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Michael Laitman, PhD

In Search of Freedom

Let’s begin this section with an allegory by Baal HaSulam: Once there was a king who wanted to know which of his subjects were trustworthy. He announced that anyone who wanted to come and work for him would be handsomely rewarded by a festive meal, fit for kings. When the people arrived, there was no one at the gate, just a sign indicating where to go and what to do, but no guards to watch over the arrivals. Those who worked in the designated area were unknowingly exposed to a magic powder, and those who went elsewhere were not. In the evening, when everyone sat at the table, those who worked where the sign indicated enjoyed the meal tremendously, but to those who didn’t, the food was the worst they’d ever tasted. Thus, only those who freely chose to follow the king were rewarded with enjoying what the king enjoys.

It has long been said that people are only truly happy if they are truly free—free from bondage, free from oppression, and free to make their own decisions. Likewise, people have long wondered how to reconcile the concept of free will with the existence of a greater power, and in the case of Kabbalists—the Creator.

The Creator’s singular desire is for you and me to be fulfilled and made joyful. This state can occur only when we reach His state, His degree. This can happen only when our desire to enjoy is equal to the Creator’s desire to bestow enjoyment. If it sounds circular, it is: it’s the reciprocity that brings us ever closer to perfection and the Creator’s wish for us. So how do we reconcile this idea of free will with what the Creator wishes for us?

Here’s the Kabbalist’s logic, step by step:

  1. The Creator is absolutely benevolent.

  2. As a result, He wants to grant us absolute pleasure.

  3. Absolute pleasure means being in His state: omniscient, omnipotent, and benevolent.

  4. Therefore, we have to come to feel that His state is the absolute good state. In other words, we have to choose it of our own free will.

  5. Free choice can only be made on condition that the Creator does not apply force on us, so that we are independent from Him.

  6. Therefore, He is hidden and gave us the existence in this world where we don’t sense the Creator as vividly and as tangibly as we sense physical objects.

  7. Without feeling Him as either fearsome or good, but from a completely “neutral” state, we could decide freely that being like Him is the absolute good.

Fake Freedom

Kabbalah teaches that even though the Creator wants to enter into a relationship with His creation, He has concealed Himself from us to give the impression of free will. Under these conditions, we seem to be able to act, think, and choose, completely independent of the Creator’s presence. Our choices appear to be made of our own volition and free will; we do not detect an unseen hand guiding our actions and, as far as we can tell, our choices are truly free.

Think of it this way: the Creator has your entire life planned out for you, down to what you will have for lunch today. But if the Creator has all of our decisions and moves mapped out in advance, is free choice truly free? The answer is that our choices are free when looking from our perspective. The fact that the Creator knows what we will decide is meaningless to us, as long as we don’t know what we will choose.

The Pleasure and Pain Principle

As we just explained, the Creator’s only wish is for us to be filled with joy. Recognizing this truth is central to our path to perfection. It is no secret that we all desire pleasure and often go to great lengths to find it.

But if the Creator’s intent was for us to seek and experience endless pleasure, how does pain fit into the equation? You and I do not commit to any action unless we believe that it will, in some way, make us feel good or, at least, better. Each of our actions is a result of a calculation that our happiness will increase. In this way, you and I consciously put ourselves through painful situations to gain greater pleasure.

Certain painful situations make us reevaluate what we believe are the causes of our happiness and rank them according to importance. Say you have a Rolex watch, the ownership of which brings you great pleasure—what it represents in the way of achievement, what it says about your status, and who knows what else. One day, a mugger puts a gun to your chest and demands your beloved watch, or else… Most sane people would agree to a painful act (in this case, giving up a cherished item) in order to avoid a more painful act (injury of some sort or worse).


Spiritual Sparks

The living creatures have no freedom… to choose pain or reject pleasure. And man’s advantage over animals is that he can aim at a remote goal, to agree to a certain amount of current pain, out of choice of future benefit or pleasure, to be attained after some time.

…And so it sometimes happens that we are tormented because we did not find the attained pleasure to be the surplus… compared to the agony we suffered; hence, we are in deficit, just as merchants do.

–Baal HaSulam, “The Freedom”


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