Selected Topics in Kabbalah
Labor of the Heart
Prayer is the labor of the heart. It expresses desires coming from the heart. Yet man has no power over these desires themselves. He has been created in such a way that he never really knows what to seek or what his own true intentions are. Therefore also the essential nature of his prayers is ungraspable.
Conversely, everything expressed in the prayer book is what man must learn to want. If man works on himself to direct and control his desires and thoughts he will reach the level of desires and requests of the authors of the prayer book, the members of the Great Assembly (who wrote the Jewish prayer book two thousand years ago during a long exile).
In order for a person to harmoniously match his desires to those of the authors of the prayer book, several preliminary steps are required. He must understand the nature of evil and what it brings about, namely, that man is essentially egotistically inclined. He must understand that egoism is the source of evil. Furthermore, all this must be realized and felt at the deepest and most intense part of his soul.
The Evolution of Souls
.Everything is grasped through comparison. By comparing the Creator’s attributes to ours we realize both His might and our lowness. One needs to be thus aware of His magnificence and His omnipotence. Faith means actually feeling the Creator and His Presence.
All souls go through the following stages:
The phase which precedes their descent into our world.
The phase during which they are endowed with a certain deficiency termed selfishness. This is what souls perceive as physical incarnation
The phase during which souls perceive themselves and the entire spiritual universe after the ultimate consummation.
The phase preceding the initial descent of souls is called "Olam Ein Sof”, the endless world where souls endlessly receive the light of the Creator. Afterwards the soul is enclothed in selfishness and descends to "olam ha ze”, this world, where its link to the spiritual world is remote. It no longer feels the Creator and no longer perceives its previous condition.
"This world" refers to the perception of the present moment, that is to say the part of creation, of the Creator we currently perceive by means of our sense organs. The selfishness is seated within the senses.
The next level is attained by bringing the sense organs under control. This higher level brings a wider perception of creation. This level is felt before the process of attaining "the world to come”, the world we will perceive supersensually, as opposed to the « real » one we live in now.
Both worlds are nevertheless currently perceived within our physical body. When we perceive our environment, and ourselves we perceive our, "his world". However, it is in the present that we begin to contemplate the future and the sensation induced by projecting oneself into the future is termed "the world to come". The process repeats itself "the next day" when the "world to come" becomes "this world" and so on .
A close examination of Baal HaSulam's writings may help us understand the process we go through at every moment.
Concerning man's spiritual behavior, ascent can only follow the "middle line" (i.e. behavior not polarized to its extras). Progression along this middle line establishes the condition in which Torah-the Creator-Israel merge into one thing.
The Work of Torah
The Creator is the source that man yearns for.
The Torah is the light, which fills man at the present moment.
Israel is man himself, that is, his desire to bond with the Creator.
How can these totally independent concepts be identical?
The goal of creation consists in creating man in this world so that he can cleave to the Creator while yet living in his physical body. Man ascends and crosses spiritual worlds to reach the Creator. More exactly, spiritual worlds penetrate him to such an extent that he and the Creator become identical. This is what union with the Creator means. One loves the Creator, follows His ways, and observes His commandments. At this level, all of man's qualities, desires, and attributes have become identical to those of the Creator.
The Torah is given to man so he can access this perfect and eternal level and fulfill the purpose of creation. The Torah can only be given to man after his descent into this world where he is endowed with a physical body and selfishness. Angels cannot receive the Torah because amongst all creatures only man possesses absolute selfishness.
If man chooses the path of the Torah, he can neutralize his selfish body and desires in such a way that they will no longer act as an obstacle between him and the Creator. Man and the Creator unite. This union is a throwback to the Procreation State, before the descent of the soul into this world, before the soul is "handicapped" by selfishness. Moreover, by correcting his selfishness man can climb the rungs of the spiritual ladder and reach the level of the Creator. Some creatures are devoid of selfishness and therefore have no tool to progress and remain at their initial level.
Except man, all creatures are said to be "spiritually inanimated, motionless". Even angels, the divine forces through which the Creator rules creation, are not independent "force-desires" but only executors of His will. Man, by transforming his very developed selfish desires can become equal to the Creator.
The soul is a part of the Creator placed in man. Man is born with an envelope of selfishness and can no longer perceive neither the Creator nor anything spiritual. Selfishness permeates his sense organs, which possess qualities opposed to spirituality. When man transforms his selfishness into altruism by removing his selfish envelope, he begins to perceive the essence of creation in such a way that nothing separates him from the Creator. At this point the three above-mentioned concepts unite.
Our task is to remove, with the help of the Torah, all obstacles between the soul and the Creator. Of all Torah studies Kabbalah is the most efficient because it draws towards man a ray of light of the highest intensity while he is studying.
There is no such thing as motion from one world to the other in spiritual "space". There are only inner states, which enable us to perceive our inner envelope. It is the Creator that we perceive but this perception is clouded by screens representing the different manifestations of our selfishness. The perception of the Creator, creation and space, as obstacles are suppressed, is progressively revealed but we are not aware of it. The portions of selfishness that we remove correspond to the levels of the spiritual ladder or "worlds" we ascend. Worlds are nothing more than degrees of perception that we have of the Creator.
Selfishness, which separates our perception from true knowledge, can only be found in man. This is not the case with the Creator because perfection and openness define his relation to man. The absence of the Creator is only felt by a man who dissimulates the worlds from himself, as if he were hiding behind the veils of his own selfishness.
The removal of selfishness does not occur all at once. In the beginning, the Creator grants man periods of time corresponding to lives in this world as an opportunity to elevate himself spiritually. Man is master of the whole process. During each of his consecutive lives, man must remove a certain part of his selfish nature and draw himself closer to the Creator. Man will repeat a new life as long as he does not correct himself. Correction means that his desires termed "body" in Kabbalah will no longer form a barrier between him and the Creator. When this occurs man's attributes will bond him with the Creator regardless of the world in which man finds himself.
The abandonment of one's selfish envelope is called "terrestrial death" leading to rebirth in our world. The corrected parts of the soul's selfishness merge and a kind of "redistribution" takes place. This is because all souls are but one creation and all envelopes are but pure selfishness. The correction of the original soul was made possible by splitting into parts the one and only creation, Adam's soul. These parts are individual souls and it is easier to correct each fragment than to correct the whole.
This explains why souls move from one world to another during their correction. When the correction is completed, all individualized souls will be once again brought together within the primordial desire. The primordial soul will receive all of the Creator's light revealing his perfection .
There is, ultimately, only the endless world, the world of perfect bonding with the Creator. Outside that world, all that man perceives is nothing but fragments of the infinite perfection, the endless world.
One fragment of the endless world is called "Adam Kadmon", the following one "Atzilut" then "Briah" then "Yetzira" and "Assiah". The smallest fragment of the endless world corresponds to our world. In other words, the endless world as we see it with our senses contracts to reach the size of our world. When our perception broadens we can call this world, for example, the world of Briah and so on. It all depends on the scope of our perception.
The subject of our studies is only man. Besides man and his sensations there is only the endless world The Malchut of the endless world must go through numerous corrections. Nothing is created in vain.
The Baal HaSulam quotes the example of a small insect in the jungle, spending all his life to find food and whose existence is totally unknown. Even this insect and all his parts are very important for the fulfillment of ultimate consummation.
Nothing is created in vain by the Creator, and all events occur in harmony with the goal we are nearing. As far as we are concerned this process takes place whether we want it or not, whether we understand it or totally ignore it. Everything progresses towards the fulfillment of correction as planned by the Creator, towards His complete revelation to all creatures in this world.
The various parts of Malchut of the endless world differ in the intensity of their desires. They correspond in our world to the parts of the natural kingdom - mineral, vegetal, animal, human. Similarly mankind is composed of many types of peoples.
Why, then, do we study man so closely and not in the spiritual correction, say, what stones, for example, need to accomplish? Haven't they been placed in our world to reach the purpose of Creation?
Man is set apart. The correction of nature depends on human correction. By working on himself, man "animates" nature to help it reach the state of full correction.
Man himself however has not received the Torah of our world in the same way: the peoples of the world have received 7 commandments, the Jews 613. These commandments are also observed different ways depending on the number of corrections a soul must carry out when coming to this world. Being born to the nation or the Jews does not grant any specific privileges. The Jews have more corrections to perform, the others less.
Precepts and Spirituality
Individuals need to observe mitzvot according to their natures. However, this does not depend on their desire to come closer to the Creator; many believers and non believers never ask themselves questions about the Creator, the purpose of Creation, corrections and so forth.
These men have simply not received from above the desire to transform themselves and they perform mechanically what tradition has taught them. It is those mechanical gestures, which differentiate men, nations, man and wife, and children and adults.
Clearly, a man who wishes to elevate himself spiritually has received this aspiration from the Creator. He will therefore be different from another man who has not received the same aspiration from above.
Hence, men should not be distinguished according to their appearance, race or gender. Whether or not they should study Kabbalah is not the issue. Those who study it are simply those who have received the call from above and express the desire to study it. Among women there are also examples such as the prophetesses Deborah and Hulda who were also Kabbalists.
Angels are robots who perform certain tasks in the spiritual world: they "move" things from one place to "another", nothing more. They cannot grow spiritually or move through various spiritual levels like human beings. They are spiritual forces acting on each spiritual level.
Degrees of prophecy result from personal efforts. In our world there is only the Creator, man and the path leading man to the Creator, who is called Torah. Man's environments (society, family, friends) are only sheaths separating him from the Creator and through which he influences us. Man is placed in often complex and unbearable situations, sometimes leading to suffering and disappointments.
How Do We Come Into the World
The Creator removes from Himself a tiny part (so to speak) and implants in it selfishness. This "universal" selfishness then breaks smaller selfish parts. Thereafter, a progressive reintegration of those parts causes the creation of the Upper Worlds, Atzilut, Briah, Yetsira, Assiah. The purest "fragments" are used for the creation of the highest spiritual worlds. Later, the most selfish desires, the very heart of creation, the Malchut of the Endless World brings about the creation of the soul of Adam, the first man. Then, after the sin of Adam, again the spark of Godliness, trapped in selfishness subdivides itself again into smaller and smaller fragments, that form our souls.
Beginners who study Kabbalah often do not perceive how the world is ruled. They ask whether actions depend on our choice or on the Creator? Before a man can launch a project he must be convinced that his actions have consequences. Yet after succeeding, "paradoxically", he must understand that all depends solely on the Creator. If we think this way, we will progress correctly.
There are things, which can only be felt, not explained. The incarnation of the spiritual in the material is difficult to describe in words. Modern science may justify itself, but how can the process by which one world takes the shape of another be explained? Kabbalistic explanations are only possible up to the point when Adam's soul is fragmented. This is not because Kabbalists do not wish to provide more explanations, but because the explanation pertains to what a man feels and cannot explain.
Selfishness is such a powerful spiritual force that the thought of getting rid of it hardly ever crosses our mind. In order to know ourselves we need to look at ourselves from outside, to feel something different other than ourselves, to compare ourselves to something outside of us.
Surrounding objects are perceived because they are made up of the same selfishness. Otherwise they would remain invisible. Selfishness takes many forms. Its most restricted form is the one that can only perceive itself. This is the perception that man has in our world. We are so selfish that we can only perceive ourselves.
When we "grow" a little bit, our selfishness reaches beyond the limits of our world and we begin to perceive the Creator. Our selfishness becomes spiritual. Our desire is no longer based on physical or worldly pleasure but on spiritual enjoyment brought by the light of the Creator.
Man is only animated by conscious or unconscious desires. Our reason is given to us in order to help us make sense of and achieve all our desires. Hence man cannot rise above his desires. Motivated by his desires and emotions, man first directs the course of his actions and becomes conscious of them teleological only afterwards after the choice.
How does he indeed become conscious of an event, which takes place? In reaction to man's actions the Creator manifests by degrees, His almightiness in order to give man a more aware retrospective awareness of the consequences of his actions. Even remembering our way of acting depends on the Creator. He will teach us the meaning of our actions by responding to us, giving us pleasure or suffering according to our merit or guilt.
Our education is therefore a process, which unfolds every second, but it cannot make us correct ourselves in any way. We only need to become aware of our selfishness and how helpless we are when we confront it. The Creator looks after everything which is not part of this awareness. The more man advances on a spiritual path, the more he moderates his self-esteem and the more he understands his true nature. As the Creator unveils himself, man gradually realizes what he actually is with respect to the Creator.
When we realize this, we progress along the spiritual path. Imagine a person who has achieved 99% of his correction. The remaining 1% that is not corrected appears much bigger than the previous 99%. The "small chaff in the eye" seems enormous.
Our actions and our study enable us to become aware of the Creator and of ourselves. When man realizes his absolute insignificance he despairs. He does not see the Creator and the whole world seems dark to him. If while in this dark state, a man bears in mind that the spiritual source of all this is nothing but the Creator of whom he can ask things and upon whom all matters depends, he will become aware of his spiritual link with the Creator. He will then cease to despair. He will understand that these seemingly negative conditions are sent temporarily from above and that they are unavoidable.
The way we connect ourselves to the Creator does not matter to him. The most important is for man to understand that He exists. The Creator sends desires so that we can react to Him and grow spiritually.
The Intention Behind Our Gestures
I do not make myself well understood and this is my drawback. When one lays the emphasis on spiritual and inner development, mechanical observance is not put forward. It is simply not evoked. The attention is focused on the intention behind the commandment not on its physical observance. A third party might conclude that physical observance is neglected.
It is said: "a commandment without intent is like a body without a soul" (mitsvah bli kavanah keguf bli neshamah). The difference between kabbalists and believers, non-believers, Jews, Goןm (gentiles) lies in the fact that Kabbalists want to develop the intention placed within the gestures. They do not contemplate gestures as such. The way to observe commandments concerns the revealed (conventional) Torah. It is described in the Jewish Code of Law (the "Shoulchan Aroukh"). The laws described in this code are to be followed by all. They are easily understandable and do not require any prerequisites.
The intention placed in the performance of precepts has no importance and the commandments do not transform man or oblige him to spiritual growth. These commandments can be repeatedly performed by an individual without modifying the selfish person that he was when he first became an observant.
Usually the observance of law is a matter of education. One is not asked whether one wants to observe them or choose to be free to act in a certain way. One is educated from the cradle and one’s behavior is conditioned by habits. These habits are called "guirsa de yankuta". Promises of all the blessings of this world and of the world to come strengthen these habits. As man is selfish, he enjoys and accepts those promises. Moreover many conditions are set for him, far better than those of ordinary people who do not follow the commandments.
Nowadays, because spiritually "mature" souls descend into our world, the above mentioned education becomes insufficient. Man needs to let his intention be modified to match his desires. Kabbalah enables man to change his selfish intentions into altruistic ones. Using a screen (masach) one begins to work on his self aimed desires with the intention of directing them toward the Creator.
The process of correcting selfishness is called "the spiritual observance of the commandments". Man is endowed with desires so that he may develop his intention to use them "by turning them toward the Creator". These desires were not his so long as he did not have the capacity to create a screen (masach) .
These desires are new; they are of spiritual nature which means that they correspond to the desire to rejoice in the divine presence. These desires are cultivated in a man capable of building a screen in the form of selfish desires to rejoice in the Creator. These desires are termed "klipot" (shells) or "impure desires". At this stage man has overcome worldly desires such as sex, wealth, fame, power, and craves for more spiritual pleasures.
There are 613 impure desires. They are born in man and range from the easiest to the most difficult ones to correct. When man acquires a screen against receiving for himself alone (klipa), one endows oneself with an intention "turned toward the Creator" (kedusha). One’s corrected desires can then receive spiritual "light", feel the Creator, and they lead to the joy of having equivalence of form with the Creator.
The correction of desires corresponds to what is called the observance of commandments. The spiritual light received is the perception of the Creator which corresponds to the Torah.
It is clear that the physical observance of the commandments differs from their spiritual one. However inner spiritual observance does not prevent or cancel the physical one. It is exactly because one who observes a commandment lives in both worlds that one can reconcile within oneself the two modes of observance.
From the above it follows that the physical observance of a code of law does not affect the spiritual worlds. This is what is meant by the sentence "a commandment without intent is like a body without a soul" - spiritually dead. A commandment cannot be inspired by a "li chema" intention when its corresponding gestures do not refer to a spiritual observance. A man may be handless and still observe all spiritual commandments requiring "spiritual hands", i.e. spiritual desires.
Our soul is referred to as a body, "partsouf". It is composed of 613 parts, the attributes of our biological body. Each of the 613 parts of this spiritual "body", this partsouf, corresponds to a specific desire. The partsouf divides itself into two parts, two types of desires: the ones corresponding to the desire to give without restraint (lehashpia al menat lehashpia) and the ones corresponding to the desire to receive without restraint, but not for one’s own satisfaction (lekabel al menat lehashpia).
Division of Desires
The 613 desires of the soul are divided into 248 positive desires, through which man can acquire a "li chema" intention, and 365 negative desires man cannot use in order to gain a "li chema" intent. The difference between the two desires has nothing to do with intention. In both cases the intention is naturally and exclusively "turned toward the Creator". The difference lies in the power of the desire itself: if the desire is weak it will not awaken intense pleasure. However, this desire enables one to feel the bond with the Creator. The pleasure sensed is called the pleasure to give without restraint. That is to say the desire to please the Creator as it is only possible to please Him by receiving from him. But since this desire cannot be felt with sufficient intensity, it cannot truly give to the Creator. This desire exists only at the level of equivalence of form with the Creator.
All desires born in man are selfish desires. This is the desire to receive for one’s own pleasure. Only the intention "turned toward the Creator" will transform it into an altruistic desire. Hence the difference solely lies in the intent.
That’s what makes Kabbalah so important. It helps us transform our intent. The intention "turned toward the Creator" is called "screen" because it prevents one from "receiving for oneself" and generates the intention "turned towards the Creator".
Birth of the Soul
This transformation is called "the birth" of the soul because the soul corresponds to the desires turned toward the Creator. When this phase takes place it reveals the soul of man. It is the intensity of this new desire, which helps man begin to sense the Creator. This desire to receive pleasure coupled with an intention "turned toward the Creator", fills itself with His presence, spiritual bliss and light (all these are synonyms of one and the same sensation).
The right intentions appear progressively along with the study of Kabbalah. Kabbalah is the science of intent (kavanah), enabling man's heart to long for spirituality. If man studies Kabbalah but cannot grant an altruistic twist to his intention while studying, this corresponds to the "lo li chema" period during which there is no orientation toward the Creator. At this stage man still works for himself and he belongs to his selfish desires, to our world. This is the level preceding the crossing of the makhsom (barrier).
If man does not care about the transformation of his intention, he is not at the "lo li chema" level. The gestures he makes are lifeless. However, all beings must eventually return to the Creator. The change of perspective will take place for those who observe mechanically as well. They will be obliged to clarify their relation to life, to its source, the Creator, and move from "lo li chema" to "li chema". In any case physical gestures are justified but man must strive to surpass their limits. This is what makes Kabbalists different.
Is the Messiah a Force or a Man
The messiah is a spiritual force, it is the Light which penetrates self aimed human desires to correct them so that they become altruisitc that is to say identical to those of the Creator.In our world all spiritual forces are manifested in material garments.
For example Rabbi Shimon , the ARI , Yehuda Ashlag represent a spiritual force radiating the Light of correction. This force appears in our world as a man, a kabbalist, a professor, a book author. Therefore the Messiah is a guide who becomes progressively accepted by mankind. Mankind will follow the path pointed by the Messiah because evil and suffering will be felt by all and there will be no other way out. People stand on a level where they cannot imagine the coming of the Messiah as a Light but only as a human leader. But for Kabbalists the Messiah is the spiritual force of correction (in the image of the world of A'B-SA"G)