The Nut Garden

לקוטים מזוהר (Gleanings of Zohar)

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Bitter Almonds can Surely be Sweetened by the Fire!

roastingalmonds“Our rabbis taught: Small bitter almonds are subject to tithing, but the large are exempt; large sweet almonds are subject to tithing, but the small are exempt. Rabbi Yishma’el son of Rabbi Yose says in the name of his father: Both are exempt. Others have the reading: Both are subject to tithing. Rabbi Il’ai said that Rabbi Ḥanin ruled in Sepphoris in accordance with the view of him who maintains that both are exempt. But according to him who maintains that both are subject to tithing [it will be asked]: What use can be made of large bitter almonds?—Rabbi Yoḥanan answered: They can surely be sweetened by [roasting in] the fire!” (BT Ḥullin 25b).

“And it shall be, if you do not heed the voice of YHWH your God to keep to do all His commands and His statutes that I charge you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you… 

Inasmuch as you will not have served YHWH your God in joy and with a good heart out of an abundance of all things, you will serve your enemies whom YHWH will send against you in hunger and in thirst and in nakedness and in the lack of all things, and he will put an iron yoke on your neck until you are destroyed…

And YHWH will bring you back to Egypt in ships, on the way that I said to you, ‘You shall not see it again,’ and you will put yourselves up for sale there to your enemies as male slaves and slavegirls, and there will be no buyer” (Deuteronomy 28:15, 47–48, 68).

Rabbi Shim’on son of Yoḥai fled to the wilderness of Lydda and hid in a cave—he and his son, Rabbi El’azar. A miracle occurred for them—a carob tree sprouted and a spring of water gushed forth. They ate from the carob tree and drank from the waters. Elijah, of blessed memory, visited them twice daily and taught them, without anyone knowing about it.

One day, the sages were in the beit midrash, questioning and debating: ‘The curses of Leviticus allude to the First Temple, while the curses of Deuteronomy allude to the Second Temple. The curses of Leviticus contain promises and the blessed Holy One’s affection for Israel, as is written: I will remember My covenant with Jacob (Leviticus 26:42), and Yet even this, too—when they are in the land of their enemies, [I will not reject them] (ibid., 44). The curses of Deuteronomy contain no promises nor any consolation at all such as are found in the first curses.’ And none of them could explain it.

Rabbi Yehudah son of Il’ai rose, saying, ‘Woe for the absence of Son of Yoḥai! No on knows his whereabouts; and even if they did, they could not divulge.’

Rabbi Yose son of Rabbi Yehudah arose one morning and saw birds flying—a turtledove trailing them. He stood up, saying, ‘Turtledove! Faithful Turtledove! Since the days of the flood, the form of the holy people has suited you and graced you [because the dove is distinctive among birds in that it does not mate with another bird, should its mate disappear during the season, cf. BT Berakhot 53b]. Go, serve as my messenger to Son of Yoḥai, wherever he is.’ The dove circled around and came before him. He wrote a note, recording what he had said. The dove arose and took it in its mouth, traveling to Rabbi Shim’on, carrying it under her wing.

Rabbi Shim’on looked at the note and cried—he along with his son Rabbi El’azar. He said, ‘I weep because of our separation from the Companions; and I weep regarding these matters that have not been revealed to them! What will later generations do when they consider this!

Just then, Elijah, of blessed memory, arrived. He saw him weeping, and said, ‘I was ready for a different mission, but the blessed Holy One dispatched me to dry your tears. Oh, Rabbi, Rabbi! Now was not the time to reveal these matters to the righteous, but here is what the blessed Holy One explained. The first curses contain thirty-two verses, all corresponding to the paths of Torah. The latter curses contain fifty-three verses, corresponding to the parashot and routes of the Torah. In the first exile, from the First Temple, Israel passed along those concealed, secret paths. Their sins were revealed and their end was revealed, along with consolation and promises for them. In the latter exile—after the Second Temple—the people of Israel transgressed against fifty-three portions, revealed paths. Their sins were concealed and their ends were concealed—neither promises nor consolation were written [cf. BT Yoma  9b].’

Just then, a wind gusted by, separating them, sweeping Elijah up in a wheel of fire. Rabbi Shim’on remained, weeping. He fell asleep at the opening of the cave. Suddenly Elijah, of blessed memory, came saying, ‘Arise, Rabbi Shim’on! Wake up from your slumber. Happy is your portion, for the blessed Holy One is concerned for your honor! All the promises and consolations of Israel are written in these curses.

Go, see how a king loves his son, and even though he curses and lashes him, his deep love endures. When he displays severe wrath, his compassion for him prevails. Similarly, with the blessed Holy One—even though He curses, His words come from love. In their revealed form they appear to be curses, but they are great boons, because the curses came from love. This contrasts with the first ones, which all derived from harsh judgment. In these there is judgment and love—like a father who loves his son while gripping in his hand a switch for flogging. The child shrieks mightily, creating a din; but the lashes are lessened with love [cf. BT Berakhot 5a].

Most severe of all these curses—What’s more, every illness and every plague that is not mentioned in this Scroll of Torah YHWH will hide from you, that would have caused you to be wiped out (Deuteronomy 28:61). Here are promises of great love from father to son! It is not written יַעֲלֶה (ya’aleh), will bring [upon you], but rather יַעְלֵם (ya’lem), will hide [from you]. He will subdue them and nullify them in a pit—their place—so that they cannot venture forth; rather, they will be subdued and covered in their pit.

Until you are wiped out (ibid.)—which will never, ever happen, for the blessed Holy One took an oath that He would never destroy Israel, and that their memory will endure forever. This is as is written: so shall your seed and your name stand (Isaiah 66:22), and As I live, if the heavens above could be measured… (Jeremiah 31:37). Since it has been sworn by oath that Israel will never, ever be wiped out, it is fitting that plagues and illnesses should be concealed and covered, never emerging to harm them to the extent of annihilation—that will never, ever happen.

The end and conclusion of them all is YHWH will bring you back to Egypt in ships, by a route that I told you, ‘You shall not see it again.’ There you shall offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male slaves and slavegirls, but there will be no buyer (Deuteronomy 28:68)—promises and consolations that the blessed Holy One provides to Israel at the end of days! YHWH will bring you back to Egypt in ships—a promise to return them, and to perform miracles and signs that the blessed Holy One had enacted in Egypt in days of yore. This is as is said: As in the days of your coming out of the land of Egypt, I will show him wonders (Micah 7:15).

בָּאֳנִיּוֹת (Bo-oniyyot), In ships—but here its meaning is as you have said, expounding it as בַּעֲנִיּוּת (ba-aniyyut), in poverty, without a coin in one’s purse [cf. BT Sanhedrin 97a: ‘The (Messiah,) son of David, will not come until… the (last) coin has gone from the purse’]. Everyone in the world is poised to pounce upon Israel, aboard seafaring vessels, intending to annihilate them, but they will all drown in the sea just as was done in olden days, and joy abounded. Here it is written בָּאֳנִיּוֹת רִנָּתָם (bo-oniyyot rinnatam), raising their voice in ships (Isaiah 43:14)—just as joy is there, so is there joy here [cf. Ester Rabbah, Petiḥta 3].

By a route which I told you—since the day that the world was created the might of the blessed Holy One has not been seen in the world, nor the time of favor, other than on that route. For as you see the Egyptians today (Exodus 14:13)—on that same route, in that very manner, so shall He do for you.

Further, they will gather afterward from all sides against Israel, and the people of Israel will think then that they will be eliminated—sold to their foes—as is written: There you shall offer yourselves for sale. It is not written you shall be sold, but rather you shall offer yourselves for sale—in your hearts you will imagine that you have been sold. But this will not occur—it is written: none will buy. And there will be none who shall rule over them.

All this will occur at the end of days; and it is all dependent upon teshuvah. But it is all concealed, as is written: in order that you may prosper in all that you do (Deuteronomy 29:8)—one who has a heart should contemplate and will know to return to his Lord [on teshuvah as a prerequisite for redemption, see JT Ta’anit 1:1, 63d; BT Sanhedrin 97b; Pirqei de-Rabbi Eli’ezer 43; Tanḥuma, Beḥuqqotai 3; Tanḥuma (Buber), Beḥuqqotai 5; Zohar 1:117b; 2:188b–189a; ZḤ 8a, 23c (both MhN)].

Rabbi Shim’on asked, ‘Where is Israel’s redemption revealed among these curses?’

Elijah replied, ‘Examine carefully and see the most horrific instance of them all—that is where it appears.’ He examined carefully, and found the verse Your life will dangle before you, and you will be terrified night and day and will have no faith in your life (Deuteronomy 28:66). Even though there are those who know that time, life dangles before them, and they are uncertain—even though this is the essence, and the words endure.

In the evening, Rabbi Shim’on wrote a note and placed it in the mouth of the turtledove, which journeyed back to Rabbi Yose—who had stayed put, his eyes expectant. Upon spotting [the dove], he said, ‘Turtledove, Turtledove, you are the most faithful bird in the skies!’ He proclaimed of it: the dove came back to him at eventide; and look, a plucked off olive leaf was in its bill (Genesis 8:11). He took the note and went to the Companions. He showed it to them, and they were astonished.

Rabbi Yehudah wept, saying, ‘Alas! Even though we do not know his whereabouts, the place where the tree falls, there it will be (Ecclesiastes 11:3) [cf. BT Bekhorot 57b; Eikhah Rabbah 1:37]. Where Son of Yoḥai is found, his companions are there with him, awakened by him, learning from him. Happy is the soul of Son of Yoḥai, for the blessed Holy One has performed miracles with him; he has decreed, and the blessed Holy One has fulfilled! [cf. BT Mo’ed Qatan 16b; Zohar 3:15a]. In the future, he will be the head of the righteous ones who sit in the Garden of Eden; he will receive the face of the Shekhinah and will see the blessed Holy One. Delighting with the righteous ones, he will call to them: Come, let us bow down kneel; let us bend the knee before YHWH our Maker (Psalms 95:6)'” (Zohar Ḥadash 59c–60a).


A Mighty Tree: its Top Reaches the Heavens and its Branches to the End of all the Earth


SCATAGLINI (1)There is a tree in the earth and its height is great. The tree grew and became mighty, and its top reaches the heavens and its branches to the end of all the earth. Its foliage is lovely and its fruit great, and there is food for all in it. Beneath it the beasts of the field are shaded, and in its branches the birds of the heavens dwell, and all flesh is nourished from it (Daniel 4:7–9).

“I am the one who planted this tree for all the world to delight in. With it I spanned the All, calling it All, for all depends on it, all emanates from it, all need it, all gaze upon it and await it. From here souls fly forth in joy. Alone I was when I made it. When I spread out My earth, in which I planted and rooted this tree—giving them joy in one another, rejoicing along with them—who was with Me (Isaiah 44:24)? To whom could I reveal this secret of Mine?” (Bahir §22).

“They asked [Rabbi Berakhiyah], ‘What is the letter צ (tsadi)?’ He said: ‘This is נ (nun) and י (yod)—צ (tsadi). Its partner [ץ (final tsadi)] is also נ (nun) and י (yod) [alluding to יִנּוֹן (yinnon), bear seed (Psalms 72:17)]. Therefore it is written, צַדִּיק (Tsaddiq), the Righteous One, is a יְסוֹד עוֹלָם (yesod olam), lasting foundation (Proverbs 10:25)” (Bahir §61, cf. ibid. §86).

One pillar extends from earth to the firmament. Its name is צַדִּיק (Tsaddiq)Righteous One, named for the righteous. When there are righteous people in the world, the pillar is strengthened; if not, it is weakened. It upholds the entire world, as is written, The righteous one is the יְסוֹד עוֹלָם (yesod olam), foundation of the world (Proverbs 10:25). If it weakens, the world cannot endure. So if the world contains just one righteous person, that person sustains the world [cf. BT Yoma 38b]” (Bahir §102).

“The blessed Holy One has a single tree containing twelve גְבוּלֵי אֲלַכְסוֹן (gevulei alakhson), diagonal borders: The northeast border, the southeast border; the upper east border, the lower east border; the southwest border, the northwest border; the upper west border, the lower west border; the upper south border, the lower south border; the upper north border, the lower north border. ‘Deepening and expanding until evermore—זְרֹעֹת עוֹלָם (zero’ot olam), arms everlasting [alt., arms of the world] (Deuteronomy 33:27)’ (Sefer Yetsirah §47). On the inside of them is the Tree. Corresponding to these diagonals are twelve officials. Inside the Wheel there are also twelve officials. Including the diagonals themselves reckons thirty-six officials. Each of these has another, as is written for he who is high has a higher one watching him (Ecclesiastes 5:7) [reckoning seventy-two]. It therefore comes out that the east has nine, the west has nine, the north has nine, and the south has nine. These are twelve, twelve, twelve, and they are the officials in the תָּלִי (Tali) in every other one. Even though there are twelve in each of the three, they are all attached to each other. Therefore, all thirty-six powers are in the first one, which is the Tali. And if you seek them in the Wheel, you will find the very same ones. And if you seek them in the Heart, you will again find the very same ones. Each one therefore has thirty-six; All of them are no more than thirty-six צוּרוֹת (tsurot), forms, and all of them are perfected in thirty-two [forms]; thirty-two given to thirty-two, and there remained [out of thirty-six] four; and they are sixty-four forms. How do we know that thirty-two are delivered to thirty-two? As is written, for he who is high has a higher one watching him—thus, there are sixty-four. But eight is [yet] lacking from the seventy-two names, and this is [alluded] in and still higher ones over them (ibid.)—these are the seven days of the week [i.e., the seven lower sefirot]. But one is lacking, and that is [alluded] in And the gain of the land is in everything—a king, is subject to the field (ibid. 5:8) [מֶלֶךְ (melekh), a king—מַלְכוּת (malkhut), Kingdom]. What is this gain? The place from which the earth was hewn. It is a gain over what existed previously. And what is this gain? When that which people see in the world is taken from its radiance—then it is a gain” (Bahir §95).

“Rabbi Berakhiyah sat and expounded: What is the תָּלִי (Tali)? This is the likeness that is before the blessed Holy One, as is written, His locks are תַּלְתַּלִּים (taltallim), curled (Song of Songs 5:11) [the תָּלִי (Tali) is like a serpentine spine which twists the heavens, i.e., Draco, Axis Mundi, see Baraita de-Shemu’el, 1: ‘The elusive Serpent (Job 26:13) is the Tali‘; Sefer Yetsirah §59a: ‘The Tali in the world is like a king on his throne.’ On the resmblence of the spine and a serpent, see BT Bava Qamma 16a]. What is the גַלגַל (galgal), Wheel? It is the בֶּטֶן (beten), Belly [‘Mother of the World,’ Binah, see Bahir §104. On the ‘wheel,’ cf. BT Shabbat 151a]. What is the לֵב (lev), Heart? Heart of the heavens (Deuteronomy 4:11). In it are the ל״ב (thirty-two) paths of Wisdom” (Bahir §106).

“These are the explicit, precious, and magnificent names [cf. BT Qiddushin 72b]. There are twelve names, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel:

אהציצהרון אכליתהרון שמקתרון דמושהרון וצפצפסיתרון הורמירון ברחיהרון ערש גדראון בסאוה מנאהון חזהויה הוהירי האה אהיה והראיתהון

All of them are encompassed by the Heart of the heavens. They comprise male and female, and the officials. The Tali, the Wheel, and the Heart—they are the wellsprings of Wisdom” (Bahir §112).


Threads of the Mind: Any Time that You Tread Through them Peace will be Upon You

Breslov_tzitzit“By means of thirty-two wondrous paths of wisdom Yah YHWH of armies, God of Israel, the Living God, Almighty, high and exalted, dwelling for ever, and Holy is His Name (Isaiah 57:15), carved out. He created His world with three סֶפָרִים (sefarim), ciphers: with בְסֶפֶר וּסְפַר וְסִיפּור (ve-sefer u-sefar ve-sippur), with book, and census, and recounting” (Sefer Yetsirah §1).

“What is the reason that we place blue wool in the tsitsit? And why are there thirty-two [tassels, fringes]? A parable: To what can this be compared? To a king who had a lovely garden, and in it were thirty-two paths. He placed a guard over them to make known that all these paths belong to him alone. He said to him, ‘Guard them and traverse them each day, and at any time that you tread through them peace will be upon you.’ What did the guard do? He appointed other guards over them. He said, If I remain alone on these paths, it is impossible for me, a single guard, to maintain them all. And furthermore, the world may say ‘He is king.’ This is why there are other guards guarding all the paths. These are the thirty-two paths.

What is the reason for the blue? The guard said, ‘Perhaps those other guards will say that the garden belongs to us.’ He therefore gave them a sign, and told them, ‘And look this is the king’s sign, making it known that the garden belongs to him. He is the one who made these paths, and they are not mine. This is his seal.’

A parable: A king and his daughter had servants, and they wanted to travel abroad. But [the servants] were afraid, being in terror of the king. He therefore gave them his sign. They were also afraid of the daughter, and she [too] gave them a sign. They said, ‘From now on, with these two signs YHWH guards you from all harm, He guards your life (Psalms 121:7)” (Bahir §92–§93).

“What is the earth from which the heavens were carved? It is the Throne of the blessed Holy One. It is the אֶבֶן יְקָרָה (even yeqarah), precious Stone, and the sea of Wisdom, corresponding to the blue in the tsitsit. Rabbi Meir thus said: Why is blue chosen above all other colours? [‘Whoever fulfills the mitsvah of tsitsit is as though he greeted the face of Shekhinah,] for the blue resembles the sea, and the sea resembles the sky, and the sky resembles the Throne of Glory’ (Sifrei, Numbers 115) [cf. BT Menaḥot 43b: ‘(Rabbi Shim’on son of Yoḥai taught:) Whoever is diligent with this mitsvah merits receiving the face of Shekhinah‘]. Therefore it is written And they saw the God of Israel, and beneath His feet was like a fashioning of סַפִּיר (sappir), [blue] sapphire, pavement and like the very heavens for pureness (Exodus 24:10). It is furthermore written [And above the firmament that was over their heads was] the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of אֶבֶן סַפִּיר (even sappir), a (blue) sapphire stone: [and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it] (Ezekiel 1:26)” (Bahir §96).

Ḥokhmah—expanding in thirty-two directions and issuing from the Concealed Brain, from the radiance within. That which the Holy Ancient One shines into Ḥokhmah is the beginning of what is revealed. It becomes three heads, with one head encompassing them. These three expand in Ze’eir Anpin, and from these all shine” (Zohar 3:289b, Idra Zuta).

“חוּטִי הַשֶׂכֶל (Ḥuti ha-sekhel), threads of the mind [i.e., tsitsit], expand from the blessed Holy One, each one emanating to watch over Israel” (Berit Menuḥa: Sixth Way, Way of the Intellect).

“And what is ן (nun) [in אֹזֶן (ozen), ear]? To teach you that the brain is the root of the חוּט הַשִׁדרָה (ḥut ha-shidrah), spinal cord, and from there it draws constantly. If not for the spinal cord, the brain would not exist, for the entire trunk is for the sake of the brain, and if the entire trunk were not to exist, the brain would not exist. The spinal cord is the channel from the brain to the entire body, and this is the bent נ (nun). But this ן (nun) [in אֹזֶן (ozen), ear] is elongated! The elongated ן (nun) always comes at the end of a word to teach you that the elongated ן (nun) comprises the bent and the elongated, but the bent is the foundation. This teaches you that the elongated ן (nun) comprises male and female” (Bahir §83).

“Seventh is east to עוֹלָם (olam), eternity, whence comes the seed of Israel. For the spinal cord draws from the brain of man and reaches to the אַמָּה (ammah), cubit [i.e., phallus], whence comes seed. As is written: מִמִּזְרָח אָבִיא זַרְעֶךָ (mimizraḥ avia zarekha), From the east I will bring your seed (Isaiah 43:5) [מִזְרָח (mizraḥ), ‘east,’ shares a root with לִזרוֹחַ (lizroaḥ), ‘to shine,’ and sounds like זַרְעֶךָ (zarekha), your seed. Cf. Bahir §73, §155, §159 ad loc; BT Bava Batra 25a: ‘Rabbi Abbahu said, Shekhinah (receives) in the west’]. When Israel is good before the Omnipresent, I will bring your seed and you will have new seed. But when Israel is bad, the seed is from that which has already come into the world, as is written, A generation goes and a generation comes (Ecclesiastes 1:4), teaching us that it has come already” (Bahir §155).

Wisdoms cry aloud outside, in the squares she lifts her voice (Proverbs 1:20)? This verse is difficult: first it is written Wisdoms cry aloud outside, and then, in the squares she lifts her voice—its beginning does not match the end, nor its end the beginning! However, Wisdoms cry out in the the streets—when it flows from the concealed brain of Arikh Anpin to the brain of Ze’eir Anpin through those strands, it is as if two brains join outside, becoming one brain. And when there is flow from one to the other, it is written she lifts her voice—in the singular.

Because of the flow from brain to brain through those strands, they are not coarse. Why? Because if they were coarse, nothing could flow through them to the brain. Thus, no wisdom emerges from a person who is coarse and angry, as is written: Words of the wise said gently are heard (Ecclesiastes 9:17). From here we learn that if the hair on a person’s head is coarse, wisdom does not settle within him [see BT Pesaḥim 66b: ‘Regarding any person who becomes angry, if he is a sage, his wisdom departs from him; if he is a prophet, his prophecy departs from him’].

Consequently, they are long, to bring benefit to all. What is meant by ‘all’? To enter חוּטָא דְּשִׁדְרָה (ḥuta de-shidrah), the spinal cord, which drinks from the brain. Therefore the hair of the head does not overhang the hair of the beard; for the hair of the head hangs and rises over the ears, behind, not overhanging the beard, because one must not mingle with the other, since each branches out on its own path” (Zohar 3:131b, Idra Rabba).

Come My Lover, Let Us Go Out to the Field

“Rabbi Yose [son of Beivah] said: The blessed Holy One appears to the nations only in the hour when people generally take leave of each other, as it says, And to me came a word in secret… in musings from nighttime’s visions when slumber falls upon men (Job 4:12). Rabbi Leazar son of Menaḥem said: YHWH is far from the wicked (Proverbs 15:29)—the prophets of other nations; but the prayer of the righteous He hears (ibid.)—the prophets of Israel. And Elohim appears to the nations only like one who comes from afar, as you read, They have come from a far country unto me (Isaiah 39:3). But in connection with the prophets of Israel we read [And YHWH] appeared to him (Genesis 18:1), And He called (Leviticus 1:1)—implying, from the immediate vicinity.

What is the difference between the prophets of Israel and the prophets of other nations? Rabbi Ḥanina [son of Papa] said: A parable: A king was with his friend in a chamber but separated by a curtain; whenever he desired to speak to his friend, he folded up the curtain and spoke with him. However, He speaks to the prophets of other nations without folding the curtain back, rather from behind it. The rabbis compared it to a king who has a wife and a concubine; to his wife he goes openly, but to his slavegirl he goes in stealth [cf. Ecclesiastes 2:7]. Similarly, the blessed Holy One appears to the nations only at night, as it says, And Elohim came to Balaam in the night (Numbers 22:20); And Elohim came to Laban the Aramean in a night-dream (Genesis 31:24); And Elohim came to Abimelech in a night-dream (ibid. 20:3)” (Bereshit Rabbah 52:3).

“They asked [Rabbi Berakhiyah]: And he took him to the Lookouts’ field [… and YHWH chanced upon Balaam and put a word in his mouth(Numbers 23:14–16). What is שְׂדֵה צֹפִים (sedeh tsofim), Lookouts’ field? As is written, Come my lover, let us go out to the field, [spend the night in the henna. There will I give my love to you] (Song of Songs 7:12). Do not read הַשָּׂדֶה (ha-sadeh), the field, but הַשִׁדָּה (ha-shiddah), the concubine [see Ecclesiastes 2:8]. And why the concubine? The blessed Holy One’s Heart said to Him, ‘Come my lover, let us go out to the concubine for a stroll and not always lie in one place.’

And what is His Heart? He said to him: If Son of Zoma is outside you are with him [see BT Ḥagigah 14b–16a]. The לֵב (lev) Heart, is ל״ב (thirty-two). These are sealed and with them the world was created [i.e., with the thirty-two iterations of אֱלֹהִים (Elohim) in the Works of Creation, see Zohar 3:82b, 256b–257a (all RM), cf. Zohar 2:123a]. What are these thirty-two? He said: These are thirty-two paths [see Sefer Yetsirah §1–§2]. A parable: a king residing within the innermost chambers, thirty-two in all, each with its own path. Now, is it fitting for this king that everyone enter his chambers by his paths? Certainly not! But is it fitting for him not to display his pearls, his brocades, his hidden treasures, and his precious objects? Certainly not! What did he do? He designated [lit., נֶגַע (nega), touched] the daughter and included all the paths in her and in her garments. Whoever wishes to enter, let him gaze here! He married her to a king, and also gave her to him as a gift. Because of his love for her, he sometimes calls her ‘My sister,’ since they come from a single place. Sometimes he calls her ‘My daughter,’ for she is his daughter; and sometimes he calls her ‘My mother’ [cf. Shir ha-Shirim Rabbah on 3:11]” (Bahir §61–§63).

Reuben went out during the days of the wheat harvest (Genesis 30:14). We have learned: Cup of Blessing receives blessing only from the side; so as long as the right is aroused toward Cup of Blessing, the left provides no support. For the right finds warrant in that cup to arouse it toward the upper world.

This secret: Out went Reuben—south side; thus, his banner is in the south. For he is head of the twelve boundaries, and his desire—to find a means, an offering—for Matronita, to bless Her. What is written? [Hefound mandrakes in the field. He went searching amid all Her treasures and found, in this field, mandrakes. Of them is written The mandrakes give forth fragrance… (Song of Songs 7:14)—two cherubim, Her embellishments awakening arousal above. For among all those adornments, none arous besides cherubim.

South side—when does He arouse toward Her, seeking cause to bless Her? During the days of the wheat harvest (Genesis 30:14)—when She distributes shares of fortune to Her legions and all the reapers of the field. At once, [hebrought them to Leah his mother—their fragrance and arousal wafted upward, toward Upper World, concealed world, arousing blessings for the Lower World.

Once She is blessed, those mandrakes collect, then bestow upon all worlds, as is written: the mandrakes give forth fragrance, at our doors all delicacies (Song of Songs 7:14). When they exude their aroma, south side absorbs it, arousing toward the Upper World. At once, at our doors all delicacies—no beneficence lacking from the world. Lower world does not arouse toward Upper World without the cherubim wafting fragrance toward the right. After they bestow aroma to the right, and the right arouses toward Upper World, at once Lower World arouses to petition for its needs. What is written? Rachel said to Leah, ‘Please give me’ (Genesis 30:14). Give me blessings from the arousal of mandrakes, aroused for you by the right side.

Then, Upper World joyfully, playfully, responded to her, saying, ‘Is your taking my husband a small thing?‘ (ibid. 30:15)—like a mother to her daughter. If so, the Husband of the Upper World must be Jacob! Not so! Yearning of the Father is always exclusively for his Daughter. His love is directed toward Her because She is the only daughter, among six sons [sefirot]. He doles out provisions, largesse, and gifts to each of those six sons—but He allocates nothing for Her, nor does She inherit anything. On account of all this, He watches over Her with greater fondness and love than all the rest.

Out of love for Her, He called Her ‘Daughter’ [cf. BT Bava Batra 16b]. This did not satisfy Him, so He called Her ‘Sister’ [cf. Genesis 20:1; Proverbs 7:4]. This did not satisfy Him, so He called Her ‘Mother,’ in the name of His Mother [cf. Proverbs 2:3; BT Berakhot 57a]. This did not satisfy Him, so He called Her by His name, as is written: But הַחָכְמָה (ḥokhmah), Wisdom, found from אַיִן (ayin), Nothing (Job 28:12)—Ḥokhmah, actually! This is why Upper World said to Her, ‘Is your taking my husband a small thing’—for all of His love is drawn toward You” (Zohar 1:156a–b, Sitrei Torah, cf. Zohar 2:100b).

Land of the Living

IMG_0683A land that YHWH your God seeks out perpetually, the eyes of YHWH your God are upon it from the year’s beginning to the year’s end (Deuteronomy 11:12).

“The blessed Holy One rolled up the whole land of Israel and placed it beneath our father Jacob, so that it would be easily conquered by his descendants” (BT Ḥullin 91b).

I am YHWH, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie, [to you will I give it and to your seed] (Genesis 28:13)—we have learned: ‘This implies that the land of Israel was rolled up for him.’ Now, the land of Israel is four hundred parasangs by four hundred parasangs—how was it uprooted from its place and set beneath him?

Well, the blessed Holy One has another holy supernal land, called ‘the land of Israel,’ which is beneath the rung of Jacob, who stands upon it. He bestowed it to Israel out of His love for them, to abide with them, lead them, and protect them from all. It is called Land of the Living” (Zohar 3:84b, cf. Bereshit Rabbah 69:4; Zohar 1:72a, 156a; ZḤ 28d).

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

Ba'al ha-Sullam PortraitEmpirical 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—aiming to ensure that we will not forget the purpose.

Now that we know for certain the mode of His service, there still remains to inquire whether this service is acceptable to us on faith alone, without any 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. When the foundation moves a little, the whole building comes tumbling down.

Therefore, I have come to speak only by 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 sublime. 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 skill, in terms of both the emergence of particular aspects of reality and the ensuring of their existence in a general way.

Let us take the making of a human being as an example: the love and delight of its 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 caring, 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 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 abandonment 

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 an 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).