As a secular Israeli child, my training in prayer was none. I had no reason to step into a synagogue and less so to pray. Loyal to the political and ideological indoctrination of my youth, I had consciously attempted to keep myself “untainted“ by exposure to Jewish classical text and most especially to liturgy. Therefore, when I chose to explore my Jewish religious roots in adulthood I assumed that I was coming to it with a liturgical blank slate.
But to my surprise I found that there was one prayer that had infiltrated my subconscious and had firmly imbedded itself therein. El Maleh Rakhamim, the dramatic and deeply heart-stirring prayer I had heard so often on television broadcasts of military or state funerals. I found that upon recall, the melody would ring loud and clear, the words would avail themselves, and the existential sorrow would rise up to become palpable. El Maleh Rakhamim was my early link to our people’s shared tragedy as well as liturgy.
The melody and words seemed to comfort and offer a repose for grief and reflection. However, one phrase in the liturgy repeatedly left me bewildered. I often tried to make sense of the concept and image described in the prayer as Tzror Hakhayyim, “the bundle of life”. “God, (please) bind up the soul of the deceased in the bundle of life, and may he/she rest in peace at their resting place“, says the prayer. “What kind of bundle; how can a soul be bundled; where is the bundle of life; what does this all mean?”, I wondered.
Tzror Hakhayyim appears in the Bible only once in the book of Samuel. There Abigail sets out to appease David, who is on his way to attack Abigail’s husband, Naval. She begs David to reconsider his design. Abigail, among other words of reconciliation, offers David the blessing that “... if anyone sets out to pursue you and seek your life, the life of my lord will be bound up in the bundle of life in the care of the Lord; but He will fling away the lives of your enemies as from the hollow of a sling.“ (I Samuel 25: 29 - JPS translation)
וַיָּ֤קׇם אָדָם֙ לִרְדׇפְךָ֔ וּלְבַקֵּ֖שׁ אֶת־נַפְשֶׁ֑ךָ וְֽהָיְתָה֩ נֶ֨פֶשׁ אֲדֹנִ֜י צְרוּרָ֣ה ׀ בִּצְר֣וֹר הַחַיִּ֗ים אֵ֚ת יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ וְאֵ֨ת נֶ֤פֶשׁ אֹיְבֶ֙יךָ֙ יְקַלְּעֶ֔נָּה בְּת֖וֹךְ כַּ֥ף הַקָּֽלַע׃
What does Abigail mean by obscurely blessing David to be bound in the bundle of life when pursued?
One way to make sense of Abigail’s term is to understand the word Tzror, bundle, as a categorical group, a group of people who will enjoy longevity. It seems that Abigail is referring to a kind of list in which God registers especially-protected persons. She offers David the blessing to be bound, as of included, among those people who are bundled together, as of grouped together, to receive special care from God. Abigail is wishing for David’s security and longevity. Tzror Hakhayyim in the Biblical account, then, is hardly a place for souls to go to after death, as in the grave-side prayer, if anything it is rather the opposite.
We find at least two this-worldly interpretations of the verse in Rabbinic commentary.
Rada“k explains in his commentary on Samuel 25: 29 that “... the life of my lord will be (bound up in the bundle of life..., means that) those who pursue you will not be able to kill you...“
והיתה נפש אדני. שלא יוכלו להמיתך מי שרודפין אותך ותהיה בחיים את השם כלומר שתלך בדרכיו כל ימיך וכן ורעה לא תמצא בך כל ימיך
However, Rada“k also acknowledges that differing eschatological interpretations exist as well. The commentator quotes Targum Yonatan and Rav Eliezer as two examples.
“... and according to the opinion of Yonatan the meaning of the life of my lord will be bound up in the bundle of life is the world to come, since that is how he translated the verse... and in the words of our sages, Rav Eliezer says: the souls of the righteous are hidden under the throne as it is written in the bundle of life in care of the Lord... “ (Rada“k, I Samuel 25: 29)
ולדעת יונתן פירוש נפש אדני צרורה בצרור החיים לעולם הבא שתרגם הפסוק כן ותהא נפשא דרבוני גניזה בגנז חיי עלמא קדם ה' אלהך וית נפש בעלי דבבך יפרחינה כמה דמפרחין אבנא בקלעה וכן בדברי רז"ל ר' אליעזר אומר נשמתן של צדיקים גנוזות תחת כסא הכבוד שנאמ' בצרור החיים את ה' אלהיך ונשמתן של רשעים מטרפות ומשוטטות מסוף העולם ועד סופו ואין להם מנוחה שנאמר יקלענה בתוך כף הקלע:
Ramban, whose writings deal extensively with Jewish eschatology, and who is well aware of the eschatological interpretation of Tzror Hakhayyim, interestingly enough, offers a this-worldly definition of the term in addition to the common other-worldly ones.. In a commentary on the Deuteronomy phrase to cleave onto Him (11; 22) Ramban explains Tzrura BeTzror Hakhayyim to mean a devotional practice and subsequent state of mind that is available to a person during his or her life time.
“... it is possible to say that this bonding would include that a person would be remembering Hashem (The Name) and His love at all times, your thought would not detach from Him when you walk on the way, and when you lay down and rise up... and it is possible that in the case of persons of such elevation that also in their lifetime their soul would be bound in the bundle of life, since they are themselves a dwelling place for the Shechina...“ (Ramban Deuteronomy 11; 22)
Ramban draws the esoteric and eschatological down into the everyday. By doing so he concretizes the concept Tzror Hakhayyim presenting it as a practice-able and experience-able phenomenon of bonding ones mind to the divine.
While it is unlikely that the Biblical author thought of Tzror Hakhayyim in eschatological terms, it clearly developed into such a concept as ancient Greek ideas about the pre-existence and post-existence of the soul influenced Judaism. As a result of these influences the Rabbis, “Through homiletical interpretation, ... came to understand the term Tzror Hakhayyim as referring to a transcendent realm of souls“. (Raphael, Page 155) In numerous places throughout rabbinic texts the Rabbis use the biblical verse from I Samuel (25: 29) as proof text for their eschatological ideas.
Tzror Hakhayyim was closely tied in rabbinic thought to the category of reward and punishment that is administered to the soul specifically after its departure from the body (As opposed to reward and punishment administered at the “End of Days“). Souls in afterlife rise to a transcendent realm where according to their merit, or lack thereof, receive their consequent treatment. The following Midrash in Kohelet Rabbah tells us about this a twin journey.
“1 who knows the human spirit etc. it is taught that (the journey of) the souls of the righteous and the souls of the wicked are one and the same, they all rise to the heights, but the souls of the righteous are placed in the treasury, Otzar, which is linguistically and conceptually connected to the word Tzror. Both words share the root צר, Tzar, and both insinuate a collection or storage (bondle) and the souls of the wicked are tossed about on earth, as said Abigail to David while under divine inspiration: the life of my lord will be bound up in the bundle of life“ (Kohelet Rabbah, Vilnah, Part 3)
According to Kohelet Rabbah the I Samuel verse comes to teach us about the nature and destiny of the spirit. The Midrash creates a play on the word Tzror to arrive at Otzar, the treasury to which the spirits of the righteous are destined postmortem.
What do the righteous souls do when they arrive at Otzar? According to the Talmud in Tractate Shabbat, they enjoy a state of purity. This gemara suggests that purity is the original state of the soul to which righteous souls merit a return. This return occurs in the place called bundle-of-life, Tzror Hakhayyim.
“Our teachers taught: and the spirit will return to the God who granted it (Kohelet 12), give it to Him (in the same condition in which) He gave it to you. (He gave it to you) in a pure (state) so too you (give it to Him) in a pure (state). This is like a king of flesh and blood who has given his servants royal garments. The wise among them folded them and placed them in a box, the foolish among them went and performed work in them. The time came when the king asked for his garments. The wise among them returned them (nice and) pressed, the foolish among them returned them soiled. The king was happy with the wise and angry with the foolish. With regard to the wise he said: let them return the garments to the treasury and go in peace to their homes. With regard to the foolish he said: they should give the garment to the launderer and be locked up in the jail house. So too the Holly One Blessed Be says with regard to the bodies of the righteous: may peace come and may they repose on their resting places (Isaiah 57) and with regard to their souls He says: Let the life of my lord will be bound up in the bundle of life (Samuel 25: 29).... “ (Shabbat 152b)
תָּנוּ רַבָּנַן: ״וְהָרוּחַ תָּשׁוּב אֶל הָאֱלֹהִים אֲשֶׁר נְתָנָהּ״ — תְּנָהּ לוֹ כְּמוֹ שֶׁנְּתָנָהּ לְךָ, בְּטׇהֳרָה — אַף אַתָּה בְּטָהֳרָה. מָשָׁל לְמֶלֶךְ בָּשָׂר וָדָם שֶׁחָלַק בִּגְדֵי מַלְכוּת לַעֲבָדָיו. פִּקְחִין שֶׁבָּהֶן, קִיפְּלוּם וְהִנִּיחוּם בְּקוּפְסָא. טִפְּשִׁים שֶׁבָּהֶן, הָלְכוּ וְעָשׂוּ בָּהֶן מְלָאכָה. לְיָמִים בִּיקֵּשׁ הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶת כֵּלָיו, פִּקְחִין שֶׁבָּהֶן הֶחֱזִירוּם לוֹ כְּשֶׁהֵן מְגוֹהָצִין, טִפְּשִׁין שֶׁבָּהֶן הֶחֱזִירוּם לוֹ כְּשֶׁהֵן מְלוּכְלָכִין. שָׂמֵחַ הַמֶּלֶךְ לִקְרַאת פִּקְחִין, וְכָעַס לִקְרַאת טִפְּשִׁין.
עַל פִּקְחִין אָמַר: יִנָּתְנוּ כֵּלַי לָאוֹצָר, וְהֵם יֵלְכוּ לְבָתֵּיהֶם לְשָׁלוֹם. וְעַל טִפְּשִׁין אָמַר: כֵּלַי יִנָּתְנוּ לְכוֹבֵס, וְהֵן יֵחָבְשׁוּ בְּבֵית הָאֲסוּרִים.
אַף הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא, עַל גּוּפָן שֶׁל צַדִּיקִים אוֹמֵר: ״יָבֹא שָׁלוֹם יָנוּחוּ עַל מִשְׁכְּבוֹתָם״, וְעַל נִשְׁמָתָן הוּא אוֹמֵר: ״וְהָיְתָה נֶפֶשׁ אֲדוֹנִי צְרוּרָה בִּצְרוֹר הַחַיִּים״. עַל גּוּפָן שֶׁל רְשָׁעִים הוּא אוֹמֵר: ״אֵין שָׁלוֹם אָמַר ה׳ לָרְשָׁעִים״, וְעַל נִשְׁמָתָן הוּא אוֹמֵר: ״וְאֵת נֶפֶשׁ אוֹיְבֶיךָ יְקַלְּעֶנָּה בְּתוֹךְ כַּף הַקָּלַע״.
תַּנְיָא, רַבִּי אֱלִיעֶזֶר אוֹמֵר: נִשְׁמָתָן שֶׁל צַדִּיקִים גְּנוּזוֹת תַּחַת כִּסֵּא הַכָּבוֹד, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״וְהָיְתָה נֶפֶשׁ אֲדֹנִי צְרוּרָה בִּצְרוֹר הַחַיִּים״.
Where in the “celestial“ scheme is Tzror Hakhayyim located? A Midrash in Avot DeRabbi Natan suggests its location to be under God’s throne. The Midrash seems to be accentuating a sense of tight boundary and perhaps overcrowding as it offers an image of souls bundled under. By alluding to Moses, the ultimate prophet and righteous servant of God, the Midrash also teaches about the high qualifications required for inhabiting this afterlife department.
“The Holy One Blessed Be took Moses’s soul and hid it under the divine throne. When He took it he did not take it but with a kiss as it is written upon God’s mouth (Deuteronomy 34: 5): Not Moses’s soul alone is hidden under the divine throne but all the souls of the righteous are hidden under the divine throne as it is written: the life of my lord will be bound up in the bundle of life (Samuel 25: 29).... “
The Midrashic and Talmudic literature offer a general description of the afterlife process including an initial account of Tzror Hakhayyim. We learn from the Rabbis that Tzror Hakhayyim is a place to which righteous souls go as their heavenly reward and it is located under the throne of God. However, this early literature fails to offer a comprehensive and consistent eschatological framework. The Rabbis do not clearly spell out the relationship between Tzror Hakhayyim and other afterlife terminology such as Olam Haba (the world to come), and more specifically Gan Eden (the garden of eden). Simkha Paul Raphael tells us that the Rabbis viewed Tzror Hakhayyimand Gan Eden as “simply two coexisting notions, with Gan Eden clearly being the realm given most importance when speaking of the fate of the righteous dead. But ... the Kabbalists developed this idea of a divine treasury of souls even further.“ (Raphael 1996, page 156) The raw ideas of the Midrash and Talmud were indeed further developed by later mystics and scholars.
The Rambam adds a philosophical dimension to the discussion. The Rambam boldly removes any remains of literalness or corporeality attached to the concept of the bundle of life. According to him the righteous soul transforms into a state of being which is beyond description. He likens this state to pure knowledge. The Rambam stresses the eternal as well as ethereal qualities of Tzror Hakhayyim. He also acknowledges the multiplicity of terms used throughout rabbinic literature to describe such an allusive concept. His extensive list of terms is further indication of the yet early developmental stage of the idea in his time. A stage in which ideas about the afterlife in general and the meaning of Tzror Hakhayyim in particular had yet to consolidate and cohere.
“3. Any soul which is referred to in this matter (of the afterlife) is not the (kind of) soul that needs the body, but the form of soul which is the consciousness (or knowledge) that she had attained from the creator in accordance with her ability... these “life forms“, which have no death, since death is associated only with the body, and there (in the afterlife) there is no body, are called Tzror Hakhayyim as it is said: the life of my lord will be bound up in the bundle of life, and this is the reward of which non is higher, and the goodness after which there is no other goodness, which the prophets desired. 4. And she was given several allegorical names, God’s mountain, His holy place, the path of holiness, God’s courts, God’s pleasantness, God’s tent, God’s sanctuary, God’s house, God’s gate, and sages called this goodness which is available for the righteous by the way of allegory - a feast, and everywhere she is called the world to come. (Rambam - laws of repentance chapter 8)
כָּל נֶפֶשׁ הָאֲמוּרָה בְּעִנְיָן זֶה אֵינָהּ הַנְּשָׁמָה הַצְּרִיכָה לַגּוּף אֶלָּא צוּרַת הַנֶּפֶשׁ שֶׁהִיא הַדֵּעָה שֶׁהִשִּׂיגָה מֵהַבּוֹרֵא כְּפִי כֹּחָהּ וְהֶשֵּׂגָהּ הַדֵּעוֹת הַנִּפְרָדוֹת וּשְׁאָר הַמַּעֲשִׂים וְהִיא הַצּוּרָה שֶׁבֵּאַרְנוּ עִנְיָנָהּ בְּפֶרֶק רְבִיעִי מֵהִלְכוֹת יְסוֹדֵי הַתּוֹרָה הִיא הַנִּקְרֵאת נֶפֶשׁ בְּעִנְיָן זֶה. חַיִּים אֵלּוּ לְפִי שֶׁאֵין עִמָּהֶם מָוֶת שֶׁאֵין הַמָּוֶת אֶלָּא מִמְּאֹרְעוֹת הַגּוּף וְאֵין שָׁם גּוּף נִקְרְאוּ צְרוֹר הַחַיִּים שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (שמואל א כה כט) "וְהָיְתָה נֶפֶשׁ אֲדֹנִי צְרוּרָה בִּצְרוֹר הַחַיִּים". וְזֶהוּ הַשָּׂכָר שֶׁאֵין שָׂכָר לְמַעְלָה מִמֶּנּוּ וְהַטּוֹבָה שֶׁאֵין אַחֲרֶיהָ טוֹבָה וְהִיא שֶׁהִתְאַוּוּ לָהּ כָּל הַנְּבִיאִים:
וְכַמָּה שֵׁמוֹת נִקְרְאוּ לָהּ דֶּרֶךְ מָשָׁל. הַר ה'. וּמְקוֹם קָדְשׁוֹ. וְדֶרֶךְ הַקֹּדֶשׁ. וְחַצְרוֹת ה'. וְנֹעַם ה'. וְאֹהֶל ה'. וְהֵיכַל ה'. וּבֵית ה'. וְשַׁעַר ה'. וַחֲכָמִים קָרְאוּ לָהּ דֶּרֶךְ מָשָׁל לְטוֹבָה זוֹ הַמְזֻמֶּנֶת לַצַּדִּיקִים סְעֻדָּה. וְקוֹרִין לָהּ בְּכָל מָקוֹם הָעוֹלָם הַבָּא:
The Ramban offers a much more sophisticated eschatological theory. He reconciles the
ambiguity in the relationship between the concept of Gan Eden and Tzror Hakhayyim. Ramban describes a multi-layered realm of the afterlife at which its very top is Tzror Hakhayyim. In Nakhmanides’ own words,
“... this Gan Eden of the lower world are [metaphorically speaking] illustrations of higher secrets, and these higher matters to which they [the lower Gan Eden] allude are also termed Gan and Eden, from which the lower ones derive their names. How is this so? In the higher [spheres], there is a concept allusively designated Gan in the words of our Rabbis, [there is] an even higher concept than that which is designated Eden. This is termed the bundle of life [Tzror Hakhayyim].“ (Ramban - The Gate of Reward) (Raphael 1996, page 268)
In this account we find a more subtle and somewhat allusive description which paradoxically paves the way for a much richer portrayal of an afterlife scenery by later kabbalistic writers.
Subsequent eschatological works, such as the Zohar, Or Hakhayyim and Be’er Hagolah, add further detail and color to the dynamics of “time“, “shape and motion“, qualifications and gradations, ambience and decor, purpose, and sequence. The richness of these descriptions places the bundle of life within a greater eschatological environment and process, highlighting its function in a larger afterlife scheme.
The following are a number of such accounts in the kabbalistic literature.
How long does one wait to get in? Or Hakhayyim tells us in its commentary on the phrase “And you shall go to the place etc. (Deuteronomy 26) ...that when the soul rises to the supernal world, (she) does not go immediately to be received by God, (but she waits) until she has prepared herself in the “hallway“ (Prozdor), there are those who tarry up to seven days, or a month, or days, as it is written in the book of the Zohar [I, 81a], and then he ascends to the highest Gan Eden which is called bundle of life, which is the place in which God chooses to place His name.“ (Or Hakhayyim, Deuteronomy 26)
ואומרו והלכת אל המקום וגו' לפי שבעלית הנפש לעולם העליון לא תלך תכף ומיד להקביל פני ה' עד שיכין עצמו בפרוזדור, ויש שמתעכבים עד שבעה ימים, או חודש, או ימים, כאמור בס' הזוהר (ח''א פ''א), ואחר כך עולה לגן עדן העליון הנקרא צרור החיים, והוא המקום אשר יבחר ה' לשכן שמו שם:
What do the souls do when they reach the throne, how do they do it, and why is it called bundle of life?
The Be’er Hagolah plays with far reaching imagery in his commentary on a gemara in Ta’anit 31a. “... Rabbi Eliezer said: the Holy One Blessed Be will make a dance for the righteous in Gan Eden and He sits among them and each one of them points to Him with a finger as it is written, and he will say on that day here is our God to whom we longed, and he will redeem us etc. and now know that these words come to reveal the great good that is awaiting the future righteous in Gan Eden, and it was hinted in a very wise tongue. And understand (what is meant when) it is written that they will have a dance. Since every dance is a circle, so as not to say that each righteous soul has a virtue unique to him and therefore does not possess complete attachment (to God), therefore it is written that they should have a circle dance.... When he (the righteous soul) has a circle dance he (appears as it were) before God in all parts (of him) that face that central point (in which God dwells). And from here one learns that the future righteous soul will have an attachment to the Blessed One, not (only) from a certain side but from all sides, since the dance is moving in a circle including the whole circumference... since righteous souls possess circular virtue, (meaning) that all points of the circle are attracted to the center point, this principle teaches that they are attaching and are being drawn to His truth.... which is the bundle of life...“ (Be’er Hagolah page 75)
פרק בתרא דתענית (לא.), אמר רבי חלבו אמר רבי אליעזר, עתיד הקב"ה לעשות מחול לצדיקים בגן עדן, והוא יושב ביניהן, וכל אחד ואחד מראה עליו באצבעו, שנאמר (ישעיה כה, ט) "ואמר ביום ההוא הנה אלקינו זה קוינו לו ויושיענו וגו'", עד כאן.לכן אמר כי השם יתברך יושב ביניהם תוך העיגול, כי כל נקודה ונקודה שהוא על העיגול הוא פונה אל הנקודה האמצעית, שהוא נבדל משאר חלקי העיגול. ודבר זה ידוע, כי הנקודות שהם על העיגול, כלם הם פונים על ידי הקוים הנמשכים מן הנקודות שהם על העיגול אל הנקודה האמצעי, לא יסורו ימין ושמאל. וכן עניין הצדיקים ומעלתם במחול הזה, שהוא התפשטות מן החמרי לגמרי, עד שיהיו פונים אליו יתברך, מתחברים עם השם יתברך, כמו שמתחברים כל הנקודות שהם על העיגול עם האמצעי, במה שהם פונים אליו, ונמשכים אליו על ידי הקוים הנמשכים אל האמצעי. וזה שאמר שיש מחול לצדיקים, הוא התעלות מן החמרי, עד שיהיו נמשכים אחר השם יתברך, כמו שימשכו כל הנקודות אשר הם על* העיגול, אל הנקודה האמצעית. והוא יתברך עם כל זה נבדל מן הצדיקים, כמו שנבדל האמצעי מן העיגול, כמו שהתבאר...
והבן מה שאמר שיהיה* להם מחול, אשר כל מחול הוא סבוב. שלא יאמר כי יש לכל צדיק מעלה מיוחדת, ואין אחד כולל כל הדביקות, ולפיכך אמר שיהיה להם מחול שהולך בסבוב. ואילו לא היה זה מחול, היה כל צדיק מיוחד בדביקות מיוחד, ולא שהיה לו דביקות מכל. אבל כאשר יש לו מחול שהולך בסבוב, הוא נגד השם יתברך בכל החלקים אשר הם נוכח הנקודה האמצעית. ומזה יש ללמוד כי יש לצדיק לעתיד חבור אל השם יתברך, לא מצד מה, רק מצד הכל, כאשר המחול שהולך בסבוב הוא כולל כל העיגול, והבן הדברים האלו, וזה הוא המחול שיש לצדיקים. ואלו דברים גדולים ונוראים כאשר תבין אותם. ואמר שמראים עליו באצבעו כל אחד ואחד, שכל דבר שמראים עליו באצבע הוא דבר מיוחד מן השאר. ורוצה לומר כי הצדיקים מצד התעלות הזה, יש להם דביקות עם אמתתו, במה שהוא יתברך מיוחד ונבדל מן הנמצאים. ולפיכך מראים עליו באצבעם*, הוא הכרת אמתתו במה שהוא נבדל מכל הנמצאים. כי הצדיקים להם מעלת העיגול, אשר כל הנקודות אשר הם על העיגול נמשכים אל הנקודה האמצעית, כי דבר זה מורה שהם מתחברים נמשכים אל אמתתו במה שהוא מיוחד נבדל מכל, כמשפט הנקודה האמצעית כמו שבארנו.
Be’er Hagolah offers an exotic and profound image of complete divine exposure through dance. This dance follows a sacred geometrical pattern that takes advantage of the possibilities inherent in the qualities of a circle. An ambiguity, however, remains whether the souls are attracted to Tzror Hakhayyim, the divine presence, from the distance of the circumference, or whether the circle itself is the bundle of life, comprised of the dancing saintly souls. Despite the ambiguity, or perhaps even because of it, Be’er Hagolah’s commentary, pregnant as it is with imagery and motion, awakens the concept to life.
While Be’er Hagolah focuses on circular motion the Zohar brings us into yet another dynamism. It describes a vertical movement, as well as a set of engagements between a multitude of levels of the soul. Nephesh is the soul level that preexisted in the body. Ruakh is the level of the disembodied spirit. Neshamah is the level of the super-soul, the level of the soul that is capable of eventually uniting with the Holy One. The interrelations among the soul levels play an important role in the journey of the lower soul’s ascent towards its ultimate destiny. This Zoharic image begins to match the scheme that is suggested in our grave-side prayer, El Maleh Rakhamim, by explaining the chain reaction that leads the soul to its resting place.
“... the Nephesh joins the Ruakh and clings thereto with all its strength, and receives illumination from it, which causes itself to shine.... and that Ruakh then joins itself in the same way to the Neshamah, and the Neshamah unites herself with the End of Thought, this being the mystery of the Nephesh which is above, and the Nephesh which is above unites itself with the Ruakh which is above, and the Ruakh again with its Neshamah, and that Neshamah with the Infinite (Ein Sof). Thus is achieved harmony, peace and union both above and below. This constitutes the attainment of the rest and quietude of the Nephesh that is below, concerning which it is written: the life of my lord will be bound up in the bundle of life (Samuel 25: 29); that is to say... one being like unto the other.“ (Zohar, III 142b)
The rest and quietude experienced by the lower Nephesh, the soul which departs the body to set on the “long“ afterlife journey, depends on the complete bonding of all its levels, including the Source of souls, God, Herself. The bundle of life is described here as a bundle of the many levels within an individual soul rather than a bundled up group of separate righteous souls, as in other commentaries. This unity of the fragmented soul within itself as well as with its Source best explains the phrase following “Tzror Hakhayyim“ in the liturgy, “may they find peaceful repose on their resting places“ (El Maleh Rakhamim, the prayer). This phrase closely corresponds to the above quote from the Zohar “Thus is achieved harmony, peace and union both above and below.“ Thus the attainment of the ultimate unification, or bundling, of all the soul’s levels will result in the accomplishment of the soul’s ultimate goal to attain a peaceful resting state. This Zoharic idea may also provide an eschatological explanation of the well known liturgical phrase at the end of the Amida “may the One who ordains peace in His heights ordain peace upon us... “.
Who is qualified for ultimate unity; What is the ultimate reward awaiting the soul when it bonds in the bundle of life; And is there a dress code in the afterlife? According to the following accounts only souls (at the level of Nephesh) who achieve the highest level of unity with their super-soul (Neshamah) are ready to enter the bundle of life, at which they receive “supernal delight“. But in order to enter they have to be clothed properly. The Zohar offers these ideas with a richness of imagery.
“... that holy celestial abode which is called the bundle of the living, where the holy superior grade called the super-soul [Neshamah] regales itself with the supernal delights. (III, 70a)
... the virtuous who are thought to be worthy to be bound in the bundle of the living are privileged to see the glory of the supernal Holy King, and their abode is higher than that of all the holy angels. (III 182b)
... in the same way as the soul has to be clothed in a bodily garment in order to exist in this world, so is she given an ethereal supernal garment wherewith to exist in the other world, and to be enabled to gaze at the effulgence of life radiating from that land of the living.“ (I 66a)
When praying El Maleh Rakhamim at the grave-side we utter words that are laden with extensive eschatological and mythical meaning. We are saying: Please merciful one... bond his or her soul ..., please include the soul of the departed among those who ascend smoothly and speedily through the many rungs of the afterlife. Please include them among those who are able to successfully complete the tasks of unifying the levels of Nephesh, Ruakh and Neshamah. Please include them among those who wait shorter rather than longer in the “hallway“ (Prozdor) while they prepare to be received by God in the highest realm. Please place this soul among the righteous ones in the realm of ... the bundle of life ... the realm beyond Gan Eden; The under-space of God’s throne; The circle dance of the righteous souls during which exposure to the divine is complete; The supreme “life form“ that is absolute consciousness of God; The place of pure light and radiance where supernal delight is experienced.
And forthermore, may her or his body repose in peace on its resting place.
Tzror Hakhayyim enfolds within it a multitude of imagery all of which points to a longing; A longing for a final resolution to life’s existential tensions and repeated challenges to an existense of comfort and meaning. Enfolded in the bundle are ultimate goodness and ultimate peace, the ultimate rewards which make the journey in this life and in the afterlife all worthwhile. The destination, Tzror Hakhayyim, is the promise that motivates the parting soul and comforts those who see it on its way.
1. JPS Hebrew English Tanakh
2. Mikraot Gedolot
3. Judaic Classic Library CD ROM
a. Rada“K I Samuel
b. Ramban Deuteronomy
c. Kohelet Rabah, Vilna, ParÕ 3
d. Talmud Bavli
e. Rambam Laws of Repentance
f. Or Hakhayyim
g. BeÕer Haholah
4. Raphael, Simkha Paul Jewish Views of the After Life, Jason & Aronson, 1996.
5. Translation of the Zohar
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Rabbi Reuben Modek