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Choosing the Right Environment for Correction

Even though we cannot determine the attributes of our bed, we can still affect our lives and our destiny by choosing our social environments. In other words, because the environment affects the attributes of the bed, we can determine our own futures by building our environments in a way that promotes the goals we want to achieve.

Once I have chosen my direction and built an environment to steer me there, I can use society as a booster to accelerate my progress. If, for example, I want money, I can surround myself with people who want it, talk about it, and work hard to get it. This will inspire me to work hard for it as well, and turn my mind into a factory of money-making schemes.

And here’s another example. If I am overweight and I want to change that, the easiest way to do it is to surround myself with people who think, talk, and encourage each other to lose weight. Actually, I can do more than surround myself with people to create an environment; I can reinforce the influence of that environment with books, films, and magazine articles. Any means that increases and supports my desire to lose weight will do.

It’s all in the environment. AA, drug rehabilitation institutions, Weight Watchers, all of these use the power of society to help people when they cannot help themselves. If we use our environments correctly, we can achieve things we wouldn’t dare to dream. And best of all, we wouldn’t even feel as if we were making any effort to achieve them.


Birds of a Feather

In the first chapter, we talked about the “equivalence of form” principle. The same principle applies here, too, but on a physical level. Similar people feel comfortable together because they have the same desires and the same thoughts. We all know that birds of a feather flock together. But we can reverse the process. By choosing our flock, we can determine the kind of birds we’ll ultimately become.


The desire for spirituality is no exception. If I want spirituality and I want to increase my desire for it, I need only have the right friends, books, and films around me. Human nature will do the rest. If a group of people decides to become like the Creator, nothing can stand in their way, not even the Creator Himself. Kabbalists call it, “My sons defeated Me.”

So why aren’t we seeing a spirituality rush? Well, there’s a little hitch: you can’t feel spirituality until you already have it. The problem is that without seeing or feeling the goal, it’s very hard to really want it, and we already saw that it’s very hard to get anything without a great desire for it.

Think of it this way: everything we want in our world is a result of some external influence on us. If I like pizza, it’s because friends, parents, TV, something or someone told me about how good it is. If I want to be a lawyer, it’s because society gave me the impression that being a lawyer somehow pays off.

But where in our society can I find something or someone to tell me that being like the Creator is great? Moreover, if no such desire exists in society, how did it suddenly appear in me? Did it pop up out of the blue?

No, not out of the blue; out of the Reshimot. It’s a memory of the future. Let me explain. Way back, in Chapter Four, we said that Reshimot are records, memories that have been registered within us when we were higher up on the spirituality ladder. These Reshimot lie in our subconscious and emerge one by one, each evoking new or stronger desires from past states. Moreover, because all of us were at one point higher up on the spiritual ladder, we will all feel the awakening of the desire to go back to those spiritual states when it is our time to experience them—the spiritual level of desires. This is why Reshimot are memories of our own future states.

Therefore, the question shouldn’t be, “How come I have a desire for something the environment didn’t introduce to me?” Instead, we should ask, “Once I have this desire, how do I make the most of it?” And the answer is simple: Treat it as you would treat anything else you want to achieve—think about it, talk about it, read about it, and sing about it. Do everything you can to make it important, and your progress will accelerate proportionally.

In the Mishnah (Pirkey Avot 6:10), there is an inspiring (and true) story of a wise man by the name of Rabbi Yosi Ben Kisma, the greatest Kabbalist of his time. One day, a rich merchant from another town approached him and offered to relocate the Rabbi to the rich man’s town to open a seminary for the town’s wisdom-thirsty people. The merchant explained that there were no sages in his town, and that the town was in need of spiritual teachers. Needless to say, he promised Rabbi Yosi that all his personal and educational needs would be generously cared for.

To the merchant’s great surprise, Rabbi Yosi declined resolutely, stating that under no circumstances would he move to a place where there were no other sages. The dismayed merchant tried to argue and suggested that Rabbi Yosi was the greatest sage of the generation and that he didn’t need to learn from anyone.

“In addition,” said the merchant, “by moving to our town and teaching our people, you would be doing a great spiritual service, since here there is already a great number of sages, and our town hasn’t any. This would be a significant contribution to the spirituality of the whole generation. Would the great Rabbi at least consider my offer?”

To that, Rabbi Yosi resolutely replied: “Even the wisest sage will soon become unwise when dwelling among unwise people.” It is not that Rabbi Yosi didn’t want to help the merchant’s townsmen; he simply knew that without a supportive environment, he would lose doubly—failing to enlighten his students, and losing his own spiritual degree.

No Anarchists

The previous section may lead you to think that Kabbalists are anarchists who are willing to obstruct social order to promote building spirituality-oriented societies. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Yehuda Ashlag explains very clearly, and any sociologist and anthropologist will confirm, that human beings are social creatures. In other words, we don’t have a choice but to live in societies because we are offshoots of one common soul. It is therefore clear that we must also conform to the rules of the society we live in and care for its wellbeing. And the only way to achieve that is if weadhere to the rules of the society we live in.

However, Ashlag also states that in any situation that is not related to society, society has no right or justification to limit or oppress the freedom of the individual. Ashlag even goes so far as to call those who do so “criminals,” stating that concerning one’s spiritual progress, Nature does not oblige the individual to obey the majority’s will. On the contrary, spiritual growth is the personal responsibility of each and every one of us. By doing so, we are improving not only our own lives, but the lives of the whole world.

It is imperative that we understand the separation between our obligations to the society we live in and to our personal spiritual growth. Knowing where to draw the line and how to contribute to both will free us from much confusion and misconceptions about spirituality. The rule in life should be simple and straightforward: In everyday life we obey the rule of law; in spiritual life we’re free to evolve individually. It turns out that individual freedom can only be achieved through our choice in spiritual evolvement, where others must not interfere.

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