Someone recently shared with me a recent story of an individual who created an entire history of himself as a college football player. It was only found out because of some other incident he was involved in. I wonder how many of us create false personas for ourselves? How many of us live lives created out of fraud and never really expose our true selves? Perhaps so many of us do this because it is so hard and confusing to know who we really are? What is my identity?
Most things are able to be identified by what they do. For example a pen is clearly an ink writing instrument. True, it could be used for other things but that wouldn't be its optimal purpose. One could use it as a q-tip and it would clean the ear out, perhaps even of things meant to stay in the ear but clearly it was made to write. That is its purpose and its identity. Human beings as well can be identified by what they do. Every human being is by nature a pleasure seeker. Every decision we ever make will be based primarily on what we believe will ultimately give us more pleasure. That is clearly our purpose and identity as a human. However that only helps define who I am in regards to what species I belong to. That doesn't help me with my own individual identity. This is where it becomes confusing. This is because we have become accustomed to identifying ourselves as individuals as well by what we do rather than by who we are. I am a rabbi. I am a teacher. I am a doctor. I am a lawyer etc. What happens when we no longer are doing these functions? I recently met with a 72 year old man who was having a "mid-life" crisis. His profession was one that is extremely physical in nature and he was no longer capable of performing. He was lost. He had no identity outside of his former proffesion.
If you ask people to point to themsevles most often they point to their heart. Where would a person point if they had a heart transplant? What about a person who had a face transplant? It is only a matter of time before we are able to perform brain transplants and insert our memories and personalities via computer chips into that brain. Where would we point to then? Judaism says our individual identity comes from our soul. It is not relegated to our bodies. Our soul is not only what makes us unique as humans it was makes us each special as individuals.
There are actually five levels of our soul. The base level soul, often referred to as the animal soul is what creates desire for any physical need. Because the soul has no relation to time this desire is always urgent. When we are hungry we must eat now. When we are standing in line in the market and gravity pulls on our physical body we must get out of this line now!
The fourth level soul is where we have the ability to direct and control these urges. This is where free will comes in. This is the soul that distinguishes us from animals. The urges of the fifth level soul are not bad as long as they are not what leads us in our decisions. Without the existence of the fifth level soul we would never take care of our bodies. With nothing but the fifth level soul we would become like animals merely allowing every physical urge turn into an action. Left unbridled the fifth level soul would force each of us to remain children regardless of our age. It is the fourth level soul that allows us to grow and mature.
The third level soul is an even higher level of conciousness. This is where intellect and wisdom come in. It is here where we have the ability to learn and understand life. It is this level of consciousness that gives us meaning and the ability to choose happiness.
The second level soul is that essence of our being that is distinct from every other person. This soul is what gives each of us our unique purpose for existince. Why did I come into this world? There is some purpose that I am here to fulfill that no other human being can achieve.
And the final soul is that part of us that is absolutely pure of all self. The only desire is to connect with the Infinite Being that created the soul, to reunite the spark with the Source.
It is the combination of all five levels united with the body that makes up our identity. We are not just souls nor bodies rather we are a combination of body and soul. The rabbis compare our existence to a horse and rider. Neither one is complete without the other. The rider can not get where he needs to without the horse and the horse has nowhere to go without a rider. The body is what allows us to experience life. With that life we can attain pleasure which is what we all seek. However we must take care of the body. In order to do that we must function as a responsible human being. This is what we do with our lives. This is not the purpose of our lives. Our purpose is to seek the ultimate pleasure. What we do in this world is an integral part of that purpose and our identity however it is not the sum of our being. What we do allows us to function and create the platform for which we can grow, live and achieve pleasure.
What I do is not who I am.