"…When He separated the children of man." (Deut. 32:8)

He appointed different "ministers" to be in charge of the fates of the various nations.

The meaning is that G‑d did not deliver all the nations into the hands of a single "deputy," i.e. a minister appointed by G‑d to deal with them. Rather He appointed different "ministers" to be in charge of the fates of the various nations. The manner in which G‑d went about doing this when He established the borders of the various nations was that He took into consideration the needs of the people of Israel. We must remember that when G‑d created the souls He planted them originally in one of two trees. One of these trees is a "good" tree, the other is an "evil" tree. The good tree is the one from which the soul of Adam emanates, whereas the other "tree" is a simile for Sam-kel, the symbol of wicked man.

Once Adam sinned and the previous division between good and evil became eroded so that good and evil began to appear intertwined, even the offspring of Adam began to produce wicked souls. Finally one totally pure soul, that of Jacob, emerged. From that time onwards, the good tree became clearly identifiable once again. This is why the Talmud tells us that the beauty of Jacob’s soul was comparable to that of Adam before the sin. (Baba Metzia 84) The "good" tree we are speaking of has 70 branches corresponding to the number of people who descended to Egypt with Jacob. Accordingly, when G‑d separated the various nations from one another, He divided them into 70 to correspond to the seventy branches of sanctity.

The idea underlying this division was to enable each branch of sanctity in the world to be able to rule over its spiritually negative counterpart. This is the mystical dimension of the verse: "her feet descend to death," (Proverbs 5:5) the idea is that the feet of sanctity stomp on the heads of the kelipah, the spiritually negative forces. In other words, Jacob’s branches rule over the nations of the world.

Moses continues with: "for G‑d’s portion is His people," meaning that inasmuch as G‑d had chosen the Jewish people to be governed by Himself directly and has thus elevated Israel over the other nations, He thereby rules over mankind as a whole. The reference of "for G‑d’s portion is His people" refers to Israel after they had received the Torah when they became fit to be called the people of G‑d.

Moses adds: "Jacob is the measure of His inheritance." The word "measuring string/chevel" refers to the most important part of that inheritance. This is an allusion to the quotation about the beauty of Jacob matching that of original man, Adam. (Baba Metzia 84)

...there are two categories of souls.

Moses also had in mind the fact that there are two categories of souls. One kind of soul had descended directly from a very high region in heaven, and that is the type of soul referred to here as "chelek Hashem/part (portion) of G‑d" so to speak. Other souls originate in a pool called nachalat Sha-dai, the inheritance of G‑d as He is known as Sha-dai. These souls Moses refers to as "chevel nachalato/tied by a rope to His inheritance." The word "chevel" was chosen by Moses deliberately to allude to something very important revealed by the Kabbalists. Every vital soul of man has a "string" connected with its root. This "string" begins at his nostrils and it is by means of this "string" that the soul derives its sustenance enabling it to live.

Concerning the soul of the wicked, the Torah said (in connection with deliberate sinners (Numbers 15:31)) "that person('s soul) will surely be cut off, his sin is upon him." This means that the lifeline connecting that person’s soul to its origin will be severed. Once the soul cannot derive sustenance from its source it dies. Of the righteous, on the other hand, the Torah stated, "As to you who have cleaved to the Lord your G‑d, you are all alive today." (Deut. 4:11)

[Selected with permission from the five-volume English edition of "Ohr HaChaim: the Torah Commentary of Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar" by Eliyahu Munk, Vol. V]