The Nut Garden

לקוטים מזוהר (Gleanings of Zohar)

Peace by Rabbi Yehudah Ashlag (Ba’al ha-Sullam)

Ba'al ha-Sullam PortraitScientific empirical research regarding the obligation to serve the blessed Holy One

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them (Isaiah 11:6).

… And it shall come to pass in that day, that YHWH shall set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people, who shall be left, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the coastlands of the sea (ibid., 11).

“Rabbi Shim’on son of Ḥalafta said, ‘The blessed Holy One found no vessel to hold blessing for Israel but peace, as it says: May YHWH give strength to His people. May YHWH bless His people with peace (Psalms 29:11)” (M Uqtsin 3:12).

After having demonstrated in previous articles a general overview of His service, whose essence is but the love of others, defined in practice as “giving to others,” meaning that the actualization of love of others is rendering kindness to others. Love of others should be defined as giving to others, which is best suited for its content, aiming to ensure that we will not forget the purpose.

Now that we know for certain the conduct of His service, there still remains to inquire whether this service is acceptable to us in faith only, without any scientific, empirical basis, or whether we also have an empirical basis for it. This is what I want to demonstrate in the essay before us. But first I must thoroughly demonstrate the subject itself, meaning who it is who accepts our service.

However, I am not a lover of formal philosophy, since I detest theoretically based studies, and it is well known that most of my contemporaries agree with me, for we have tested such foundations, which are shaky and when the foundation moves a little, the whole building comes tumbling down.

Therefore, I have come to speak only through critique of empirical reason, starting from the simple recognition no one objects to, proving analytically (separating out the various elements in a matter), until we come to determine the supernal subject. And it will be tested synthetically (the unity and connection between matters, such as הֶקֵשׁ (heqesh), analogy, and קַל וָחוֹמֶר (qal va-ḥomer) [the exegetical principle of inference from] minor to major), how the blessed Holy One’s service is confirmed and reaffirmed by simple recognition from a practical perspective [cf. Kant, Critique of Pure Reason].

Contradictions in providence

Any reasonable person who examines the reality before us discovers in it two polar opposites. When we consider the order in Creation, with regard to its existence and endurance, our eyes behold striking evidence of guidance, profound wisdom, and great deftness, in terms of both the emergence of particular aspects of reality and ensuring its existence in a general way.

Let us take the making of a human being as an example: the love and delight of his parents is the first incentive bound to perform its function. And when the foundational drop is taken from the father’s brain, providence has very wisely arranged a safe place for it, which prepares it to receive the רוּחַ חַיִּים (ruaḥ ḥayyim), quickening breath of life. Providence allots it its daily bread in precise measure, and it also readies wonderful bedding for it in the mother’s womb so that no stranger can harm it.

It tends to its every need like a expert nanny who will not forget it even for a moment, until it has acquired the strength to emerge into our world. At that time, providence briefly lends it just enough strength to break the walls that surround it, and like a seasoned warrior it breaks an opening and emerges into the world.

Then, too, providence does not abandon it. Like a loving mother, it brings it to such loving, loyal people it can trust, called “mother” and “father” to assist it through its days of feebleness until it grows and is able to sustain itself. Like the human, so are all the animals, plants, and inanimate objects—all are cared for in wisdom and compassion, ensuring their existence and the propagation of the species.

But those who examine this reality from the perspective of provision and continued existence can plainly see tremendous confusion and chaos, as though there were no leader and no guidance. Every man did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25)—building himself on the ruin of others. The wicked thrive and the righteous are trampled mercilessly.

Bear in mind that this paradox, set before the eyes of every reasonable and educated person, has preoccupied humanity since time immemorial. And there are many approaches to account for these two apparent contradictions in providence, inhabiting the very same world.

First approach: Nature

This approach is an ancient one. Since they did not find an entry way to bring these two polar opposites closer, they came to assume that the Creator, who created all these, who mightily watches over His existence lest any of it be annulled, is not all knowing but rather foolish.

Hence, although He watches over the existence of reality with wondrous wisdom, yet He Himself is thoughtless, and does all that without purpose. If there was any reason and sensing in Him, He would certainly not leave such malfunctions in the provision of existence without pity and compassion for the tormented. For this reason, they named Him “Nature”—an unknowing, unfeeling overseer. And therefore, in their opinion there is no one to resent, pray to, or justify oneself to.

Second approach: two authorities

Others were more wise since they found it difficult to accept belief in Nature’s providence. They saw that providence is a far beyond human wisdom. They could not accept that the One who supervises all would Himself be thoughtless—for how can one give that which he does not possess? And can one instruct his fellow while he himself is a fool?

How can it be the one who sets before us acts in wondrous wisdom does not know what He is doing, but rather does so by accident? It is evident that chance cannot order any precise act, devised in wisdom, much less ensure its perpetual existence.

This is why they came to the second opinion, that there are two authorities: one creates and sustains the good, and the other creates and sustains the bad. And along their way they greatly elaborated on this with evidence and proof.

Third approach: numerous gods

This approach was derived from the approach of two authorities, since they isolated each and every act from the all-encompassing act [of Creation], that is: Power, Wealth, Domination, Beauty, Famine, Death, Chaos, and so forth. They appointed each its own overseer, and expanded this as they wished.

Fourth approach: His operation abandoned

With the increase in wisdom as of late they see the tremendous interconnection between all aspects of Creation, they realized the idea of multiple gods is totally impossible. Thus, under close examination the problem of paradox in Creation was felt once again.

This led them to a new opinion: that the Overseer is indeed wise and caring. Yet, due to His exaltedness, which is beyond conception, our world is but a mustard seed, nothing in His eyes. It is not worth His while to bother with our petty affairs, and this is why we are neglected and left to chaos, every man doing what was right in his own eyes.

Alongside these approaches, there were religious approaches of divine unity. But this is not the place to examine them, as I wanted only to examine the origins from which the flawed approaches and bewildering opinions that vastly dominated and expanded in different times and places were taken.

We find that the basis on which the aforementioned approaches were built, having emerged from the apparent paradox between the two types of providence perceived in our world, came only to bridge this great divide.

Yet, the world persists as always. And not only was that great divide not bridged it expands before our eyes into a daunting abyss, without hope of escape. And when I look at all the attempts man has made these several thousand years to no avail, from the perspective of the Overseer I wonder if we should seek to bridge this great divide at all, but rather accept that this great תִקּוּן (tiqqun), repair, is in our own hands.

The necessity to practice caution with the laws of Nature

We can all plainly see that the human species must lead a social life, meaning it cannot subsist without the help of others [cf. Aristotle, Politics: “Man is by nature a social animal”]. Therefore, picture a circumstance in which a man retires from society to a desolate place and lives there a life of misery and great suffering due to his inability to provide for his needs. That man would have no right to protest against his fate. And if he were to do that, that is complain and curse his bitter fate, he would merely be showing his own stupidity.

This is because while providence has prepared a comfortable, appealing place for him in society, he has no justification to remove himself to a desolate place. Such a man should not be pitied, since he is going against the nature of Creation; since he has counsel to live as providence has decreed, he should not be pitied. That decree is agreed upon by all of humanity without dissent.

And I emphasize it on a religious basis, giving it the form of law: since providence emanates from the Creator, who undoubtedly acts with purpose, and since there is no action without intention, we find that anyone who violates חוּקִי הַטֶבַע (ḥuqi ha-teva), the Laws of Nature, הַטבִּיעַ (hatbi’a), embedded, in us, ruins the plan [of Creation].

Because that plan is undoubtedly built into all the Laws of Nature, none excluded, just as the wise laborer does not add or subtract even a hairsbreadth of the necessary effort to carry out his plan, he who alters even a single law ruins the Creator’s plan, and will therefore be punished by nature. Hence, we, too, creatures of the blessed Holy One must not pity such a man because he is violates the Laws of Nature and ruins the divine plan. That, in my opinion, is the form of the law.

And I think it isn’t worthwhile for anyone to disagree with the form I have given to the law, because the words of the law are one. For in the end what is the difference if we say that the Overseer is blind “Nature,” or that the Overseer is wise, wonderful, knowing, feeling, and whose acts have intention?

In the end, we all admit that we are obligated to keep the commandments of providence, meaning the Laws of Nature. And we all admit that one who violates the commandments of providence, meaning the Laws of Nature, must be punished by Nature, and should not be pitied by anyone. Look, the nature of the law is one in the same, and the only difference is in the motivation: in their opinion it is [merely] necessary, while for me it is by design [lit., my intention].

To avoid having to use both expressions—טֶבַע (teva), Nature, and מַשׁגִיחַ (mashgiaḥ), Overseer, in which there is no difference, as I have shown with respect to following the laws—from now on it is best for us to meet halfway and accept the words of the kabbalists that הַטֶבַע (ha-teva), Nature, is numerically equivalent to אֱלֹהִים (Elohim), God—eighty-six [and this serves as a mnemonic, see Rabbi Avraham Abulafia, Get ha-Shemot, 101b (Ms Oxford, 1682); Rabbi Ḥayyim Luzzatto, Da’at ha-Tevunot; Idel, Deus Sive Natura—the Metamorphosis of a Dictum from Maimonides to Spinoza]. Then, I am able to call חוּקִי אֱלֹהִים (ḥuqi Elohim), the Laws of God, מִצְווֹת הַטֶבַע‎ (mitsvot ha-teva), the commandments of Nature, and vice-versa, for they are one and the same, and we need not discuss it further [cf. Philo, A Treatise on the Life of Moses, 2:12–14; De Mundi Opificio, 3; Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed, 2:40].

Now it is critically important for us to examine Nature’s commandments, to know what She demands of us, lest She punish us mercilessly. We have said that Nature obligates the human species to lead a social life, and this is simple. But we must examine the commandments that Nature obligates us to keep, with respect to the social life.

In general, we find that there are only two commandments to follow in society. These can be called קְבָּלָה (qabbalah), “receiving,” and הַשְׁפִּיעַ (hashpi’a), “giving.” This means that each fellow must, by nature, receive his needs from society and must benefit society through his work for its well-being. And if one violates one of these two commandments, he will be mercilessly punished, as we said.

Now, we need not examine the commandment of receiving excessively, since the punishment is carried out immediately, preventing any neglect. But with the other commandment, that of giving to society, not only is the punishment not immediate, but it is administered indirectly. Therefore, this commandment is not kept properly.

Thus, humanity is scorched by the fire of a pot boiling over furiously, and war and famine and their consequences have so far not ceased. And the amazing thing about it is that Nature, like a skillful judge, punishes us according to our development. For we can see that to the same degree the human species develops, so too the torments and suffering involved in the acquisition of our provisions for our subsistence also proliferate.

Thus you have a scientific, empirical basis that His providence has commanded us to keep with all our might the commandment of giving to others in utter precision, in such a way that no fellow from among us would work any less than the measure required to secure the happiness of society and its success. And as long as we are idle in fulfilling this, Nature will not refrain from punishing and taking revenge against us.

And besides the blows we suffer today, we must also take into account the sword drawn for the future. Here the correct conclusion must be made—that Nature will ultimately triumph and we will all be forced to join hands in following Her commandments to the degree required of us.

Proof of His service by experience

But he who wishes to criticize my words might still ask, “Although so far you have proven that one must work to benefit people, where is the proof that it must be done for the blessed Holy One?”

Indeed, history itself has troubled in our favor and has prepared for us an established fact, sufficient for a full appreciation and unequivocal conclusion: anyone can see how a large society like the state of Russia, with hundreds of millions in population, more land than the whole of Europe, second to none in wealth of raw materials, and which has already agreed to lead a communal life and practically abolished private property altogether, where each worries only about the wellbeing of society, has seemingly acquired to the utmost degree the virtue of giving to others in the deepest sense, as far as the human mind can grasp.

And yet, go and see what has become of them. Instead of rising and exceeding the achievements of the bourgeois states, they sink ever lower. Now, they not only fail to benefit the lives of the workers a little more than in the bourgeois countries, they cannot even secure their daily bread or clothe their bare flesh. Indeed, this is shocking to us, because judging by the wealth of that country and its large population, it should not have come to this.

But this nation has erred with one offence the blessed Holy One will not forgive. For all this precious and exalted work, namely giving to others, which they have undertook, must be for the blessed Holy One and not for humanity. And because they serve, but not for His sake, from Nature’s perspective, they have no right to exist.

Try to imagine if every person in that society were anxious to keep the commandment of the blessed Holy One to the extent of the verse: And you shall love YHWH your God with all your heart and with all your being and with all your might (Deuteronomy 6:4), and to that extent each would rush to satisfy the needs and wants of his fellow to the utmost degree as it is man’s nature to satisfy his own wants, as is written, love your fellow as yourself (Leviticus 19:18).

If the blessed Holy One Himself were the aim of every worker while working for the well-being of society, meaning that the worker would anticipate that this service to society would reward him with cleaving with Him, the source of all truth and goodness and every sweetness and tenderness, there is no doubt that within a few years they would soar in wealth over all the countries of the world put together. That is because then they would be able to utilize the raw materials in their rich soil, would truly be an example for all the countries, and would be called blessed by the blessed Holy One.

But when all the work of giving to others is based solely on the benefit of society, it is a shaky foundation, for who and what would obligate the individual to toil for society? In a dry, lifeless principle, one can never hope to find motivation even among developed people, much less for undeveloped people. Thus arises the question, “Where would the worker or the farmer find sufficient motivation to work?”

For his daily bread will not increase or decrease according to his efforts, and there are no goals or rewards awaiting him. It is well known to researchers of Nature that one cannot perform even the slightest movement without motivation, without somehow benefiting himself.

When, for example, one moves his hand from the chair to the table, it is only because he thinks that by putting his hand on the table he will enjoy it more. If he did not think so, he would leave his hand on the chair for the rest of his life without moving it at all. All the more so with greater efforts.

And if you say that there is a solution—to place them under supervision so that anyone who is idle at his work will be punished by withholding his salary, I will ask, “Do tell me where the supervisors themselves should take the motivation for their work?” Because standing at one place and watching over people to motivate them to work is a great effort, too, perhaps more than the work itself! Therefore, it is like one wishes to switch on a machine without powering it.

Hence, they are doomed by Nature, since the Laws of Nature will punish them because they do not conform to Her decrees—performing these acts of giving to others in the form of serving the blessed Holy One, in order to attain the purpose of Creation, which is cleaving with Him. It was explained in the article Matan Torah, that this cleaving comes to the one who labors in the manner of His sweet and delightful abundance, increasing to the desired degree for ascending to apprehend the truth of the blessed Holy One, until he is rewarded with what is hinted at by: Neither has the eye seen, O God, besides you, [what He has prepared for him that waits for Him] (Isaiah 64:4).

And imagine the farmer and the worker were so inspired while serving the well-being of society, they would certainly not need any supervisors, since they would already have sufficient motivation for a great effort, enough to raise society to the heights of happiness.

But the truth is that understanding this in such a way requires great care and proven conducts [or: faithful arrangement]. But everyone can see that without it they have no right to exist from the perspective of unyielding Nature, which knows no compromise, and this is what I wanted to demonstrate here.

Thus, I have shown from the perspective of empirical reason—from the actual history unfolding before our very eyes—that there is no other cure for humanity but to accept the commandment of providence: giving to others in order to please the blessed Holy One to the degree of two verses.

First: love your fellow as yourself (Leviticus 19:18), which is the quality of the service itself. This means that to the extent one endeavors to give to others for the betterment of society should be no less than the extent he naturally cares for his own needs. Moreover, he should put his fellow’s needs before his own, as is written in the article, Matan Torah.

Then: And you shall love YHWH your God with all your heart and with all your being and with all your might (Deuteronomy 6:4). This is the goal that must be before everyone’s eyes when serving his fellow’s needs. This means that he labors and toils only to find favor in the eyes of the Creator—that He speak and they perform His will.

If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land (Isaiah 1:19)—for poverty and suffering and exploitation shall be no more in the land, and the happiness of each and every one shall soar ever higher, beyond measure. But as long as you refuse to assume the covenant of serving the blessed Holy One to the utmost degree, Laws of Nature stand ready to exact revenge. And as we have explained, He will not relent until He defeats us and we accept His authority, in whatever He commands.

And here I have given you actual scientific research according to the critique of empirical reason regarding the absolute necessity of all people to assume the service of the blessed Holy One with all their heart, soul, and might.

Clarification of a saying from the Mishnah

Now that we have learned all the above, we can understand a statement which is unclear: “[Rabbi Akiva] used to say: All is given on collateral, and a net is spread over all the living. The shop is open, the shopkeeper extends credit, the ledger is open, and the hand records. Whoever wishes to borrow may come and borrow. The collectors regularly make their daily rounds and collect payment from a person, whether he realizes it or not. They have [a record] on which they can rely; the judgment is just; and all is prepared for the banquet” (M Avot 3:20).

Not for nothing does this parable remain hidden to us, without even a hint as to its meaning. This tells us that there is a great depth to delve into here. Indeed, it is well understood according to the knowledge we have acquired thus far.

The wheel of transformation

First, let me present the opinion of our sages concerning the unfolding of the generations of the world: although we see the bodies changing from generation to generation, this is only the case with the bodies. But the souls, which are the essence of the body’s self, do not vanish, to be replaced, but move from body to body, from generation to generation. The same souls that were at the time of the flood came also during the time of Babylon, and in the exile in Egypt, and in the exodus from Egypt, and so forth, until this generation and until the end of correction [see BT Shabbat 152b; Bahir §121–22, §195].

Thus, in our world, there are no new souls the way bodies are renewed, but only a certain amount of souls that cycle on the wheel of transformation, because each time they enclothe in a new body and a new generation.

Therefore, with regard to the souls, all generations since the beginning of Creation to the final correction are like one generation that has extended its life over several thousand years, until it developed and was corrected as it should be. And the fact that in the meantime each has exchanged its body thousands of times is completely irrelevant, because the essence of the body’s self, called “the soul,” does not suffer at all by these changes.

And there is much evidence pointing to this, and a great wisdom called “the mystery of גִלגוּל הַנְשָׁמוֹת (gilgul ha-neshamot), cycling souls.” And while this is not the place to explain it, because of the great importance of the matter, it is worthwhile to point out to the uninformed that cycling souls occurs in all the objects of tangible reality, and each object, in its own way, lives eternal life.

Although our senses tell us that everything is transient, this is only how we see it. In fact, here there are only cycles—no object is still, nor does it rest for even a moment, rather it cycles on the wheel of transformation, losing nothing of its essence along its way, as physicists have shown.

And now we come to clarify: “All is given on collateral.” This has been compared to someone who lends money to his fellow in order to make him a partner in the profit. To make sure that he doesn’t lose his money, he gives it to him as collateral, and thus he is free of any uncertainty. The same applies to the creation of the world and its existence, which the blessed Holy One has prepared for humanity to engage in and to eventually attain through it the exalted intention of cleaving with Him, as is explained in Matan Torah. Thus, one must wonder, who would compel humanity to engage in His service, until they finally come to this exalted end?

Rabbi Akiva informs us about that: “All is given on collateral.” This means that everything that the blessed Holy One placed in Creation and has given to people, He did not give to them for free, but secured Himself with collateral. And should you wonder what collateral He was given? He replies: “and a net is spread over all the living.” This means that the blessed Holy One has cleverly devised a wonderful net and spread it over all of humanity, so no one will escape. All the living must be caught in this net and inevitably accept His service, until they attain their sublime purpose. This is the collateral with which the blessed Holy One secured Himself, to guarantee that no harm would come to the act of Creation.

Afterwards, he interprets it in detail and says, “The shop is open.” Meaning that this world seems to us like an open shop, without a shopkeeper, and anyone who passes through may take as much as he wishes, free of charge. However, Rabbi Akiva warns us that the shopkeeper sells on credit. In other words, although you cannot see any shopkeeper here, know that there is a shopkeeper, and the reason that he is not demanding payment is because he sells to you on credit.

And should you say, “How does He know what I owe?” He replies, “The ledger is open, and the hand records.” Meaning there is a book in which each act is written without fail. And the purpose revolves around the law of development that the blessed Holy One has embedded in humanity, which drives us ever forward.

This means that corrupt leadership in the states of humanity are the very ones that generate the good states. And each good state is nothing but the fruit of the labor in the bad state which preceded it. Indeed, these values of good and bad do not refer to the value of the state itself, but to the general purpose: each state that brings humanity closer to the purpose [of Creation] is called “good,” and one that distances them from the purpose is called “bad.”

By this standard alone the “law of development” is built—the corruption and wickedness that arises in a state are considered the cause of the good state, so that each state lasts just long enough to cultivate the evil in it to such a degree that the public can no longer tolerate it. At that time, the public is forced to join against it, uproot it, and regroup in a better state for the restoration of that generation.

And the new state, too, lasts just as long as the sparks of wickedness in it ripen and reach such a degree that they can no longer be tolerated, at which time it must be destroyed and a more peaceful state is built in its stead. And so the states clear up one by one and rung by rung until they come to such a restored state that it is without any sparks of wickedness.

And you discover that all the seeds from which the good states grow are only the corrupt deeds themselves, meaning that all the wickedness laid bare from under the hands of the wicked of the generation merge and accrue a great sum, until they weigh so heavily that the public can no longer bear them. Then, they rise up and demolish it and create a more desirable state. Thus you see that all the wickedness done becomes the driving force by which the good state is developed.

These are the words of Rabbi Akiva: “The ledger is open, and the hand records.” Any state that the generation is in is like a book, and all the wicked ones are as writing hands because each evil is carved and written in the book until they accrue an amount that the public can no longer bear. Then, they demolish that wicked state and regroup into a more desirable state. Thus, each and every act is calculated and written in the book, meaning in the state.

And he says, “Whoever wishes to borrow may come and borrow.” This means that he believes that this world is not like an open shop without shopkeeper, but that there is an owner present, a shopkeeper who stands in his shop and demands of each customer the right price for the merchandise he takes from the shop, meaning toiling in His service while he is nourished by that shop, in a manner that is certain to deliver him to the purpose of Creation, as He desires.

Such a person is regarded as he who wishes to borrow. Thus, even before he reaches out his hand to take from this world, which is the shop, he promises to faithfully repay his debt. In other words, he takes it upon himself to labor in order to attain His desire during the time he is supported by the shop, in a way that he promises to pay his debt by achieving the desired goal. Therefore, he is deemed as one who wishes to borrow, meaning that he pledges to return the debt.

Such a person is regarded as one who wishes to borrow. Thus, even before he stretches his hand to take from this world, “the shop,” he takes it on credit. In other words, he takes it upon himself to labor in order to attain His desire during the time he is supported by the shop—he promises to repay his debt by laboring for the purpose [of Creation]. Therefore, he is deemed one who wants to take purchase on credit.

Rabbi Akiva portrays two types of people: the first are “the shop is open” type, which regard this world as an open shop without shopkeeper. Of them he says, “The ledger is open, and the hand records.” Meaning, although they do not see that there is an account, all their actions are nonetheless written in the book, as explained above. This is according to the law of development embedded in Creation against humanity’s will, in which the deeds of the wicked themselves necessarily give rise to the good deeds, as we have shown above.

The second type of person is called “whoever wishes to borrow.” They take the shopkeeper into consideration, and when they take something from the shop, they only take it on credit. They promise to repay the shopkeeper the fixed price, meaning to attain the purpose [of Creation] by it. And of them he says, “Whoever wishes to borrow may come and borrow.”

And if you say, “What is the difference between the first type, in which the purpose [of Creation] comes to them according to the law of development, and the other type, in which the purpose [of Creation] comes to them by enslaving themselves to His service? Are they not equal in attaining the goal?!”

In that regard, he continues, “The collectors regularly make their daily rounds and collect payment from a person, whether he realizes it or not.” Thus, in truth, both give their daily payments of the debt.

And just as the forces that emerge by engaging in His service are deemed faithful collectors, who collect their debt incrementally each day, until it is paid in full, the mighty forces embedded in the law of development are also deemed faithful collectors who collect on their debt. This is the meaning of, “The collectors regularly make their daily rounds and collect payment from a person.”

However, there is a great difference and distance between them, meaning “whether he realizes it or not.” The first type pay their debt unknowingly, but storming waves crash upon them from the strong wind of development, driving them from behind, forcing them to advance.

Thus, their debt is collected against their will and with great suffering through manifestations of the forces of evil, which drive them from behind. But the second type pay their debt, which is the attainment of the purpose [of Creation] knowingly, of their own accord, by repeating the deeds which hasten the development of the sense of recognition of evil. And through this labor they gain doubly.

The first gain that these forces, which manifest from His service, are set before them as a magnetic force. They chase after it of their own free choice, with the spirit of love. Needless to say, they are free from any kind of sorrow and suffering like the first type.

The second gain is that they hasten the purpose [of Creation], for they are the righteous and the prophets who attain the goal in each generation, as is explained in the essay, Mahutah shel ḥokhmat ha-qabbalah (The Essence of the Wisdom of Kabbalah), in, Al mah sovevet ha-ḥokhmah (What Does the Wisdom Revolve Around?).

“All is given on collateral, and a net is spread over all the living. The shop is open, the shopkeeper extends credit, the ledger is open, and the hand records. Whoever wishes to borrow may come and borrow. The collectors regularly make their daily rounds and collect payment from a person, whether he realizes it or not. They have [a record] on which they can rely; the judgment is just; and all is prepared for the banquet.”

Thus you see that there is a great difference between those who pay knowingly and those who pay unknowingly, as the profit of the light of sweet delight over the darkness of pain and suffering. As he says: “They have [a record] on which they can rely.” In other words, he promises all those who pay knowingly and willingly that they have what to rely on, that there is great strength in His service to bring them to the sublime purpose [of Creation], and it is worthwhile for them to harness themselves under His burden.

And of those who pay unknowingly, he says, “the judgment is just.” Seemingly, one must wonder why providence permits corruption and suffering to manifest in the world, in which humanity is being scorched mercilessly.

He says about it that this “the judgment is just,” since “all is prepared for the banquet,” for the true intention. And the sublime delight that is destined to emerge with the revelation of His purpose in Creation, when all the trouble and toil and anguish that befall us through time will seem like a host who troubles himself greatly to prepare a great feast for the invited guests. And he compares the anticipated end that must finally be revealed to a banquet, whose guests attend with great pleasure. This is why he says, “the judgment is just; and all is prepared for the banquet.”

Such as that you will find regarding the creation of man:

The ministering angels said to the blessed Holy One: “Master of the Universe! What is man that You should note him, and the human creature, that You pay him heed? (Psalms 8:5). This trouble, for what has it been created?” He said to them, “If so sheep and oxen all together (ibid., 8), why were they created; why were birds of the heavens and fish of the sea (ibid., 9) created? A tower full of good things and no guests—what pleasure has its owner in having filled it?” They said to Him: “Master of the Universe! YHWH our Master, how majestic Your name in all the earth! (ibid., 10). Do what pleases You!” (Bereshit Rabbah 8:6).

Interpretation: The ministering angels who saw all the pain and suffering that was to befall humanity wondered “Why do You need this trouble?” And the blessed Holy One replied to them that indeed he had a tower full of good things, but only humanity was invited to it. And of course, the ministering angels weighed the pleasures in that tower, awaiting its guests, against the suffering and trouble that awaited humanity.

And once they saw that it was worthwhile for humanity to suffer for the good that awaited them, they agreed to the creation of man, just as Rabbi Akiva said, “the judgment is just; and all is prepared for the banquet.” Since the beginning of Creation, all people have had doubts but the thought of the blessed Holy One imposes on them to come to the banquet, knowingly or unknowingly.

And now all will see the truth in the words of the prophet in the prophecy of peace: The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid (Isaiah 11:6). And he reasoned: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of YHWH, as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:9).

Thus, the prophet makes filling the whole world with knowledge of the blessed Holy One a condition for peace in the world, just as we have said above. The egoistic resistance between man and man deteriorate will not cease from the world by any human counsel or tactic, whatever it may be.

Our eyes see how the destitute turn over in dreadful, intolerable suffering, and humanity has already veered to the extreme right, as with Germany, or to the extreme left, as with Russia. But not only have they not eased the situation for themselves, they have worsened the plague and suffering, and the tulmult reaches up to the sky, as we all know.

Thus, they have no other choice but to accept His burden in knowledge of the blessed Holy One, meaning that they bend their actions to the will of the blessed Holy One and to His purpose, as He planned for them before Creation. And when they do that, it is plain to see that with His service, all envy and hatred will be abolished from humanity, as I have shown above. This is because then all members of humanity will unite into one body and one heart, full of the knowledge of the blessed Holy One. Thus, world peace and the knowledge of Him are one and the same thing.

Immediately following, the prophet says, And it shall come to pass in that day, that YHWH shall set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people…and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth (Isaiah 11:11–12). Thus we learn that world peace comes before the ingathering of the exiles.

Now you can understand the words of our sages: Rabbi Shim’on son of Ḥalafta said, “The blessed Holy One found no vessel to hold blessing for Israel but peace, as it says: May YHWH give strength to His people. May YHWH bless His people with peace (Psalms 29:11)” (M Uqtsin 3:12). Seemingly, one should wonder about this, “vessel to hold blessing for Israel.” Moreover, how does one draw that conclusion from these words?

But these words become clear to them like the prophecy of Isaiah that world peace precedes the ingathering of the exiles. This is it says, May YHWH give strength to His people—that in the future, when the blessed Holy One gives His people strength, meaning everlasting revival, then: May YHWH bless His people with peace. This means that He will first bless His people, Israel, with peace the world over, and then He shall set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people.

Our sages said about the reason for the words: the blessing of peace in the whole world precedes the strength, meaning the redemption, because “The blessed Holy One found no vessel to hold blessing for Israel but peace.” Thus, as long as self-interest and egoism exist among the nations, the Children of Israel, too, will not be able to serve the blessed Holy One on the side of purity in the matter of giving to others, as is written, And as for you, you will become for Me a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:6), in the essay, Ha-Arvut. And we see it from experience, for coming to the Land and building the Temple can not be maintained in order to receive the blessings the blessed Holy One has sworn to our Patriarchs.

And this is why they said, “The blessed Holy One found no vessel to hold blessing for Israel but peace,” meaning until this time Israel has no vessel to hold the blessing of the Patriarchs. Therefore, the promise that we inherit the Land for all eternity has not yet been fulfilled, because world peace is the sole vessel that enables us to receive the blessing of the Patriarchs, as in the prophecy of Isaiah.


Freedom by Rabbi Yehudah Ashlag (Ba’al ha-Sullam)

Ba'al ha-Sullam PortraitInscribed on the tablets (Exodus 32:16). Do not read חָרוּת (ḥarut), inscribed, but rather חֵרוּת (ḥerut), freedom—they are liberated from the Angel of Death” (Shemot Rabbah 41:7). These words need to be clarified, because how is the matter of receiving the Torah related to one’s liberation from death? Furthermore, once they have attained an eternal body that cannot die due to receiving the Torah, how did they lose it again? Can the eternal become absent?

חֵרוּת הרָצוֹן (Ḥerut ha-ratson), free will

To understand the sublime matter of “liberation from the Angel of Death,” we must first understand the matter of freedom as it is normally understood by all of humanity.

It is a general view that freedom is deemed a natural law, which applies to all of life. Thus, we see that animals that fall into captivity die when we rob them of their freedom. This is a true testimony that providence does not accept the enslavement of any creature. It is with good reason that humanity has been struggling for the past several hundred years to obtain a certain measure of freedom of the individual.

Yet, this concept, expressed in that word, “freedom,” remains unclear, and if we delve into the meaning of that word, there will be almost nothing left. For before you seek the freedom of the individual, you must assume that any individual, in and of itself, possesses that quality called “freedom,” meaning that one can act according to one’s own freedom of choice.

Pleasure and pain

However, when we examine the acts of an individual, we shall find them compulsory. He is compelled to do them and has no freedom of choice. In a sense, he is like a stew cooking on a stove; it has no choice but to cook. And it must cook because providence has harnessed life with two chains: pleasure and pain [cf. Freud, Eros and Death].

The living creatures have no בְּחִירָה חָפְשִׁית (beḥirah ḥafshit), freedom of choice [or: right to choose]—to choose pain or reject pleasure. [Man’s advantage over the beast is naught (Ecclesiastes 3:19)]. Yet, man’s advantage over the beast is that he can aim at a distant goal, meaning to agree to a certain amount of pain today by choice, for future benefit or pleasure, attained only after some time.

But in fact, there is no more than a seemingly commercial calculation here, where the future benefit or pleasure seems preferable and advantageous to the agony they are suffering from the pain they have agreed to assume presently. There is only a matter of deduction here—that they deduct the pain and suffering from the anticipated pleasure, and there remains some surplus.

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

And when all is said and done, there is no difference here between man and animal [cf. Ecclesiastes]. And if that is the case, there is no freedom of choice whatsoever, but a pulling force, drawing them toward any bypassing pleasure and rejecting them from painful circumstances. And providence leads them to every place it chooses by means of these two forces, without asking their opinion in the matter.

Moreover, even determining the type of pleasure and benefit are entirely out of one’s own freedom of choice, but follow the will of others, as they want, and not he. For example: I sit, I dress, I speak, and I eat. I do all these not because I want to sit that way, or talk that way, or dress that way, or eat that way, but because others want me to sit, dress, talk, and eat that way. It all follows the desire and fancy of society, not my own freedom of choice.

Furthermore, in most cases, I do all these against my will. For I would be a lot more comfortable behaving simply, without any burden. But I am chained with iron shackles, in all my movements, to the fancies and manners of others, which make up the society [cf. Freud, Civilization and its Discontents].

So you tell me, where is my free will? On the other hand, if we assume that the will has no freedom, then we are all like machines, operating and creating through external forces, which force them to act this way. This means that we are all incarcerated in the prison of providence, which, using these two chains, pleasure and pain, pushes and pulls us to its will, to where it sees fit.

It turns out that there is no such thing as selfishness in the world, since no one here is free or stands on his own two feet. I am not the owner of the act, and I am not the performer because I want to perform, but I am performed upon, in a compulsory manner, and without my awareness. Thus, reward and punishment become extinct.

And it is quite odd not only for the orthodox, who believe in His providence and can rely on Him and trust that He aims only for the best in this conduct. It is even stranger for those who believe in nature, since according to the above, we are all incarcerated by the chains of blind nature, with no awareness or accountability. And we, the chosen species, with reason and knowledge, have become a toy in the hands of the blind nature, which leads us astray, and who knows where?

The law of causality

It is worthwhile taking some time to grasp such an important thing, meaning how we exist in the world as beings with a “self,” where each of us regards himself a unique entity, acting on its own, independent of external, foreign, and unknown forces. And does this being—the self—appear to us?

It is true that there is a general connection among all the elements of reality before us, which abide by the law of causality, by way of cause and effect, moving forward. And as the whole, so is each item for itself, meaning that each and every creature in the world from the four categories—mineral, vegetable, animal, and human—abides by the statute of causality by way of cause and effect.

Moreover, each particular form of a particular behavior, by which a creature is led while in this world, is propelled by ancient causes, pushed to accept that change in that behavior and not another whatsoever. And this is apparent to all who examine the ways of nature from a pure scientific point of view and without a shred of bias. Indeed, we must analyze this matter to allow ourselves to examine it from all sides.

Four factors

Bear in mind that every emergence occurring in the beings of the world must be perceived not as emanating something from nothing, but as something from something, through an actual entity that has shed its previous form and has enclothed in its current one.

Therefore, we must understand that with every emergence in the world there are four factors that together give rise to that emergence. They are called by the names:

  1. The source
  2.  The unchanging conduct of cause and effect, related to the source’s own quality
  3. Its internal conduct of cause and effect, which change by contact with external forces
  4. The conducts of cause and effect of external forces, which affect it from the outside

I will clarify them one at a time:

First reason: the source

The “source” is the first matter, related to that being. For there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9), and anything that happens in our world is not something from nothing, but something from something. It is an entity that has stripped off its former shape and taken on another form, different from the first. And that entity, which shed its previous form, is defined as “the source.” In it lies the potential destined to be revealed and determined at the end of the formation of that emergence [cf. BT Menaḥot 29a: “All was given to Moses at Sinai”]. Therefore, clearly, this is considered its primary cause.

Second reason: cause and effect that stem from itself

This is a conduct of cause and effect, related to the source’s own quality, and which is unchanging. Take, for example, a stalk of wheat that has rotted in the ground and arrived at a state of sowing many stalks of wheat. Thus, that rotten state is deemed the “source,” meaning that the essence of the wheat has stripped off its former shape, the shape of wheat, and has taken on a new aspect, that of rotten wheat, which is the seed, called “the source,” which has no shape at all. Now, after rotting in the ground, it has become fit for enclothing in another form, the form of many stalks of wheat, intended to emerge from that source, which is the seed.

It is known to all that this source is destined to become neither cereal nor oats, but only equalize with its former shape, which has left it, being the single stalk of wheat. And although it changes to a certain degree in quality and quantity, for in the former shape it was a single stalk and now there are ten stalks, and in taste and appearance, too, the essence of the shape of the wheat remains unchanged.

Thus, there is a conduct of cause and effect here, ascribed to the source’s own quality, which never changes. Thus, cereal will never emerge from wheat, as we have said, and this is called “second reason.”

Third reason: cause and effect

This is the conduct of the internal cause and effect of the source, which change upon encountering the alien forces in its environment. Thus, we find that from one stalk of wheat, which rots in the ground, many stalks emerge, sometimes larger and better wheat than prior to sowing.

Therefore, there must be additional factors involved here, collaborating and connecting with the force concealed in the environment, meaning the “source.” And because of that, the additions in quality and quantity, which were absent in the previous form of wheat, have now appeared. Those are the minerals and the materials in the ground, the rain and the sun. All these act on it by administering from their forces and joining the force within the source itself. And through the conduct of cause and effect, they have produced the multiplicity in quantity and quality of that emergence.

We must understand that this third factor joins with the internality of the source, since the force hidden in the source controls them. In the end, all these changes belong to the wheat and to no other plant. Hence, we define them as internal factors. However, they differ from the second factor, which is utterly unchanging, whereas the third factor changes in both quality and quantity.

Fourth reason: cause and effect through external forces

This is a conduct of cause and effect of external forces that act upon it from the outside. In other words, they have no direct relation to the wheat, like minerals, rain, or sun, but are external to it, for example nearby things or external phenomena, such as hail, wind, and so forth.

And you find that four forces adhere in the wheat throughout its growth. Each particular state that the wheat is subject to during that time becomes conditioned on the four of them, and the quality and quantity of each state is determined by them. And as we have portrayed in the wheat, so is the rule in every emergence in the world, even in thoughts and ideas.

If, for example, we imagine some conceptual state in a certain individual, such as the state of being religious or nonreligious, or extremely orthodox or not so extreme, or midway, we will understand that that state is determined in that person by the above four factors.

Hereditary traits

The cause of the first factor is the source, which is its first substance. Man is formed something from something, meaning from the minds of its progenitors. Thus, to a certain extent, it is like copying from book to book. This means that almost all the convictions that were accepted and attained in the fathers and forefathers are reproduced here, as well [see BT Baba Metsi’a 85a, cf. Nedarim 81a; Genesis 30:32-43].

But the difference is that they are in an abstract form, much like the sowed wheat, which is not fit for sowing until it has rotted and shed its former shape. So is the case with the drop of semen from which man is conceived: there is nothing in it of its ancestor’s shapes, only abstract force.

For the same ideas that were convictions in his ancestors have become mere inclinations in him, called “instincts” or “habits,” without even knowing why one does what he does. Indeed, they are hidden forces he inherits from his ancestors in such a way that not only do material possessions come to us through inheritance from our ancestors, but the spiritual possessions and all the convictions that our fathers engaged in also come to us by inheritance from generation to generation.

And from here surface the manifold inclinations that we find in people, such as a inclination to believe or to criticize, a inclination to settle for material life or desiring only ideas, despising a life without aspirations, stingy, yielding, insolent, or shy.

All these images that appear in people are not their own property, which they have acquired, but mere inheritance that had been given to them by their ancestors. It is known that there is a special place in the brain where these hereditaments reside [cf. Ibn Ezra, Perush al ha-Torah on Exodus 31:3, cf. Posidonius of Byzantium, Aetius, 1534, 1549, 6:2: “Imagination is due to the forepart of the brain, reason to the middle ventricle, and memory to the hind part of the brain”]. It is called, medulla oblongata (the elongated brain), or the ‘subconscious,’ and all the drives appear there.

But because the convictions of our ancestors, acquired through their experiences, have become mere inclinations in us, they are considered the same as the sowed wheat, which has taken off its former shape and remained bare, having only potential forces worthy of receiving new forms. In our matter, these inclinations will enclothe the forms of convictions. This is considered the first substance, and this is the primary factor, called “source.” In it reside all the forces of the unique inclinations one inherits from his progenitors, which are defined as “ancestral heritage.”

Bear in mind that some of these inclinations come in a negative form, meaning the opposite of the ones that were in his ancestors. This is why they said, “All that is hidden in the father’s heart is openly revealed in the son.” 

The reason for it is that the source takes off its former shape in order to take on a new form. Hence, it is close to losing the shapes of the convictions of his ancestors, like the wheat that rots in the ground loses the shape that existed in the wheat. However, it still depends on the other three factors.

Influence of the environment

The second reason is an unchanging, direct conduct of cause and effect, related to the source’s own quality. Meaning, as we have clarified with the wheat that rots in the ground, the environment in which the source rests, such as soil, minerals, and rain, air, and the sun affect the sowing by a long chain of cause and effect in a long and gradual process, state by state, until they ripen.

And the source retakes its former shape, the shape of wheat, but differing in quality and quantity. In their general aspect, they remain completely unchanged; hence, no cereal or oats will grow from it. But in their particular aspect, they change in quantity, as from one stalk emerge a dozen or two dozen stalks, and in quality, as they are better or worse than the former shape of the wheat.

It is the same here: man, as a “source,” is placed in an environment, meaning in the society. And he is necessarily affected by it, as the wheat from its environment, for the source is but a raw form. Thus, through the constant contact with the environment and the society, he is gradually impressed by them through a chain of consecutive states, one by one, as cause and effect.

At that time, the inclinations included in his source are changed and take on the form of convictions. For example, if one inherits from his ancestors an inclination towards stinginess, as he grows he builds for himself convictions and ideas that conclude decisively that it is good for a person to be stingy. Thus, although his father was generous, he can inherit from him the negative inclination—to be stingy, for the absence is just as much an inheritance as the presence.

Or, if one inherits from one’s ancestors an inclination to be open-minded, he builds for himself ideas, and draws from them conclusions that it is good for a person to be open-minded. But where does one find those sentences and reasons? One takes all that from his environment unknowingly, for they impart to him their views and preferences in the form of gradual cause and effect.

Hence, man regards them as his own possession, which he acquired through his free thought. But here, too, as with the wheat, there is one unchanging part of the source, which is that in the end, the inclinations he had inherited remain as they were in his ancestors. And this is called “the second factor.”

Habit becomes second nature

The third reason is a conduct of direct cause and effect, which affect the source and change it. Because the inherited inclinations in man have become convictions, due to the environment, they operate in the same directions that these convictions define. For example, a man of frugal nature, in whom the inclination for stinginess has been turned into a concept, through the environment, perceives frugality through some reasonable definition.

Let us assume that with this conduct, he protects himself from needing others. Thus, he has acquired a measure of frugality, and when that fear is absent, he can waive it. Thus, he has substantially changed for the better from the inclination he had inherited from his ancestors. And sometimes one manages to completely uproot a bad inclination. This is done by habit, which has the potential of becoming second nature.

In that, the strength of man is greater than that of a plant. For wheat can change only in its private part, whereas man has the ability to change through the cause and effect of the environment, even in the general parts, that is, to completely uproot an inclination and invert it.

External forces

The fourth reason is a conduct of cause and effect that affects the source by things that are completely foreign to it, and act on it externally. This means that these things are not at all related to the source’s growth conduct, to affect it directly, but rather act indirectly. For example, monetary issues, burdens, or the winds, and so forth, have their own complete, slow, and gradual progression of states by way of cause and effect, and change man’s convictions for better or for worse.

Thus, I have established the four natural factors of each and every thought and idea that appears in us is but their fruit. And even if one were to sit and contemplate something all day long, he would not be able to add or alter what those four factors impart to him. Anything he can add is only in quantity; whether a great intellect or a small one. But in quality, he cannot add one bit. This is because they are the ones that compellingly determine the nature and shape of the idea and the conclusion, without asking our opinion. Thus, we are at the hands of these four factors, as clay in the hands of a potter.

בְּחִירָה חָפְשִׁית (Be-irah afshit), freedom of choice

However, when we examine these four factors, we find that although our strength is not enough to face the first factor, the “source,” we still have the capacity and the freedom of choice to protect ourselves against the other three factors, by which the source changes in its individual parts, and sometimes in its general part, as well, through habit, which endows it with a second nature.

The environment as a factor

This protection means that we can always supplement in the matter of choosing our environment, which are the companions, books, teachers, and so on. It is like a person who inherited a few stalks of wheat from his father. From this small amount, he can grow dozens of stalks through his choice of the environment for his “source,” which is fertile soil, with all the necessary minerals and raw materials that nourish the wheat abundantly.

There is also the matter of the work of improving the environmental conditions to fit the needs of the plant and the growth, for the wise will do well to choose the best conditions and will find blessing. And the fool will take from whatever comes before him, and will thus turn the sowing to a curse rather than to a blessing.

Thus, all its praise and spirit depends on the choice of the environment in which to sow the wheat. But once it has been sown in the selected location, the wheat’s absolute shape is determined according to the measure that the environment is capable of providing.

So is the case with our matter, for it is true that with will there is no freedom. Rather, it is acted upon by the above four factors. And one is compelled to think and inquire as they insist, denied of any means to criticize or change, as the wheat that has been sown in its environment.

However, there is freedom for the will to choose from the outset such an environment, such books, and such guides which impart to him good convictions. If one does not do that, but is willing to enter any environment that appears to him, reading any book that falls into his hands, he is bound to veer into a bad environment or waste his time on worthless books, which are abundant and easier to come by. Consequently he will be forced into bad convictions making him offend and renounce, perish the thought. He will certainly be punished, not because of his evil thoughts or deeds, in which he has no choice, but because he did not choose to inhabit a good environment, for in that there is definitely a choice.

Therefore, he who strives to continually choose a better environment is worthy of praise and reward. But here, too, it is not because of his good thoughts and deeds, which present themselves against his will, but because of his effort to acquire a good environment, which brings him good thoughts and deeds. It is as Rabbi Yehoshua son of Peraḥya said, “Get yourself a Rav, acquire a companion [and give everyone the benefit of the doubt]” (M Avot 1:6).

The necessity to choose a good environment

Now you can understand the words of Rabbi Yose son of Qisma, who replied to a person who offered him to live in his town, and he would give him thousands of gold coins for it: “Were you to give me all the silver and gold and precious stones and pearls in the world, I would not live anywhere except in a place of Torah” (M Avot 6:9) [cf. BT Sukkah 56b; Zohar 2:38b; 3:218a (RM)]. These words seem all too sublime for our simple minds to grasp, for how could he give up thousands of gold coins for such a small thing as living in a place where there are no disciples of Torah, while he himself was a great sage who needed to learn from no one? A mystery indeed.

But as we have seen, it is a simple thing, and should be observed by each and every one of us. For although everyone has “his own source,” the forces are openly revealed only through the environment one is in. This is similar to the wheat sown in the ground, whose forces only become apparent by means of the environment, which is the soil, the rain, and the light of the sun.

Thus, Rabbi Yose son of Qisma correctly assumed that if he were to leave the good environment he had chosen and fall into a harmful environment, in a city where there is no Torah, not only would his former convictions be compromised, but all the other forces hidden in his source, which he had not yet revealed in action, would remain hidden. This is because they would not be subject to the right environment capable of activating them.

And as we have clarified above, only in the matter of the choice of environment is man’s reign over himself measured, and for this he should receive either reward or punishment. Therefore, one must not wonder at a sage such as Rabbi Yose son of Qisma for choosing the good and refusing the bad, and for not being tempted by material and material things, as he deduces there: “Whe a person departs from the world, neither silver nor gold nor precious stones nor pearls accompany him, but only Torah and mitsvot” (M Avot 6:9).

And so our sages warned, “Make for yourself a Rav and acquire for yourself a friend.” And there is also the choice of books, as we have mentioned, for only in that is one rebuked or praised—in his choice of environment. But once he has chosen the environment, he is at its hands as clay in the hands of the potter.

The mind’s control over the body

Some foreign contemporary sages, after contemplating the above matter and seeing how man’s mind is but a fruit that grows out of the events of life, concluded that the mind has no control whatsoever over the body, but only life’s events, embedded in the physical sinews of the brain, control and activate man. And a man’s mind is like a mirror, reflecting the shapes before it. And although the mirror is the carrier of these shapes, it cannot operate the shapes reflected in it.

So is the mind. Although life’s events, in all their aspects of cause and effect, are seen and recognized by the mind, the mind is nonetheless utterly incapable of controlling the body, to bring it into motion, meaning to draw it closer to the good or remove it from the bad. This is because the spiritual and the physical are completely remote from one another, and there is no intermediary apparatus between them to enable the spiritual mind to activate and operate the material body, as has been discussed at length.

But where they are smart, they disrupt. Man’s imagination uses the mind just as the microscope serves the eye: without the microscope, he would not see anything harmful, due to its smallness. But once he has seen the harmful element through the microscope, man distances himself from the dangerous factor.

Thus, it is the microscope that brings man to distance himself from the harm, and not the sense, for the sense did not detect the dangerous factor. And to that extent, the mind fully controls man’s body, to avert it from bad and draw it near the good. Thus, in all the places where the quality of the body fails to detect what is beneficial or detrimental, it needs only the mind’s wit.

Furthermore, since man knows his mind, which is a true conclusion from life’s experiences, he can therefore receive knowledge and understanding from a trusted person and take it as law, although his life’s events have not yet revealed these convictions to him. It is like a person who asks the advice of a doctor and obeys him even though he understands nothing with his own mind. Thus, one uses the mind of others no less than one uses one’s own.

As we have clarified above, there are two ways for providence to make for certain that man achieves the good, final goal:

The path of pain and the path of Torah

All the clarity in the path of Torah stems from that. For these clear conceptions that were revealed and recognized after a long chain of events in the lives of the prophets and the men of God, there comes a man who fully utilizes them and benefits from them, as though these convictions were events of his own life. Thus, you see that one is exempted from all the ordeals one must experience before he can develop that clear mind by himself. Thus, one saves both time and pain.

It can be compared to a sick man who does not wish to obey the doctor’s orders before he understands by himself how that advice would cure him, and therefore begins to study medicine. He could die of his illness before he learns medicine.

So is the path of pain versus the path of Torah. One who does not trust the convictions that Torah and prophecy advise him to accept without self-understanding, must arrive at these conclusions himself by following the chain of cause and effect from life’s events. These are experiences that greatly advance and develop the sense of recognition of evil in them, as we have seen, without one’s choice, but because of one’s efforts to acquire a good environment, which leads to these thoughts and actions.

Freedom of the individual

Now we have come to a thorough and accurate understanding of the freedom of the individual. However, that relates only to the first factor, the “source,” which is the first substance of every person, meaning all the characteristics we inherit from our ancestors and by which we differ from each other.

This is because even when thousands of people share the same environment in such a way that the other three factors affect all of them equally, you will still not find two people who share the same quality. This is because each of them has his own unique source. This is like the source of the wheat: although it changes a great deal by the three remaining factors, it still retains the preliminary shape of wheat and will never take on the form of another species.

The general form of the progenitor is never lost

So it is that each “source” that had taken off the preliminary shape of the progenitor and had taken on a new shape as a result of the three factors that were added to it, and which change it significantly, the general shape of the progenitor still remains, and will never assume the shape of another person who resembles him, just as oat will never resemble wheat.

This is so because each and every source is, in itself, a long sequence of generations comprised of several hundred generations, and the source includes the aspects of them all. However, they are not revealed in it in the same ways they appeared in the ancestors, that is, in the form of ideas, but only as abstract forms. Therefore, they exist in him in the form of abstract forces called “inclinations” and “drives,” without him knowing their reason or why he does what he does. Thus, there can never be two people with the same quality.

The necessity of preserving the freedom of the individual

Know, that this is the one true possession of the individual that must not be harmed or altered. This is because the end of all these inclinations, which are included in the source, is to materialize and assume the form of convictions when that individual grows and obtains a mind of his own, as a result of the law of evolution, which controls that chain and prompts it ever forward, as explained in The Peace. Also, we learn that each and every inclination is bound to become a sublime and immeasurably important concept.

Thus, anyone who eradicates a inclination from an individual and uproots it causes that sublime and wondrous concept to be lost from the world, intended to emerge at the end of the chain, for that inclination will never again emerge in any other body. Accordingly, we must understand that when a particular inclination takes the form of a concept, it can no longer be distinguished as good or bad. This is because such distinctions are recognized only when they are still inclinations or immature convictions, and in no way are any of them recognized when they assume the shape of true convictions.

From the above we learn what a terrible wrong inflict those nations that force their reign on minorities, depriving them of freedom without allowing them to live their lives by the inclinations they have inherited from their ancestors. They are regarded as no less than murderers.

And even those who do not believe in religion or in purposeful guidance can understand the necessity to preserve the freedom of the individual by watching nature’s systems. For we can see how all the nations that ever fell, throughout the generations, came to it only due to their oppression of minorities and individuals, which had therefore rebelled against them and ruined them [cf. Marx, Communist Manifesto, 79: ‘The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles’]. Hence, it is clear to all that peace cannot exist in the world if we do not take into consideration the freedom of the individual. Without it, peace will not be sustainable and ruin shall prevail.

Thus, we have clearly defined the essence of the individual with utmost accuracy, after the deduction of all that he takes from the public. But now we face a question: “Where, in the end, is the individual himself?” All we have said thus far concerning the individual is perceived as only the property of the individual, inherited from his ancestors. But where is the individual himself, the heir and the carrier of that property, who demands that we guard his property?

From all that has been said thus far, we have yet to find the point of אָנֹכִית (anokhit), “selfhood,” of man, which stands before our eyes as an independent self [cf. Ibn Ezra, Perush ha-Torah on Exodus 3:11]. And why do I need the first factor, which is a long chain of thousands of people, one after the other, from generation to generation, with which we framed the individual as an heir? And what do I need the other three factors for, which are the thousands of people, standing one next to the other in the same generation? In the end, each individual is but a machine to the public, forever ready to serve the public as it wishes. Meaning, he has become subordinate to two types of צִבּוּר (tsibur), public: From the perspective of the first factor, he has become subordinate to a great age, from past generations, standing one after the other. From the perspective of the other three factors, he has become subordinate to his contemporary generation.

This is indeed a universal question. For this reason, many oppose the above natural method, although they thoroughly know its validity. Instead, they choose metaphysical methods, or dualism, or transcendentalism, to imagine for themselves some spiritual essence and how it sits within the body, in man’s soul. And it is that soul that learns and that operates the body, and it is man’s essence, his “self.”

And perhaps these interpretations could ease the mind, but the problem is that they have no scientific solution as to how a spiritual essence can have any contact with material atoms, to bring them into any kind of motion [cf. Rabbi Yehudah Ashlag, The Wisdom of Kabbalah and Philosophy]. All their wisdom and delving did not help them find a bridge on which to cross that deep and wide canon spread between the spiritual entity and the material atom. Thus, science has gained nothing from all these metaphysical methods.

The desire to receive—something from nothing

To move a step forward in a scientific manner here, all we need is the wisdom of Kabbalah. This is because all the teachings in the world are included in the wisdom of Kabbalah. Concerning spiritual lights and vessels, we learn that the primary innovation, from the perspective of Creation, which He created something from nothing, applies to one aspect only, defined as the “desire to receive.” All other matters in the whole of Creation are not innovations at all; they are notsomething from nothing, but something from something. This means that they emanate directly from His essence, as the light emanates from the sun. There, too, there is nothing new, since what is found in the core of the sun emanates outwardly.

However, the desire to receive is completely novel. Meaning, prior to Creation such a thing did not exist in reality, since He has no aspect of desire to receive, as He precedes everything, so from whom would He receive?

For this reason, this desire to receive, which He extracted as something from nothing, is completely novel. All the rest, though, is not considered an innovation that could be termed “creation.” Hence, all the vessels and the bodies, both of spiritual worlds and of physical worlds, are deemed spiritual or material substance, whose nature is the desire to receive.

Two forces in the desire to receive: the attracting force and the rejecting force

You need to determine further that we distinguish two forces in that force called the “desire to receive”:

The attracting force and the rejecting force

The reason is that each body, or vessel, defined by the desire to receive is indeed limited, meaning the quality it receives and the quantity it receives. Therefore, all the quantity and quality that are outside its boundaries appear to be against its nature; hence, it rejects them. Thus, that desire to receive, although it is deemed an attracting force, is compelled to become a rejecting force, as well.

One law for all the worlds

Although the wisdom of Kabbalah utters nothing of our material world, there is still only one law for all the worlds [see, The Essence of the Wisdom of Kabbalah: The Law of Root and Branch]. Thus, all the material entities in our world, that is, everything within that space, be it mineral, vegetable, animal, a spiritual object or a material object, if we want to distinguish the unique self of each of them, how they differentiate from one another, even in the smallest of particles, it amounts to no more than a “desire to receive.” This is its entire particular form, from the perspective of the generated creation, limiting it in quantity and quality. As a result, there is an attracting force and a rejecting force in it.

Yet, anything other that exists in it besides these two forces is deemed abundance from His essence. That abundance is equal for all creatures, and it presents no innovation, with respect to creation, as it emanates something from something.

Also, it cannot be ascribed to any particular unit, but only to things that are common to all parts of creation, small or large. Each of them receives from that abundance according to its desire to receive, and this limitation defines each individual and unit.

Thus, I have evidently—from a purely scientific perspective—proven the “self” of every individual in a scientific, completely criticism-proof method, even according to the system of the fanatic automatic materialists. From now on, we have no need for those lame methods steeped in metaphysics.

And of course, it makes no difference whether this force, being the desire to receive, is a fruit resulting from the material that had produced it through chemistry, or that the material is a fruit resulting from that force. This is because we know that the main thing is that only this force, embedded in every being and atom of the “desire to receive,” within its boundaries, is the unit where it is separated and distinguished from its environment. And this holds true both for a single atom or for a group of atoms, called “a body.”

All other aspects in which there is a surplus of that force are not related in any way to that paricle or that group of particles, with respect to itself, but only with respect to the whole, which is the abundance emanated to them from the blessed Holy One, which is common to all parts of Creation together, without the distinction of specific created bodies.

Now we shall understand the matter of the freedom of the individual, according to the definition of the first factor, which we called the “source,” where all previous generations, which are the ancestors of that individual, have embedded their nature. As we have clarified, the meaning of the word, “individual,” is but the boundaries of the desire to receive, embedded in its collection of molecules.

Thus you see that all the inclinations he has inherited from his ancestors are indeed no more than boundaries of his desire to receive, either related to the attracting force in him, or to the rejecting force in him, which appear before us as inclinations for stinginess or generosity, an inclination to mingle or to stay secluded, and so on.

Because of that, they really are his self, fighting for its existence. Thus, if we were to destroy even a single inclination of that individual, it is as though we severed an actual organ from his essence. And it is also considered a genuine loss for all creation, because there is no other like it, nor will there ever be like it in the whole world.

After we have thoroughly clarified the just right of the individual according to the laws of nature, let us turn and see just how practical it is, without compromising the theory of ethics and statesmanship. And most important: how this right is applied by our holy Torah.

Follow the many for good

And look Scripture says: follow the many (Exodus 23:2). That means that wherever there is a dispute between the many and the individual, we are obliged to rule according to the will of the many. Thus, you see that the many has a right to expropriate the freedom of the individual.

But we are faced with a different question here, even more serious than the first. It seems as though this law regresses humanity instead of promoting it. This is because while most of humanity is undeveloped, and the developed ones are always a small minority, if you always determine according to the will of the many, which are the undeveloped, and the reckless ones, the views and desires of the wise and the developed in society, which are always the minority, will never be heard and will not be taken into consideration. Thus, you seal off humanity’s fate to regression, for it will not be able to make even a single step forward.

However, as explained in The Peace: Necessity to Practice Caution with the Laws of Nature, since we are ordered by providence to lead a social life, we have become obligated to observe all the חֻקִּים (ḥuqqim), statutes, pertaining to the sustenance of society. And if we are somewhat negligent, nature will take its revenge on us, regardless of whether or not we understand the reasons for the statutes.

And we can see that there is no other arrangement by which to live in society except following the חוֹק (ḥoq), statute, of follow the many which sets every dispute and tribulation in society in order. Thus, this statute is the only instrument that gives society sustainability. For this reason, it is considered one of the natural commandments of providence, and we must accept it and guard it meticulously, regardless of our understanding [see BT Baba Metsi’a 89b; Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed 3:31].

This is similar to all the other mitsvot in Torah: all of them are nature’s laws and His providence, which come to us from above downward. And I have already described how all the stubbornness we detect in the conduct of nature in this world is only because they are extended and taken from laws and conducts of upper, spiritual worlds [see Rabbi Yehudah Ashlag, The Essence of the Wisdom of Kabbalah: The Law or Root and Branch].

Now you can understand that the mitsvot in the Torah are no more than laws and conducts set in higher worlds, which are the roots of all of nature’s conducts in this world of ours. The mitsvot of Torah always correspond to the laws of nature in this world as two drops in a pond. Thus, we have proven that follow the many is the statute of providence and nature.

A path of Torah and a path of pain

Yet, our question about the regression, which had emerged from this law is as yet not settled by these words. Indeed, this is our concern—to find ways to mend that. But providence, for itself, does not lose because of that, for it has enveloped humanity in two ways—the path of Torah and the path of pain—in a way that guarantees humanity’s continuous development and progress toward the goal without any reservations [see Rabbi Yehudah Ashlag, The Peace: Everything is in Deposit]. Indeed, obeying this statute is a natural obligation.

The many’s right to expropriate the freedom of the individual

We must ask further: things are justified when matters revolve around issues between people. Then we can accept the statute of follow the many through the obligation of providence, which instructs us to always look after the well-being and happiness of the companions. But the Torah obligates us to follow the statute of follow the many in disputes between man and the blessed Holy One, as well, although these matters seem completely unrelated to the existence of society.

Therefore, the question still stands: how can we justify that statute, which obligates us to accept the views of the majority, which is, as we have said, undeveloped, and to reject and annul the opinion of the developed, which are always a small minority?

But as we have shown, in The Essence of Religion and its Purpose: Conscious Development and Unconscious Development, Torah and mitsvot were given only to purify Israel, to develop in us the sense of recognition of evil, embedded in us at birth, which in general is defined as our self-love, and to come to the pure good, defined as “love of others,” which is the one and only passage to love of the blessed Holy One.

Accordingly, the decrees between man and the blessed Holy One are considered tools that detach man from self-love, which is harmful for society. It is thus obvious that the topics of dispute regarding mitsvot between man and the blessed Holy One relate to the problem of society’s sustainability. Thus, they, too, fall into the framework of follow the many.

Now we can understand the practice of distinguishing Halakhah and Aggadah. This is because only in halakhot, does the statute, “Individual and many—Halakhah as the many” apply. It is not so in the Aggadah, since matters of Aggadah stand above matters that concern the existence of society, for they speak precisely of the matter of people’s conduct in matters concerning man and the blessed Holy One, in that same part where the existence and physical happiness of society has no consequence.

Thus, there is no justification for the many to annul the view of the individual and every man did what was right in his eyes (Judges 17:6). But regarding halakhot that deal with observing the mitsvot of Torah, all of which fall under the supervision of society, since there cannot be any order, but through the statute, follow the many.

In social life: the statute of follow the many

Now we have come to a clear understanding of the sentence concerning the freedom of the individual. Indeed, there is a question: “Where did the many take the right to expropriate the freedom of the individual and deny him of the most precious thing in life, freedom?” This is seemingly no more than brute force.

But as we have clearly explained above, it is a natural stature and the decree of providence. And because providence compels each of us to practice a social life, it naturally follows that each person is obligated to secure the existence and well-being of society. And that cannot exist but through imposing the practice of follow the many disregarding the opinion of the individual.

Thus, you see evidently that this is the source of every right and justification that the many has to expropriate the freedom of the individual against his will, and to place him under its authority. Therefore, it is understood that with regard to all those matters that do not concern the existence of the material life of the society, there is no justification for the many to rob and abuse the freedom of the individual in any way. And if they do, they are deemed robbers and thieves who prefer brute force to any right and justice in the world, since here the obligation of the individual to obey the will of the many does not apply.

In spiritual life follow the individual

It turns out that as far as spiritual life is concerned, there is no natural obligation on the individual to abide by the society in any way. On the contrary, here applies a natural law over the many, to subjugate itself to the individual. And it is clarified in The Peace, that there are two ways by which providence has enveloped and surrounded us, to bring us to the end:

A path of pain, which develops us in this manner unconsciously. A path of Torah and wisdom, which consciously develops us in this manner without any agony or coercion.

And since the more developed in the generation is certainly the individual, it follows that when the public wants to relieve themselves of the terrible agony and assume conscious and voluntary development, which is the path of Torah, they have no choice but to subjugate themselves and their physical freedom to the discipline of the individual, and obey the orders and remedies that he will offer them.

Thus you see that in spiritual matters, the authority of the many is overturned and the statute of “follow the individual” is applied, that is, the developed individual. For it is plain to see that the developed and the educated in every society are always a small minority. It follows that the success and spiritual well-being of society is bottled and sealed in the hands of the minority.

Therefore, the many is obliged to meticulously guard all the views of the few, so they will not perish from the world. This is because they must know for certain, in complete confidence, that the truer and more developed views are never in the hands of the many in authority, but rather in the hands of the weakest, that is, in the hands of the indistinguishable minority. This is because every wisdom and everything precious comes into the world in small quantities. Therefore, we are cautioned to preserve the views of all the individuals, due to the many’s inability to tell wrong from right among them.

Criticism brings success, lack of criticism causes decadence

We must further add that reality presents to our eyes material things, convictions, and ideas with regard to the aforementioned matter which are drastically different. For the matter of social unity, which can be the source of every joy and success, applies particularly among bodies and bodily matters in people, and the separation between them is the source of every calamity and misfortune.

But with convicitons and ideas, it is the complete opposite: unity and lack of criticism is deemed the source of every failure and hindrance to all the progress and didactic fertilization. This is because drawing the right conclusions depends particularly on the multiplicity of disagreements and separation between opinions. The more contradictions there are between opinions and the more criticism there is, the more the knowledge and wisdom increase and matters become more suitable for examination and clarification.

The degeneration and failure of intelligence stem only from the lack of criticism and disagreement. Thus, evidently, the whole basis of physical success is the measure of unity of the society, and the basis for the success of intelligence and knowledge is the separation and disagreement among them.

It turns out that when humankind achieves its goal, with respect to the success of the bodies, by bringing them to the rung of complete love of others, all the bodies in the world will unite into a single body and a single heart, as written in The Peace. Only then will all the happiness intended for humanity become revealed in all its glory.

But against that, we must be watchful to not bring the views of people so close that disagreement and criticism might be terminated from among the wise and scholarly, for the love of the body naturally brings with it proximity of views. And should criticism and disagreement vanish, all progress in convictions and ideas will cease, too, and the source of knowledge in the world will dry out.

This is the proof of the obligation to caution with the freedom of the individual regarding convicitons and ideas. For the whole development of the wisdom and knowledge is based on that freedom of the individual. Thus, we are cautioned to preserve it very carefully, so each and every form within us, which we call “individual,” that is, the particular force of a single person, generally named the “desire to receive.”

Ancestral heritage

All the details of the pictures that this desire to receive includes, which we have defined as the “source,” or the first reason, whose meaning includes all the inclinations and customs inherited from his ancestors, which we picture as a long chain of thousands of people who once were alive, and who stand one atop of the other. Each of them is an essential drop of his ancestors, and that drop brings each person all the spiritual possessions of his ancestors into his medulla oblongata (the elongated brain), called “subconscious.” Thus, the individual before us has, in his subconscious, all the thousands of spiritual legacies from all the individuals represented in that chain, which are his ancestors.

Thus, just as the face of each and every person differs, so their views differ. There are no two people on earth whose opinions are identical, because each person has a great and sublime possession inherited from his ancestors, and which others have no shred of them.

Therefore, all those possessions are considered the individual’s property, and society is cautioned to preserve its flavor and spirit so as to not be blurred by its environment. Rather, each individual should maintain the integrity of his inheritance. Then, the contradiction and oppositeness between them will remain forever, to forever secure the criticism and progress of the wisdom, which is humanity’s advantage and its true eternal favor.

And after we have come to a certain measure of recognition in man’s selfishness, which we have determined as a force and a “desire to receive,” being the essential point of the bare being, we have also made thoroughly clear, from all sides, the original possession of each body, which we have defined as “ancestral heritage.” This pertains to all the potential inclinations and qualities that have come into his “source” by inheritance, which is the first substance of every person, that is, the initial seed of his ancestors. Now we shall clarify the two aspects in the desire to receive.

Two aspects: potential and actual

First, we must understand that although this selfishness, which we have defined as the “desire to receive,” is the very essence of man, it cannot exist in reality even for a second. For what we call “potential,” meaning before it emerges from potential to actual, exists only in our thought, meaning that only the thought can determine it.

But in fact, there cannot be any real force in the world that is dormant and inactive. This is because the force exists in reality only while it is revealed in action. By the same token, you cannot say about an infant that it is very strong when it cannot lift even the lightest weight, but you can say that you see in that infant that when it grows, it will manifest great strength.

However, we do say that that strength we find in man when he is grown was present in his organs and his body even when he was an infant, but that strength had been concealed and was not apparent. It is true that in our minds we could determine (the powers destined to manifest), since the mind asserts it. However, in the infant’s actual body there is certainly no strength at all, since no strength manifests in the infant’s actions.

So it is with appetite. This force will not appear in a man’s body in the actual reality, when the organs cannot eat, meaning when he is satiated. But even when one is satiated, the force of appetite exists, but it is concealed in man’s body. After some time, when the food had been digested, it reappears and manifests from potential to actual.

However, such a sentence, of determining a potential force that has not yet been revealed in actual fact, belongs to the conducts by which the thought perceives. But it does not exist in reality, since when satiated, we feel very clearly that the force of appetite is gone, and if you search for it, you will find it nowhere.

It turns out that we cannot display a potential as a subject that exists in and of itself, but only as a predicate. Thus, when an action occurs in reality, at that time the force manifests in the action.

Yet, we necessarily find two things here, in the perceiving process: a subject and a predicate, that is, potential and actual, such as the force of appetite, which is the subject, and the image of the dish, which is the predicate and the action. In reality, however, they come as one. It will never occur that the force of appetite will appear in a person without picturing the dish he wishes to eat. Thus, these are two halves of the same thing. The force of appetite must dress in that image. You therefore see that the subject and the predicate are presented at once, and become absent at once.

Now we understand that the desire to receive, which we presented as selfishness, does not mean that it exists so in a person, as a craving force that wishes to receive in the form of a passive predicate. Rather, this pertains to the subject, which dresses in the image of the eatable object, and whose operation appears in the form of the thing being eaten, and in which it clothes. We call that action, “desire,” meaning the power of appetite, revealed in the action of the imagination.

And so it is with our topic—the general desire to receive, which is the very essence of man. It appears and exists only through dressing in the shapes of objects that are likely to be received. For then it exists as the subject, and in no other way. We call that action, “life,” meaning man’s livelihood, which means that the force of the desire to receive dresses and acts within the desired objects. And the measurement of revelation of that action is the measurement of his life, as we have explained in the act we call, “desire.”

Two formations: the human and the living soul  

From the above, we can clearly understand the verse then YHWH God fashioned the human, humus from the soil, and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the human became a נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה (nefesh ḥayah), a living soul (Genesis 2:7). Here we find two creations: the human himself and the living soul itself.

And the verse says in the beginning, the human, humus from the soil—a collection of molecules in which resides the human essence, meaning his desire to receive. That force, the desire to receive, is present in every element of reality, as we have explained above. Also, all four types: mineral, vegetable, animal and human emerged from them. In that respect, the human has no advantage over any part of creation, and this is the meaning of the verse in the words: hummus from the soil.

However, we have already seen that this power, called “desire to receive,” cannot exist without enclothing and acting in, on a desired object, and this action is called, Life. And accordingly, we find that before man has arrived at the human forms of receiving pleasure, which differ from those of other animals, he is still considered a lifeless, dead person. This is because his desire to receive has no place in which to enclothe and manifest his actions, which are the manifestations of life.

This is the meaning of the verse, and blew into his nostrils נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים (nishmat ḥayyim), the breath of life (Genesis 2:7) which is the general form of reception set for the human. And the word נִשְׁמַת (nishmat), breath, comes from the language, שָׂמִין (samin), setting, the ground for him, which is like עֵרֶך (erekh), value. And the source of the word נְשָׁמָה (neshamah), soul, is discerned from: God’s spirit has made me, and Shaddai’s נִשְׁמַת (nishmat), breath, has quickened me (Job 33:4). And see the commentary of the Malbim [Rabbi Meir Weisser] there: נְשָׁמָה (neshamah), soul, has the same syntax structure as נִפקָד (nifqad), missing, נֶאְשָׁם (ne’esham), accused, and נֶאֱשְׁמָה (ne’eshmah), accused.

And the meaning of the words, and blew into his nostrils (Genesis 2:7), is that He instills a נְשָׁמָה (neshamah), soul, in his internality and an appreciation of life, which is the sum of the forms that are worthy of reception into his desire to receive. Then, that power, the desire to receive, inhering in his very molecules, has found the place in which to enclothe and act, meaning in those forms of reception that he had obtained from the blessed Holy One. And this act is called Life, as we have explained above.

And the verse ends, and the human became a living creature. This means that since the desire to receive has begun to act by the measures of those forms of reception, life instantly manifested in it and it a living creature. However, prior to the attainment of those forms of reception, although the power of the desire to receive had been embedded in him, it is still considered a lifeless body, since it has no place in which to appear and to manifest in action.

As we have seen above, although man’s essence is only the desire to receive, it is still taken as half of a whole, as it must enclothe in a reality that comes its way. For that reason, it and the image of possession it depicts are literally one, for otherwise it would not be able to exist for even a moment.

Therefore, when the machine of the body is at its peak, that is, until his middle-age, his “ego” stands upright in all the height embedded in him at birth. Because of that, he feels within him a large and powerful measure of the desire to receive. In other words, he craves great wealth and honor, and anything that comes his way. This is so because of the perfection of man’s ego, which attracts shapes of structures and convictions that it enclothes in and sustains itself through them.

But when half his life is through, begin the days of the decline, which, by their content, are his dying days. This is because a person does not die in an instant, just as he did not receive his life in an instant. Rather his candle, being his ego, withers and dies bit by bit, and along with it die the images of the possessions he wishes to receive.

He begins to relinquish many possessions he had dreamed of in his youth, and he gradually relinquishes great possessions, according to his decline over the years. Finally, in his truly old days, when the shadow of death hovers over all his being, a person finds himself in “times of no appeal,” since his desire to receive, his ego, has withered away. Only a tiny spark of it remains, hidden from the eye, from enclothing in some possession. Therefore, there is no appeal or hope in those days for any image of reception.

Thus, we have proven that the desire to receive, along with the image of the object expected to be received, are one and the same thing. And their manifestation is equal, their stature is equal, and so is the length of their lives.

However, there is a significant distinction here in the form of the yielding at the time of the decline of life. That yielding is not a result of satiation, like a person who relinquishes food when he is satiated, but a result of despair. In other words, when the ego begins to die during the days of decline, it senses its own weakness and approaching death. Therefore, a person lets go and gives up on the dreams and hopes of his youth.

Observe carefully the difference between that and the yielding due to satiation, which causes no grief and cannot be called “partial death,” but is like a worker who completed his work. Indeed, relinquishment out of despair is full of pain and sorrow, and can therefore be called, “partial death.”

Freedom from the angel of death

Now, after all that we have learned, we find a way to truly understand the words of our sages when they said, “‘Harut (carved) on the stones,’ do not pronounce it Harut (carved), but rather Herut (freedom), for they have been liberated from the angel of death.”

It has been explained in Giving Torah and The Pledge, that prior to the giving of the Torah, they had assumed the relinquishment of any private property to the extent expressed in the words, a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:6) and the purpose of the whole of Creation—to cleave unto Him in equivalence of form with Him: as He bestows and does not receive, they, too, will give and not receive. This is the last rung of דְבֵקוּת (devequt), cleaving, expressed in the words, and a holy nation (ibid.), as is written at the end of The Pledge.

I have already brought you to realize that man’s essence, meaning his selfishness, defined as the desire to receive, is only half a thing, and can only exist when enclothed in some image of a possession or hope for possession. For only then is our matter complete, and can be called “man’s essence.”

Thus, when the Children of Israel were rewarded with total cleaving on that holy occasion, their vessels of reception were completely emptied of any worldly possession and they were cleaved unto Him in equivalence of form. This means that they did not have any desire for any self-possession, but only to the extent that they could bestow contentment, so their Maker would delight in them.

And since their desire to receive had enclothed in an image of that object, it had enclothed in it and bonded with it into complete oneness. Therefore, they were certainly liberated from the angel of death, for death is necessarily an absence and negation of the existence of a certain object. But only while there is a spark that wishes to exist for its own pleasure is it possible to say about it that that spark does not exist because it has become absent and died.

However, if there is no such spark in man, but all the sparks of his essence clothe in bestowal of contentment upon their Maker, then it is neither absent nor dead. For even when the body is annulled, it is only annulled with respect to self-gratification, in which the desire to receive is dressed and can only exist in it.

However, when he achieves the purpose of Creation and the Creator receives pleasure from him, since His will is done, man’s essence, which clothes in His contentment, is granted complete eternity, like Him. Thus, he has been rewarded with freedom from the angel of death. This is the meaning of the words of the Midrash “They are liberated from the Angel of Death” (Shemot Rabbah 41:7). And in the Mishnah “And the tablets, God’s doing they were, and the writing, God’s writing it was, inscribed on the tablets (Exodus 32:16). Do not read חָרוּת (ḥarut), inscribed, but חֵרוּת (ḥerut), freedom, for the only person who is truly free is one who occupies himself with Torah study; and whoever occupies himself with Torah study will be exalted” (M Avot 6:2).

Providence According to Rabbi Yehudah Ashlag (Ba’al ha-Sullam)

canva-photo-editorIntroduction to the Study of the Ten Sefirot (45–66):

When we closely examine the attainment of providence that people come to sense, we find four classes. Each and every class receives individual providence by the blessed Holy One, in such a way that there are four facets in the attainment of providence. In fact, they are only two: הַסְתֵּר פָּנִים (ha-seter panim), the hiding Face, and גִלוּי פָּנִים (gilui panim), the revealed Face, but they are divided into four.

There are two facets in providence of the hiding Face, which are “single hiding” and “hiding within the hiding,” and two facets in the providence of the revealed Face: providence of “reward and punishment,” and “eternal providence.”

The verse says: And My wrath will flare against them on that day, and I shall forsake them and hide My face from them, and they will become fodder, and many evils and troubles will find them, and they will say on that day, ‘Is it not because our God is not in our midst that these evils have found us?’ And as for Me, I will surely hide My face on that day for all the evil that they have done, for they turned to other gods (Deuteronomy 31:17–18) [cf. Psalms 104:29; Zohar 1:115a [MhN] ad loc].

When you ponder these words, you will find that in the beginning it says, And My wrath will flare… and I shall… hide My face—one hiding. Afterwards, it says, and many evils and troubles will find them… and… I will surely hide My face [lit., הַסְתֵּר אַסְתִּיר (ha-seter astir), hide, I will hide…]—double hiding. We must understand what “double hiding” is.

First we must understand the meaning of the “face” of the blessed Holy One, as is written, I shall hide My face. And you understand this is like a man who sees his friend’s face and recognizes him immediately. However, when he sees him from behind he is not sure of his identity. He may wonder, saying “Perhaps he is not my friend?”

So too the matter before us: Everyone knows and senses that the blessed Holy One is good and that it is the conduct of the Good to do good. Therefore, when the blessed Holy One gives generously to His creatures, His face is regarded as revealed. This is because then everyone knows and senses Him, since He acts according to His name, as we have seen above concerning revealed providence [on “The Good who does good,” see BT Ta’anit 31a; Birkhat ha-Mazon].

Yet, when He acts with His creatures contrary to what we said above, meaning when they suffer affliction and torment in His world, it is regarded as the blessed Holy One’s “back.” This is because His face, meaning His quality of utter goodness, is entirely hidden from them, since this is not the conduct that befits His name. It is like a person who sees his friend from behind and may doubt, thinking “Perhaps he is another?”

It is written, And My wrath will flare… and I shall… hide My face. During the wrath, when people suffer trouble and pains, it means that the blessed Holy One is hiding His face, which is His utter goodness, and only His “back” is revealed. Then, great strengthening in his trust is needed to be vigilant against contemplating transgression, perish the thought, since it is difficult to recognize Him from behind. This is called “the first hiding.”

However, when troubles and grief accumulate to a great extent, it causes a second hiding, which the books call הַסְתֵּר בְּתוֹך הַסְתֵּר (ha-seter betokh ha-seter), “hiding within the hiding.” It means that even His back is unseen, perish the thought, meaning they do not believe that the blessed Holy One is angry with them and punishes them, but ascribe this to chance and nature, and come to deny His providence in reward and punishment. This is the meaning of, And as for Me, I will surely hide My face… for they turned to other gods—they speak heresy and turn to idol worshiping.

However, before that, when the verse speaks only from the perspective of one hiding, the verse ends, and they will say on that day, ‘Is it not because our God is not in our midst that these evils have found us?’ Meaning they still trust in the providence of reward and punishment, and say that the troubles and grief befall them because they do not cleave to the blessed Holy One, as is written, ‘Is it not because our God is not in our midst that these evils have found us?’ This is a facet of seeing the blessed Holy One, but only from behind. For that reason it is called “the first hiding,” merely hiding of the Face.

Now we have explained the two facets of apprehending hidden providence, which people sense: “the first hiding” and “hiding within the hiding.” The first hiding relates only to hiding of the Face, while the back is revealed. This means that they trust that the blessed Holy One gave them the affliction as a punishment. And although it is hard for them to always know the blessed Holy One by His back, which causes them to transgress, even then they are considered “not completely wicked” [cf. BT Qiddushin 40b; Zohar 3:111a (RM)]. In other words, these transgressions are akin to being unintentional, because they befall them due to the increase in suffering, since, in general, they trust in reward and punishment.

“Hiding within the hiding” means that even the back of the blessed Holy One is hidden from them, as they do not trust in reward and punishment. Look, the transgressions in their hands are regarded as intentional wickedness. They are called “completely wicked” because they rebel and say that the blessed Holy One does not watch over His creatures at all, and turn to idolatry, as is written, for they turned to other gods, perish the thought.

We must know that the entire matter of the labor in keeping Torah and mitsvot by way of [freedom of] choice is mainly practiced according to the two aforementioned facets of hidden providence. And of that time: “Son of Heh-Heh said: According to the effort is the reward” (M Avot 5:26).

Since His providence is not revealed, it is impossible to see Him but only in hiding of the Face, from behind, as one who sees his friend from behind and may doubt and think he is another. In this way, the choice is always in the hands of man, either to fulfill the blessed Holy One’s will, or, perish the thought, to transgress it. This is because the troubles and the grief he suffers make him doubt the reality of His providence over His creatures, whether in the first facet—unintentional; or in the second facet—intentional wickedness.

In any case, one is still in great pain and labor. Of this time it is written: All that your hand manages to do with your strength, do (Ecclesiastes 9:10). This is so because he will not be granted revealing the Face, the full degree of His goodness, before he exerts himself and does whatever is in his power to do, and “According to the effort is the reward.”

Indeed, after the blessed Holy One sees that man has completed his degree of attainment and completed all that he had to do in the power of his choice and his strengthening in trust of the blessed Holy One, he is assisted by Him and receives the attainment of revealed providence. Then, he is rewarded with perfect repentance, meaning he cleaves to the blessed Holy One once more with his heart, soul, and might [see recitation of Shema], as though drawn by itself in regard to the attainment of the revealed providence.

The above attainment and repentance come to a man by two rungs: The first is the attainment of providence according to absolute reward and punishment. Besides attaining the reward of each mitsvah in the world that is coming in utter clarity, he is also rewarded with the immediate attainment of wondrous pleasure in performing the mitsvah in this world.

Moreover, besides attaining the bitter punishment that extends from every transgression after his death, so too he is rewarded with sensing the bitter taste of every transgression while still alive.

Naturally, one who is imparted this revealed providence is certain that he will not offend again, just as one is quite sure he will not cut his own flesh and cause himself terrible suffering. In addition, one is certain that he will not neglect a mitsvah without performing it the instant it comes to his hand, as much as one is certain that he will not neglect any pleasure in this world or a great profit that comes to his hand.

Now you can understand the words of our sages, What is repentance like? When the One who knows hidden things testifies about him that he will never return to his folly again [see Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Teshuva, 2]. These are seemingly perplexing words, for who would rise to the heaven to hear the testimony of the blessed Holy One? Also, before whom should the blessed Holy One testify? Is it not enough that the blessed Holy One Himself knows that the person repented and will not offend again?

From the explanation, the matter becomes quite clear: In truth, one is not absolutely certain that he will not offend again before he is rewarded with the aforementioned attainment of reward and punishment, meaning revealing the Face. And this revealing of the Face, from the perspective of the blessed Holy One’s rescue, is called עֵדוּת (edut), “testimony,” since His rescue in itself, the attainment of reward and punishment, assures him that he will no longer offend.

It is therefore considered that the blessed Holy One testifies for him. It is written, “What is repentance like?” In other words, when will one be certain that he has been granted perfect repentance? For this, one is given a clear sign: “When the One who knows hidden things testifies about him that he will never return to his folly again.” This means that he will attain revealing the Face, at which time his own rescue testifies that he will not return to folly.

This aforementioned repentance is called “repentance from fear.” This is because although he returns to the blessed Holy One with his heart and soul, until He who knows all mysteries testifies that he will not turn back to folly, that certainty that he will not offend again is due to his attainment and sensation of the terrible punishment and agony as a result of the transgressions. Because of that, he is certain that he will not offend, just as he is quite sure that he will not afflict himself with horrible suffering.

However, in the end, these repentances and certainty are only because of the fear of punishment that extends from the transgressions. It turns out that one’s repentance is only for fear of punishment. Because of that, it is called “repentance from fear.”

With this we understand the words of our sages: One who repents from fear is rewarded with his intentional wickedness being unintentional [see BT Yoma 86b]. We must understand how this happens. According to what was said above, you can thoroughly understand that the offences one commits reach him from the reception of providence through a double hiding, namely “hiding within the hiding.” This means that one does not trust in providence of reward and punishment.

A single hiding means that he trusts in the providence of reward and punishment. Yet, due to the increase in suffering, he sometimes comes to thoughts of transgression. This is because even though he believes that the suffering came to him as a punishment, he is still like one who sees his friend from behind, and might doubt and mistake him for another. And these offences are only unintentional, since, as a whole, he trusts in providence of reward and punishment.

Hence, when one is granted repentance from fear, meaning a clear attainment of reward and punishment until he is certain that he will not offend again, the “hiding within the hiding” is entirely corrected in him. This is because now he sees evidently there is providence of reward and punishment. It is clear to him that all the suffering he had ever felt was a punishment from His providence for the offences he committed. In retrospect, he made a grave error. Hence, he uproots the intentional wickedness.

However, this is not entirely so, since they [still] become unintentional. In other words, it is like the transgressions he committed under one hiding, when he failed because of the confusion that came to him due to the multitude of torments that drive a person out of his mind. These are only regarded as unintentional.

Yet, according to this repentance, he did not at all correct the first hiding of the Face, which he had had before, but only from now on after he has attained revealing of the Face. In the past, however, before he had attained repentance, the hiding of the Face and all the unintentional offences remained as they were, without any change or repair whatsoever. This is so because then, too, he believed that the troubles and the suffering came to him as punishment, as is written, and they will say on that day, ‘Is it not because our God is not in our midst that these evils have found us?’

Therefore, he is still considered “not perfectly righteous” (BT Qiddushin 40b) because one who is awarded with revealing the Face, namely the full degree of His goodness, as befits His Name, is called “righteous.” This is so because he justifies His providence as it truly is, that He is utterly good and perfect with His creatures, that He is good to the good and to the bad.

Hence, since he has been awarded with revealing the Face, from here on he merits the name “righteous.” However, since he has not completed the correction, but only “hiding with the hiding,” and has not corrected the first hiding, but only from here on, that time, before he was awarded repentance, still does not merit the name “righteous.” This is because then he is left with the hidding Face, as before. For this reason, he is called “not completely righteous,” meaning one who still needs to correct his past.

He is also called “intermediate” (BT Qiddushin 40b), since after he attains repentance from fear he becomes qualified, through his completion in Torah and mitsvot, to attain repentance from love, as well. Then one attains being “completely righteous.” Hence, now one is the medium between Fear and Love, and is therefore named “intermediate.” However, prior to that, he was not completely qualified to even prepare himself for repentance from love.

This thoroughly explains the first rung of attainment of revealing the Face, the attainment and sensation of providence of reward and punishment in a way that “The One who knows hidden things testifies about him that he will never return to his folly again.” This is called “repentance from fear,” when his intentional wickedness becomes unintentional. This is also called “not perfectly righteous” and “intermediate.”

Now we shall explain the second rung of attaining revealing of the Face, which is the attainment of the complete, true, and eternal providence. It means that the blessed Holy One watches over His creations according to “The Good that does good to the good and to the bad.” Now one is regarded as “perfectly righteous” and “repentance from love,” when one is granted turning his intentional wickedness to merits [see BT Yoma 86b].

This explains all four facets of providence that pertain to the creatures. The first three facets, double hiding, single hiding, and attainment of providence of reward and punishment are but preparations by which one attains the fourth facet, which is the attainment of true, eternal providence.

But we have yet to understand why the third facet is not enough for a person, namely attainment of the providence of reward and punishment. We said that he has already been rewarded with “He who knows all hidden things” testifying that he will not offend again. Hence, why is he still called “intermediate” or “not perfectly righteous,” whose name proves that his labor is still not desirable in the eyes of the blessed Holy One, and there is still a flaw and blemish in his Torah and service?

First, let us scrutinize what the commentators asked about the mitsvah of loving the blessed Holy One. How did the Holy Torah oblige us to a mitsvah that we cannot keep at all? One can coerce and enslave oneself to anything, but no coercion or enslavement in the world will help with love.

They explained that by keeping all 612 mitsvot properly, love of the blessed Holy One emanates to him on its own. Hence, it is considered possible to observe, since one can enslave and coerce oneself to keep the 612 mitsvot appropriately, and then he will also attain love of the blessed Holy One.

Hiding and Revealing the Face by Rabbi Yehudah Ashlag (Ba’al ha-Sullam)

canva-photo-editorYHWH, in your pleasure You made me stand mountain-strong.—When You hid Your face, I was stricken (Psalms 30:8).

One portrait of the hiding

The blessed Holy One’s face is not revealed, that is, He does not act with one according to His name “The Good who does good” (Birkhat ha-Mazon) [cf. BT Ta’anit 31a]. Rather, to the contrary: he is afflicted by Him, suffers from a poor livelihood, and many wish to collect their debts from him and embitter his life. His entire day is filled with nothing but trouble and worry. He suffers from poor health and is disrespected by people. Any undertaking he starts he fails to finish, and he is constantly frustrated.

In this manner, of course he does not see the blessed Holy One’s good face, that is, if he believes that the blessed Holy One does these things to him, either as punishment for transgressions or to ultimately reward him. This follows the verse, For who YHWH loves He rebukes (Proverbs 3:12), and also, “The righteous begin with suffering” (Naḥmanides on Genesis 27:29), since the blessed Holy One wishes to eventually bestow abundant peace on him [cf. Psalms 126:5: They who sow in tears in glad song will reap; Zohar 2:187a: ‘All beginnings are hard, and their endings soft’].

Yet, he does not fail by exclaiming that all this befell him according to blind fate and nature without any reckoning or knowledge. Rather, he strengthens his trust in the blessed Holy One, whose providence caused him all this. Nevertheless, this is considered seeing the blessed Holy One’s back.

A second portrait of the hiding

The books refer to הַסְתֵּר בְּתוֹך הַסְתֵּר (ha-seter betokh ha-seter), “hiding within the hiding,” meaning one cannot see even the back of the blessed Holy One. Instead, he exclaims that the blessed Holy One has left him and no longer watches over him. He ascribes all the sufferings he feels to blind fate and to nature, since the ways of providence become exceedingly tangled in his eyes that they lead him to denial [of the blessed Holy One], perish the thought. This means that he prays and gives charity for his troubles but is not answered whatsoever. And precisely when he stops praying for his troubles, he is answered. Whenever he perseveres, trusts in providence, and improves his deeds, success turns away from him and he mercilessly declines. And when he abandons [the blessed Holy One] and begins to regress in his deeds, he becomes very successful and is greatly relieved [cf. Zohar 3:276b (RM)].

He does not find livelihood in a proper way, but through deceit or desecration of the Sabbath, and so on. All of his acquaintances who are masters of Torah and mitsvot suffer poverty, illness, and are despised by people. People who keep mitsvot seem to him lacking in common decency, born fools, and so hypocritical that he cannot tolerate their company for even a moment [cf. M Avot 2:2: ‘Rabban Gamliel son of Rabbi Yehudah ha-Nasi said: It is good to combine Torah study with דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ (derekh erets), common decency (or: a worldly occupation, lit., way of the land), for the effort involved in both makes one forget sin’].

But all his wicked acquaintances, who mock his faithfulness, are very successful, well to do, and healthy. They know no illness, are clever, virtuous, and well-mannered. They are without worry, confident, and calm the whole day, continually.

And when providence arranges things in this way for a man, it is called “hiding within the hiding.” For then, perish the thought, he collapses under his weight and cannot persevere in the trust that his suffering comes from the blessed Holy One for some indiscernible reason. Finally he fails, becomes a heretic, and, perish the thought, says that the blessed Holy One does not watch over His creatures whatsoever, and all that befalls him transpires according to blind fate and nature. This is not seeing even the back.

A portrait of revealing the Face

However, once he has completely revealed the תַבלִין (tavlin), spice—the light of Torah—which man inhales into his body by his strengthening of trust in the blessed Holy One, he becomes worthy of providence with His face revealed. This means that the blessed Holy One acts with him as  befits His name, “The Good who does good.”

He discovers that he receives abundant goodness and great peace from the blessed Holy One and is always satisfied. For he obtains his livelihood with ease and to the fullest, never experiencing trouble or pressure, knows no illness, is highly respected by people, effortlessly accomplishes any plan that enters his mind, and succeeds wherever he turns.

When he wishes for something, he prays and he is instantaneously answered, as He always answers anything that he demands of Him, and not a single prayer is denied. When he strengthens his good deeds, he succeeds even more, and when he is negligent, his success decreases proportionally.

All of his acquaintances are honest, have a good livelihood and good health. They are highly respected in the eyes of people and have no worries at all. They are at peace all day, continually. They are smart, men of truth, possess a good appearance, and he feels blessed to be among them. But all of his acquaintances who do not follow the way of Torah have a poor livelihood, are troubled by heavy debts, and fail to find even a single moment’s rest. They suffer illness in pain, and are loathsome in the eyes of people. They seem to him inane, lacking in common decency, wicked, cruel, and flatterers full of lies such that it is intolerable to keep their company.

His blessed Name shows us that He is good and does good to all His creatures in every manner of benefit, and sufficient for every type among Israel. Certainly, the pleasure of one is not like the pleasure of another. For example, one who engages in wisdom will not take pleasure in honor and wealth, and one who does not engage in wisdom will not take pleasure in great attainment and innovating in wisdom. Thus, He gives wealth and honor to one, and wondrous attainment in wisdom to another.

A man’s demand to become stronger in his trust in the blessed Holy One’s providence over the world during a time of hiding brings him to murmur in books of Torah [cf. Psalms 1:2: But YHWH’s teaching is his desire, and His teaching he murmurs day and night], and to take from there the insight and understanding of how to strengthen his trust in His providence. The insights that he receives are called תוֹרָה תַבלִין (torah tavlin), “antidote of Torah,” until they reach a certain measure, when the blessed Holy One has compassion on him and pours upon him the spirit from on high—supernal abundance.

In summary: A portrait of hiding the Face

  1. Suffering torments such as lack of livelihood, poor health, humiliations, failing to achieve plans, personal doubt, such that he keeps himself from troubling his companion.
  2. Praying without being answered. When he improves his deeds he declines, but when he regresses in his deeds he is very successful. There is no chance of earning a living in a proper way, only through deceit and theft, or by desecrating the Sabbath.
  3. All of his honest acquaintances suffer poverty, ill health, and humiliations of all kinds, and his wicked acquaintances mock him everyday and successful, healthy, wealthy, and lead carefree lives.
  4. All of his righteous acquaintances who keep Torah and mitsvot seem cruel, egotistical, backwards, born fools, lacking in common decency, and great hypocrites. He finds them repulsive, even in the Garden of Eden, and cannot tolerate their company for a moment.

A portrait of revealing the Face

  1. Receiving good, abundant peace, and earning his livelihood with ease and to the fullest. He never feels stress or ill health, he is respected wherever he turns, and successfully and easily accomplishes any plan that enters his mind.
  2. When he prays, he is answered immediately. When he improves his deeds, he is very successful, and if he regresses in his deeds, he loses his success.
  3. All his acquaintances who walk along the upright path are wealthy, healthy, know no sickness, are highly respected in the eyes of the world, and dwell in peace and quiet. His acquaintances who do not walk along the upright path are without livelihood, filled with troubles, grief, illness, and are loathsome in the eyes of people.
  4. He regards all his righteous acquaintances as clever, reasonable, well-mannered, men of truth, and possessing of a good appearance such that it is a great pleasure to be in their company.


The Breath of Life

“נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים (Nishmat ḥayyim), the breath of life (Genesis 2:7). She has five names: nefesh, ruaḥ, neshamah, ḥayyah, yeḥidah. Nefesh—blood, as is written, the blood is הַנָּפֶשׁ (ha-nefesh), the life (Deuteronomy 12:23). Ruaḥ—she ascends and descends [like the רוּחַ (ruaḥ), wind]: as is written, Who knows whether man’s רוּחַ (ruaḥ), spirit, goes upward and the beast’s spirit goes down to earth (Ecclesiastes 3:21). Neshamah—הָאוֹפִיָּא (ha-ofiyya), the breath [or: temperament. Cf. אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם (erekh appayim), Long-suffering (lit., Long-nosed)]; as people say, ‘His temperament is good.’ Ḥayyah—all the limbs are lifeless, yet she is חַיָּה (ḥayyah), vitality, in the body. Yeḥidah—all the limbs [or: organs] are two by two (Genesis 7:9), yet she is יְחִידָה (yeḥidah), unique, in the body’ [cf. Psalms 22:21: Save from the sword נַפְשִׁי (nafshi), my life, from the cur’s power יְחִידָתִי (yeḥidati), my person].

It is written, Should He set His mind on man, if He would gather to Him רוּחוֹ וְנִשְׁמָתוֹ (ruḥo ve-nismato), his spirit and his breath, all flesh would expire together, man to the dust would return (Job 34:14-15). Rabbi Yehoshua son of Rabbi Neḥemyah and the Rabbis discussed this. Rabbi Yehoshua son of Rabbi Neḥemyah interpreted it: ‘Should God set His mind on this man—רוּחוֹ (ruḥo), his spirit, was already in His hand [i.e., when man sleeps at night]’; ‘If He would gather to him his breath, into his body, all humanity would expire together‘ [i.e., if He concentrated man’s soul in one part of his body instead of permitting her to pervade all his limbs]; but when man is sleeping the neshamah warms the body so that it should not shiver and die. Rabbi Bisni, Rabbi Aḥa, and Rabbi Yoḥanan in Rabbi Meir’s name said: The neshamah fills the body, and when man sleeps she ascends and draws life for him from above. Rabbi Levi said in Rabbi Ḥanina’s name: She repeatedly ascends. For every breath which a man takes he must give praise to the blessed Holy One. What is the reason? Let every הַנְּשָׁמָה (ha-neshamah), soul, praise Yah (Psalms 150:6)—let every הַנְּשִׁימָה (ha-neshimah), breath, praise Yah.

… Rabbi Shemu’el, the son-in-law of Rabbi Ḥanina, the companion of the Rabbis, said: Here [Genesis 2:7] neshamah is identified with nesfesh, whereas in another text the neshamah is equated with ruaḥ [ibid. 7:22: all that had the נִשְׁמַת רוּחַ חַיִּים (nishmat ruaḥ ḥayyim), quickening breath of life, in its nostrils]. How do we know that the statement of the one text is applicable to that of the other and vice versa? Because ḥayyim (life) is written in both texts, proving that they are analogous [hence the neshamah is both nefesh and ruaḥ]” (Bereshit Rabbah 14:9).

“Why is it called זָהָב (zahav), gold? Because in it three qualities are wedded. זָכָר (Zakhar) male—ז (zayin). הַנְשָׁמָה (Ha-neshamah), the soul [is נְקֵבָה (neqevah), female]—ה (he), for ה״ (five) names of the soul: nefesh, ruaḥ, neshamah, ḥayyah, yeḥidah. What is the function of ה (he)? It is a כִּסֵּא (kisse), throne, for ז (zayin), as is written, For he who is high has a higher one watching him (Ecclesiastes 5:7). ב (Bet) is sustenance, as is said: בְּרֵאשִׁית בָרָא (Bereshit vara), in the beginning fatten (Genesis 1:1) [cf. Ibn Ezra on Genesis 1:1; 1 Samuel 2:29: לְהַבְרִיאֲכֶם מֵרֵאשִׁית (le-havriakhem me-reshit), to make yourselves fat from the first portions].

What is its purpose here? A parable: A king once had a daughter who was good, sweet, lovely, and perfect. He married her to a royal prince, and clothed, crowned, and bejeweled her, giving her much wealth. Is it possible for the king to ever leave his daughter? You will agree that it is not. Is it possible for him to be with her constantly? You will also agree that it is not. What then must he do? He places a חַלּוֹן (ḥallon), screen, between the two, and whenever the father needs his daughter, or the daughter needs her father, they can come together through this screen [alt., וִילוֹן (vilon), Curtain, see BT Ḥagigah 12b, cf. Zohar 3:222b (RM)]. Therefore it is written All the princess’s treasure is inward, filigree of זָהָב (zahav), gold, her raiment (Psalms 45:14)” (Bahir §53-54).

600,000 Souls by Rabbi Yehudah Ashlag (Ba’al ha-Sullam)

canva-photo-editor (1)It is said that there are 600,000 souls, and each soul divides into several sparks [see Shir ha-Shirim Rabbah 4:2; Zohar 3:215a, 273b, (both RM); ZḤ 74d (ShS)]. We must understand how it is possible for the spiritual to divide, since from the outset, only a single soul was created, the soul of אָדָם הַרִאשׁוֹן (adam ha-rishon), Primordial Man [see M Sanhedrin 4:5: “… Man was first created as one נֶפֶשׁ (nefesh), soul, to teach you that anyone who destroys a נֶפֶשׁ (nefesh), person, is considered by Scripture to have destroyed an entire world; and anyone who saves a person is as if he saved an entire world”].

In my opinion, there is indeed but a single soul in the world, as is written, And He blew into his nostrils the soul of life (Genesis 2:7). And that same soul is found within all the Children of Israel, in each and every one, as with Primordial Man, since the spiritual is indivisible and cannot be cut, for that is precisely the quality of material things. Yet, when we say that there are 600,000 souls, and sparks of souls, it appears as though this is separation by means of the power inhering in the body of each individual. In other words, first, the body interfers and entirely denies him the radiance of the soul, but through the power of the Torah and the mitsvah, the body is cleansed, and to the degree of its cleansing, the נְשָׁמָה כְּלָלִית (neshamah kelalit), universal soul, shines upon him.

For this reason, two בְּחִינוֹת (beḥinot), facets, were made in the material body:

With the first, one senses his soul as particularly special and does not understand that this is the whole of Israel. And this is truly a flaw. With the second, the true light of the soul of Israel does not shine upon him with its entire power of illumination, but only partially, according to the degree he has purified himself by returning to the כְּלָל (kelal), whole.

The sign of the body’s complete restoration is when one feels that his soul is found in the whole of Israel in each and every one of them, and he does not have a sense of himself as an individual, since one depends on the other. Then he is perfect, without blemish, and the soul truly shines upon him with all her power, as it appeared in Primordial Man, in the mystery of “The one who exhales, exhales from within himself” [see Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liady, Liqqutei Amarim, Tanya 2].

And this is the matter of the three times of a man [see Job 33:29, cf. Zohar (RM) ad loc]:

A spark of a soul—mystery of sparkling in the secret of permitted and forbidden; an individual soul—one part of 600,000, in the mystery of permanent completion, yet his flaw remains with him. This means that his body cannot receive the entire soul, and he senses himself as distinct, which causes him great sufferings of love.

Afterwards, he is drawn near perfection, mystery of the universal soul, since the body has been cleansed and it is totally dedicated to the blessed Holy One, and does not perform anything out of self-interest [lit., does not make any שִׁעוּרִים וֽמָסָכִים (shiurim ve-masakhim), measurments and screens], and is entirely included in the whole of Israel.

… We learned that “Even if one man came before his Master in complete repentance, the King Messiah would come immediately” (BT Shabbat 118b) [cf. JT Ta’anit 1:1; 64:1]. It seems to mean, as they said, “Moses is equal to 600,000.” We should understand this, since this would mean that there are two times 600,000 souls—the soul of Moses and the soul of Israel. But the truth is that there is no more than one soul, as is known to the degree each and every soul purifies and cleanses herself of her filth [of self-centeredness]. Hence, when all the souls are restored, they will draw upon themselves the entire supernal soul of אֲצִילוּת (atsilut), Emanation, to each and every soul, since the spiritual is indivisible. At that time: And YHWH shall be King over all the earth (Zechariah 14:9). Hence, when even a single soul is denied total purity, the emanation of holiness is deficient in every soul of Israel. And when a single soul of Israel is purified of all her filth, she draws upon herself every facet of the soul of Atsilut, and by this, repairs all the souls of the generation. This is the meaning of one being dependent on the other, as is written, “There is one amongst you who is worthy that the Shekhinah should rest on him, but his generation does not merit it” (BT Sanhedrin 11a).

The content of the words is entirely bewildering: the same soul that was rewarded with purification immediately strives to increase the favor of the generation and receive for them, until she elevates the entire generation to her degree. This is the meaning of “Moses is equal to 600,000.” Because he was their Faithful Shepherd, he possessed the same holiness as that of the entire generation. Understand this.  

Indeed, with each and every aspect is found the whole, since in the end, all the souls will unite into one בְּחִינָה (beḥina), facet, in the mystery of returning to their spiritual root.

Hence, all the miracles and wonders and journeys they had experienced throughout the world during six thousand years must be experienced by every individual. The good soul attracts to herself every בְּחִינָה (beḥina), aspect, of holiness, before and after. The bad soul acts to the contrary. And mystery of the changing times are regarded as “generations.” However, each generation acts as its own judge, according to the intellect that judges it, since it receives from the holiness of that time. Therefore, each person is capable of attracting the souls of Moses, Aaron, Samuel, David, and Solomon, as times that it experiences.

At the time of the exodus from Egypt and the receiving of the Torah, the soul of Moses our teacher, peace be upon him, appeared. And in the seven conquests, the soul of Joshua, and in the building of the Temple, the soul of King Solomon. Understand this. This does not refer to the aforementioned individual souls, but rather according to the rule that we said before, that the spiritual is indivisible. When one is rewarded with a soul, immediately he is rewarded with the soul of the whole of Israel, according to one’s merit and place however. Hence, at a time when he is rewarded with these wonders, he receives within himself the abundance of the soul in that revelation, hence the name of the master of that revelation is upon him, literally.

They said, “All of Israel are sons of kings” (BT Shabbat 67a; Bava Metsi’a 113b). And also, “A king that dies, all of Israel are worthy of kingship” (JT Horayot 3:5). This is a great mystery, for in all the previous generations, which were but a preparation for the special vessels of kingship required for anointment of their judges, such as the souls of Moses and Samuel and so forth. But the ultimate purpose depends on the whole of Israel, since when a small fraction of a spark is missing, the end cannot be revealed. Hence, all of Israel are worthy of kingship, since everyone is truly equal from this point of view.

For this reason, there is no special vessel for drawing down that perfection, but anyone who cleanses and purifies himself is worthy of drawing down the revelation of מַלְכוּת (malkhut), Kingship, in the world and will be called King David, literally. This is the mystery of [Sanctification of the Moon:] “David, King of Israel lives and will endure” (BT Rosh ha-Shanah 25a), for he has not died at all. And his vessel is found within each and every person of Israel. This is not so with the soul of Moses, which is found only among the wise disciples of the generation, as well as in prophets and priests. And this is the mystery of “A king that dies, all of Israel are worthy of kingship.”

This is also the mystery of “He fulfills on behalf of the many” (M Rosh ha-Shanah 2:5) [cf. BT Rosh ha-Shanah 33b]. And the matter of “In the footsteps of the Messiah impudence will increase” (BT Sotah 49a), the child shall behave himself proudly against the elder, and the base against the honorable (Isaiah 3:5). Even a proud child will dare to draw down His kingship to the world, as though he were one of the elders and the honorable of the generation. Should the base, too—one who has a lowly and deplorable soul at his root—aim his heart and purify his deeds to become worthy, he shall be rewarded with drawing down the entire soul of a holy nation in his soul, with all the wonders that the holy nation has experienced so far.

This is because they were all only preparation for this perfection. Hence, even that individual soul must experience [lit., taste] everything, and he will acquire his world in an hour [cf. M Avot 4:22: “He (Rabbi Ya’aqov) used to say: Better one hour of repentance and good deeds in this world than all the life in the world to come. Better one hour of bliss in the world to come than the whole life of this world”; BT Berakhot 17a: “May you see your world in your lifetime”]. This is due to the ability of that generation to drawn down the crown of His kingship, blessed be He, which includes the whole: “All are dependent on the master of wheat [i.e., the master of Torah who knows how to determine authentic traditions]” (BT Berakhot 64a-b; Bava Batra 145a-b), and each and every element is bound to him. Understand this.

And this is as they said, “Even if one man came before his Master in complete repentance, the King Messiah would come immediately.” Meaning that whoever it is, even if it is only one man in the generation who is rewarded with drawing down that soul to himself, he is able to reward his entire generation, since all who are bound, “fulfill on behalf of the many,” and he can increase prayer and remain steadfast until he rewards his entire generation. This is not so with regards to other redemptions, which were only in the form of preparations and did not belong to every one. For example, the giving of the Torah belonged only to the generation of the desert and to Moses. However, any other generation, even if they were more worthy, would not draw that, and neither did any other person besides Moses, for this depends on that. Yet, the Messiah is prepared for every generation. Therefore, it is also prepared for each and every person to draw down the Messiah, as in “All who are bound,” as mentioned above. And the reason is that anointments concern the תִקּוּן הַכֵּלִים (tiqqun ha-kelim), repair of the vessels, but the image of all the vessels is equal, since any division between them is only in their wisdom, understanding, and knowledge, according to their qualities. Hence, from the prince who sees the King’s face to the one who sits behind the millstones (Exodus 11:5), all are equal servants in restoring the former glory, and in that, there is no distinction between one and his fellow.

A Single Mitsvah by Rabbi Yehudah Ashlag (Ba’al ha-Sullam)

Ba'al ha-Sullam Portrait“If he performs one mitsvah, happy is he for turning the scale both of himself and of the whole world on the side of merit” (BT Qiddushin 40b).

There is no serving the blessed Holy One and keeping the mitsvot except in “לִישְׁמָהּ (Lishma), for its own sake” (BT Pesaḥim 50b)—to please his Maker. Yet, our sages have already introduced the practice of engaging in Torah and mitsvot even in “לֹא לִישְׁמָהּ (Lo lishma), not for its own sake,” since “From not for its own sake, one comes to for its own sake” (ibid.).

Since the outbreak of the war people’s patience has worn thin and everyone, especially the young, have lost the power to control themselves and for that have become totally rebellious. It has become impossible to instill in them the habits of Torah study and keeping mitsvot. Moreover, the matter of [Torah] “not for its own sake,” which the masses base their practice on, is not the custom at all these days because respect for Torah has completely fallen. Therefore I have come out with this call to young Jews to return to the labor of the blessed Holy One and to be faithful to Him even in a minimal fashion. We do not require of them immediate and total acceptance of Torah and mitsvot in their entirety but simply that each and everyone would at any rate accept a single mitsvah. As the sages said, “Habakkuk came and based all [mitsvot] on one, as is said, And the righteous shall live by his faithfulness (Habakkuk 2:4)” (BT Makkot 24b) [cf. Maimonides on M Makkot 3:16]. Even if a person says he will fulfill all the mitsvot of Torah except for one, this refers to individuals who have become perfected and are now performing the mitsvot “for its own sake.” But before reaching that perfection when the whole point of the service is nothing but an exercise and training so that it will bring the individual to do so “for its own sake” the loss is not so great between him who fulfills in whole or in part.

I say that the first, and only mitsvah which guarantees attainment of the hope of “for its own sake,” is to resolve not to serve oneself, except for what is absolutely necessary—merely providing for one’s sustenance [cf. Marx, Critique of the Gotha Program: “Everyone according to his abilities, each according to his needs”]. The rest of the time, one will work for the public: saving the oppressed, and every creature in the world that is in need of rescue and aid.

Serving people with the blessed Holy One’s mitsvot

1) There are two advantages to this mitsvahEveryone will understand that they are laboring because this work is approved and agreeable to all the people in the world.

2) This mitsvah may better qualify one to keep Torah and mitsvot “for its own sake,” since the preparation is part of the objective. This is so because by accustoming oneself to serving people, one benefits others and not oneself. Thus, one gradually becomes fit to keep the mitsvot of the blessed Holy One with the required condition—benefitting the Creator and not oneself. Naturally, the intention should be to keep the mitsvot of the blessed Holy One.

The part of Torah concerning relations between man and man

There are two parts in Torah: one concerns man and the Omnipresent; the other concerns man and man. And I call upon you to, at any rate, engage and assume that which concerns man and man, since thus you will also learn the part that concerns man and the Omnipresent.

Speech, thought, and action

Service of any kind, should include thought, speech, and action. We have already explained the “practical” part of the single mitsvah: one should agree to dedicate all of one’s free time to benefit people of the world. The aspect of “thought” is more essential in this mitsvah than in mitsvot relating to man and the Omnipresent. This is because in mitsvot between man and the Omnipresent, the “act” in itself testifies that the intention is to please his Maker, as there is no other room for such an action but Him.

Yet, with what concerns man and man, they are justified in and of themselves, since human conscience necessitates them. However, if one performs them from this perspective, he certainly has not done a thing. In others words, these actions will not bring him closer to his Maker and to actual service “for its own sake.”

Thus, each person should think that one is doing all that only to please his Maker, and to resemble His ways: as He is merciful, I am merciful, and as He always imparts good, so do I. This image, coupled with good deeds, will bring one closer to the blessed Holy One in a way that will equalize one’s form to spirituality and to holiness. In this manner, one becomes like a seal, fit to receive true supernal abundance.

And the matter of “speech” refers to prayer with the mouth—during the service and according to fixed times—for the blessed Holy One to turn one’s heart from “receiving to giving.” So, to murmur in Torah and in matters which promote achieving this [cf. Psalms 1:2: But YHWH’s Torah is his desire, and His Torah he murmurs day and night].

Pleasing his Maker unintentionally

It is hopeless to wait for a time when a solution is found for allowing one to begin the service of the blessed Holy One, “for its own sake.” As in the past, so in the future—every servant of the blessed Holy One must begin the service in “not for its own sake,” and from there attain “for its own sake.”

And the way to reach this rung is not limited in time, but by mechanisms and by the measure of one’s mastery over his heart. Hence, many have fallen, and will fall, in the matter of serving “not for its own sake,” and die without wisdom. Yet, their reward is nevertheless great, since one’s mind cannot appreciate the true merit and value of pleasing his Maker. Even if one works not under this condition, since one is not worthy of another way, one still brings contentment to his Maker. And this is called “unintentionally.”

Prophetic truth in material measurement

Since it is an absolute certainty the prophetic abundance must be received with language [lit., צֵירוּפִי אוֹתִיוֹת (tserufi otiot), letter-combinations] suitable for the spirit of beginners, that is, to benefit them and to be open to the self-interest of the generation. This is so because only then is it assured that the blessed Holy One’s word is accepted by the generation by way of “not for its own sake,” since the Creator did not prepare them in any other way, as mentioned above.

Hence, this is the sign of a true prophet: his prophecy is best suited for the material success of his contemporaries, as is written, And what great nation is there that has just statutes and laws like all this teaching that I am about to set before you today? (Deuteronomy 4:8). Since the material success at hand confirms their truthfulness, that, at last, it is indeed a widening of the gateway, as mentioned above.

The obligation to keep the 613 mitsvot

The 613 mitsvot, considered holy names, concern the matter of הַשׁגָחָה פְּרָטִית (hashgaḥah pratit), individual providence, for all who approach to receive divine abundance. Man is obligated to experience all of these orders, excepting none. Hence, the perfected ones follow them with their very being, in order to preserve them, down to their material branches, in the mystery of, In every place that I make My name invoked, I shall come to you and bless you (Exodus 20:24).

The Wisdom of Truth

The ancients chose a particular path for themselves, and I chose a general way, since to my mind it better suits the Divine, to ensconce Him in unchanging and eternal language. I mean to say that [even] with material success, they will not change in any place, nor in any time. Thus, my words are definitive.

For this reason I am forced to express רוּחָנִיוּת (ruḥaniut), spirituality, in a general way. However, I instead choose to explain all the particulars and immaterial language, to the most minute detail, which has no source other than this anthology, without the garment of material language—the pure Kabbalah. And by elucidating the spiritual particulars without the garment of material expressions, it will do much for the development of attainment. And this wisdom is called the Wisdom of Truth.


In prophecy no error or falsehood can occur, since in light of the truth which derives from the blessed Holy One how can there be error? Rather, it is as certain as rain and snow falling from the sky onto the soil, not ceasing until successful in their mission. Yet, soil that has been prepared by stone-removal and by plowing is better fit to receive than unprepared soil—everything depends on the preparation.

There is certainly a distinction among prophets, the kabbalists, since one is not actually in the [same] degree as his companion. Greatness or smallness is gauged according to the preparation of that prophet: one in a lower degree, due to a lack of tremendous preparation, is deficient in the light poured upon him, yet, the light of prophecy does not suffer any errors [itself]. However, his smallness causes him to use profuse language [lit., צֵירוּפִי אוֹתִיוֹת (tserufi otiot), letter-combinations], which is the multiplication of צִנוֹרוֹת וְכְּלִים (tsinorot ve-kelim), channels and vessels, until he attains prophecy.

Brevity is prophetic success

A prophet of a smaller degree imposes a more arduous way upon the people to whom he has been sent, although the veracity of a prophet is ultimately determined by the success of his will. However, one of a greater degree, whose preparation is meticulous, experiences no aberration when he receives his prophecy from the blessed Holy One. Hence, he will not increase the channels and vessels, since his prophecy is clear, concise, and easily and quickly accepted by those to whom he has been sent.

It is possible that the smaller may succeed more than the greater

Besides the aforementioned, it is possible for the smallest of prophets to succeed with his prophecy even more than the greatest prophet—concerning the aforementioned brevity—since he relies on the revelations of prior prophets, who paved his way for him. It also depends on the development of his audience, since clear and concise words require a more developed generation, so they can understand him. And if these two [conditions] augment one of a small degree, he can succeed far more than a great one [cf. John of Salisbury, Metalogicon 257].

The secret of prophecy through the generations

Although Moses our teacher, peace be upon him, received the Torah and the statutes for all the generations, to such an extent that a prophet is not permitted any innovations, his prophecy was only given for a time. This is attested to by: A prophet like me from your midst, from your brothers, YHWH will raise up. Him shall you heed (Deuteronomy 18:15). If the prophecy of Moses, peace be upon him, were enough for all eternity, why would the blessed Holy One send any other prophets such as him? Clearly, his prophecy was effective only for its time. And when that time is through, the blessed Holy One sends another prophet to extend or complete His desire.

Yet, the prophet is not permitted to renew or subtract a thing, for this would mean that there was a deficiency in the previous prophet, perish the thought. Rather, the words of the blessed Holy One are always perfect, as is written, I am the fist and I am the last (Isaiah 44:6). And his only task is to extend that same prophecy to those generations that are no longer worthy of receiving from the first.

And the final prophet is the mystery of מָשִׁיחַ (mashiaḥ), Messiah, who fulfills them all. He, too, is certainly not permitted to add or subtract, but his success will be greater, since the whole generation will be fit to receive his words and be fulfilled through him. This is so for two reasons: either because of their greatness, or because of his contemporaries, or because of both.

The essence of prophetic success

The essence of prophetic success is לְהַמשִׁיך (le-hamshikh), to draw, the supernal light down to the lowest ones below. The one who brings it lowest is the most successful. Above and below are measured in spirit and in physical benefit, since the physical obtained by prophecy is the point that gives people footing, and it is known that the focal point in the work of God is the first footing.

A general force and a particular force

Their uniqueness is the unity of the blessed Holy One and the Shekhinah. A particular force is forbidden reception until the lowest degree, and a general force is the multiplication of giving with all his might and his very being.