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The Path of the Kabbalah

The desirable path of spiritual ascent is the path of the Kabbalah. The path of suffering awaits us only if there is no other way to prompt us to reach perfection. As was stated earlier, the path of the Kabbalah is an opportunity given from Above to each of us to create in ourselves the desires necessary for spiritual growth, demonstrating through spiritual ascents and declines that the spiritual Light is pleasure and its absence is suffering.

In this way, we begin to desire the Light and spiritual ascent and the perception of the Creator. Without first receiving the upper spiritual Light and then having it taken away, we cannot feel a desire for the Light.

The greater the Light initially sent us by the Creator, and then "taken away," the greater will be our desire to receive that Light once again. This path is known as “the path of the Kabbalah,” or the path of the Light. But there is also “the path of suffering,” when one searches for a way to escape from unbearable suffering constantly in one’s life, and not from a desire to have lost pleasures restored.

With the path of Kabbalah, there awakens a desire to become filled by the spiritual Light as the vitalizing source of redemption. Both paths lead to one goal, but one draws by the pleasure and the perfection that lie ahead, and the other pushes from behind, prompting an escape from pain.

In order for a human being to be able to analyze external factors and internal sensations, two means of perception are given: the bitter and sweet – perceived by the heart, and the false and true – perceived by the intellect.

Spiritual attainment cannot be appreciated by the heart, since it is absolutely contrary to the heart’s true nature . This is why this attainment is always perceived as bitter, while any personal pleasure is perceived as sweet. For this reason, work on oneself in redirecting one’s desires is considered to be the work of the heart.

The work of the mind is of a completely different nature, because we cannot rely on our own minds and logic to analyze the surrounding events. In such a case, we are forced, in spite of ourselves, to rely on the egoistic, natural mind.

We are unable to break away from it because each of us was created in this manner by the Almighty. That is why there is only one path: to completely turn away from the typical inclination to analyze one’s surroundings and instead to accept the advice of the sages, expounded in the books of Kabbalah and explained by teachers who have reached the spiritual level of awareness.

If we are capable, with the Creator’s help, of making even the slightest attempt to analyze through faith, rather than by reason, and to discern with our hearts the bitterness of egoism, we will immediately be sent a spiritual understanding of the attained level, which comprises both spiritual Light and strength (screen).

The Creator then reveals the next lower stage of egoism, which was previously hidden because if we immediately grasped the entire extent of our own egoism, we would not have had the strength to overcome it. Instead, we would surely have become despondent from the overwhelming task lying ahead.

However, we should realize that this mountainous ego was always there within us from the beginning, but was hidden and is revealed gradually, as the Creator gives us the ability to correct it and the strength to do so. That is why those who ascend the spiritual levels, gradually overcoming "our own" reason, feel increasingly more perplexed and dense in relation to the guidance of the sages in the Kabbalistic books and of the Kabbalist instructors.

But to the degree that we diminish the significance of our "own" understanding, we are granted a higher understanding. In the end, rather than becoming more baffled by turning away from this world’s egoistic logic, we become incomparably wiser.

If we have not yet reached a higher understanding, or altered our way of analysis, begun to feel the sweetness, rather than the bitterness, of non-egoistic thoughts, or have not begun to see the truth of faith compared to the falseness of the intellect which is bound by the nature of our world, we can still progress through an already amended method of analysis derived from our teachers, by listening and following the example of the teacher in all things. Therein lies the counsel of the sages: If only a single Kabbalist, possessing the true spiritual understanding of the mind and heart, leads humanity, everyone can reach the goal of creation not by the path of suffering but by the easy and painless path of Kabbalah!

On the other hand, misfortune and constant failures will be our lot if those who were chosen to travel this path first, with whom the Creator first settles all accounts, and from whom the most is demanded, have chosen as their leaders those who do not understand His higher purpose or the design of His dominion.

Only during wars, catastrophes, or other great misfortunes, when it seems that our problems cannot be resolved, do we all clearly see the hand of the Creator and His help. But this transpires only during critical moments in which we find ourselves, since we refuse to acquire and use Kabbalistic knowledge to recognize the Divine Providence in the world.

Why are people born with different capacities to perceive the subtler forces around us, as well as with different capacities to prudently and logically grasp the nature of things? And whose fault is it that a person was not created in the same manner as were geniuses, those of deep thought and deep emotions? Why is it that when we are born, we receive from the Creator unequal mental and spiritual desires and capacities?

Individuals born with grand aspirations, with big hearts, and with sharp minds, are referred in the Bible as “the intelligent” because they are capable of receiving the highest understanding. On the other hand, those born with limited mental and spiritual capacities in the Bible are referred to as “foolish people.” But since every soul has its own special purpose for which it has "descended" into this world, no one should be ashamed of the particular inclinations with which one was born.

Nor should we be ashamed of our bad thoughts, since they, too, were sent to us by the Creator.

However, we should pay special attention to and be conscious of how we react to bad thoughts, whether we fight them or follow them blindly, whether we correct ourselves – each to the extent of the capacities that we were born with, and what we do towards correcting ourselves.

It is this that each of us should be ashamed and it is for this that each will have to answer to the Creator. But still, how can a foolish person reach spiritual heights? The Creator has said: "I have created the wise, and I have created the foolish. And I have placed the wise in every generation, to help the foolish, so that having fastened their hearts to the ones ascending, they could also reach a complete union with Me."

Why are foolish people needed in this world? After all, compared to the few wise men of the world, there is an overwhelming multitude of fools!

The reason lies in the fact that every spiritual quality requires its own separate carrier. Those people with limited spiritual capacities are the carriers of egoism. The wise, on the other hand, desiring to ascend infinitely in their service to the Creator, and having corrected their own egoism, need to help the foolish work on their egoism.

To continue ascending, the wise must continuously absorb "extraneous" egoism and correct it. Thus, both the foolish and the wise need each other.

But because the masses can give the wise only their own insignificant egoism consisting of a desire for the petty, transitory pleasures of our world, for every wise person in this world there are billions of fools.

Nevertheless, if the foolish ones act in accordance with the directives of the wise, consciously following the wise in all they do, everyone can still reach the goal of their existence: absolute unity with the Creator.

Even though the spiritual work of raising altruism above egoism is carried out within the heart, while that of raising faith over the assertions of the intellect is carried out within the mind, both are contingent upon our rejection of the intellect that was given to each of us at birth, as well as upon the rejection of self-gratification and self-affirmation.

This is because, even while working towards altruistic aims, one still prefers to see and know to whom one gives and who receives the fruits of one’s labor – and in such a case one has nothing but the faith in the existence of the Creator and the faith that He is accepting the fruits of one’s work.

Here we find the notion of the oneness of the Creator, in accordance with the principle that "there exists nothing but the Creator." We must recognize the Creator as the One sending everything that we sense and perceive in our minds, bringing us to a particular line of thought, which in turn leads us to certain decisions and resolutions.

Only after we acknowledge all of the above can we gain a proper perspective on everything that transpires. Then, we can correct our desires and thoughts in accordance with the design of the Creator.

The Kabbalah in its entirety concentrates on the Creator and on His actions. For this reason, Kabbalah is called by the names of the Creator. Similar to an individual’s name indicating who is being referred to, so every word of Kabbalah is a name of the Creator, since it expresses His action and indicates what He is sending us at any given moment.

Kabbalah speaks about us as being a part of the Creator that He distanced from Himself, having bestowed egoism upon us. For this reason, our souls are comprised of two opposing parts. The first of these is the divine part, which exhibits its own desire to perceive the Creator (in some of us), thus causing people to begin searching for something spiritual in order to be fulfilled internally. At the same time, the pleasures pursued by others around us no longer satisfy to those seeking spiritual fulfillment.

The second part of the soul is that specially created egoistic nature that people experience in full measure: the desire to possess everything, to know everything, to do everything, to see the result of all their actions, that is, to see a part of the "self" in all one’s surroundings. The egoistic part of the soul is the only part that was created, since the altruistic part of the soul is a part of the Creator Himself. Having taken His desire from within Himself and having endowed it with egoism, He thereby distanced this part from Himself and it became the soul, a creation separate from Him.

The soul is considered a creation precisely because it contains a part of something new – its egoism – a quality that had not existed before, as nothing of the kind exists within the Creator. It is the notion of the soul, which consists of a part of the Creator and a part of the newly created egoistic feeling "to receive everything into oneself, that the Kabbalah deals with. It is the soul, rather than the body, that is discussed in the Bible, because the body, consisting of flesh and bone, is like the flesh and bone of the animals, and its end is decay and a return to the elements of this world.

We sense ourselves as bodies because we do not perceive our souls.

But as we begin to perceive the soul, the sense of the physical body, of its desires and of its pains, diminishes, when the soul asserts itself more and more. When we are further advanced on the spiritual path, we do not sense the desires of the body altogether, because we pay attention only to the soul – the part of the Creator within us.

Thus, the "body" begins to represent the spiritual desires, rather than the desires of the flesh and bone, which one almost doesn’t sense any longer.

The Bible tells not of our physical bodies, the mass of flesh and bone, but of the two aspirations of the soul – of the desire of the divine part to perceive the Creator and to unite with Him, and of the desire of the egotistical part towards self-gratification, self-satiation, and a perception of oneself instead of the Creator.

Both of these aspirations are known in Kabbalah as “the "body." This refers to both the egoistic body and the physical body, i.e., the body of our world, since only our world is characterized by ego, and the spiritual body, since altruistic desires are the desires of the Creator, characteristic of the spiritual world.

In all instances, the Bible describes how our souls are affected in various settings and circumstances. It also deals with our desires, focusing on how the Creator alters them, and on how each of us can alter them, or rather, how we can ask Him to alter them, since we ourselves are incapable of changing them.

But the beginner’s main challenge is to hold on by willpower and to concentrate upon the fact that in spite of one’s multitude of thoughts and desires, all of these emanate from the Creator; all these thoughts and desires, so vastly different, and at times so low, are sent by the Creator.

The Creator does this so that, in spite of all obstructions, the individual persistently continues to uphold the bond with the Creator by preserving one’s faith that all these thoughts and desires are sent by the Creator. Thus, struggling with them should strengthen our faith that all emanates from the Creator.

As we strengthen this conviction within ourselves, we can reach such a level that this sense will always be present, despite the ever-increasing obstacles that will be sent by the Creator. These are intended to further strengthen this very sense.

Then, our constant faith in the omnipresence of the Creator will combine with the feeling of His presence within us, and the Creator will be "robed" in us, thus determining all of our thoughts and desires. At this point, we will become part of the Creator.

We must come to the realization that the very feeling of being distanced from the Creator is specifically the means by which we will be able to perceive the Creator. These two senses are known in Kabbalah as kli (vessel) and or (light). The first of these is a desire to experience the Creator, which is gradually born in us while experiencing obstacles (thoughts and desires).

These deliberately distract us from thoughts of the Creator and His oneness, and make us increase our power of faith by exerting our willpower and thus retaining our thoughts of the Creator.

Light is itself an answer to our desire to receive the perception of the Creator. When the Creator garbs Himself in this desire of a person, the Light enters the vessel, and the order of spiritual growth is such that a person awakens to the desire for the spiritual, to the perception of the Creator, to the need to discover oneself, only under the effect of the Light, to the immense feeling of life, to inspiration derived from becoming closer to spiritual sensations, to the feeling of wholeness.

But then the individual is invariably visited by extraneous thoughts. Through their influence a descent begins from the level one had achieved back to the level of ordinary desires and thoughts. And then, after a while, one begins to regret these transitory and petty cares and thoughts.

This in turn brings about bitterness and anger on oneself, and sometimes even on the Creator, Who sends that person such thoughts and desires that cause a turning away from the spiritual. It is as a response to this bitter feeling of regret about one’s own spiritual state that one receives the Light from Above, the feeling of coming closer to the One above.

And then arises the willingness to give up everything for that sense of the Creator, for the feelings of security, self-confidence, eternity that one feels when drawing nearer to the eternity and perfection conveyed from the Creator. At that moment, all shame in one’s former thoughts is gone, along with fears of anything in this world.

When one perceives the soul as a part of the Creator and therefore immortal, and agrees with the Creator in everything and justifies everything that the Creator does with His creations, and is ready to deny his own intellect and to follow his Creator, the individual is filled with the Light of the Creator, and becomes a willing servant of the spiritual perceptions.

But once again, after a passage of time, one is visited by an extraneous thought. And so, gradually, after many cycles of disturbing thoughts and spiritual ascents, such a steadfast feeling of spiritual need arises that one finally receives the ever-present Light of the Creator.

Rabbi Baruch once asked his grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov: "It is known that in ancient times, those desiring to experience the Creator were constantly subjecting themselves to restrictions of all sorts, but you have annulled this according to the saying that if anyone voluntarily submits to privations, one transgresses the spiritual laws and must be held responsible. So what then is the most important thing in the work that an individual must do on oneself?"

The Baal Shem Tov answered, "I have come into this world to show the other path; a person must strive to master three things: love of the Creator, love of the people, and love of the spiritual. Then there is no need for voluntary privations."

The capacity to thank the Creator is already a goodness bestowed by the Creator.

The benevolence of the Creator is in the fact that we can love Him. His strength is in the fact that we can fear Him.

Why, then, does an individual who strives to approach the Creator and senses that he is coming closer to Him suddenly feels distant?

The Baal Shem Tov answers this as follows: "This is like teaching a toddler to walk; while the toddler is being supported he makes several steps towards the father, but the father, wishing to teach the child to walk independently, moves away until the child learns to walk on its own."

The Baal Shem Tov said: "An individual’s work on oneself consists of a constant struggle with egoism, a struggle to the very last breath that should result time after time in the replacement of egoism with the Creator.

"The Creator, like a great ruler, sits at the center of His palace. He has erected many walls and obstacles around Himself. He has scattered within the walls of His palace a great wealth and He gives out honors and titles to those who overcome the obstacles. Upon receiving the latter from the Creator, a person becomes content. But only the one who rejects everything, desiring to be with the Creator Himself, earns the right to enter into His presence."

In nature, there is a transitory state between the seed and the sprout, when the complete decay of the seed, its absolute disappearance, is necessary. Similarly, until we reach the state of complete denial of the "self," we cannot receive the new spiritual nature.

The Creator has generated the human "self" from "nothing," and because of this, we must return from the state of the "self" into the state of "nothing" in order to unite with the Creator. This is why it is said that the savior (Messiah) was born the day of the destruction of the Temple.

Therefore, every time we reach the state of complete despair, we realize that all is "dust and vanity of vanities." Precisely from this state arises a new step in our spiritual ascent, because at this point we can forsake everything.

The Maggid of Mezrich, a great Kabbalist of the previous century, proclaimed: "There are ten rules of spiritual work. Three of these rules can be learned from an infant and seven of them can be learned from a thief."

The infant:

  1. is happy for no reason,

  2. does not rest even for a minute,

  3. demands what he wants with all his might.

The thief:

  1. works at night,

  2. attempts to gain this night what has not been gained the previous night,

  3. is loyal to his comrades,

  4. risks his life to gain even the most insignificant things,

  5. does not value that which was stolen, and sells it for pennies,

  6. is beaten, but does not turn from his path,

  7. sees the advantages of his occupation and does not wish to change it.

He also added: There is a key to every lock, but if the lock does not give, a courageous thief will break it. The Creator loves a person who breaks his own heart to enter the house of the Creator."

When we learn the spiritual levels, only then do we become insignificant in our own eyes, and can then bow before the Creator, sensing that we have no need of anything: not our own spiritual redemption, nor any spiritual ascent, nor eternity, but only the Creator.

During the time of a spiritual decline, it may appear that the Creator is concealing Himself, and it is difficult for us to sustain faith in His existence and His Providence. But if we indeed feel that the Creator conceals Himself, then we are not truly experiencing the concealment of the Creator, but rather a condition in which the Creator expects us to make an effort to advance toward Him.

The Creator is considered to be The Place ( HaMakom), precisely because one should enter Him with one’s whole being, so that the Creator should surround one and be one’s dwelling place. (As was already noted, we dwell in an ocean of the Light of the Creator, and we should become aware of this fact.)

During the time of prayer, we should constantly control where we are directing our attention and efforts: to the reading of the text and to the following of a strict order of the text fragments in a particular prayer book; to the in-depth examination of the meaning of names and of letter combinations; to the distinct pronunciation the words; to the strict following of the mental intentions (kavanot) in a particular prayer book; or to the most important – directing one’s heart towards an attachment with the Creator.

Most important is our intention: a prayer to perceive the Creator! Those who pray acknowledge the existence of the Creator, but those who pray for the ability to perceive the Creator, experience Him!

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