Kabbalah ~ On The Term “Selem”

soul and magic

“Our first encounter with the term ‘selem,’ [image] of course, is in the narrative of man’s creation … ‘In the image of God He created Him’ (Gen. 1:26-27). The nature of this ‘image,’ though, is not sufficiently clear…The Kabbalists often introduce an additional verse, ‘For in the image man shall walk’ (Ps. 39:7), to show that the ‘selem’ is an integral part of man on earth. What then is the ‘selem’ in their conception. There is a basic assumption that two elements diametrically opposed by nature cannot exist together without some mediating entity. This also goes for the ‘nefesh’ [soul] and body…In Neoplatonic teaching and in ancient religions we find mention of an intermediary astral body; in the Kabbalah, the term ‘selem’ is borrowed to speak of the same idea. Thus we read in the Zohar: ‘When a man begins to consecrate himself before intercourse with his wife with a sacred intention, a holy spirit is aroused above him, composed of both male and female. And the Holy One, blessed be He, directs an emissary who is in charge of human embryos, and assigns to him this particular spirit, and indicates to him the place to which it should be entrusted…When the soul descends in order to enter this world…the holy image stands by it until it goes out into the world. When it does out into the world the image is summoned for it and it accompanies it and grows with it…And man’s days exist through the image, and are dependent on it.’ Thus the ‘image’ accompanies man all the days of his life … The ‘selem,’ then, is sometimes identified with a shadow accompanying man. In that sense, the ‘image’ constitutes the principium individuationis [principle of individuation], the individual and unique element in each person.”

– Moshe Hallamish in “An Introduction to the Kabbalah,” p. 274-275