
soul, characterized by the unity and adhesiveness of the water
from which it derives. The G-dly soul of man also resembles
the water creature in that it lives wholly immersed in its
sourcejust as a fish cannot survive outside of the water
that spawned it, so, too, the G-dly soul cannot conceive of
an existence apart from its divine source. In the words of Rabbi Schneur
Zalman of Liadi, the G-dly essence of man, never desires,
nor is it ever capable, of distancing itself from G-d,
so that even at the very moment a person sins, his quintessential
self remains loyal to G-d
taking no part in the deedit has merely been suppressed
and overwhelmed by his animal self.
Then there is the bird in man: a creature fashioned
from soil and water, an admixture of matter and spirit. A
creature that is capable of soaring to the most sublime heights,
though it repeatedly returns to earth to rest and feed between
flights. This is the intellect of man, capable, on the one
hand, of raising itself above the materiality of earth and
attaining a higher vantage point on life and self, yet nevertheless
bound, in many ways, to the physical reality of which it is
Before an animal can be eaten, to become the stuff of our
bodies and the motor of our lives, two conditions must be
met: it must be determined to be kosher, and it must undergo
shechitah as dictated by Torah law.
Shechitah is only to draw forth, states the Talmud. The most basic meaning of
this rule is that the slaughtering knife must be drawn
across the vital passagespressing downward,
or other deviations from the required back-and-forth movement,
disqualify the shechitah. Chassidic teaching, however,
uncovers the deeper significance of this law: that the function
of shechitah is to draw forthto draw
the animal out from its beastly state and into the domain
of a life consecrated to the service of the Creator. This
is achieved by slaughtering the beasti.e.
taking its life. The material world is not, in itself, a negative
thing; what is negative is material lifethe passion
and zeal for things material. The Jew knows that while the
entire world was created to serve me, I was created
to serve my Creatorthe
reason why man has been granted mastery over the physical
world is that he utilize it in his fulfillment of the divine
will. Man was created to live a spiritual life that is sustained
by the material, not a material life which his spiritual prowess
have been harnessed to serve; to crave the physical for its
own sake, is to become part of it rather than to make it part
of you and a partner to your transcendent goals. So even after
man has separated the kosher aspects of life from
non-kosher ones, rejecting all that is irredeemable and corrupting, he must still slaughter the material
beast before it can be consumed. Only after its life
has been taken out of it can it be sublimated as an accessory
to the life of the spirit.
Hence the differing shechitah requirements for the
three components of inner life of man. The animal soul
requires a full-fledged shechitah: comprised solely
of the soil of materialism, it must be drained of all vitality
and passion so that its substance might be drawn forth
into the realm of holiness. The intellectual soul,
comprised of both soil and water,
requires a partial shechitahits material and
egotistic elements must be subdued, but there remains much
about the intellect that is desirable also in its animated
Finally, the wholly selfless, wholly transcendent G-dly
soul requires no shechitah at all, for both its
substance and spirit are desirable and digestible
elements in the life of man.
Based on the Rebbes writings, including
a letter dated, Tishrei 25, 5703 (October 6, 1942) and a journal
entry marked Shechitah. Vichy. 5700 (1940-41)
And an earthen utensil, which one of these
falls into its inside...
And G-d formed man of the dust of the earth,
and He blew into his nostrils a spirit of life
The laws of tumah and taharah (ritual impurity
and purity) differentiate between an earthen utensil and utensils
made of other materials. All utensils become impure through
the contact of an impure object (e.g. the carcass of an impure
animal) with any part of the utensil. An earthen utensil,
however, becomes impure only if the source of impurity enters
into its inside.
Said Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk: The value of a utensil
of wood or metal is not only in its formthe material
of which it is made is also worth something. So contact with
any part of it, including its outside surface, has an effect
upon its ritual state. An earthen utensil, however, has value
only as a container; so it is affected only by what
happens to its inside.
Man is an earthen vessel. His worth lies not in his material
exterior, but in its content. He should therefore regard as
significant only what pertains to his inner self.
Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Yanki Tauber
. The four basic elements, soil, water, air and fire,
also represent the four states of mattersolid, liquid,
gas and energy.
. This mechanical fact also has halachic implicationssee
Shulchan Aruch and commentaries, Yoreh Deah, 109.
. These three groups each have a different set of
criteria for distinction between kosher and non-kosher animals.
For a land animal to be kosher, it must chew its cud and
have split hooves; in practice, this means that the only
ten species of land animal are permitted for consumption.
With birds, the situation is reversed: the Torah lists twenty
species on non-kosher birds, and permits all others. Finally,
kosher fish are distinguished by two signsfins
. See Talmud, Chulin 27b.
. Midrash Tanchuma, Pikudei 3.
. The word beheimah actually means beast
or land animal (see Rashi on Deuteronomy 14:5);
thus, a more precise translation of nefesh habehamit
would be the beastly soul or the land-animal
. The concept of a good inclination (yetzer
tov) and evil inclination (yetzer harah)
in the heart of man abounds in the Talmud and the Midrashim
(cf. Talmud, Berachot 61a). What is unique about the Tanyas
thesis (which is based on the teachings of Rabbi Chaim Vital,
a disciple of master kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria) is that
it speaks of two soulstwo entire personas,
each with a full set of traits and faculties. The two inclinations
are actually the drives and desires of their respective
. This is the deeper significance of what happened
to Nadav and Avihu, who came close to G-d, and died
(Leviticus 16:1; see ibid., 10:1-7). In the words of Rabbi
Chaim ibn Atar, theirs was a death by divine kiss
like that experienced by the perfectly righteousit
is only that the righteous die when the divine kiss approaches
them, while they died by their approaching it... Although
they sensed their own demise, this did not prevent them
from drawing near [to G-d] in attachment, delight, delectability,
fellowship, love, kiss and sweetness, to the point that
their souls ceased from them. (Ohr Hachaim commentary
. Likkutei Torah, Bechukotai 47c-48a; Sefer Hamaamarim
5702, pp. 106-109.
. See Talmud, Berachot 61b.
. Tanya, ch. 24. See Mishneh Torah, Laws of Divorce,
. Ein vshachat ela umashachTalmud,
Chulin 30b. Thus shechitah is equated with the halachic
concept of meshicah, which effects the transfer of
an object from on domain to another.
. Talmud, Kiddushin 82a.
. Indeed, there are non-kosher elements in all
three categories, including the utterly selfless fish.
For while the G-dly souls self-abnegation before G-d
is its highest virtue, there also exists a negative type
of self-abnegation, as in the case of one who lack the pride
and self-assurance necessary to resist those persons and
forces that seek to prevent his doing what is right. In
chassidic terminology such a tendency is called askufah
hanidresses, or a doormat personality.
. This is also why there are more non-kosher land
animals than kosher ones, while the reverse is true of birds
(see note 3 above).
. Igrot Kodesh, vol. I, pp. 46-48; Reshimot #23,