Where does the sense of "I" (i.e. the sense of self-awareness) originate from? Is it from the physical body (the brain) or is it from the spiritual soul which wears the body (as brought down in Shaarei Kedusha)?

Perhaps an example to show the difference: If theoretically, two people had their brain transplanted to each other's body, would their "I" consciousness also be transplanted or would it remain in the original body? (If ch'v one has a heart transplant, his "I" does not change even though his heart is replaced. likewise for every part of the body. is it the same for the brain?)

Please provide a source. (And, please, no jokes. This is a serious question.)

  • 1
    I like the question, but I dislike the example. from the example, I'm not sure that you are asking the same question that I find interesting. So I cannot upvote this.
    – Seth J
    Aug 18, 2013 at 19:44
  • 1
    can you clarify the question? to me, the interesting difference would be whether or not you get punished as you. what I mean is how can we be punished foractions of our bodies if our bodies are not really connected with our souls.
    – Seth J
    Aug 18, 2013 at 19:47
  • @SethJ not sure how to clarify more. the question is where is the "I". is it the body or is it "wearing" the body, i.e. the spiritual soul. If ch'v one has a heart transplant, his "I" does not change even though his heart is replaced. likewise for every part of the body. is it the same for the brain?
    – ray
    Aug 18, 2013 at 20:06
  • Even if the soul is as assumed in the question, how do you know it wouldn't follow the brain? So your nafka mina may not work.
    – Ariel K
    Aug 19, 2013 at 13:15
  • @ArielK yes. thats also a third possibility. but if it does not then it's clear proof.
    – ray
    Aug 19, 2013 at 17:10

2 Answers 2


Perhaps this Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 4:5) indirectly addresses your question:

תני ר' ישמעאל משל למלך שהיה לו פרדס והיה בו בכורות נאות והושיב בו המלך שומרים אחד חיגר ואחד סומא ואמר להן הזהרו על בכורות הנאות האלו לימים אמר חיגר לסומא בכורות נאות אני רואה בפרדס אמר לו סומא הבא ונאכל אמר לו חיגר וכי יכולני להלך אמר סומא וכי רואה אני רכב חיגר ע"ג סומא ואכלו את הבכורות והלכו וישבו להם איש במקומו לימים נכנס המלך באותו פרדס אמר להן היכן הם הבכורות הנאות אמר לו סומא אדוני המלך וכי רואה אני אמר לו חיגר אדוני המלך וכי יכול אני להלוך אותו המלך שהיה פיקח מה עשה להן הרכיב חיגר ע"ג סומא והתחילו מהלכין אמר להן כך עשיתך ואכלתם את הבכורות כך לע"ל הקב"ה אומר לנפש מפני מה חטאת לפני אמר לפניו רבון העולמים אני לא חטאתי הגוף הוא שחטא משעה שיצאתי ממנו כצפור טהורה פורחת באויר אני מה חטאתי לפניך אומר לגוף מפני מה חטאת לפני אמר לפניו רבון העולמים אני לא חטאתי נשמה היא שחטאה משע' שיצתה ממני כאבן שהושלך על גבי קרקע אני נשלך שמא חטאתי לפניך מה הקדוש ברוך הוא עושה להן מביא נשמה וזורקה בגוף ודן שניהם כאחד שנאמר (תהלים נ) יקרא אל השמים מעל וגו' יקרא אל השמים מעל להביא את הנשמה ואל הארץ להביא את הגוף לדין עמו

Translation from here:

A king had an orchard with fine fig trees. When the first fruits were about to ripen, he put two keepers in the orchard to keep out birds and thieves. One of the keepers was blind, the other was lame. After a time, the lame man said to the blind man, "I see some juicy figs just ripe for eating." Said the blind man, "Lead me to them, and we will eat." The lame man said, "I cannot walk." The blind man said, "I cannot see." Then the lame man got on the shoulders of the blind man, and they went and ate the figs, and returned to their places. Later the king came to the orchard, and asked, "Where are my figs?" The blind man said, "Can I see?" and the lame man said, "Can I walk?" But the king was clever. He placed the lame man on the shoulders of the blind man and made them walk. "This is how you did it," the king said.

So, in the World to Come, G-d says to the soul, "Why have you sinned?" The soul replies, "How could I have sinned? The body sinned. Since I left the body, I have flown about like an innocent bird in the air. What is my sin?" Then G-d says to the body, "Why have you sinned?" and the body replies, "I have not sinned; it is the soul which has sinned. Since the soul left me, I lie still, like a stone on the ground. How could I have sinned?" So what does G-d do? He puts the soul back into the body and judges the two together!"

Perhaps the "I" is a composite of the body and soul, and were they to be separated, that "I" would no longer exist.

  • 1
    please explain your answer in relevance to the question Aug 19, 2013 at 5:32
  • so when they are separated after death, it no longer exists?
    – ray
    Sep 2, 2015 at 11:19

The Ramchal, as translated by Rabbi Abba Zvi Naiman in The Elucidated Derech Hashem (1:3:2) states:

"[...] The Divine Wisdom decreed that a person be composed of two opposing elements. That is, he should be created from a pure, intellectual soul and an earthy, obscure body [...]."

Rabbi Abba Zvi Naiman in his Zichron Yaakov Eliyahu commentary on the passage (p. 53, footnote 12) states:

"It is clear from this passage of Ramchal that a person is not a soul wrapped in a vessel called the body. Rather, a person is a composite of both body and soul; his persona transcends both individual components. [See also Daas Tevunos, beginning of note 68]."

  • so you're saying the seat of self-consciousness is niether one by itself?
    – ray
    Aug 18, 2013 at 21:30
  • I'm not saying anything; but, yes, I believe Rav Naiman is saying that the "I" is neither the body nor the soul but something separate altogether.
    – Lee
    Aug 18, 2013 at 21:32
  • 1
    It looks to me like he's not saying the "I" is separate, but that it's the two of them united. That is, this is a classic case of "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts." Aug 25, 2015 at 1:49
  • @Mr.Bultitude While he does say that "his persona transcends both individual components", your reading appears more accurate, namely that the "I" is the sum of the parts and not separate.
    – Lee
    Sep 2, 2015 at 7:37

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .