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Freedom of Choice

Baal HaSulam (Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag) wrote an essay titled “The Freedom”. We shall now try to delve into the subject of freedom in depth and clarify the meaning of this article.

Freedom (Hebrew: Herut), independence, as Baal HaSulam explains to us in his essay exists as a basic human need. But on the other hand we must check and see is there freedom in any of our actions?

If we are born with all the parameters given in advance: our emotions, sensations, character, each person ‘under his star’ so to speak, and since it is said: “There is not a blade of grass beneath that does not have an angel above that strikes and tells it: grow!” then can we even speak of any kind of choice?

Is there a freedom of choice if the whole of nature around us, all the cosmological changes, the social changes, depend on none of us?

We are given life, not according to our desire, at our time of choice, with starting conditions that we did not set. We come into a family we did not choose, to a society we did not choose… so what can we choose then?

If all those parameters are predefined, what freedom of choice can we talk about? Is there a certain extent of freedom of choice? And if there isn’t, what then what should we even talk about, write about, or even think about? Do we all just follow orders and fulfill our destination by the laws of nature? And if so, it is impossible to understand for what purpose the world around us exists?

Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag shows in this essay, that there is a component to reality that is within us, and that through it we can affect everything else, if we know how to reach it and control it. We will then know precisely how we change it for better or for worse, we will stop being completely dependent on nature.

We must learn to understand the unique characteristics, the nature of that ‘free’ component, and also to understand exactly what it is we need, what is our goal. The measure of our control of this component, our very ability to alter it, depends on that understanding.

If we act like that, we will really be able to change our situation in this world by ourselves and become independent of nature, when we don’t know what will happen a minute from now.

That ability is given to man as a cardinal force, the essential difference that separates him from the rest of the universe. That is why it is said in the Torah that the ten commandments were “engraved (Heb: Harut) on the tables”, and our sages explain that we should read those words not as Harut (engraved), but as Herut (freedom), meaning freedom and independence. In Hebrew those two words are written the same way.

By that our sages want to stress that the meaning of the giving of the Torah, is that if we engrave them on stone (and eventually on our heart of stone – man’s most egoistic point), if we maintain their genuine, spiritual meaning, they will bring us to the spiritual situation called “freedom”. For that reason we were given the Torah.

After that Baal HaSulam writes that that instruction – to read it not as engraved, but as freedom, demands a much deeper interpretation. We cannot understand what connection there is between the giving of the Torah and man’s freedom, what is the meaning of the freedom we receive when we observe the ten commandments, is that the freedom I’ve dreaming of? Man’s freedom is expressed mostly in freedom from death. If man were immortal, that would significantly alter his attitude to himself, to the world, to life. Then we would not call this reality – “life”…

In order to understand that freedom is essentially freedom from death, we must thoroughly understand the meaning of “freedom”. If we generally assess the world around us, we will see that the still, the vegetative and the animate (including man), cannot tolerate bondage.

All life forms suffer from the limitation of their mobility, their freedom to develop, the freedom to express themselves. That is why Baal HaSulam says that humanity has made such a great effort in order to attain freedom.

But if we ask people, what exactly is the freedom of choice, or try to think for ourselves for a moment, what that term means, we will see that in fact, we cannot clearly define what freedom is: The freedom to work? To rest? To bear children? To move? What does freedom mean? How is it expressed and why did Baal HaSulam search for the answer to that question?

He wants to show us that all our ambitions to be free, have nothing to do with the actual term “freedom”. Freedom, in its actual meaning, is the absence of any limitation, meaning the absence of death, of any kind of end, it is total attainment, eternal delight, where everything is perfect.

If we collect all these requirements together, then we will probably be able to somehow come to a situation that can be called “freedom”, meaning no limitations. That is why Rabbi Ashlag says that we must first come to know the spiritual situation that is symbolized by the word “freedom”, and only then decide whether or not we should come to it, and what efforts and sacrifices we are willing to make for it.

If we examine a person, we will notice that he performs his daily actions as a must. He has no choice about them, because both our inner and outer nature affect us through the two forces: pleasure and pain. Anyone who feels this impact on him, plants, animals, people, feels denied of free choice, because in no way can they freely choose pain or reject pleasure. Thus, the essence of our nature is the desire to enjoy. That is why if we do make a choice, it is always aimed at attaining maximum pleasure at minimum effort.

Let us assume that I don’t really want to go to work in the morning, I come home tired in the evening, but at least I know that I can provide for my family. I make a simple calculation, that I have to be in pain all day long, in order to survive and the bottom line is that I replace the pain - my efforts – with what I need in order to survive.

Rabbi Ashlag writes that the only difference between man and beast is that man can look to the ‘future’, to make a further analysis of the future events. For that reason man is capable of taking more pain if he sees some future profit in return for his present pain.

Animals, little children, and undeveloped people cannot base their calculations on the anticipation of the future, they lack the sensation of future, and so they act only on the basis of momentary gain.

But in any case, each body that exists in this world makes that calculation, because he feels his life as a series of receiving pleasures or escaping pains, and he lives only by the calculation of pain and pleasure and has no determined plan of conduct.

Each of us has his own character, birth attributes, values and concepts we have acquired during life, our upbringing and our senses, social pressure, individuality etc.

That creates in us a system, a mechanism by which we act and calculate.

Therefore, because all our attributes are predefined inside, and all the circumstances are predefined on the outside, it turns out that man has no freedom of choice. We therefore cannot claim that man has the ability to make any kind of free choice, freed from the influence of internal or external data that were predefined and predetermined.

Baal HaSulam maintains that he doesn’t even understand why humanity did not try to focus on that problem until now. It must be that humanity is incapable of handling, or solving the problem. If the believers believe that there is a Creator who created everything and that we are all under His control, that everything happens under His guidance, and they perform everything against themselves, or even of their own free will, then they can justify their existence.

But if we refer to the non-believing public, it is very difficult to discuss the meaning of our lives. Because if a person is really aware that all his actions are predetermined and that everything is in the hands of nature, both internal and external, then the whole meaning of his life is gone. In that case he is nothing but something that exists somewhere between the internal and external natures.

In order for us to understand that, we must understand that our whole nature focuses on a single desire – to enjoy. That desire for pleasure is created by the Creator “existence from absence”. It is created because the Creator wants to delight us, because His nature is about absolute wholeness, His nature compels Him to give and for that He had to create man, the desire to receive pleasure.

The pleasure that the Creator wants to render the creatures is assessed by one and only attribute – wholeness, meaning, the state of the Creator. That is precisely what He tries to convey to us. The Creator is perfect and unique. Besides that state, there is nothing complete. Out of that perfection, He desires to endow creation with that perfection, it is the one thing that He can give – His perfection. That is why the purpose of creation is to come to the Creator’s perfect spiritual state.

In order for creation to be able to reach such a perfect spiritual state as that of the Creator, the Creator created creation, and allowed it to ‘comment’ on His situation, the situation of completeness. That reaction is called “desire for pleasure”. The ability to sense a complete, or less than complete spiritual degree, is the very essence of our nature, where the spiritual degree of the Creator signifies total perfection and the complete absence of the sensation of the Creator signifies the degree of complete imperfection.

Whether we like it or not, we aspire for one thing only – to feel the Creator, or as it is called in Kabbalah: to feel the light. Naturally, our aim is to come to the degree of the Creator, to unite with Him, to receive His attributes. After the correction, we have to be in the same spiritual degree as the Creator. It is impossible that there will be two states of wholeness that resemble each other. There is only one perfection, and by definition, it includes everything, and therefore there is nothing that can be like it.

Thus, we can only react to the presence or absence of pleasure. Along with the sensation of perfection, the sensation of pleasure, or the lack of it, there appears a new tool: the mind. That tool serves us to attain new spiritual degrees (degrees of perfection that we feel as pleasure) more quickly and effectively.

The human mind is a result of the development of our desire to enjoy. It is created and controlled by our will, as a supplementary kit, to seek and find new ways to attain pleasure. We see it in nature around us: if the power of the desire for pleasure is small, the mind is also not developed. The greater the desire to bestow, the more developed the mind.

Mankind is developing not because it wants to be smarter, but because it wants greater pleasures. The search for pleasure urges mankind to develop the mind, science and everything else. They say that “love and hunger rule the world”. It means that our pursuit of pleasure and the desire to avoid pain control our every move and indeed the world. Our mind develops according to the measure of our dependency on the desire to receive pleasure.

Our development depends directly on our sensation of pain. The more a person suffers, the more he wants to attain, the more he feels the need to attain higher intellectual skills, and the more our mind develops.

The contrary is also true. It is possible that a person will possess fantastic inherent intellectual and analysis abilities, but if he gets everything in life without any effort, his mind will not develop, but regress. That is why it is not worth it to be so envious of rich people who live completely like beasts, because that society is on a spiritual decline. The history of our people constantly proves the efficiency of the constant search of a way to exist under impossible conditions.

Thus, thinking is only a complementary function, and it develops like a side process, in order to help us attain pleasure. Our basic nature is only the search for pleasure, which we in fact unconsciously define within us as the sensation of the perfection of the Creator.

In order to understand exactly how that ambition develops in us, so that we are able to attain the spiritual degree of perfection. Rabbi Ashlag divides the phenomena of our world, the spiritual and physical, to four distinct elements, that affect our development. The first element – the “bed” – is the basis, the genome of man.

The second element – laws by which our essence, the bed, develops. There are predefined datum in our essence. For example: when we put a seed in the ground, we know exactly by what rules it will develop. The laws and the essence of development determine the final outcome, provided it is affected only by internal elements.

However, Baal HaSulam maintains, that there are also two external elements of evolution. There are external conditions that affect me, determine how I am to correct myself, according to those external conditions. Thus, besides myself (meaning my essence, which is the first element), and besides my inner plan (the second element), there is also an external element that influences the inner program.

That external element, which affects my inner development plan, runs by its own laws of development, the laws of development of society, nature and the universe. All these rules affect me as well, meaning there are inner elements that do not change, that are predefined, and then there is a third element in me, which changes under the influence of the external environment, and there is an external environment that changes according to its own predefined rules of development, and thus it affects me as well.

I cannot change my predefined internal and external elements. I am also incapable of changing external conditions that change according to their own laws of evolution, which I cannot even comprehend. I can only influence that external force that affects my inner part. But the Torah says that by that I can correct myself, control myself and the sensations of my world. Through my interaction with my surroundings, I will control the path of spiritual advancement.

It turns out, that there is a certain way, by which I can make a difference. It means that I am not a robot, acting on predefined parameters, I have the freedom to choose! And when I can influence that element, I can, in fact, change everything, except the given parameters of the soul. So what am I left with? I am left with my path, everything that should happen to me in the course of my life!

The first element, the one that determines man’s spiritual degree, the bed, is our basic substance, which we have received from the Creator. The Creator created it ‘existence from absence’. That primeval substance is predetermined and predefined for us and within us.

Our essence is like a seed. However, we are not in the degree of plants, but above it. That is why we can examine and study the life cycle of the seed and control it: we sow it, and it begins to grow into a new life, or rot and die.

We are, however, incapable of analyzing our own life cycle the same way, because it comes from the same spiritual degree that we are in. Only if we succeed in rising above the degree of our world, to a higher degree, to the spiritual world, will we be able to see what happens to us next, in our future incarnations.

When the seed rots, and nothing material is left of it, when it becomes earth, meaning inanimate, only then does the new form of life begin to develop. The former shape is by now completely gone, and all that’s left is the spirit – the force that generates the beginning of a new life.

If we were on the same level as that seed we would be unable to assess and analyze that life cycle and the changes it goes through. The seed dies, decays completely and vanishes, compared to its previous life… and then begins to grow again. When the new seed grows, all the fundamental attributes of the former life remain in the new life, although nothing physical is left. Everything rots, but from the spiritual force that remained, from the soul, emerges a new embryo. Thus begins a new life cycle.

But what is it that is left from the previous state and passes on to the next? What happens to the seed is a lot like what happens to us, to our physical body. Our body rots, we get a new one, and the soul, our spiritual potential, remains in the seed like the genes, the force of information, and passes on from the former state, from the old body to the new, through physical abscission.

There is a physical amputation: the former body dies and rots, a new body is born from the old one, and from the seed that decayed there is now a new seed. Why can we see the transition from a past life to a new life in the seed, but cannot identify it in ourselves? It is because we are watching the life cycle from within our world, while we are on the same degree as that of the degree where the process is taking place.

Our souls go through a somewhat different process. Because the soul is not beastly, it does not go hand in hand with the body, but forms a part of the Creator from above. A soul is not a product of this world, whereas the seed holds no more than a series of fixed genetic data.

A soul that comes from the Creator is called a “screen”, or “returning light”. It is a part of the Creator, spiritual attributes that have no roots or parallels in our world, because they are totally altruistic. And although we are as yet unable to feel those attributes within us, it is only through them, that the feeble light that gives us the spirit of life shines.

That is why as soon as the soul is severed from the body, it moves to a different one. There is no need to wait for the physical body to disappear, in order for the soul to enter another body. A body that is released from the soul, loses all contact with it. Although all religions and beliefs, ascribe the physical body uniqueness and sublimity, Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag said very simply: “I could not care less where the bag with my bones will be buried.

I remember how my rabbi, when he was asked where he wanted to bury his late wife, replied simply: “What does it matter, at the nearest cemetery”. By the way, like his father, he did not worry at all about a ‘respectable’ burial place for himself.

Spiritual forces that go from a former part to a latter in the cycle are called the “bed”, the spiritual database, the essence. If it were a seed of wheat it will remain a seed of wheat. If it were a certain soul, it will remain that soul, but in another body.

In what body will the soul come? In the one most suited for the implementation of the plan imprinted in that soul. The internal attributes of the soul, its structure and its path for correction determine the attributes of the physical body it will come in.

From the above we can detect the differences in attributes, character, needs and aspirations, the desires that people get at birth, are all determined by the soul’s inner attributes, by the need to realize the plan for which it came down to this world.

That is why there are handicapped people in the world, or people with brain damage, psychiatric problems and other birth defects. Everything is determined by the attributes of the soul, its preliminary parameters. We, who cannot see and understand the big picture of incarnation, cannot grasp and of course cannot justify those cases of providence.

In order to justify the actions of the Creator, man must see and understand the general picture of the universe. Otherwise he is compelled to find more or less severe flaws in providence. That is why only a Kabbalist, who can see this big picture, merits the name righteous – he who thinks that the acts of the Creator are right (just).

But in order for a person to make proper use of his initial parameters in the ‘bed’, he must be proficient – to the very least - in the spiritual field where he is supposed to be active. That is why a person can perform spiritual actions to the extent that he advances in spirituality and rises to the upper world, man can begin to ‘replace’ the Creator in running the world, only to the extent that his screen, the acceptance of the attributes of the Creator allows it. That is the essence of the wisdom of the Kabbalah.

To summarize: the first element in our development is the ‘bed’, which is our essence. The second element is the functional development of the bed. Our seed must develop a certain way, go through certain phases of spiritual advancement. Each seed, each developing object goes through its own unique phases.

If it is another plant, corn, for example, it will develop by different rules, at a different pace, with different qualities and in different quantities. That means that it is not only the essence that remains, but also the laws of development that are passed on from the rotten seed to the new bud. It is the second element that determines which way the new bud will grow, whether it be a single bud, or a batch, though of the same kind and shape, obeying well defined and predetermined (the first element) laws of development.

One of the unique characteristics in influencing the development of our essence, is that during the transition from one life to the next there is an abscission, a disappearance of the physical body. It allows for sharp changes in the attributes of the new entity to take place in the new life. Those changes are made possible because there is a complete physical severance between the former and the present lives.

Baal HaSulam says that there are only four elements that determine the state of creation at each stage of the spiritual development. Those elements shape the essence of creation in all degrees of nature, in our world, as well as in the spiritual. We are only a product, a consequence of the effect of those four elements.

We learn all that in order to know if we can somehow effect at least one, if not several of the elements to some extent, and what is the most effective way to do it.

The third element, as we’ve said, changes under the influence of external conditions. Meaning there can be such external conditions that will change the direction of the development for better of for worse. The evolution will continue, it is inevitable. But the manner of development may vary significantly because of the influence of external conditions.

Let us assume that we have a few pieces of land, and we plant one kind of grain in each of them, and create different climate conditions for each of them. We block the light of the sun in one plot, leave the other without water, leave the weeds in the third, etc. We will see how much the external elements such as the sun, water, temperature and weeds, affects the development of the plant.

Although the internal plan of development is given in advance, its implementation is influenced by external conditions. Thus we arrive at the conclusion, as we will see later on, that if a person finds an optimal environment, one that supports his spiritual development, he can realize his birth attributes more effectively, meaning utilize his first and second elements to the maximum.

A person may be born with attributes that are very ‘harmful’ for positive spiritual development, such as: physical, mental, psychic or spiritual weakness. Just like the seed, he will be subject to the affects of such positive external factors, that will change his situation radically, and bring astonishing results, without any apparent connection to the natural attributes.

Perhaps that person did not have a chance for spiritual development, judging by his natural attributes, but ultimately, he might attain tremendous spiritual development, under the influence of society, and sometimes it is hard to believe the changes that he went through. It is all because he is in the right place at the right time, in a supportive and helpful society.

You can clearly see it in the grain. That means that our problem is what final result do we want to attain from the seed. We have created a whole science for growing the best possible crops on earth, because we feel we need it for our existence. We are very much aware of the desirable results, we know what to aspire for and where we should finally get.

We know the final goal of the seed and we build the whole chain of development: we plan a short and intensive process of development, that should provide us with a certain amount of carbohydrates, proteins and fat in each seed, in order to bring it to a certain size and color etc.

Because we know how the seed develops, how it would develop under which conditions, we can create the friendliest conditions for the seed. If we overheat the seed, it will burn, if we give too much water, it will rot. I have to know exactly which parameters are needed for growing each kind of grain. When I know all that, I know what I am trying to get and I succeed in attaining the desirable results.

That means that it is not enough to understand our attributes. We can influence our own attributes by creating different external conditions. The problem is that for that we have to be proficient in our nature. We have to understand man’s final outcome and the result we must arrive at.

If we resolve that problem with the optimal result, it means that we have attained a spiritual degree of wholeness. We are by essence a desire to receive pleasure. Pleasure for us, is the sensation of the light, the Creator, meaning, the sensation of wholeness. We feel the Creator as the ultimate form of pleasure.

How can I evolve to the spiritual degree of sensing the Creator? I have to be united, tightly linked with the Creator all the time. Then I will always be in the degree of the spiritual sensation of the Creator.

But what does it mean, to always be with the Creator, in a place where there is no death, no imperfection, how can we attain that?

The wisdom of the Kabbalah explains to us, that in terms of the spiritual world, becoming close to something, means to accept its attributes. I cannot come close to the Creator by closing the physical distance in our world. I have to bridge the spiritual gap between us. The Creator is not concealed from me. It is simply that because of the lack of equivalence in our attributes, I am remote from the Creator in the spiritual world, and simply cannot feel Him.

Today, they tell me, my spiritual attributes are the complete opposite to those of the Creator, and that is why I cannot feel Him. To begin to feel the Creator is to enter the spiritual world, the upper world. Admittance to the spiritual world means attainment, spiritual sensation. But to begin to feel, is the aim to receive the attributes of the Creator so that they are inside me.

After that, through spiritual changes, I will gradually be able to attain a spiritual degree where I completely unite with the Creator, take His place. For that to happen, I must fully adopt all His attributes. Then I will be able to attain eternal attainment and revelation, endless delight. Can I consciously come to such a spiritual degree?

I must obviously create a certain environment around me, that would affect me in such a way that I will be able to receive the attributes of the Creator. In that case, I would begin to gradually approach Him. But where will I find such supportive surroundings, and how will I know where and if there is such an environment?

If I begin to look all over the world, will I find such a place? People have been searching all over the world for thousands of years… and so far none of them have a trace of it. Thousands of years and still no answer. Hundreds of books have been written, the strangest philosophies invented, but there are so few happy people on earth, and such a society probably does not exist. So what can we do in order to be able to influence our attributes and thrust ourselves toward spiritual nearness to the Creator, to perfection?

The Creator did not create a special land, island, or any special place where anyone who wants to be corrected and attain perfection can come and enter that unique surrounding, that would guide and show him what he had to do every step of the way, in order to adopt the attributes of the Creator and thus help him be corrected, change him from within.

The Creator did not create that element that would openly affect man’s nature. There is no such place on earth, which has those conditions. Instead, the Creator created something quite different: He gave us the Torah.

Nowadays, if a person wants to begin to change his third element, under the influence of the external element, he can do it, because he has the books. If he studies by the book, with an honest aim, with a genuine desire to be corrected, that book will begin to correct him.

How will it do it? Surrounding light will begin to shine on man from outside. That surrounding light is the above mentioned external surrounding that a person can create around him by himself, in order for it to affect his third element, and ultimately his whole spiritual development, so that the seed will not rot, but develop beautifully and attain ripeness, maturity and a spiritual degree of perfection.

The wisdom of Kabbalah states that there are many books with which we can create a favorable surrounding, meaning extract the surrounding light to correct us and develop us spiritually. For that we have to increase the intensity of the surrounding light, in order for it to affect man more strongly.

It is said (Introduction to Talmud Esser Sefirot, item 155), that we can draw that surrounding light only with the help of the study of the original Kabbalah books, because it is precisely in them that there is a stronger light than in any other book of Torah.

The Kabbalists also tell us, that the important thing, is not to try and understand the meaning of the texts themselves, but the desire of a person to be corrected, and that that will be the reason that he reads those books. The most important is the need of the soul to extend the spiritual forces. This way a person will be able to create around him the most supportive surroundings, namely the surrounding light.

That surrounding light shines on man to the extent that he wants to attract it to himself. If a person does not aspire for the light, meaning if he has no intention to be corrected, to receive the spiritual attributes of the Creator, the light will not come to him. Each person has a certain amount of light that he must draw into his soul. In the meantime, that light stands outside the soul and waits for a chance to enter. That is why it is called a surrounding light.

You can arouse that surrounding light, that environment, to be in it, but only as much as you feel you need it. For that a person must aspire for the spiritual world. It is possible to receive the spiritual aspiration by studying in a group. Man is under the influence of society by nature. You study in a group and begin to feel the effect of others on you, and you begin to influence others yourself. They give you the sensation of importance, and you get a stronger ambition for the spiritual world.

If your spiritual desire is not strong, but consistent, the group gives you a chance to stay close to that desire, retain it and even intensify it, meaning demand of the Creator more spiritual help.

That way, through the right correction, guided by the leader of the group, you receive the right aim, and begin to draw the surrounding light, while being in a supportive environment that can help you develop spiritually in the most efficient way, just like a seed that enjoys the optimal cultivation conditions.

It is as though you come from a poor piece of land to a good one, with sun, water and air, and no weeds. If a person makes that passage, he will attain the goal – as it says in the Introduction to Talmud Esser Sefirot – within three to five years, and begin to feel the Creator, receive His attributes, cross the barrier and rise to the first degree of adhesion.

Afterwards he will rise to the next degree, and so on. All and all there are 620 such degrees, 613 Mitzvot and seven more Mitzvot “of our rabbis (Derabanan)” – 620 degrees during which a person corrects 620 desires in himself. Each degree is a certain desire. In short we can say, that we can correct our desires only under external influence. That is why the essence of our goal is to choose and determine our adequate living environment.

Besides that there is the forth element. The forth element is the external conditions of the element that affects us. Hence, they too can change, and most drastically. For example, there can be a drought, or too much rain, and the crops will die.

I am not at liberty to discuss the implication of that element in this forum, because we are talking about situations that are in the meantime beyond our understanding and judgment, and we cannot influence those conditions. At least today we cannot control and direct that element, in your present spiritual state. But at the very least we must bring an example for such circumstances, an example of the effect of the fourth element, because that too has its own natural and objective weight in the course of our spiritual development.

The Talmud brings us an example: In a small town there once lived a very wise man. There were many other wise men in that town, and their presence created a unique environment: there was a sensation that many wise men lived in that town. One day, a wealthy man from a nearby town came to town. He came to the wise man, who was also a poor man and said: “I will build a yeshiva (school for learning Torah) for you in our town, you will have many students, I will pay for all the expenses, take all the problems on myself and you will become a great rabbi (teacher). Anyone who will want to, will come and study with you, and even I will begin to study under your guidance”. But the wise man turned down the offer. He explained: “This is a two thousand year old story”, he said. “The thing is, that if I move to a new location, I will exit the influence of the environment I am in now, where I have developed, and because of which I have grown wise. There, I will be subject to the influence of the society of your town, of which you are the most prominent example. Your society will affect me, and the result is, that although I am wise today and need to learn from no one, as I have attained wisdom myself, I will still be affected. Therefore, even if I am complete and have attained great knowledge, being around you and people like yourself will ultimately make me lose my degree and descend to your spiritual degree. I will lose my desires and become like you.

It is a very clear example; there are no hidden clues here, and that is precisely the way it is in reality: a person can unconsciously deteriorate in spirituality under the negative impact of society, and very fast indeed. Moreover, all along the way, he will justify himself and society. That is what happens in a materialistic society. In a spiritual environment, under the influence of the books, the group, these situations affect man in tremendous speed and power, and he immediately begins to change.

That is why anyone who wants to taste the wisdom of the Kabbalah at the tip of his tongue, the upper world, to understand the Creator, even if just a little, must be completely detached from his present environment, to extract from it all the elements that might negatively influence his spiritual development: irrelevant books that speak of other spiritual methods, various types of philosophies, groups that practice various kinds of mysticism etc.

In short, a serious person must be aware what elements affect him, his development at any given moment. Friends at work, with whom he talks about general subjects, cannot significantly influence the course of his life.

Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag writes in a letter, that the chariot to the Creator passes in a very narrow path: a person must constantly examine his acts and his thoughts: are they in the right direction, he must correct them every step of the way, meaning in every new thought that comes to him. However, if a person is under the influence of the wrong society, he will naturally not be able to do it.

Various disturbances and negative influence by others slow down the spiritual progress, detain, arrest, deviate, mislead and alter the direction of man’s development. But if a person who studies Kabbalah observes other methods of seemingly spiritual development, he completely loses track, because he is not only under the influence of a certain mystical method, but is under a combination of the Kabbalah and some other method. That combination can be very hazardous, because it brings unpredictable results.

It is impossible to live in several environments all at once. It can influence a person in an unpredictable way, and always very negative. You can watch comedies, laugh, listen to the news, but you must never take in ideas that might deviate you from the right track.

As you can see, the choice of the environment determines man’s future, regardless of the spiritual degree he is at. Even the greatest sage knows how to beware of other influences – he will never, under any condition, put himself in a society that affects him in a negative way, will not take part in the life of such a society, because he knows that he cannot resist its influence.

That is why anyone who begins to study with us, must be aware and understand that in order to attain a positive result from the study of the wisdom of the Kabbalah, he will have to take an active part in the life of our group. To come and participate in the lessons, but not in the social life is a very inefficient way indeed.

The same applies for those who study through the Internet. Although they are far away from us, due to circumstances that are beyond their control, you can tell by the spiritual efforts that they make, that it is only the lack of physical contact with the group that stops them from advancing in the desired pace to the upper world.

On our side, the comprehensive web site that we have established, the publishing of books, the classes, the newspaper articles, all that is done in order to create the new environment in our world, that would affect the world with its spiritual ideas.

Everything we do, is done in a practical manner, so that we can finally create a large and homogeneous society from small groups and individual people, with the same values and spiritual ideas, and together we can influence the spiritual milieu of the world.

Despite that, the influence of the group, remains the decisive factor. We see, from experience with students all over the world, that if a person is a long distance from his spiritual center, if he studies Kabbalah by himself, without the support of the group, he in fact, doesn’t have a chance to develop correctly in the spiritual sense.

I give lectures in Israel, in America, Canada and Europe, on the radio, on television and at universities and I see those people. When I get there, they are willing to study day in and day out, but after I leave they forget. The body doesn’t want to suffer, and knowing that there is no progress, it overpowers the desire for spirituality and prefers to forget the purpose of life and abandon it. When I leave them, I already know that the surrounding environment will immediately pull them back, to the satisfaction of this world’s needs.

Therefore, anyone who seriously considers spiritual advancement must find for himself an environment, build a group, because this is the only way he will be able to work on himself, on his spiritual development. Everything that a person puts into a group, he gets in return. The more he gives, the more the group affects him. It doesn’t matter how big the group is, or what is its spiritual quality. The size and quality of the group are objective terms, but what a person can get out of them depends entirely on his subjective attitude towards them.

The effect of society and the group is also meant for the phases of descents. If a person falls, it can lift him up again and again, and by that shorten the transition time between degrees, especially during hard times.

Society helps a person deal with the toughest situations, because the power of its influence on a person’s spiritual state is immense. It is like being in an optimal breeding environment, when there is the right amount of everything: sun, water, fertilizers, and everything begins to grow much faster.

That is why we should worry about nothing more than being in the right environment. Out of the four elements that influence a person, Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag points out only one element that a person can influence in order to correct himself in order to come to the purpose of creation.

It means that we are not even allowed to think of any other factors. We must not think that by our preliminary state we are not prepared for unification with the Creator, that we are in the wrong conditions, affected by external circumstances that we cannot control. There is only one thing that I can control, and that is the one thing that I can and should do – create the right environment.

You say: there are many ways to the Creator, and each way should not interfere with the other. It is true (there is even a phrase in the Torah that says: “There are many ways to the Creator”). But that means that each soul has its own individual situations, a unique way to approach the Creator. But what brings a person to the Creator, the effect of the group, that never changes.

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