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31. A Seed of Altruism

How can a human being – who was created with the qualities of absolute egoism; who feels no desires save those dictated by the body; who cannot even imagine anything outside of one’s own perceptions – how can a human being proceed beyond the desires of the body and grasp something that exists outside the realm of one’s natural sensory organs?

We are created with a longing to fill our egoistic desires with pleasure. Given such a condition, we have no possible way to alter ourselves and transform our egoistic qualities into opposite ones. In order for us to create the possibility of transforming our egoism into altruism, the Creator, when devising egoism, placed into it a seed of altruism, which we are capable of cultivating by studying and acting according to the methods of Kabbalah.

When we feel the dictating desires of our bodies, we are unable to stand up to them. Thus, all our thoughts are directed toward carrying out the commands of the body. In such a state, we have no freedom of will to act, or even to think about, anything other than self-gratification.

On the other hand, during our spiritual elevation we experience aspirations toward spiritual growth and toward departure from the physical desires that pull us down. At these times, we do not even perceive the desires of the body and, hence, do not require the right to a free choice between the material and the spiritual.

Consequently, by remaining in the state of egoism, we do not possess the strength to choose altruism. But once we perceive the grandeur of the spiritual, we no longer face a choice, since we already desire the spiritual.

Therefore, the entire notion of free will consists of a choice: Which force will dominate us, egoism or altruism? But when does such a neutral state occur in which we are able to make a free choice?

Thus, there is no other path for us but to attach ourselves to a teacher, to delve into Kabbalah books, to join a group that aspires to reach the same goals, to open ourselves to the influence of thoughts about altruism and spiritual strength. Consequently, the altruistic seed will awaken in us the seed, which was implanted in each of us, but which sometimes remains dormant for many life cycles.

This is the essence of our free will. Once we begin to feel the awakened altruistic desires, we will try to perceive the spiritual without much effort. A person who strives to attain spiritual thoughts and actions, but is not yet firmly attached to certain personal convictions, must protect himself from contact with people whose thoughts are rooted in their egoism.

This is especially true of those who aspire to live by faith above reason. They must avoid all contact with the opinions of those who travel through life within the bounds of their reason, because they are opposite in philosophy to Kabbalah. It has been said in the books of Kabbalah that the reason of ignoramuses is opposite to the reason of Kabbalah.

"Thinking within the bounds of our own reason implies that, first and foremost, we calculate the benefits of our actions. On the other hand, the reason of Kabbalah – faith above human reason – assumes that our actions will not be connected in any manner with the egoistic calculations of reason, or with the possible benefits that may ensue from these actions.

Those who need help from others are considered to be poor. Those who are happy with what they have are considered to be rich. But when we recognize that egoistic desires (libba) and thoughts (moha) drive all our actions, we suddenly understand our true spiritual state, and realize the power of our egoism and the evil inside us.

Our feelings of bitterness when we realize our true spiritual state give rise to the desire to correct ourselves. When this desire reaches the required degree of intensity, then the Creator sends His light of correction into the kli (vessel), and thus we begin to ascend the levels of the spiritual ladder.

People in general are raised in agreement with their egoistic natures, including observing the commandments of the Bible, and they continue to automatically uphold the notions they acquired from their upbringing. This makes it unlikely that they will ever depart from this particular level of connection with the Creator.

Thus, when our bodies (desire to receive) ask why we are observing the commandments, we reply that this was how we were brought up; it is the accepted way of life for us and our community. With upbringing as our base, habit has become second nature, and we require no effort to perform natural actions, since they are dictated both by body and mind.

Thus, there is no risk of transgressing that which is most familiar and natural. For example, an observant Jew will not suddenly have a desire to drive on Saturday. But if we wished to behave in a way unnatural to our upbringing, and not perceived by our being as a natural need of the body, even the least significant action would generate from the body the question: Why are we engaging in this activity and what prompted us to leave the state of relative tranquility to do so?

In this case, we will be confronted by a test and a choice, because neither we, nor the society from which we come, engages in the actions that we plan to undertake. There is no one who could serve as an example and no one to support our intentions.

It is not even possible to gain comfort in the thought that others also think along the same lines as we do. Since we cannot find any example either in our own upbringing or in society, we must come to the conclusion that it is the fear of the Creator that prompts us to act and think in a new fashion. Thus, there is no one to turn to for support and understanding, except the Creator.

Since the Creator is One and is our only support, we are also considered to be unique, and not part of the masses among which we were born and raised. Since we can find no support in the masses and are solely dependent on the mercy of the Creator, we become worthy of receiving the light of the Creator, which serves to guide us along our path.

Every beginner comes across one common question: Who decides the direction of one’s path, the person or the Creator?

In other words, who chooses whom: Does a person choose the Creator, or does the Creator choose the person?

From one point of view, one must say that it is the Creator Who chooses an individual by virtue of what is known as “personal providence.” As a result, one must be thankful to the Creator for providing an opportunity to do something for His sake.

But on considering why the Creator chose this particular individual, offering this unique opportunity, the question arises: why observe the commandments? For what purpose?

Now, the individual concludes that this opportunity was given to encourage action for the sake of the Creator that the work itself is its own reward, and that distancing from this work would be a punishment. Taking on this work is now the person’s free choice, to serve the Creator; therefore, one is prepared to request help from the Creator – to strengthen the intention that all actions undertaken will benefit the Creator. This is the free choice that a person makes.

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