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Yearning for Spiritual Qualities

It is utterly impossible for a beginner to distinguish a true Kabbalist from a false one, because each one champions the same truths about the necessity of improving oneself and renouncing egoism.

But these words, like the Light of the Creator that shines over everything, can be compared to a Light without a vessel, that is to say, one might utter the most profound words, but unless one possesses kelim – the vessels for containing the sense of that Light – the speaker may not comprehend the internal meaning. It is much more difficult to receive ideas and notions from the books of a Kabbalist writer, the process known as "mi sfarim," [lit. from books] than to acquire knowledge directly from a teacher. This is due to the fact that if one wishes to absorb the thoughts of the author, one must believe that the author is a great Kabbalist.

The greater respect one has for the author, the more one will be able to absorb from the author’s books. From the thousands who have perceived the Creator, only Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (Rashbi), Rabbi Ashkenazi Yitzhak (Ari) and Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag (Baal HaSulam) were granted permission to write about Kabbalah in a language understandable to those who had not yet acquired the perceptions of the spiritual levels.

Other Kabbalistic works use imagery that is understandable only to those who have already entered the spiritual realms, and therefore cannot be used by beginners.

By relying on one’s choice of companions and one’s choice of books as the source of knowledge – an individual may gradually gain the ability to think independently. Prior to this stage the individual remains in the state common to all human beings in this world, that is, in the state of desiring to be independent, but unable to do so.

It is said that envy, pleasure, and a yearning for honor take a person out from this world. This simply means that these three human desires induce a person to act. Though not considered good desires, they nevertheless motivate a person to change, grow, and wish to attain more and more, until one acquires an understanding that the real gain is the gain of the spiritual kind, and decides to leave this world for the spiritual one.

Thus, it is said of these three desires that they "take" a person from this world and into the spiritual world to come. As a result of the accumulation of knowledge and intelligence, an individual begins to discern what is most valuable in this world, and to understand that one should attempt to reach that most valuable goal. In this manner, one moves away from the desires "for oneself" and reaches the desires "for the sake of the Creator."

The entire creation can be viewed as the yearning to receive pleasure, or the suffering caused by the absence of the pleasure that emanates from the Creator. There are two conditions that are necessary to feel pleasure:

  1. The pleasure should appear and disappear, leaving an impression, a memory (reshimo from ro’shem – an imprint).

  2. One must attain the necessary knowledge and strength to break through the outer shell and thus become worthy to partake of the fruit.

There are several types of impure, distracting forces that are known as klipot, meaning “shells” or “peels.” Their name reflects their purpose. These forces (1) protect the spiritually pure forces (the fruit in the shell) from piercing elements that damage the spiritual realm – the unenlightened who could harm both themselves and others after gaining the spiritual and (2) create obstacles for those who truly desire to possess the fruit.

Consequently, by struggling with them, one gains the necessary knowledge and strength to break through the outer shell and thus becomes worthy of partaking of the fruit. Under no circumstances should one feel that any thoughts against the Creator, against the path, and against faith, emanate from a source other than the Creator.

Only the Creator, the singular Force encompassing a human being, acts in the entire creation, whereas a human being is accorded the role of an active observer.

In other words, human beings are left to experience the full range of forces acting upon them, and to struggle against believing that that these forces came from a source other than the Creator. In fact, unless the Creator confers such obstructive thoughts to block one’s study of Kabbalah and self-improvement, one cannot move forward.

The main klipot are the klipat mitzraim (Egypt), which turns one away from the desire to continue on the spiritual path, and klipat noga, which gives one the false sense that everything is fine the way it is, and that there is no need to move forward. In this case, one feels as if in a slumber, although the heart does not agree with this condition ("aniyeshena ve libi er" – I sleep, but my heart is awake).

True Kabbalistic texts, especially the texts of Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag, are written in such a way that the one who delves into them can no longer derive pleasure from the false glow of the klipat noga, once an understanding of the goal of creation has become clear.

Those few who are chosen by the Creator to be brought closer to Himself are sent the suffering of love (isurei ahava). This is suffering intended to induce these people to overcome the difficulties of their condition and move closer towards the Creator.

This internal striving of the individual, which one feels to be one’s own, is called “the pressure from within” (dahaf pnimi). When we act, this is considered to be "revealed," since it is available for all to see and cannot be subjected to various interpretations.

On the other hand, our thoughts and intentions are considered to be "concealed." They can differ greatly from the way others perceive them, and can even differ from our owns perception of our intentions. Sometimes, we are not aware of exactly what prompts us towards this or that action.

Our true inner intentions that motivate us are often concealed from us, as well as from outside observers. For this reason the Kabbalah is known as the hidden part of the Bible, the hidden wisdom, since it instructs us about intentions and how to direct them towards the Creator.

Thus, this knowledge should be concealed from everyone, sometimes even from the individual in question. It is imperative to believe that everything in this world happens according to the Will of the Creator, is governed by Him, sent by Him, and controlled by Him.

There are those who maintain that our sufferings are not sufferings, but rewards.

This is true only with respect to those righteous people who can relate all circumstances and all ensuing consequences to the rule of the Creator. Only in such cases when people can live by their faith in the ultimate justice of the Creator’s rule, despite great trials and suffering, will curses be transformed into blessings.

However, those trials that we cannot overcome by going beyond our reason’s limitations bring us a spiritual decline, since only in maintaining faith above reason can we find support. Once we have fallen out of faith and back to our dependence on reason, we must then wait to be saved.

On the other hand, those who can withstand these trials will ascend, since the suffering and trials increase the strength of one’s faith. It is in these cases that the trials and the suffering will transform into blessings.

A real plea to the Creator must come from the depths of one’s heart, which means that the entire heart must be in agreement about that which it wants to say to the Creator. The plea must be said not with words, but with feelings, since only that which takes place in the person’s heart is heard by the Creator. The Creator hears even more than one might prefer, because He understands all the causes and all the feelings that He, Himself, sends.

Not a single creation can avoid the predestined goal – to begin yearning for spiritual qualities. But what should be done by a person who feels a lack of sufficient desire to part with the pleasures of this world? How can one deal with the idea of parting with relatives, family, and the entire world so full of life and of small delights, with all that the egoistic desires so vividly paint in that person’s mind? What should one do if, even while asking for the Creator’s help, one does not truly wish the Creator to hear and grant this plea?

To help and support those in this position requires special preparation and the realization how vital it is to acquire altruistic qualities. Such a realization develops gradually as one realizes how remote one is from the spiritual joys and inner peace that attract that person from afar.

This can be likened to a host who must appease the appetite of his guests with appetizers so they will enjoy the meal that lies in store for them. Without first being prepared for the meal, the guests will never experience true delight from it, no matter how delicious or plentiful it may be. This approach is also effective in arousing an appetite for such unnatural and unfamiliar delights, such as receiving pleasure from altruism.

Our need for closeness with the Creator is gradually born in us when under the influence of our efforts inspired during times of extreme remoteness from spiritual redemption. These include times of severe deprivation and darkness, when we need the Creator for personal salvation, so that the Creator delivers us from the hopeless situations in which He placed us.

If we are truly in need of the Creator’s help, then this can be considered as the sign that we are ready to receive this help, since we have developed an "appetite" for accepting the pleasures prepared for us by the Creator.

The degree to which we have experienced suffering will parallel the degree to which we will be able to receive pleasure. However, if we must go through suffering, and receive joy from Above to the same degree that we have suffered, then this is the path of suffering, not the path of the Kabbalah.

In addition, a question arises: is there really a need to ask the Creator for anything at all? Maybe one should experience suffering to the point that the body desires complete redemption and cries out to the Creator with such strength that He will save it.

The answer is simple: a prayer, even if does not spring from the depths of one’s heart, still prepares the individual for salvation.

In a prayer, we promise the Creator that after we receive spiritual strength, we will concentrate all our efforts on returning the spiritual aspirations that are presently lacking. In this lies the great power of the prayer.

The Creator accepts a plea of this kind, and as a result, we will advance by the path of Kabbalah, rather than by the path of suffering. For this reason, we should never agree to the path of suffering, even if we are certain that the suffering is being sent by the Creator; and even if we firmly believe that everything that is sent by the Creator is sent for our benefit.

The Creator does not want us to passively accept suffering. On the contrary, He expects us to prevent suffering, to avoid the condition in which He must push us from behind by suffering. He wants us to strive by ourselves through the means of faith, and ask for this opportunity to move forward.

Even if we do not yet possess a true desire to attain the right state, we should still ask the Creator to grant the true desire and faith through the power of prayer. That is, we should ask the Creator to give us a desire to ask, which is now lacking.

Our souls, the "self" of each of us, exist in a perfect condition from the moment the Creator decided how they should exist. This condition may be described as “the condition of absolute peace” (since every action is initiated by the desire to gain a more perfect state), and the condition of absolute happiness (since all the desires created in us by the Creator are absolutely fulfilled).

In order to reach this state, we must acquire the desire to reach it. That is, we should resolve to transform our present aspirations to perfect, altruistic ones. There is no other alternative: "Thus says the Creator: ’If you will not make the right choice of your own accord, then I will place cruel rulers over you, who will force you to return to Me.’"

Every individual simultaneously possesses two perfect states: the present and the future. At any given time, we experience only the present, but a transformation to the "future" state can be achieved in an instant by altering our natures from being egotistical and materialistic, to being altruistic and spiritual.

The Creator is able to perform such a miracle within each one of us at any given moment, since both states exist simultaneously. The difference is in the fact that we can perceive one state immediately, but not the other perfect state, which exists parallel to the first one, despite our existence in both states simultaneously.

The reason for this occurrence can be explained by the fact that our qualities-desires do not coincide with the qualities of the perfect unperceived state. As the Creator declares, "It is impossible for Me and for you to exist in the same place," as we are opposite in our desires.

For this reason, each of us possesses two conditions, or, as is referred to in Kabbalah, two bodies. Notably, there is the physical body, which we occupy at the present moment and which in Kabbalah is known as “the material sheath.”

On the other hand, it is our desires and our qualities that are considered to be the body in the Kabbalistic sense, since in them is found our souls, which is a part of the Creator. If in our present state, our bodies consist of entirely egotistical desires and thoughts, then only a microscopic particle of our souls, the so-called nerdakik, can penetrate into us as a spark of the greater Light, which gives us life.

The second body, which exists parallel to the first one, is the spiritual body, which we do not yet sense. It consists of our future altruistic desires and qualities that constitute our absolute soul, that is, that part of the Creator which will be unveiled in the future, once the correction process is complete.

The qualities of both the egoistic and the altruistic bodies, and their life-giving forces, are divided into feelings and intellect, which we perceive with our hearts and our minds. The egoistic body desires to receive with the heart and to grasp with the mind, whereas the altruistic body desires to give with the heart and to believe with the mind.

We are not able to alter either of these two bodies. The spiritual one cannot be changed because it is completely perfect, and the present one is completely immutable and cannot be corrected at all because it was designed as such by the Creator.

But there exists a third body, which serves as a connecting link between the other two. The middle body, directed from Above, consists of constantly changing desires and thoughts, which we should strive to correct ourselves and to ask the Creator for their correction. It is in this way that we connect the middle body, known as klipat noga, with the spiritual body.

When we become able to link all the constantly emerging desires and thoughts with the spiritual body, our egoistic body will then depart and we will acquire a spiritual body. At that point, the Creator will alter all the qualities of the egoistic body to become opposite ones, and the entire innate egoism will transform into absolute altruism.

In all the situations that face us in life, we should strive to see everything as coming directly from the Creator, and to see His point of view as if it were ours. We should assert that "it is He who stands between everything else and me; it is through Him that I look upon everyone in this world, including myself. All that is perceived by me emanates from Him, and all that emanates from me goes only to Him. For this reason all that surrounds us is He." As it is said, "You are both before me and behind me, and You have placed Your hand on me." "All that is in me," one should say, "all that I think and feel, comes from You, and is a dialogue with You."

The most horrifying feeling is our perception of the endless abyss.

This strikes us when a sudden void seems to open up right beneath our feet; a void characterized by hopelessness, fear, lack of any support, and a complete departure of the surrounding Light that has given us a sense of the future, of tomorrow, of the next moment.

All variations of this dreadful negative feeling stem from the greater original sensation and, actually, can be considered aspects of it. All of them are sent to us from the same source, Malchut, the empty soul put forth by the Creator so that each of us will fill each part of that soul with Light.

All the sensations of darkness we experience emanate from this empty soul nd can be overcome only by faith in the Creator, by perceiving Him. It is for this reason that all suffering is sent by the Creator.

King David, the embodiment of our souls, describes the condition of the soul in every line of his psalms, depicting all its impressions as it ascends the various levels. It is astonishing how much we must bear before we have the understanding, the awareness, and the way to the right path. No one can tell us what the next step should be.

Only by necessity, having stumbled on the previous step, will we choose the right action. The more we are spurred on by hardships, the faster we can grow spiritually. Thus, it is said, "Happy is the one who is afflicted by the Creator."

We should not know our next step, or our future; the prohibition against fortune-telling in the Bible should not be taken lightly.

Spiritual growth occurs only through the growth of faith. This is supported by the fact that everything we live through at a given moment, and everything that we will live through in the next moment, emanates from the Creator and can be overcome only by attaining closeness with Him. This occurs by necessity, since our nature refuses to admit that He has domain over us.

The knowledge of our future state, or merely our confidence in our knowledge of it, takes away our opportunity to close our eyes, keep quiet, and accept any sudden manifestation of the Higher Rule as true and just. This is possible only when we come closer to the Creator.

The Bible describes all of our progressive states of spiritual ascent in the everyday language of our world. As we already know, there are only two qualities in all creation: altruism and egoism, the quality of the Creator and the quality of His creations. Kabbalah, on the other hand, describes the stages of spiritual ascent in the language of direct feelings, as is done in this part of the book, or in the language of sefirot, the physics-mathematical description of spiritual objects.

This language is universal, compact, and precise. Its external form is discernable by beginners.It also helps us to understand others and be understood by them, since it focuses on abstract spiritual objects and on events that, to a certain degree, are removed from us.

When we have moved to the spiritual stages, we can use this "scientific" language to describe our own actions and feelings, because the Light that we perceive already carries the information about the action itself, the name of the action, and the spiritual level.

However, a Kabbalist can convey feelings and sensations about a particular spiritual level only to one who has already experienced that level, since another person will not understand these concepts. Similarly, in our world, an individual who has not undergone a particular sensation and who does not know it through an analogous sensation will not be capable of understanding it.

There are two consecutive stages of correcting egoism. The first stage is not to use it at all, but to think and act only with the desire to "give," without any thought to possible gain from the results of one’s actions. When we are capable of acting in such a way, we then proceed to the second stage: we begin to gradually employ our egoism by gradually incorporating it into our altruistic actions and thoughts, thereby correcting it.

For example, a person gives away everything to others, without getting anything back in return; this is the first step of development. If one is truly able to act in this way in all cases, then, in order to be able to give even more, the rich will provide this individual with even more.

Riches will thus pass through that individual in order to be given away to others. The amount of wealth that will be received from others will depend on whether one can give away everything that was received without being tempted by such bounty. In such a case, egoism will be employed for a noble cause: the more one receives, the more will be given away. But can one give away everything?

The amount of wealth passing through one’s hands determines the level of one’s correction.

The first stage is known as “the correction of creation” (of egoism), and the second stage is known as “the goal of creation,” or one’s ability to use egoism in altruistic actions, for altruistic goals.

The Kabbalah centers on these two stages of spiritual development. However, the desires and pleasures mentioned in the Kabbalah are billions of times greater than all the pleasures of our world combined.

These two steps are also in constant conflict with one another, because the first completely rejects the use of egoism and its correction, while the second uses it in small quantities, determined by the strength of one’s ability to counteract it for one’s correction. Thus, the actions in these two conditions are opposite to one another, even though both are altruistic in purpose.

Even in our world, an individual who gives away everything is opposite in action to the one who receives, even in order to give away. In this light, many of the contradictions and conflicts depicted in the Bible become more understandable.

For example, the conflict between Saul and David, the arguments and the contradictions between the schools of Shamai and Hilel, the conflict between Mashiach Ben-Joseph (the Kabbalist Ari) and Mashiach Ben-David, and other, almost all of the contentious issues and wars, which are interpreted by those who are not in the spiritual realm as the conflicts between nations, tribes, families, and egoistic individuals.

After a period of undertaking intense work on ourselves, learning and striving for spiritual perception, we will feel a desire to see some results. It will seem that, after all the work we have done (especially compared with the work done by others around us) we have earned the right to experience the revelation of the Creator, to see a clear manifestation of the spiritual laws we studied so ardently, and to perceive the pleasures of the spiritual worlds.

In reality, however, all things appear to be exactly opposite to our expectations: we might feel that we are regressing, rather than progressing, in comparison to others who do not study Kabbalah. We might feel that instead of perceiving the Creator, and instead of the Creator hearkening to us, that we are moving further and further away from the Creator.

Moreover, the increasing hiatus from spiritual achievements and our lowering of spiritual aspirations would appear to be the direct result of our studies. Thus, a legitimate question arises: looking at those studying the Bible in a simple, ordinary manner, we can see that they come to feel their superiority over others, while we who study Kabbalah grow more discontented, seeing how much worse we have become in our desires and thoughts, and how much further away we have moved from the good spiritual desires which led us to Kabbalah in the first place!

Perhaps it would be better not to start engaging in the study of Kabbalah at all! Maybe all the time devoted to these studies will be spent in vain! On the other hand, we may already feel that only here can we find the truth and the answers to the questions within us.

This feeling only adds to the building pressure: we cannot abandon Kabbalah because it is the truth, but we seem to have nothing in common with it and, thus, we are moving further away from it, with the perception that our desires are much lower than those of our contemporaries.

It seems to us that if another were in our place, the Creator would have answered that person long ago and would have brought that person closer to Himself. Another would not have complained and become embittered because the Creator was inconsiderate towards them, or possibly, not reacting to their actions at all.

However, in essence, these emotions are experienced only by those who are in the process of true spiritual work on themselves, rather than by those who merely pore over the study of Bible, only to learn its simple meanings and to keep the commandments.

This is because those who aspire to ascend will strive to attain a spiritual state in which all personal aspirations, thoughts, and desires are devoid of personal interests. For this purpose, the quintessence of one’s true thoughts and motivations is revealed from Above.

We can prove that we can endure our testing after having gone through suffering, having found within ourselves the enormity of our egoism, and having seen the great distance between the self and even the most insignificant spiritual quality. We will prove ourselves worthy of glimpsing the spiritual worlds, however, if we can still, in spite of everything we have endured, silence the heart, and express love for the Creator without demanding a reward for one’s efforts and suffering.

And if, despite all that has been endured, these conditions are dearer than animal pleasures and tranquility.

In general, whenever we begin to do real work on ourselves, we immediately begin to see the obstacles on our path to the perception of the spiritual.

These obstacles appear as various extraneous thoughts and desires, as the loss of confidence in the correctness of the chosen path, as discouragement in the face of our real desires.

All these obstacles are sent to us to test us from Above. They will determine whether we really possess a thirst for the truth, no matter how contradictory it is to our own egoistic nature, or how distressing it is to give up our own comforts for the sake of the Creator.

On the other hand, ordinary people are not being tested, and feel very comfortable with the accustomed way of life, even thinking that a place in the next world is guaranteed because these people keep the commandments of the Bible.

Thus, such individuals feel that both this world and the world to come are assured, and so rejoice at the thought of the future reward, feeling that it is well deserved because they are carrying out the Will of the Creator, and thus have earned compensation both in this world and in the world to come.

That is, the egoism of the observant person increases many times in comparison to the egoism of the nonobservant person, who expects no reward from the Creator in the spiritual realm.

But the Creator tests us not to find out where we stand spiritually. The Creator knows this without testing, because it is He who gives a particular position to every person. He tests us to make us aware of our own spiritual state. By creating in us the desire for earthly pleasures, the Creator pushes away those who are unworthy, and gives those whom He wants to approach Him the opportunity to come closer to the gates of the spiritual world by overcoming all obstacles.

In order for the chosen individual to feel hatred towards egoism, the Creator gradually reveals one’s realenemyand shows the real culprit standing in the way of one’s entering the spiritual realms, until the feeling of hatred develops to such a degree that one manages to tear away from it completely.

Everything that exists outside one’s "self" is the Creator Himself, since the foundation of the creation is the perception of the "self" by each of us. This illusion of the personal "self" constitutes the creation and is felt only by us alone. But outside of this sense of the personal "self," only the Creator exists.

Thus, our attitude towards the world and everyone around us reflects our attitude to the Creator. If we grow accustomed to such an attitude towards everything, we thereby reinstate a direct bond with the Creator. But if there is no one except the Creator, then what is this "self"? The "self" is the sense of "I," the sense of our own being, which does not actually exist.

However, in accordance with the wishes of the Creator, the soul (which is a part of Himself), feels this way because it is removed from the Creator. The Creator conceals Himself from the soul, but as that part of the Creator senses the Creator more and more, the "self" begins to feel increasingly that it is a part of the Creator, rather than an independent creation.

The stages of our gradual perception of the Creator are known as “the worlds,” or Sefirot.

Usually, we are born without any sense of the Creator, and perceive everything around us to be “reality.” This condition forms "our world."

If the Creator wishes to bring us closer to Him,'we will at times begin to sense a vague existence of an Upper Force. We do not yet see this Force with our inner sight, but we sense that from afar, from the outside, something illuminates, bringing us feelings of confidence, of spiritual elation, and of inspiration.

But the Creator can once again become distant and imperceptible. In such a case, we feel this to be a return to our original state, and somehow manage to forget that at one time we were certain of the Creator’s existence, and even perceived Him.

The Creator may also distance Himself in such a way that we feel the departure of a spiritual Presence, and as a result become despondent. This feeling is sent by the Creator to those whom He wishes to bring even closer to Himself, because a sense of yearning for the wonderful feeling that disappeared makes us attempt to bring that feeling back.

If we make an effort and begin to study Kabbalah, and find ourselves a true teacher, then the Creator alternatively either reveals Himself to a greater extent through our spiritual ascension, or conceals Himself, prompting us to find a way out of our state of downfall.

If, by exerting our willpower, we are capable of overcoming this unpleasant state of the concealment of the Creator, then we will receive help from Above in the form of spiritual uplift and inspiration. On the other hand, if we do not try to move out of that state through our own strengths, the Creator might approach us Himself, or He might leave us entirely (after prompting us several times to make an independent effort to advance towards Him), although we are still unable to perceive Him.

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