Our tradition teaches that we are each endowed with three “levels” of the soul. The deepest, innermost level is the neshama – the spark or ember deep inside – that is given by G-d. It is the neshama that we speak of in Hebrew in the liturgy when we recite, “The soul that you have given me, O G-d, is pure!”

That ember is brought to life, so to speak, by the ruach, meaning spirit or breath – in this case the spirit or breath of Adonai. Just as a fire can only burn if there is air, our neshama can only come to life if we connect to Adonai in some way, so that we can feel that special breath.

Surrounding the flame is the level of soul known as the nefesh. You can think of this as the hurricane glass surrounding the candle. The nefesh is the level of the soul that, in essence, connects the spirit and physical parts of our selves.

When our actions reflect our G-dly spirit, the “glass” of the nefesh is bright and clear; when our actions are less than “G-dly,” the glass begins to cloud as the connection between spirit and action becomes less strong. Over time, the glass can become quite dirty and the spaces that allow the “breath of air” to flow through to fan the ember of the neshama can become filled with soot, making it harder and harder for one to connect with his/her spirit.

In Chapter 27 of the Book of Numbers Adonai tells Moses to head up the mountain to see the land that is being given to b’nai Yisrael. Once he has seen The Land, he is told, G-d will gather him.

Moses is destined to leave this life and the people he led for 40 years. Hearing this, Moses makes a request of Adonai; he asks G-d to choose and appoint a successor so that the people he has cared for will not be left leaderless. At this moment, Moses refers to Adonai (27:16)as “Elohei ha’ruchot – G-d of the breaths or spirits of all flesh, not G-d of the (singular) breath or spirit of all flesh.

We are taught that every word and every letter of Torah has significance; this turn of phrase begs us to ask “what is the significance of a little ‘s?’” Bear with me for a moment – in fact, pause and take a breath; breathe in.. breathe out.. … now do that again.

Consider that the air you took in with the second breath was different than the air you drew in the first time; the second breath was filled with what every living thing around you – human, animal and plant – had each exhaled the first time. The continual movement of the world and the wind currents also caused the air to change.

So to, it must be, with the breath of Adonai. G-d did not just breathe into Adam and then walk away from further connection with human beings. Whenever we connect with Adonai, we too, become filled with G-d’s ruach; G-d’s breath or spirit embraces us with every exhale.

Is it exactly the same breath that Adam felt? Probably not, for the world is ever-changing. Just as it is said that at Sinai, each of us heard G-d’s words in the way we could understand, Each one of us feels, understands, and interprets this ruach – this spiritual connection to Adonai and to Judaism differently. Each of us is an individual – filled with an individual neshama that is fueled by the unique ruach we gain through our connection with G-d.

This week the US Supreme Court declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. Even as many celebrated each individual’s right to equal benefits regardless of the partner they marry, others cried out against the decision. The world has changed since the writings of Leviticus and with it so has the air, and the ruach, we breathe. We can choose whether to celebrate the uniqueness of those around us and all they add to the world, or to create tension with those who do not see things as we do. 

 May there come a time when we can each accept and celebrate our differences as well as all we have in common. We are all B’nai Eloheim – children of G-d, each filled with haRuchot Eloheim – the individual breaths that allow us to be all we can be. We each have the power to bring that time closer by working to let our own neshama glow and shine in all that we do.