Chapter 11. Intention – Our Work
Our work begins with a search for the simple recognition of one singular truth. That truth is that there is no one else but Him. When we begin studying, we find ourselves drawn to many different and confusing elements of Kabbalah. We study many articles that approach Kabbalah from two very different directions. From one direction, Kabbalah is presented in a completely scientific and factual manner. From the second direction, Kabbalah is presented from a more emotional, “feeling” manner. Yet in the end, both directions lead to a single, fundamental conclusion: there is none else besides Him.
However, discovering this fundamental truth is no easy task, for it strikes at the very heart of our egos. In our research, we read about this truth and it makes perfect sense. Our minds have no trouble imagining that behind everything, yes, there is no one else but Him. But when we put our books down, or turn off the lesson from the computer and turn back to our daily lives, we encounter numerous situations that distract us from this principle.
The Kabbalah student reverts to the everyday working person with a wife or husband, a job, children, relatives, friends, hobbies, and all the problems that go with them. The lofty concepts learned in class or by reading suddenly fly out the window as the phone rings and a frustrated spouse begins to describe some minor catastrophe. The most profound wisdom seems to vanish into thin air as an angry boss marches into one’s office complaining about some minor mistake.
As the months or even years pass, the student finds that he or she exists in some sort of war between the spiritual and the material. On one hand, every sentence written or taught by the teacher seems to bring new revelations. But the day-to-day acrobatics of dealing with life’s problems, frustrations, and even joys seem to nullify the material.
This struggle marches merrily on until one day the Creator sends a thought that starts the process for the cure. What is that thought? It is the very essence of what the student began studying long ago, that there is none else but Him.
How does this thought manifest? It comes to us through a class, an article, or sometimes simple reflection, “Perhaps these obstacles that detain us are actually sent by Him.” As the student delves into this concept, the desire to research, to test, to find out, arises. This is the start of a process that will lead us on an incredible journey of discovery.
One can compare this process to a judicial court. Our courts of law are set up with one sole purpose: to assign responsibility to someone. Their entire function is to assign blame for an overt action that has occurred. In smaller courts, there is simply a judge who delves into the facts of a certain matter and determines who is responsible. This is exactly what the Kabbalah student becomes—a judge.
What does the student judge? The student judges each and every disturbing action he or she perceives in order to determine who is responsible for that action. One assigns responsibility for these occurrences in one’s life that seem to distract from the Creator. To whom does the student assign the blame for these annoying and sometimes devastating acts? There is none else besides Him; the judge lays the responsibility where the blame belongs, at the feet of the Creator.
Students learn it is the Creator Who sends obstacles to deter them from their path. But why would the Creator wish to deter them? Students work very hard, study sometimes well into the night, or early in the morning before work. They have attended many lectures and classes to hear their teacher explain these most profound writings. The student may even belong to a group that has chosen to study together. It seems that with all of this effort, the last thing the Creator would want to do is to try to dissuade His students, yet this is exactly what happens.
The student wonders, “How can I possibly advance?” and then learns that the Creator is providing him with the very solution to that problem. The problems, in fact, are the solution! The student finds that the problems are the very rungs of the ladder to climb up and advance toward the Creator.
At first, one is presented with small annoyances, distractions that remove one’s attention from the Creator. But as the assignment of responsibility process begins, our judge finds that in the beginning, it is not that hard to bring the Creator right to the forefront. Yes, the Creator was behind this problem or that problem.
But as the student progresses, the assignments get harder. The obstacles grow stronger and stronger relative to the student’s own strength and accomplishments. It seems that the more one is able to overcome, the harder the obstacles get. And one’s assumptions are exactly correct. Sooner or later, the obstacles reach such a level that there is no way the student can make that most valued assignment of blame. Yet the Creator has provided a solution for this as well.
Let’s go back to our example of the court to examine the Creator’s solution. As previously stated, in a court of law, minor problems are handled only by a judge. But for major situations, the court inevitably selects a jury to help determine the assignment of responsibility. The judge actually nullifies himself or herself to the jury with respect to assigning blame and accepts their opinion without prejudice. In other words, regardless of the judge’s personal opinion, one nullifies one’s opinion and accepts the ruling of the group.
Now we see the true value of the student’s group. Everyone in the group of Kabbalist students knows his or her responsibility to the group. That responsibility is to help any and all members in just this kind of circumstance. When that inevitable event occurs where the student simply does not have the power within to assign that responsibility to the Creator, the group steps in and reminds the student that “there is none else besides Him.” The fortunate student once again realigns with his target, attaining the Creator, and progresses on toward the goal, that first moment of equivalence of form.
There is a law that rules nature and humankind harshly, and the Source of that law is a mighty Force called “the Creator.” In difficult moments we turn to Him. But we sometimes feel that if we want to change something in our life, it means that we disagree with His actions, that we are not grateful to Him. So what is the actual cry of the soul, the one the Creator listens to and answers?
Unlike ordinary scientists, Kabbalists feel that which non-Kabbalists cannot, and having developed an extra sense, study the system of creation. But that power has an unchanging aim: to bring the entire system of creation to perfection. As a result, He acts on anything that is not in that state of perfection, and pushes it toward perfection. That process works equally on all parts of creation, and we feel it as pain and agony.
One can compare this to the pressure that parents put on their child out of the sheer desire for the happiness of their child. But while still growing and developing, the child feels their pressure as pain. As soon as the child attains the proper attributes, the pressure disappears and the child is happy and grateful.
From His perspective, everything in reality is already as perfect as can be. Yet, as long as we are not perfect, His Guidance cannot be felt as perfect. The Creator formed our initial corrupted situation deliberately, to give us a chance to choose perfection as something desirable and attain it by ourselves. How? Through the method called “the wisdom of Kabbalah.”
Nature did not grant us the power to change ourselves. That is why we need not ask Him to change His Guidance, but to change us, so that we can feel His Perfect Guidance. The only form of progress that exists is in turning to the Upper Force for help. When we turn to this Force, we do not break His Law. On the contrary, we perform the one action we can perform.
But the cry must come out of a clear awareness of what it is we’re asking for – is it for ourselves, to satisfy our desires in this world, or is it a cry for spiritual ascent? We now pray to Him because we feel bad, out of an egoistic motivation, and wish to feel good.
So do we condemn His Complete Guidance by that cry? Of course we do! But the question is, what does your heart feel? It doesn’t matter if you cry or scream or stay silent. The Creator feels what’s in the heart long before we do. When we ask to change ourselves not because we feel bad, but because we suffer from cursing the Creator in our hearts, that is already a request that is not self-oriented, for me, but is a true prayer for Him. To such a request the Creator responds at once!
We will certainly never ask the Creator for correction without feeling the need to do so. We see how people pray to God, asking for various things. But that is not the request for correction we speak of, not a prayer, as we understand it. A true prayer is a strong desire for correction of one’s properties for reaching the Creator for His Sake.
We arrive at this kind of prayer very slowly, over years. First, we must cultivate it within ourselves. One first has the desires of this world, then for the Higher One, for the Creator, directed more and more towards the goal. In the process, we constantly change the definition of the Creator, the goal, and the correction.
Based on new understanding, one’s prayer becomes oriented differently. As soon as one fully understands the goal, it is reached—the prayer bears fruit and one rises to the Creator. If one speaks from the heart, then every call to the Creator is new, even though the words are the same. Since the heart has changed, the prayer becomes so new that sometimes the same words seem strange to the supplicant.
We speak not about the Creator but of how we understand His Properties. Hence, our notions constantly change. By “our notions,” it is meant that the ideas belonging to those who work on inner corrections and aspire to be like the Creator.
So what should one ask for? Ask for whatever you can ask, anything your mind will let you reach—and the Creator will give you everything, meaning everything that is needed for the attainment of the invocator.
One never knows how to act when seeking spiritual truth, but if one wants to grow spiritually, the Creator gives the seeker all that is necessary.
The feelings in our hearts are the prayer. But the most powerful prayer, as Baal HaSulam writes, is the feeling in one’s heart during the study, the yearning to understand the material, meaning to match it with one’s own properties. Obviously, what is really important here is the aim.
The aim is the one thing that the creature acquires in addition to the desire to delight in the Creator. The Creator made the creature with an inherent desire to delight in Him, in His Light. The creature feels only one thing: the absence or the presence of this pleasure. It doesn’t even feel itself, but only pleasure and its quantity and quality.
The reason is that one can only feel oneself relative to something opposite the self. Therefore, the creature cannot develop from a sensation of pleasure alone. Such a feeling exists in the inanimate, the vegetative and the animate (including the animate human being).
The ability to sense the Creator is what differentiates humans from other forms of creation. It would be more correct to say that a person who feels the Creator is called “Man.” In the language of the Kabbalah, Man is the Vessel that feels not only pleasure, but also the source of the pleasure. It is necessary to develop the will to this extent because the inanimate, the vegetative and the animate are different from one another only in the measure of their will to receive.
The measure of the desire causes changes in its quality. The will to receive (that is, beyond the inanimate) brings life with it. A greater will to enjoy creates animals and brings about movement in order to search for the pleasure, the feeling of the self as an individual entity.
Pleasure is possible only on the border between two opposing sensations. The sensation of oppositeness between creature and Creator creates the aim. A creature is a desire to enjoy. Only the aim allows for two situations: the aim for me, which is the corporeal state, and the aim for the Creator, which is the spiritual state, because in that one becomes similar to the Creator.
An aim for the Creator is the one thing we need to acquire from the Creator, the Light. That aim leads us to the purpose of creation and makes us equal to Him. Because of that, the Kabbalah is the “wisdom of the aim.” And the aim is quite different from the act.
A physical act by itself does not make a difference in the Upper World! It is said that an act with no intent is like a body without a soul, and therefore it is regarded as a lifeless act, denied of the spiritual intent “for the Creator.” But the aim comes gradually, according to one’s progress in the study of Kabbalah.
The wisdom of Kabbalah is about intentions, and about how to turn one’s heart to the Upper World. If a person begins studies and cannot add the right intent for the Creator, that time is called Lo Lishma (not for Her name), not for the Creator, meaning that at that time the student’s actions are all for self.
But if a person does nothing to develop one’s aims, then the person is not even working not for Her name, but is simply performing a lifeless act. However, the person should not stop doing it, because at some point the aim not for Her name will come, and Lishma (for Her name) will follow. Physical acts are always justified, but you have to aspire not to be limited by them.
A person cannot feel one’s own heart or one’s true situation. These are originally concealed from us and revealed only gradually, according to our ability to correct our original desires. It is very easy to open a book with prayers and read from it, but it is very difficult to attain the spiritual growth whereby the feelings in one’s heart will match the written word; when the heart will recognize and live by the words as the veritable truth.
When we study Kabbalah, we extend illumination from the Upper Light. As a result, we begin to feel worse and our spirits drop. But we must understand that this is a state of correction; otherwise, we would not have been shown from Above that we are evil. We still don’t feel ourselves as evil, and we are not in a state of the Recognition of Evil within us.
If we begin to study Kabbalah, we will see our true situation, which is characterized by the words “prayer is the work of the heart.” This means that prayer involves working with the desires of the heart and correcting them. At that time we will begin to understand the true meaning of the words we are saying, and we will know what we have to do.
It will be clear that prayer is our work on the screen over our nature. Only the corrected heart, which feels its two extreme situations—the original condition when it was distanced from the Creator and its present one, when it is filled with the Creator —only such a heart can feel the blessing of the Creator and bless Him.
Your feelings during your studies—about yourself and the Creator— are your most honest prayer! That is what the Rav of Kotzk wrote in the book, Yosher Divrey Emet (Honesty and Words of Truth). That is why you do not need the proper prayer texts. The most correct thing is how you feel about the Creator.
Your understanding of the interpretation of the terms of Kabbalah will deepen according to the extent of the new feelings that will arise within you. For example, you will see that Pharaoh is the uncorrected characteristics of a person; that Exile is when one is distanced from the spiritual world; that Freedom is the liberation from the authority of your own nature, and so on.
You will be able to see that all the prayers in the prayer book and Psalms were written by people who went through those situations—Kabbalists in high spiritual degrees. That is why we, too, on our own spiritual levels, can use those prayers as a handy expression of our thoughts and desires.
But what about the mind? A prayer is the work of the heart, but the mind does not always agree with that sensation. For example, a person has to pass a very important and difficult test, and it terrifies him. His whole being may cry, “I don’t want that test!” But his mind helps him understand how important it is to pass the test. Therefore, he turns to the Creator with a conscious request that he take the test and pass it.
The mind can help us decide whether or not to make the effort. We can influence it and convince it to obey us. Ultimately, we will make the effort and from Above we will be given new desires and emotions.
Feelings are what I experience in my will. The mind complements, corrects, evaluates and assesses the feelings, and that is why it can change one’s attitude toward them. Therefore, all the things that affect the mind — friends, group and teacher — are what determine one’s future. Kabbalah teaches us how to change the way we relate to our feelings so that “true” and “false” will have the power over us, instead of “bitter” and “sweet.”
In Kabbalistic terms, a prayer is the request of the lower one for correction, and ascent of the desire to be corrected from the lower to the Upper Partzuf (raising MAN). If the lower one knows what to ask for, knows exactly what it wants, what it wants to be (meaning that inside there is already a sufficiently tormented desire, and only that desire), at that point the Upper One responds and the lower one is raised.
This process involves all the worlds, Partzufim and Sefirot from our world (the situation we are in right now) through the world of Ein Sof (infinity; the situation you cannot feel), although you are just as much in it as you are in our world. This is the total completeness, attainment and satisfaction.
The test and the proof that one has been answered by the Creator, has equalized with Him, and then has entered the spiritual world, is only in one’s actual sensing of the Creator, of the Light, of equality and unity. That sensation is always intimate and personal, and is impossible to convey to a person who does not feel it. That is why the saying goes, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”
As long as one has not acquired a screen and has not felt the inner Light of the Partzuf, called Taamim (flavors), one thinks that one is not drawing away from one’s nature, but rather falls deeper in to it.
Because the Light of the Creator influences one to a greater extent, one regards the remaining attributes (that are yet unchanged) as worse.
Thus, one thinks that it is not the Light that is stronger, but that he himself is changing for the worse. But while every step of the way seems to indicate one’s situation is worsening, one who walks the road will see its end.
If I spot a negative quality in myself and suffer from the fact that it is in me, do I have to ask the Creator with all my might to help me correct it? Or is it better to try to ignore that characteristic because “one is where one’s thoughts are,” and think only of the greatness of the Creator, about how everything comes from Him, including that characteristic, and try to see His Guidance in everything. After all, He created me this way, so why should I correct myself?
The Creator created us opposite to Him in order for us to yearn to be like Him, precisely from that opposite situation. That is the purpose of all requests. Therefore, we should praise the Creator, knowing in our hearts that the attribute of the Creator is the most exalted and perfect.
But if all we do is cry about our misfortunes without forming any clear decision that we must be like the Creator, at least in some way, then our pleas are only for ourselves, regardless of the purpose of creation.
However, one cannot determine what one’s requests of the Creator will be, or praise the Creator independently, because such requests are directly extended from within, from the heart, even before one knows their meaning. The desire, any desire, in one’s heart is called “prayer.” When one prays to be able to justify the Creator under any circumstances, that person is called Tzadik, meaning righteous, one who justifies the Creator.
Our effort is required so that the right attitude to the attributes and characteristics of the Creator will consciously and purposely formulate in us, so that we will want to cleave to the Creator. We are not the Creator, and cannot change anything within us. All we can do is prepare ourselves to want to change. That is the prayer.
Everything begins in the Upper World and then comes down to ours. Our mechanical movements (as well as all that happens in nature) have no effect on the Upper World, because our world is merely a consequence of it, meaning it follows the commandments of the Guidance that comes from Above.
Anything that happens here in this world is a consequence of forces, commandments and influences that descend from Above. The only things that rise from our world to the Upper One are the desires that come from the bottom of our hearts. Only they evoke responses in the Upper World. That is how they influence it. As a result, they also influence what comes down to us. The desires of a person from the bottom of the heart are called “prayer.”
All our desires, without exception, are divided according to their aim into desires for myself and desires for the Creator. The Creator determines our desires and we cannot change them, because the Creator wants us to correct them. When speaking about the correction of desires, the idea is not to change the desire itself, or to suppress it, but to change the initial aim from for me into the desired aim, for the Creator.
The Superior Management exists for that sole purpose – to constantly fuel us with desires so we can slowly digest them and come to realize that they need to be corrected. All spiritual acts are actually corrections of the intent of our desires. In order to delight in the Creator, in His Light, we should change our aim from for me (in order to receive) to for the Creator (in order to bestow).
It is very difficult to maintain thoughts about the Creator. You may feel as though nothing is happening, or that your situation isn’t changing. But in reality, if time passes, you have gone through something, because at any given moment there are changes in you. When the aim is to overcome some part of your preliminary desire to enjoy for yourself and correct its use, it can only do you good to be immersed in thoughts about the Creator.
You are reminded of the Creator to the extent that you make inner observations, although they are still not in your consciousness. You can speed up the process only through intensity of thought, by reading the essays of Rav Baruch Ashlag and the writings of Baal HaSulam.
Intensity of thought and power of thought are actually determined by the time you are connected in your thoughts with the object of your contemplation. You acquire that by practice, by trying to keep your thoughts impregnable despite disturbances. You must go through all of this yourself, as there is none as wise as the experienced. Kabbalah is a practical method that a person must experience oneself.