Question & Answer With Chabakuk Elisha - Shoresh Neshoma
A Simple Jew asks:
You once wrote, "We know that some people are rooted in Chesed and some are rooted in Gevura."
When I look at my wife, I can see a clear example of a person whose neshoma is rooted chesed; she does not need to work at chesed because it comes so naturally to her and it bound up with her very essence. Being married to her helps better draw this quality out of me and allows me to grow into the person I strive to be.
If a person were to ask me what middah my neshoma was rooted in, I would not know how to answer. I am not pure chesed, like my wife, nor pure gevura like Rebbe Baruch of Mezhibuz. Perhaps I am combination of middos and only a true tzaddik could reveal to me what my shoresh neshama is.
Have you ever given consideration to trying to figure out what your shoresh neshoma is? If you had to take a guess, what would you answer?
Chabakuk Elisha responds:
First of all, let me preface my remarks here by saying that I am not an expert on these matters by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed, this is a subject of lengthy discussions in the writings of the Ari Zal, especially in Sha'ar HaGilgulim (and Sefer haGilgulim edited by R' Meir Poppers. I am really not knowledgeable in these areas; for those who are seriously interested, seforim and experts are out there that can be consulted. With this disclaimer, I would say that as far as I know, simply put, we're all mixed up - we all have mixed shorshei neshamos, mixed "soul roots."
Shoresh neshama is often simplified to either Chesed / Gevura, or shoresh Kayin / shoresh Hevel (remember this conversation in the comments here). There are discussions about how to wear one's Talis (rolled on the shoulders or hanging down covering the arms) based on one's shoresh neshama. The Minchas Elazar writes that one should figure out which shoresh they come from for this reason (see Sefer Darkei Chaim V'Shalom, where he is quoted as saying that if someone, for example, is naturally afraid of water and drawn to visual arts, he is likely to be from Shoresh Kayin; and if someone is gentle by nature and a gifted orator, he is probably from Shoresh Hevel; and he refers the readers to further examine their traits as they are described in Rav Chaim Vital's Sha'ar HaGilgulim).
But this is not so simple as it sounds. As I understand it, Chesed (Hevel) & Gevura (Kayin) are used here are general terms: There are seven middos (chesed, gevura, tiferes, netzach, hod, yesod, and malchus), and they break into three basic groups: Right (chesed/netzach), Left (gevura/hod) and Center (tiferes/yesod/malchus). One's shoresh can be from any of them, and to further complicate matters, there are combinations and sub-combinations as well.
To quote Rabbi Sears: "Neshamos are collectively like a great tree with many roots (shorashim) and branches, stems, buds, flowers, petals, etc. And everything becomes increasingly diversified in combination with all the elements that make up the tree. Just as during the days of sefirah, we relate each day to a different combination of sefiros, such as chesed she-b'chesed, gevurah she-b'chesed, tiferes she-b'chesed, etc., so too, each neshamah is related to a certain stem, branch, root, etc. and it is self-understood that this gets a lot more complicated than the days of sefirah."
So it seems to me that we are not simply pure chesed or gevurah. Furthermore, I would even be hesitant to say that the Kotzker or Reb Boruch'l was from "pure gevurah"; rather it would probably be more accurate to say that he was "predominantly of gevurah d'kedushah" (or something like that).
And if all this wasn't enough, the modern man has further complications, since the "we" that we take ourselves to be is not equivalent to a single soul with a single source anyway. I don't want to get into a lengthy conversation about ibbur neshamos (souls spiritually "impregnated" within other souls), gilgulim (transmigrated souls), etc, but we are commonly made up of multiple soul roots. Maybe this would help make it a little easier to understand:
We have the concept that one's name reflects his essence. In sefer Pri Haaretz, R' Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk comments on a relatively new phenomenon: people have started using multiple names. In the past, people almost never had multiple names; they had names like Avrohom, Yitzchok, Shmuel, etc. Seldom was anyone the bearer of two or more names, like, say, Chabakuk Elisha. R' Mendel explains this as a reflection of who we are today: While, once upon a time, souls were once from a single shoresh, over the various incarnations those souls have been mostly rectified, leaving only fragments that still need to come into this word for their tikkun. Thus, today we are made up of these multiple soul fragments, with different roots – perhaps even conflicting roots – which is the reason for the common practice of multiple names (reflecting the "multiple personality" of the soul's identity).
To further illustrate the point: it is customary to remove (or cover) knives from the table when saying Birchas Hamozon. The commonly given reason for this is that there was a man who became so distraught after reading the third brocha (regarding the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash) that he picked up the knife and stabbed himself. This story took place on a weekday; so, too, this custom is generally only practiced during the weekday, and on Shabbos this is not viewed as a great a concern. However, according to Kabbalistic sources, one who is from Shoresh Kayin should remove the knives even on Shabbos.
Someone once commented to R' Gedalya Kenig Z"L (founder of the Breslev comunity in Tzefas) when he removed the knives on Shabbos, "Shoresh Kayin?" To which he answered, "Today we all have an element of Shoresh Kayin!"