We must appreciate that the spirituality of the Torah consists of the souls of Israel. Our Sages alluded to this when they said: "The Torah was given in forty (days) and the soul was formed in forty days; anyone who takes care of his Torah has his soul taken care of." (Menachot 99) ...each Jew will read and understand the Torah according to the interpretation that resulted in his individual soul being formed.

I have found the following among the writings of the Arizal:

The total number of souls is six hundred thousand. The Torah is the root of the souls of Israel. This is why there are six hundred thousand possible interpretations of Torah. Each of these interpretations eventually will form the root of a soul. In the world of the future, each Jew will read and understand the Torah according to the interpretation that resulted in his individual soul being formed.

Some souls, however, are able to assimilate a number of interpretations. The soul of Moses was able to assimilate all six hundred thousand possible interpretations of Torah. He was thus familiar with all possible interpretations of Torah. When at night our soul leaves our body to ascend to higher worlds, it may be able to read the interpretation of Torah that is appropriate to its particular root which resulted in its creation; on different nights, however, man's actions during the preceding day may cause different verses of the Torah to provide different degrees of enlightenment even for that same soul.

The Arizal was able to detect on a person's forehead which verse had provided a special understanding for such a person, and he would then proceed to explain Torah to him according to the interpretation appropriate for his soul. He would explain to him that if he would study that verse while awake, his soul would ascend to Heaven, and there it would have more aspects of Torah revealed to it even though his body was not used to such revelations. The Arizal was able to detect on a person's forehead which verse had provided a special understanding...

The six hundred thousand interpretations mentioned are all according to the plain meaning of the text; in addition to these, there are an equal number of interpretations of a mystical, kabbalistic nature. There is no soul that is not equipped to understand both peshat (simple meaning) and Kabbala. (From the writings of the Ari'zal)

Just as there are five books of the Torah, so the soul consists of five aspects, Nefesh, Ruach, Neshama, chaya and yechida. This statement is baffling, since neither in the Zohar nor in most other kabbalistic writings do we encounter references to more than three parts of the soul, namely the Nefesh, Ruach, and Neshama. I have elaborated on this in my introduction to the treatise Toldot Adam. Briefly, the matter is as follows: The last-mentioned three parts of the soul (Nefesh, Ruach, and Neshama) stem from the three emanations below bina, the origin of "two-faced" man being rooted in the emanations tiferet (beauty) and malchut (majesty) respectively, i.e. the conditions applicable to the material world. Chaya and yechida, however, originate in the "senior" emanations, chochma and bina, which contain the key to Olam HaBa.

There are only a select few who attain such a high level of spirituality that they may glimpse their Olam HaBa already in this life. Those who do also possess the two parts of the soul we have called chaya and yechida. The souls of Adam and Eve belong to this latter category, and I have explained the verses "And man was a living (chaya) soul" (Gen. 2:7) and: "Eve was the mother of all the living" (Gen. 3:20) in my aforementioned treatise.

Let us return to the statement that all the souls are the root of Torah:

There are two Torahs. One Torah which was revealed to us from the "two-faced" region (emanation) of tiferet and malchut is both the written and the oral Torah. We find an allusion to these two Torahs: "from the heavens He let you hear His voice to discipline you; on earth He let you see His great fire; and from amidst the fire you heard His words." (Deut. 4:36) Heaven and Earth in this verse are the reference to the "two faces" of Torah [the written and the oral]. There exists, however, an "earlier" Torah which our Sages alluded to when they told us that Torah had been created two thousand years prior to Creation. This Torah was "hidden" together with the original light.

Kabbalists have explained that each emanation, or sefira, is equated with the number one thousand. Multiplying ten by ten by ten, we return to the original number 1, i.e. the letter alef, representing G‑d's unity, seeing that the letter alef is identical with the word for one thousand [i.e. elef.] …"Israel" was in G‑d's mind before He began to create the universe...

Binyan, construction of the material world, began with the sefira chesed (kindness), in descending order. This is the reason why our Sages always say, "The universe is built on chesed." (Psalms 89:3) If this is so, we understand the two thousand (years) that the "higher" Torah preceded our universe as referring to the emanations chochma and bina which preceded the emanation of chesed.1 The root of the sefirot of tiferet and malchut — the "two-faced" basis of the entire structure of our universe—have their original beginning in the emanations chochma and bina. This must be understood within the context of binyan, a structure.

In the "hidden" regions of the "senior" emanations chochma and bina however, there is another Torah. This is the Torah that preceded the revealed Torah. Our Sages had this in mind when they said, "Concealed matters are the Lord's alone". (Deut 29:28) These aspects of Torah have not been revealed to us. The aspects that have been revealed to us, i.e. "and the revealed matters are for us and our children" (ibid.) represent the last two letters of the Ineffable Name of G‑d, i.e. vav-hei.

The overwhelming majority of the revealed Torah belonged to the emanations "below" bina; in those "regions" in which a merging of tiferet and malchut is possible, some people are endowed with Neshama, others with Ruach, and still others only with the Nefesh type of spiritual potential, each according to his individual level.

The select few, usually referred to as "bnei aliyah" by our Sages, are able to penetrate into the regions above tiferet, since they have also acquired the chaya or even the yechida type of soul, i.e. spiritual capacity. In that capacity they are able to absorb teachings from the Torah HaKeduma, that Torah which remained hidden to the rest of us. When the Sages of the Midrash said that the concept of "Israel" was in G‑d's mind before He began to create the universe, they referred to these "bnei aliyah". The language of the Midrash, "alah b'machshava" ("ascended in His thoughts"), is a clear allusion to "bnei aliyah", literally meaning "children of ascent".

Thus we can now also understand that the same Sages described G‑d's original blueprint of the universe as being based on the attribute of Justice. Only when G‑d saw that such a universe would not be able to endure for a long time, did He decide to co-opt the attribute of Mercy. (Bereishit Rabba 12:15, and Gen. 1:1, Rashi)

[Translated and adapted by Eliyahu Munk.]