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23. Spiritual Work

The fact that we ask the Creator for spiritual perceptions, but do not ask Him to solve the various problems in our daily lives, indicates how weak is our faith in the omnipotence and omnipresence of the Creator. It also signifies our lack of understanding that all of our problems are sent to us with one purpose only: for us to try to resolve them ourselves.

At the same time, we should ask the Creator to help in resolving them, believing all the while that every problem is sent to us to strengthen our faith in His oneness. If we truly believe that everything depends upon the Creator, then we must turn to the Creator, but not in the hope that the Creator will resolve our problems.

Instead, we should use these problems as opportunities to become dependent on the Creator.

So as not to deceive ourselves regarding our personal motives, we must, at the same time, struggle with these problems on our own, as others around us do.

A spiritual decline is sent from Above to allow subsequent spiritual growth. Since it is sent from Above, it comes to us instantaneously, reveals itself in a flash, and thus almost always finds us unprepared.

But the exit from that state, the spiritual ascent, occurs slowly, like a healing from an illness, because we must fully grasp the condition of the decline and must attempt to overcome it by ourselves.

If, during our spiritual ascent, we are able to analyze our own bad qualities, to join the left line with the right one, then we will manage to avoid many spiritual declines, leaping over them, as it were. But only those of us capable of keeping to the right line, that is, capable of justifying the actions of the Creator in spite of egotistical suffering, will stay the course and avoid spiritual declines.

This is reminiscent of the rule outlined in the Bible concerning obligatory war (milhemet mitzva) and voluntary war (milhemet reshut): the obligatory war against egoism, and the voluntary war, if an individual is capable of and desires to exert personal effort.

Our internal work on ourselves, on the struggle to overcome egoism, on elevating the Creator above all else, on strengthening our faith in the Creator’s domain, all these we must conceal, just like all other spiritual states we pass through.

Also, we may not advise another with respect to how that other person should act. If we notice the other person exhibiting signs of egoism, that individual must be the one to interpret these signs since there is no one in the world other than the Creator. This implies that all that one sees and feels is the direct result of the Creator desiring that these aspects be seen and felt by the person in question.

All that surrounds us was created solely to make us realize that it is necessary to constantly think about the Creator, to ask the Creator to change the material, the physical, the social, and other conditions of creation.

Each of us possesses an infinite number of deficiencies, all of which stem from our egoism, from the desire to be gratified and to attain comfort under any circumstances. The collection of admonitions (mussar) relates to the way in which e should struggle with each deficiency, and scientifically explains its methods.

The Kabbalah, even for beginners, introduces us to the realm of the Higher Spiritual Forces, and allows each of us to understand the difference between ourselves and the spiritual objects. In this way, through oneself, one learns who one is and who one ought to become.

Thus, the need for secular upbringing disappears altogether, especially in light of the fact that it does not yield the desired results. Witnessing in ourselves the struggle between two forces – the egoistic and the spiritual – we gradually force the body to desire a replacement of our own nature with a spiritual one, of our own qualities with those of the Creator, without the external pressure of our mentors.

Instead of correcting each of our faults, as it is suggested by the mussar system, Kabbalah suggests that we should correct our egoism as the source of all evil.

We experience the past, the present, and the future in the present. In our world, all three are perceived in the present, but as three distinct sensations. These are produced as a result of our minds arranging these notions in accordance with their own internal time charts and, thus, yielding an impression of tense.

In the language of Kabbalah, this is defined as the difference in the effects of the "Light-pleasure." The pleasure that is felt at a given moment is considered to be the present. If its internal, direct impact on us has already passed, if the pleasure is gone, gleams from afar and is sensed by us as being distant, then we perceive it as “in the past.”

If there was a cessation of Light when the pleasure left us, if we no longer receive it, then we completely forget about its existence. But if it resumes radiating Light from afar, then it becomes the forgotten past that we just remembered.

If we have not yet experienced a certain Light-pleasure, and it suddenly appears to our senses from afar, it will be perceived by us as in “the future” ("the Light of confidence").

In other words, we perceive the present as an internal acquisition, as Light, as information, and as pleasure, whereas we perceive the past and the future as the result of the distant external glow of remembered or anticipated pleasure. But in any case, we do not live either in the past or in the future, but only at the present moment, perceiving the different types of Light, which are interpreted as the different times, or tenses.

If we do not experience any pleasure in the present, we seek the Source that can give pleasure in the future; we await the next moment, which will bring with it a different sensation. Our efforts in the sphere of self-improvement consist of drawing the distant external light into our present perceptions.

There are two forces acting upon us: Suffering pushes us from behind, and pleasures entice us and pull us forward.

Usually, one force alone is not sufficient; the mere anticipation of future pleasure is not enough to advance forward, since if we have to make an effort to progress, such factors as laziness or fear of losing what we already possess may come into play.

For this reason, it is necessary to have a force that works from behind – the sense of suffering in the present state. All blunders stem from one ultimate blunder – a desire to partake of pleasure.

Usually, those who commit these blunders do not boast of the fact that they could not withstand the temptation, the fact that they were weaker than the enticement. Only the pleasure from anger awards them a sense of open pride because it ascertains their righteousness. It is this pride that immediately brings them down. Thus, anger is the most forceful expression of one’s egoism.

When we experience material, bodily, or spiritual suffering, we should regret the fact that the Creator awarded us such a punishment. If we do not regret it, then it is not a punishment, since a punishment is a feeling of pain and regret for a condition we cannot overcome, whether it be health, material needs, etc.

If we do not experience pain from our condition, it means that we did not yet receive the punishment sent by the Creator. Since any punishment is the correction of one’s soul, by not experiencing it, we miss an opportunity for correction. But the one who experiences the punishment and is capable of praying to the Creator to alleviate the suffering, undergoes an even greater self-improvement than would be possible had the suffering been borne without prayer.

The reason for this can be found in the fact that the Creator allots punishment to us for completely different reasons than those that induce punishment in our world. Punishment is not given to us for acting contrary to His will, but in order to form a bond with Him, in order to force us to turn to Him and to come closer to Him.

Thus, if we pray to the Creator to relieve us from suffering, it should not be interpreted as our asking the Creator to be relieved of self-improvement. Offering a prayer to form a bond with the Creator is a step of incomparably greater progress than that allotted through suffering.

"You are coerced to be born, coerced to live, and coerced to die." This is the way it happens in our world. But all that happens in our world is the result of the events that take place in the spiritual worlds. There is, however, no direct analogy or likeness between the two realms.

Thus, we are coerced (against the desires of the body) to be born (born spiritually, receive your first spiritual sensations), implying the start of our separation from our own "self," a separation which the body never agrees to voluntarily. Having received from Above the spiritual organs of action and perception (kelim), we then begin to lead a spiritual existence and to understand our new world.

But even in this state, we go against the body’s desire to partake of spiritual pleasures, and so, "you are coerced to live." Finally, "you are coerced to die" implies that we perceive being forced to take part in our mundane everyday life as a spiritual death.

In every generation, Kabbalists, through their efforts and books on Kabbalah, create better conditions for attaining the ultimate goal – coming closer to the Creator. Prior to the great Baal Shem-Tov, only a handful could reach that goal. After him, as a result of his work, even simply prominent scholars of the Kabbalah could reach the ultimate goal as well.

Furthermore, as a result of the work of Baal HaSulam, Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag in this world, today each person desiring to grasp the goal of creation can do so. The path of the Kabbalah and the path of suffering differ in that an individual travels on the path of suffering only until realizing that it is both faster and easier to take the path of the Kabbalah.

The path of the Kabbalah consists of the process by which we remember the suffering that we have already undergone and that may befall us again. Thus, there is no need to relive the same suffering, because the recollection of it is sufficient to realize and to choose the right path of action.

Wisdom lies in analyzing all that happens, and in realizing that the source of all our suffering is egoism.

As a result, we need to act in such a way as to avoid entering the path of suffering from egoism. Having voluntarily rejected the use of egoism, we must then accept the ways of the Kabbalah.

Kabbalists feel that the entire world was created solely for their use, in order to aid them in reaching their goals. All the desires that Kabbalists receive from those around them only help them advance, because they immediately reject the idea of using them for personal benefit.

When one sees the negative in others, it is because the person is not yet free from deficiencies, and as a result, realizes the need for personal improvement. In this light, the entire world is created to serve the ascent of human beings, because it allows them to observe their own deficiencies.

Only by feeling the depths of our own spiritual decline, along with the sense of the infinite distance from that which is ardently desired, can we grasp the miracle rendered by the Creator when He elevates us from this world to Himself, into the spiritual world.

What an immense present the Creator has given us! Only from the depths of our own condition can we fully appreciate such a gift and respond with true love and a desire for unity.

It is impossible for us to obtain any kind of knowledge without making the effort to obtain it. This, in turn, gives rise to two consequences: realizing the necessity of knowledge, which will be proportional to the efforts made to acquire it, and understanding that the onus is on us to acquire that knowledge.

Thus, an effort brings forth two requisite conditions in a person: a desire in our hearts and the thoughts, or mental readiness, to grasp and comprehend the new. For this reason, we are called on to put forth an effort; in fact, it is essential.

It is only this act that truly depends on us, for knowledge itself is granted from Above, and we have no influence over its emergence. Notably, in the realm of acquiring spiritual knowledge and perception, we receive from Above only that for which we ask and for which we are prepared internally. But when we ask the Creator to grant something, are we not using our desires, our own egos?

Can such requests be answered by our spiritual elevation by the Creator? Moreover, how can we ask for something that we have never experienced?

If we ask to be rid of our egos, the source of all suffering, or ask for spiritual qualities, even without knowing what they are prior to receiving them, the Creator will award us the gift we desire.

If the Kabbalah centers only on the spiritual work that takes place in our minds and hearts, asserting that our spiritual progress depends solely on these factors, then what is the relation between our observance of religious rituals and the goal of creation?

Since all the commandments of the Bible are actually descriptions of a Kabbalist’s spiritual actions when in the higher realms, then by observing them physically in our world – even though it has no impact on the spiritual worlds – we are physically carrying out the Will of the Creator.

Undoubtedly, the Creator’s desire is to spiritually elevate His creations to His own level. But the passing of the teaching from generation to generation, the cultivation of the soil from which a precious few great ones will arise, is only possible when the masses carry out certain tasks.

The above is reminiscent of our own world. In order for one great scholar to flourish, all the others are needed as well. The passing of knowledge from generation to generation requires that certain conditions are established. This includes the founding of academic institutions in which the future great one will be reared and educated. Thus, everyone will participate in the achievements of this scholar, and can later partake of the fruits of the great one’s labors.

Kabbalists, having been brought up with their peers in an environment in which observing the commandments is mechanical, and faith in the Creator is simple, continue growing spiritually, whereas others remain on the initial levels of spiritual development.

Nonetheless, they, like the rest of humanity, unconsciously participate in the Kabbalist’s work, and therefore unconsciously partake of a portion of any spiritual gains the Kabbalist might make.

Moreover, the subconscious parts of their spiritual qualities are also unconsciously corrected, thus allowing for the possibility that in several generations the peers themselves will be capable of conscious spiritual ascent. Even of the students who have come to study Kabbalah (some for general knowledge, others for spiritual ascent), it is said, "a thousand enter the school, but only one exits to teaching." Nevertheless, all participate in the success of the one, and all receive their own portion of correction through their participation.

Having entered the spiritual realm, and having corrected one’s own egoistic qualities, the Kabbalist once again experiences the need for others: Living in our world, the Kabbalist collects the egoistical desires of others, and corrects them, thus helping the rest to gain the ability to be engaged in conscious spiritual work sometime in the future.

If an ordinary person can in any way aid the Kabbalist, even by performing purely mechanical tasks, that person thereby allows the Kabbalist to include his or her personal desires in the correction that the Kabbalist makes.

Hence, it is said in the Talmud that “serving a sage is more useful for a disciple than learning from one.”

The learning process entails egoism and employs our earthly reason, while the service of a sage originates in one’s faith in the sage’s greatness, a feeling that a student cannot perceive. Therefore, the student’s service is much closer in essence to the spiritual qualities, and consequently is preferable for the disciple.

As a result, the one who was closer to a teacher and best served that teacher gained a greater chance for spiritual ascent. Accordingly, it is said by the Kabbalists that the way of Kabbalah is not inherited, but rather passed down from teacher to disciple. So it was in all generations, up to the present one.

However, the present generation has fallen so low spiritually that even its leaders pass on their knowledge via family lineage, since all their knowledge is on a bodily level. On the other hand, those who have formed a spiritual bond with the Creator and with the disciples, transfer their legacy only to those who can receive it, that is, to their closest disciples.

When we experience obstacles in our advance toward the Creator, we must ask the following of the Creator:

  1. That the Creator remove all the obstacles, which He Himself sends, so that we can overcome them by our own means, and not be in need of greater spiritual strengths than we already possess.

  2. That the Creator grant us a greater desire for spiritual understanding, and impart to us the importance of spiritual ascent. Then, obstacles will not be able to stop us on the path to the Creator. We as individuals are willing to give up everything in the world for our lives, if life is valuable to us. For this reason, we must ask the Creator to grant us a taste of spiritual life so no obstacles will deter us.

A spiritual desire implies a desire to give, and to use one’s desire only for the pleasure of others. A desire to please oneself is absent from the spiritual realm. The material world is diametrically opposite to the spiritual world.

But if there is no common ground or common qualities between the spiritual (altruism) and the material (egoism), how can one correct egoism? The spiritual Light, which is able to transform egoism into altruism, cannot enter an egoistic desire.

The reason the world does not perceive the Creator is because the Light of the Creator enters any object only to the degree that the qualities of the object correspond to the qualities of the Light.

Only the Light of the Creator can change an egoistic vessel into a spiritual one by entering it. There is no other way.

Therefore, He created human beings; first, to exist under the influence of egoistic forces and to receive such qualities from them that would separate them from the spiritual; then, to come under the influence of the spiritual forces.

Finally, while working on their own spiritual center in the heart, with the help of the Kabbalah they must correct those desires they had received from the ego’s forces.

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