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32. Battling for the Perception of the Creator’s Oneness

In Kabbalah, the masses are known as the "homeowners" (ba’al bait), because they aspire to build their own house (an egoistic vessel, kli) and fill it with pleasure. The desires of one who is ascending spiritually stem from the Light of the Creator, and focus on the task of building a home for the Creator in one’s heart, in order for it to be filled with the light of the Creator.

We discern all notions and all events according to our own perceptions. We assign names to the events that take place in accordance with the reactions of our sensory organs. Thus, if we speak about a particular object or action, we are expressing how we personally perceive it.

Each of us determines the level of evil in a particular object according to the degree to which that object obstructs our reception of pleasure. In certain cases, we cannot tolerate any proximity to a certain object. Thus, our level of understanding of the importance of Kabbalah and its laws will determine the evil that we will discern in that which stands in the way of our observance of the spiritual laws.

Therefore, if we wish to reach the level of hatred toward all evil, we must work on extolling Kabbalah and the Creator in our minds. In this way, we will cultivate within us love toward the Creator, and to the same degree we will develop hatred toward egoism.

In the Passover reading, there is a story of four sons, each of whom asks a question in regard to one’s spiritual work. Though all four qualities are present in each of us, and though Kabbalah usually speaks of a single composite image of a person in relation to the Creator, nevertheless, the four qualities can be examined as four distinct types of personalities.

Kabbalah is given to help us focus on our struggle with egoism. If we have no questions about our own nature, it means we have not yet come to realize our own evil; and hence have no need for Kabbalah. In this case, if we believe in reward and punishment, we can be aroused by the idea that there is a reward for observing the spiritual laws.

But if we already act in order to be rewarded, but still do not feel our own egoism, we cannot correct ourselves because we have no sense of our own defects. Then, we need to learn to observe the commandments selflessly. As a result, our egoism will appear, and will ask:

"What is the purpose of this work?"

"What will I gain from it?"

What if it goes contrary to my wishes?"

At that point, we will need the help of Kabbalah to begin the work against our egoism, since we have begun to feel the evil in ourselves.

There is a particular spiritual force – an angel – that is responsible for generating suffering in a person in order to make it clear that one cannot be satisfied by gratifying one’s egoism. This suffering prompts one to digress from the bounds of egoism and thus avoid remaining a slave to it forever.

It is said that prior to giving the Bible to Israel, the Creator offered it to all the other nations of the world, and they all refused it. Each of us is like a miniature world that consists of a multitude of desires, which are called "nations."

We must know that none of our desires are suitable for spiritual ascent, except the desire to advance toward the Creator; this desire is known as "Israel" (from the Hebrew words yashar, straight, and El, God, meaning "straight to the God"). Only by choosing this desire over all the others can that individual receive the hidden wisdom of Kabbalah.

The concealment of one’s spiritual level is one of the imperative conditions of a successful spiritual ascent.

Concealment of this type implies the performance of actions so that they are not noticeable to others.

Most important, however, is the concealment of a person’s thoughts and aspirations. If a situation arises in which a Kabbalist must express a point of view, it must be blurred and expressed in very general terms, so that the Kabbalist’s true intentions do not become clear.

For example, let us suppose that a person makes a large donation in support of Kabbalah lessons, but also puts forth a condition that a public acknowledgment of the donor be printed in the newspaper. Mention would also be made of the large sum of money given, in order for the donor to receive fame and thereby to receive pleasure.

However, even though it seems clear that honor is the main desire of the donor, it is also possible that the donor wishes to disguise the fact that the newspaper article will advance the spreading of Kabbalah. Thus, concealment generally takes place in intentions, rather than in actions.

If the Creator must send a Kabbalist a feeling of spiritual decline, then, first, He will take away the Kabbalist’s faith in other great Kabbalists. Otherwise, the Kabbalist could receive encouragement from them, and thus never come to experience the spiritual decline.

The multitudes that observe the commandments are only concerned with their own actions, but not with their intentions. It is clear to them that they observe for the sake of the reward, either in this world or in the next. They always have a justification for their actions and they perceive themselves to be righteous.

On the other hand, a Kabbalist who works on correcting innate egoism attempts to control every intention to observe the commandments. While the desire may be to carry out the Will of the Creator selflessly, the body will oppose this, along with constantly obstructing thoughts. Consequently, the Kabbalist will feel like a sinner.

All this is done for a purpose. The Creator wants to prompt the Kabbalist to engage in constant correction of both thoughts and intentions. Thus, the Kabbalist will not remain enslaved by egoism; and not continue to toil for the sake of the self, as do others, and will realize that there is no other way to carry out the will of the Creator, except for His sake.

It is from this process that the Kabbalist derives a very intense feeling of being worse than the masses. For the masses, their inability to grasp their true spiritual state is the underlying cause of the physical observance of commandments.

But a Kabbalist is obligated to transform egoistic intentions to altruistic ones – or be unable to observe the commandments altogether.

For this reason, the Kabbalist sees himself as even worse than the masses.

An individual is constantly in a state of war for compliance with his desires. But there is a war of an opposite nature, in which an individual battles against the self in order to relinquish the entire territory of the heart to the Creator, and to fill the heart with one’s natural enemy – with altruism.

The aim of this battle is to ensure that the Creator should occupy the entire being of the person, not only because this is the Divine Will, but also because this is desired by the person; thus, the Creator should govern and guide us because we request this of Him.

In such a battle, we must first and foremost stop equating the self with the body, and realize that the body, the intellect, the thoughts, and emotions – all these are external attributes sent by the Creator to get us to turn to the Creator for help; to ask the Creator to overcome these attributes; to plead for the Creator to strengthen the idea of His Oneness; to reinforce the knowledge that it is He Who sends all thoughts to us; to pray that the Creator should send faith and the feeling of His presence and His dominion.

In this way, all thoughts to the contrary will be silenced. No longer will we believe that everything is dependent on the individual, or that in this world there is a will and a force other than the Creator.

For example, irrespective of the fact that we might know that the Creator created everything and has dominion over everything (the right line), we may still think that a certain other person did something bad to us, or may do something bad (the left line).

On the one hand, we are convinced that all actions emanate from a single source – the Creator (the right line). On the other hand, we cannot suppress the thought that someone else is affecting us, or that the outcome of an event is conditional on something other than just the Creator (the left line).

Such internal collisions between opposing perceptions occur for various reasons, depending on our social ties, until the moment the Creator helps us attain the middle line. The battle takes place for our perception of the Creator’s Oneness, while the obstructing thoughts are sent to battle precisely these thoughts. We battle for victory with the help of the Creator, and for the attainment of greater perception of His dominion, that is, the attainment of greater faith.

Our natural war centers on gratifying our egoism and on seizing greater gains, like all wars in our world. However, the meta-war – the war against our own nature – focuses on relinquishing the domain over ourselves to the "enemy" – the Creator. The meta-war attempts to surrender the entire territory in our minds and hearts to the control of the Creator, so that the Creator could fill the territory with Himself, and conquer the entire world, both the little world of the individual, and the greater world as a whole, and endow all creations with His qualities, but in accordance with their will.

A condition in which the desires and the qualities of the Creator occupy all a person’s thoughts and desires is known as “an altruistic condition.” This includes: a condition of "giving," a condition of surrendering one’s physical soul to the Creator, and a condition of spiritual return (teshuva). All these conditions come under the influence of the Light of grace (Ohr Hassadim), which emanates from the Creator and gives us strength to withstand the obstructing thoughts of the body.

The above condition may not necessarily be constant. We may overcome certain obstructions in our thoughts, but then a new wave of thoughts may push us back. We may, once again, fall under their influence and develop doubts with respect to the Creator’s Oneness; once again, we will have to struggle with these thoughts; once again, we will feel the need to turn to the Creator for help and to receive Light, in order to overcome these thoughts, and to surrender them to the rule of the Creator.

The condition in which we receive pleasure for the sake of the Creator, that is, not only surrender to our "enemy," the Creator, but also switch to His side, is known as “receiving for the sake of the Creator.” The natural order of our choice of actions and thoughts is such, that either consciously or subconsciously, we always choose the path that will award us greater pleasures. A person will scorn smaller pleasures for the sake of the greater ones.

There is no free will or free choice in this process. The right to choose and the freedom to decide appear only at the time when we decide to reach decisions based on the criterion of truth, rather than on pleasure. This occurs only when we decide to proceed by way of truth, despite the suffering it brings.

However, the natural inclination of the body is to avoid suffering and seek pleasure by any means.

This tendency will obstruct a person from making decisions based on the principle of truth. The person who aspires to carry out the Will of the Creator must place all personal desires below the desires of the Creator.

Instead, one must constantly concern oneself with perceiving the grandeur of the Creator to gain sufficient strength to carry out the Will of the Creator, rather than one’s own will.

The degree to which we believe in the greatness and strength of the Creator will determine our ability to fulfill the Creator’s desires. Thus, we must concentrate all our efforts on grasping the grandeur of the Creator. Since the Creator wishes us to feel pleasure, He created in us the desire to be gratified. There is no other quality in us besides this desire. It dictates our every thought and action and programs our existence.

Egoism is known as an evil angel, an evil force, because it regulates us from Above by sending us pleasure, and unwittingly we become its slaves. The state of compliant submission to this force is known as “slavery,” or “exile” (galut) from the spiritual world.

If egoism, this evil angel, had nothing to give, it would not be able to attain dominion over a human being. At the same time, if we could forsake the pleasures offered by egoism, we would not be enslaved by those pleasures. Thus, we are not able to depart from the state of slavery; but if we attempt to do so, which is considered to be our free choice, then the Creator will help from Above by removing the pleasures with which egoism entice us.

As a result, we can depart from egoism’s domain and become free. Moreover, by coming under the influence of pure spiritual forces, we experience pleasure in altruistic actions and become instead a servant of altruism.

Conclusion: We as individuals are slaves to pleasure. If we derive our pleasure from receiving, then we are slaves of egoism (of pharaoh, of the evil angel, etc.). If we derive our pleasure from bestowing, then we are servants of the Creator (of altruism).

But we cannot exist without receiving some form of pleasure. This is the human essence; this is the way the Creator has designed human beings, and this aspect cannot be altered. All we must do is ask the Creator to bestow upon on us a desire for altruism. This is the essence of our free will and of our prayer.

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