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Advancing toward Altruistic Pleasure

Atzilutis the world of complete perception of, and unification with, the Creator. An individual gradually rises to the world of Atzilut, acquiring altruistic qualities. When one has reached this world, having fully acquired the ability to "give," even standing on its lowest step, one starts "receiving for the sake of the Creator."

We do not destroy our desire to experience pleasure, but rather alter our essence by changing the reason for which we are seeking the pleasure. By gradually replacing egoism with altruism, we can rise accordingly until we receive everything to which we are entitled, in accordance with the root of our soul (shoresh neshama), which originally was a part of the last level (malchut) of the world Atzilut.

As a result of corrections we make to ourselves, our souls will rise to a state of complete unification with the Creator, and in the process we will receive 620 times more Light than what our souls possessed prior to entering the human corporeal body.

All the Light, the entire pleasure that the Creator wants to impart to His creations, is known as the “common soul” of all the creations (Shechina). The Light allotted to each of us (the soul of each of us) is part of that common soul. Each of us should receive this part as we correct our desires.

We can perceive the Creator (one’s own soul) only after we have corrected our desire for pleasure.

This desire is known as the “vessel of the soul” (kli). That is, the soul consists of the vessel and the Light, which comes from the Creator.

When we have totally replaced the egoistic vessel with an altruistic one, then this vessel will merge completely with the Light, for it has acquired its characteristics.

Thus, we can become equal to the Creator and absolutely merge with His qualities, experiencing everything that exists in the Light and fills it.

There are no words to describe this state. For this reason, it is said that the sum total of all pleasures in this world is but a spark from the infinite fire of the joy that the soul experiences during its unification with the Creator.

We can ascend on the spiritual ladder only in accordance with the law of the middle line (kav emtzai). This principle can be briefly described as: "One who is happy with what one has is considered rich."

We should be content with as much as we understand of what we study in Kabbalah. Most important, we must realize that, by learning Kabbalah, we begin doing good deeds before the Creator. When we carry out His Will, we will feel as if we have carried it out to the utmost.

This sensation will award us immense happiness, and we will feel as if we have received the greatest gift in the world. We have this feeling because we are placing the Creator as King of the Universe, far above ourselves. Therefore, we are happy to have been singled out from among billions by the Creator Who, through books and teachers, informs us of what He wants from us.

This spiritual state is known as “the longing to give” (hafetz hesed). In it, a person’s qualities can coincide with the qualities of the spiritual object, known as Bina. But this state does not represent human perfection, for we do not use our reason during such a process of self-correction.

Thus, we are still considered to be "poor in knowledge" (ani be da’ at), because we are not aware of the correlation between our actions and their spiritual consequences. In other words, we act without knowing what we are doing, guided only by faith.

In order to commit spiritual acts consciously, we must invest a lot of effort into realizing that our thoughts need to be "for the sake of the Creator." At this point, we may begin to feel that we are not ascending spiritually. Yet, in truth, every time we observe something, it becomes evident that we are farther than ever from possessing the appropriate intention – to please the Creator to the same extent as the Creator desires to please us.

However, we must not criticize our state further than the level that allows us to remain content with perfection. This state is called “the middle line” (kav emtzai). As we gradually build up our knowledge with the left line (kav smol), we then can achieve total perfection.

Once again, let us analyze the work that takes place in the middle line. We must begin our spiritual ascent by being in accordance with the right line, which represents a sense of perfection in the spiritual, happiness with our lot, and our desire to carry out the will of the Creator selflessly and sincerely.

We must ask, “How much pleasure do we derive from our spiritual quest? We consider any amount sufficient, because we are convinced that the Creator controls everything in the world, and whatever we feel during our spiritual quest, it must be so desired by the Creator.

Whatever our condition may be, it must ensue from the Creator. Thus, the mere realization of Divine rule and spiritual perfection is sufficient to make us happy, to give us a sense of our own perfection, and to induce us to thank the Creator.

But this state lacks the left line, in which we check our own condition (heshbon nefesh). This inner task is opposite to the work done in the right line, where the main focus is on glorifying the spiritual and the Creator, irrespective of oneself or of one’s own condition.

When we begin checking how serious our attitude is toward the spiritual, and how close we are to perfection, it becomes obvious that we are still immersed in petty egoism and cannot lift a finger for the sake of others or the Creator. Having discovered the evil in ourselves, we must strive to oust that evil, and must apply our utmost efforts to this task.

We must also pray to the Creator for help as soon as it is clear that we are unable to transform ourselves without assistance. Thus, there become two opposite lines in a person. Alongside the right line, we feel that all is in the power of the Creator and, therefore, all is perfect. So we do not wish for anything and are, therefore, happy.

By the left line, we feel no interest in the spiritual; we have no sense of spiritual progress, and we sense that we are still encased in the shell of our ego, just as before. Furthermore, we do not ask the Creator for help to escape from this state. Having discovered the evil within, we decide to dispense with our common sense because it tries to dissuade us from our efforts to pursue the hopeless task of correcting our egoism.

At the same time, we should continue to thank the Creator for our present state, sincerely believing that this state is truly the perfect state. We should also continue to be just as happy as we were prior to checking our state.

If we can manage to follow this, we will advance along the middle line. Thus, it is crucial to avoid becoming too critical of ourselves by excessively following the left line.

It is also important to remain in the content state of the middle line. Only then will we be able to enter the spiritual realm with "both feet," so to speak.

There are two levels of human development: animal and human being. (These are not to be confused with the four levels of desires). As we can observe in animal nature, an animal continues to live in the same state as it was born. It does not develop. The qualities that were accorded to an animal on the day of its birth are sufficient for the entire duration of its existence.

The same can be said of a person who rests on this level of development – one who remains the same as during one’s upbringing. All changes that take place in the life of such a person are quantitative in nature.

However, this cannot be said of the "human being" type. In this state, a person is born as an egoist. At some point, this person will discover that egoism rules, and in response, aspires to correct this flaw. If a person truly wishes to earn the revelation of the Creator, then the following must be so:

  1. This must be the person’s strongest desire, so that no other desires exist. In addition, this desire must be permanent, for the Creator is eternal and His will to bestow good is constant. Thus, one who wishes to come closer to the Creator must resemble the Creator in this quality as well, i.e., all desires must be constant. They cannot change depending on circumstances

  2. One must acquire altruistic desires, and devote all thoughts and desires to the Creator. This level is called hesedor katnut. Eventually, one will come to earn the Light of faith, which will bestow the gift of confidence upon the person.

  3. One must earn the complete and perfect knowledge of the Creator. The consequences of one’s actions are determined by one’s spiritual level. However, there will be no difference between the spiritual levels if the Light of the Creator shines upon an individual. Since the Creator bestows the vessel and the Light of the soul simultaneously upon the recipient, the person perceives the received knowledge to be perfect. Usually, we are in total accord with our bodies; the body dictates its desires to us, and repays us for our labors by letting us experience pleasure. Pleasure, in itself, is spiritual, but in our world it must be connected to some material carrier (e.g., food, sex, music) to enable us to experience it. Even though within ourselves we feel pure pleasure, we are incapable of detaching it completely from its carrier.

Different people enjoy different things and different types of pleasure carriers. But pleasure, in itself, is spiritual, even though we experience it in our brains as an effect of electrical impulses. Theoretically, it is possible to fully simulate a wide range of pleasures by applying electrical impulses to the brain. Since we are accustomed to receiving various pleasures in the form of their material carriers, this pure pleasure will recreate the images of various carriers in a person’s memory, so that the mind will create music, the taste of food, ad so on.

The above makes it clear that we and our bodies service each other. Therefore, when our bodies agree to work, they expect to be rewarded with some form of pleasure.

Escaping from disagreeable sensations can also be considered a kind of pleasure. Any correlation between the work performed and the pleasure received (reward) is a definite indication that the person has performed an egoistic act.

On the other hand, if a person feels that the body is resisting and is asking, "Why work?" it means that the body does not foresee a greater degree of pleasure in the future than it already possesses now. At the least, there is enough increase in pleasure to overcome the propensity to remain in a state of rest. Thus, it does not see any benefit in altering its state.

But if a person decides to abandon the considerations of the body and elects to concentrate on improving the condition of the soul, then the body will refuse to make even the slightest move unless there is the prospect of some personal benefit. The individual will be unable to force the body to work.

Thus, only one solution will be open – to appeal to the Creator for help in moving forward. The Creator does not replace a person’s body, nor alter one’s nature. He doesn’t make miracles to change the fundamental laws of nature.

However, in response to a true prayer, the Creator gives a person a soul – the power to act on the principles of truth.

When we receive egoistic pleasures, it implies that someone else will not be happy while this is occurring.

This is because egoistic pleasures center not only on what we have, but also on what others do not have, since all pleasures are comparative and relative.

For this reason, it is impossible to build a fair society on the basis of reasonable egoism. The erroneous nature of such utopias has been proven throughout history, particularly in ancient communities, in the former USSR and in other attempts to build socialism.

It is impossible to satisfy each and every member of an egoistic society because individuals always compare themselves with another. This is best seen in small settlements.

Thus, the Creator, Who is always willing to award everyone boundless pleasure, set down one condition – that this pleasure should not be limited by the desires of the body. Pleasure would be received only in the desires that are independent from the desires of the body. These are known as “altruistic” (ashpa’ah).

The Kabbalah is a sequence of spiritual roots proceeding from one another in accordance with immutable laws, merging and pointing toward their single common purpose – "the comprehension of the Creator’s greatness and wisdom by the creations of this world."

Kabbalistic language is closely related to spiritual objects and their acts. Thus, it can only be studied while examining the process of creation. Kabbalah touches upon certain issues, which are then revealed to those seeking spiritual perception: There is no concept of time, but only of a cause-and-effect chain, where every effect becomes, in its turn, the cause of the next effect – the creation of a new act or object.

In principle, what we take for time, even in our world, is actually our perception of inner cause-and-effect processes. Even science maintains that time, as well as space, are relative concepts. A place, or space, is a desire for pleasure. An action is either the receiving of pleasure or its rejection.

"In the beginning," that is, prior to the creation, nothing existed but the Creator. He cannot be denoted by any other name, for any name implies a certain perception of the object. But the only thing that we perceive in Him is the fact that He created us. Thus, we can only address Him as our Creator, Maker, etc.

The Creator transmits Light. The Light represents His desire to generate a creation and endow this creation with a sense of being pleased by Him. Only this single quality of the Light that issues from the Creator gives us a basis by which we can judge Him.

To be more precise, the perception of the Light does not permit us to make judgments about the Creator alone, but only about the perceptions that He wants to inspire in us. For this reason, we refer to Him as we would to Someone Who wants to please us.

This pleasure is not derived from the Light alone, but is produced in us by the effect of the Light on our “organs of spiritual sensations.” Similarly, a piece of meat does not, in itself, contain the pleasure that one feels when one tastes it. Only by coming in contact with the sensory organs can an object produce in us related sensations of pleasure.

Any act, either spiritual or physical, consists of both a thought and an action that embodies the thought.

The thought of the Creator is to bestow pleasure on His creations. Consequently, He awards us pleasure.

This act is called "giving for the sake of giving." It is called a simple act because its purpose corresponds to its direction.

The creation was generated to be egoistic in nature, meaning that we have no other goal but to attain pleasure. We can either engage in receiving or in giving as part of the pursuit for what we desire, but our ultimate goal always remains to receive, even if we also give something physically to another.

If the act is characterized by the same direction as the goal, that is, if the result of an action is to receive, and the result of the goal is to receive, then such an action is referred to as “a simple act.” If, on the other hand, the direction is to give but the purpose is to receive, then the act is referred to as “a complex act,” because its purpose and its direction diverge in their intentions.

We are incapable of imagining the desires and the realms of our desires’ effects beyond space. Therefore, we can only imagine the Creator as a spiritual Force that fills a space. The Kabbalists say that the Creator originally designed human beings with the ability to engage only in simple acts; however, we have since complicated the original design.

The higher we ascend on the spiritual ladder, the simpler the laws of creation become, as the basic, fundamental categories are simple, not complex.

But because we fail to perceive the source of creation, and instead see only its remote consequences, we view the laws of creation in our world as being comprised of conditions and limitations, and thus complicated.

Since authentic Kabbalistic books contain hidden Light, which emanates from the authors in the course of writing their books, it is vital to have the right intention while studying such works; namely, the will to perceive the Creator. It is also very important, while studying, to pray to receive the spiritual intellect and understanding that the author possessed. In this way, we may forge a bond with, and can address, the author.

Thus, it is also essential to refrain from reading the works of other authors, especially those who also deal with the spiritual worlds. The reason for this is that these authors may influence the reader, as well. If we wish to acquire spiritual knowledge, we must establish a special daily routine and shield ourselves from extraneous influences, irrelevant news, and harmful books.

We must also avoid contact with other people, except when it becomes necessary for work or for study, without deliberately shunning them, but keeping our thoughts continuously in check. When necessary, we can think of our work. The rest of the time we should devote to contemplating the purpose of life.

Attaining the purpose of life depends more on the quality of the effort made than on the quantity: one person can pore over the books for days on end, and another can only devote an hour a day to one’s studies, due to the demands of work and family.

Any effort can be measured only in relation to one’s free time, and by determining how much one suffers because of a lack of time to devote to the spiritual. The result is directly proportional to the intensity of the person’s intentions: discovering is the objective of devoting one’s time to study and self-correction.

There are two methods of feeding a child. One method is by force. It brings the child no pleasure, but still provides the nourishment necessary for growing and building up strength. In Kabbalah, this kind of spiritual nurturing of a person is known as "on account of the Higher One."

However, the "child" may wish to grow spiritually by taking spiritual nourishment independently. This may occur after having if developed an appetite for it (realizing the necessity or experienced the pleasure from the Light). Then, not only does one grow spiritually, but one also enjoys the process of living, that is, of developing spiritual perception.

An acute sensation produced in us by the awareness of good and evil is known in Kabbalah as “the process of nurturing”: just as a mother raises her infant to her breast and gives it food, so a Kabbalist is given the Light contained at an Upper Spiritual Level so that one clearly sees and feels the gulf between good and evil.

And then, just as the mother takes the infant away from her breast, so a Kabbalist loses the bond with the Higher Source, as well as the clear distinction between good and evil. This process is designed to induce a person to pray to the Creator to acquire the same capabilities for perceiving (kelim) the good and evil as are possessed by the Higher Source.

We receive both egoism and altruism from Above. The difference is in the fact that human beings receive egoistic desires upon birth, while one must persistently ask for altruistic desires.

First, we must reach a state in which we want "to please the Creator," the same way as the Creator pleases us, irrespective of our egoistic desires (ascending the levels of the worlds BYA). Then, we should determine what will please the Creator.

Consequently, we will see that we can only please the Creator by experiencing pleasure. This is called "receiving for the sake of the Creator," and denotes the level of the world (Atzilut).

Attaining the different degrees of intensity of the desire to give selflessly to the Creator is called “the steps of the worlds BYA” (Beria, Yetzira, Assiya). Acquiring the power to receive pleasure from the Creator for His sake is known as “reaching the level of the world” (Atzilut).

Beit midrash is the place where we learn to demand (lidrosh) spiritual strength of the Creator and the spiritual strength. There we also learn to demand the perception of the goal of creation, as well as the perception of the Creator. Since we (our bodies, our egoism) strive naturally toward all that is larger and stronger than ourselves, we must pray for the Creator to reveal Himself to us and let us see our own insignificance, as compared to His greatness. Then, we will strive toward Him naturally, as toward the greatest and the strongest.

What matters most for us is the importance of our pursuits. For instance, rich people may work hard simply to make others envy them. But if wealth were no longer important, they would not be envied anymore, and thus, they would have no more incentive to work.

Therefore, the most important thing is to realize the importance of perceiving the Creator. There will never come a time when an individual will be able to reach the spiritual realm without any efforts, for these efforts are the vessels for the Light.

Before the kabbalist Ari introduced his corrections in this world, it had been somewhat easier to attain the spiritual. However, after Ari opened the way to comprehend the spiritual, it became much harder to give up the pleasures of this world.

Prior to Ari, the spiritual ways were closed, and there was no actual readiness from Above to confer the Light on creations. Ari slightly opened the source of the Light. This made it harder for people to battle their egoism; in fact, the egoism became stronger and more sophisticated.

This can be schematically illustrated by the following example. Let us suppose that prior to Ari’s time, one could obtain 100 units of comprehension. Each effort amounting to 1 unit would yield 1 unit of perception. Today, after the corrections were introduced into the world by Ari, one can obtain 100 units of perception for just 1 unit of effort, but it is incomparably harder to carry out this 1 unit of effort.

Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag (Baal HaSulam) has introduced such corrections into the world that now an individual cannot deceive oneself, thinking that one is perfect, but must follow the path of faith above knowledge. Though the path has become somewhat clearer, this generation is incapable of making the required quantity and quality of effort, the way the previous generations could. This, despite the fact that the perception of individual shortcomings is clearer than before.

But this generation does not elevate the spiritual to the level it deserves, that is, above the material, the way previous generations did, when the majority of people were willing to do anything for the sake of spiritual ascent.

A significant correction was introduced into the world by the Kabbalist Baal Shem-Tov. Even the masses could feel a slight increase in the amount of the spiritual in the world. For a while, those who desired it found it even easier to reach the spiritual.

In order to select worthy students for his Kabbalistic group, Baal Shem-Tov instituted admorut – a division of Jewish society into sections, with each section having a Kabbalist as its own spiritual leader. These leaders (admorim) selected individuals whom they deemed to be worthy of studying Kabbalah in their heder (room) classes. Here they engaged in raising the next generation of Kabbalists and leaders of the people.

But the effect of the correction introduced by Baal Shem-Tov has passed, so not all leaders of our generation are Kabbalists and are able to perceive the Creator. After the departure of Baal Sulam, our world has been in a state of spiritual degradation, which always precedes an approaching elevation.

Perceiving ourselves as beings that were created means perceiving ourselves as being separate from the Creator. Since our egoistic nature causes us to instinctively withdraw from anything that causes us suffering, the Creator uses this to lead us to the good. He removes pleasure from the material world that surrounds us and awards us pleasure only through altruistic acts. This is the path of suffering.

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