Letter No. 38

January 1958
Who Is the Self?

We should explain who is the person that we say must be a servant of the Creator, and in return for which he will receive reward. After all, man consists of 248 organs and the soul of life, which sustains the entire body. The question is, “Who is the operator, the mind, the heart, or the soul of life that sustains them? And what is the self, which was promised to receive a good reward in the future through good deeds?

The verse says, “And God created the man in His own image.” The term creation applies specifically to something new, meaning a reality existence from absence, where the Creator has created something new that did not exist before He has created it. Our sages interpreted that this reality is called “desire to receive pleasure.” This is a lack and emptiness that must now be filled. There was no lack before He has created it, as before this creation there was only wholeness because it cannot be said that the Creator contains a lack. Therefore, this is the only thing that is new, meaning the will to receive.

Creation of the Will to Receive

The need to create the will to receive is because they interpreted that the purpose of creation was to do good to His creations. The Creator wishes to impart His goodness in order to delight the creatures, and consequently, creation must contain be a Kli (vessel) for reception of pleasure. It is impossible to receive pleasure if there is no need and lack for it, for then we do not feel any pleasure.

This is similar to a person treating his friend to a good meal, but he has no appetite and therefore cannot enjoy the meal, for only the craving for the food determines the measure of pleasure in the meal. For this reason, in order for the creatures to enjoy His gifts, He has imprinted in the creatures a nature of always wanting to receive pleasure.

This discernment that exists in a person, namely the desire to receive pleasure, is the whole of man which the Creator has created. Everything we speak of with regard to man is nothing more than the desire to receive. It was said about him that he must engage in Torah and Mitzvot (commandment), and in the future he will be granted eternal pleasure. That is, the desire to receive pleasure will be rewarded, at the end of its work, with receiving all the pleasure that the Creator contemplated giving to it.

The desire to receive was given organs to serve it, and through which it is to receive pleasure. That is, they bring it pleasure. These are the hands, legs, sight, hearing, and so forth. They are all servants, meaning that they all serve man. In other words, the will to receive is regarded as the master, and all the organs are its servants. It also has a butler, appointed over his servants, monitoring and making sure that they all work only toward the desired purpose of bringing pleasure, for it is the wish of the landlord, called the “will to receive.”

Should one of the servants be missing, the pleasure associated with that servant will be missing, too. Thus, if a person is deaf, he cannot enjoy the sound of singing. If he is anosmic (lacking the sense of smell), he cannot enjoy the fragrance of perfumes. And should he lack the intellect, which is appointed over all the servants, like the manager of the business watching over all the servants, the whole business will go awry and could inflict losses.

This is like a business owner who has many employees but a poor manager. Instead of profiting, he might lose. But the owner remains even when he has no manager, as though the manager is sick and cannot run the business, but the owner of the business is still alive.

It is likewise here. If a person has no intellect, called “servant,” but the owner is present, meaning that the desire to receive pleasure is not lost because of it, and the aspiration to enjoy remains—but lacks the ability to scrutinize—then he might sell a big pleasure in return for a small one. For example, if this mindless one is craving a sweet, and the shopkeeper tells him, “Give me ten pounds and I’ll give you the sweet,” if he is mindless, he might give him ten pounds for the sweet because he cannot evaluate the price of the sweet he wants.

Similarly, he could cause harm, break tools, and tear clothes because he thinks it will give him some sort of pleasure. Do not be surprised that there can be pleasure in harming. It is said about Aristotle, the great philosopher, that he burned a big and expensive house because he wanted to commemorate his name, meaning that his name would remain for posterity. He thought that because the mansion was a valuable thing, his name would be remembered because everyone would remember the big mansion that Aristotle burnt.

Thus, we see that people find pleasure in harming, too. Also, any deed that a mindless person does must give him pleasure, and that pleasure compels him to do some things even though they are bad, since he cannot weigh if it is worthwhile to cause great harm in return for a small pleasure.

It follows from all the above that the essence of man is the will to receive pleasure, and nothing else. That is, the mind, too, is not man’s body, but as was said above.

Concerning Work

The will to receive, which is man’s essence, is opposite from the Creator, namely that the Creator is the giver. In order to have equivalence of form, meaning that man’s actions will also be only to bestow—or the pleasures he will receive from the Creator will not be whole because he will experience shame in them, since one who receives a gift from anther is ashamed to look at his face and feels torment upon the reception of the pleasure—for this reason we were given the Torah and Mitzvot, by which we acquire a new power of wanting to bestow contentment upon the Creator. At that time he will be fit to receive all the pleasures from the Creator without any shame because he will not receive all those pleasures because he wants to enjoy, but because he is doing the Creator’s will by accepting the pleasure, as the purpose of creation was for the creatures to receive pleasure in the world. Indeed, the whole work is about achieving this degree of wanting to receive pleasure only for the purpose of a Mitzva (commandment/good deed).

I repeated the words that I said verbally so that you can remember them, for these are the very basics.

From your friend who wishes you and your family all the best,

Baruch Shalom HaLevi Ashlag

Back to top