Posts

, ,

HOW MUCH DOES HAPPINESS COST? R. Itamar Schwartz

The true nature of human existence is defined by the soul, which is the real “I” of a person. The soul is fundamentally good. Negative feelings and emotions are rooted in the body, which is only the exterior physical garment to the soul. By identifying oneself as a soul garbed in a body rather than a body with a soul, one can subdue and separate the negative thoughts, emotions, and actions rooted in the body. This includes the entire range of negative characteristics and feelings such as anger, hate, jealousy, as well as anxiety, fear, and sadness. Shifting one’s primary identity to one of soul rather than body is a fundamental step in personal spiritual development and connection to the inner world of the soul. The soul is the only place where unconditional love can be felt. It also holds the connection to the Creator of the world. An important step in the process of accessing the authentic world of the soul is to understand the role of desire in the attainment of true joy and happiness.

Someone with a small coin in their pocket is not afraid of losing it since, relatively speaking, their desire for it is very weak. Even if they lose it, its loss is inconsequential. Compare this to someone carrying ten thousand dollars. The average person will be anxious about losing it, since the loss of such a significant sum will be felt. We can immediately see here the role desire plays in a person’s anxiety level. When the desire for something is not strong, the fear of its loss is either very weak or nonexistent. The stronger desire is for something, the larger the fear of losing it. One of the most intense anxieties a person can have is the fear of losing life itself. It is thus clear that the root of the problem is not fear, but rather desire. The work of uprooting fear and anxiety therefore begins on a deeper level at the true source, at the point of desire.

There are two places a person can search for joy and contentment: through acquisitions or through inner experience of self. According to the Rambam, true joy is not derived from that which is external, but rather from an internal experience within the heart. It is only here where true pleasure and happiness resides.

“HAPPINESS” OF ACQUISITION

The root of the Hebrew word for desire, ratzon, is the same as the word for running, ratz. This alludes to the running involved in acquiring something—the run to buy it and the effort exerted to attain it. This occurs when a person doesn’t accept their current situation and leaps onto a fast track to change it. In this context, all ratzon is a race to attain the desired thing and connect it to oneself.

Most desires consist of the illusion that when the desired thing is attained, it will bring a happier and more carefree life. Some people switch cars every two years since they believe a new car will bring more happiness. If it were clear to them that the car will actually not cause more happiness or less worries, they would have no desire for it. They would be unwilling to invest time and effort in the race to get it, and certainly not make it into a major focus of life. Unfortunately, many people believe that their lives are lacking and that greater happiness will come only through the attainment of something beyond their current situation.

“HAPPINESS” OF SELF

In contrast, there is the happiness and contentment that comes from the essential experience of self. Our sages wrote, “Who is wealthy? One who is happy with their portion” (Avot 4:1). They weren’t referring to someone with “everything,” but rather to one who lacks things but is nonetheless happy. How is this possible if someone doesn’t make it through the month financially, or has a child in the hospital, etc.? How can a person be happy with troubles?

This is where happiness from the essential experience of self becomes relevant. It is a happiness that doesn’t depend on what you have, since if you were to do a general inventory, what you think you lack would undoubtedly outweigh what you possess. So where is the happiness? It doesn’t exist with the acquisition of things, since true happiness is rooted in the essential experience of self rather than in acquiring something external to oneself.

A human being was created with an innate happy disposition, and unless there is a specific reason to the contrary, one should be naturally joyful. If you ask someone why they are not 100% satisfied with their lives, they may answer because they don’t have enough money, health or honor, etc. This could be true on a peripheral level, but on a deeper level, their discontent stems from a desire for something beyond their current situation.

However, if one’s natural condition is based on their original inborn state of happiness, then avoiding the desire for something beyond one’s given situation would preserve this natural state. Unless a person undermines their own happiness with extraneous desires, then they need to be naturally satisfied and content. From a theoretical perspective, this doesn’t make any sense. You could say, “What type of life is this? Not to want anything? Impossible!” The truth is, if you offer someone who lives in an airy three-story villa a stuffy windowless basement with a broken air conditioner, they would say, “Thanks, but no thanks. Leave me alone.” On the other hand, the same basement would be a magical proposition to a homeless individual lying on a park bench. A person wants something only when they figure their current situation will improve when they get it. This is quite different when one feels their current situation is wonderful because they have everything they need. In general, people don’t usually identify themselves in this way.

WE HAVE IT ALL ALREADY

“Naked I came from my mother, and naked I will return” (Job 1:21). This can be interpreted negatively, meaning that we are born with nothing. The opposite can also be understood, that we were born with everything. Unfortunately, we educate ourselves, or more accurately our souls, via a world that convinces us we must have all sorts of possessions. We gradually become accustomed to the idea that our lives require a whole range of things to be happy, which causes true happiness to become extremely rare. However, life can be seen from a totally different viewpoint.

For instance, imagine you are window shopping and notice a beautiful luxurious sofa in the store window. You begin to consider how it would feel to sit on such a comfortable couch, complete with newspaper in hand. You further envision living in a penthouse apartment overlooking the sea. It seems so beautiful and bit by bit, even if it is remotely realistic, you are almost there.

What’s the problem? You figure your life is currently lacking a beautiful couch and a penthouse apartment overlooking the ocean. Your happiness would be greatly enhanced if you could only acquire it and watch the waves roll in—a wondrous world. But the truth is, if you would take hold of yourself for a moment, you would realize that your current situation is actually better now, since the level of contentment you enjoyed before the desire will be stolen the moment you want something more. Here is the point where you can discover a deeper inner tranquility than a penthouse overlooking the sea could ever bring. This is a feeling with which most people are completely unfamiliar since their every desire, including the attempt to materialize it, is based on the conviction that they are incomplete without it.

When a person realizes that their fundamental structure is the soul—which at its essence is very good, perfect, and complete—then there is no perceived lack or desire to acquire more. If so, then why would I want to trade this for a sofa and penthouse apartment overlooking the sea? Which is more perfect, my Divine soul or a penthouse apartment? Obviously the soul is more perfect, but a person is not generally conscious of this fact. They think to themselves, “If I stop wanting, I will be unhappy since my contentment depends on a penthouse apartment.” One who has never experienced their inner point of completeness is convinced that desire and its materialization is the key to a better life.

SHIFTING THE THOUGHT PROCESS

This is merely an ingrained way of thinking which can be completely reversed. An utterly different way of looking at life exists. Every time a new desire surfaces, stop a moment and ask yourself, “Will my life end if this desire is unfulfilled? Will I really suffer if I can’t get it?” In the vast majority of cases, the answer is no. If it is a desire to increase possessions, then reflect deeper and say, “If I stop desiring this thing, even if I go on to acquire it, my life will be more complete without the desire.”

Obviously, it is not possible to nullify every desire at once. Instead, it is a slow and steady process of accustoming oneself to think differently about life. The world is filled with nonstop enticements and advertising campaigns meant to convince us of one idea: this particular thing is the key to our happiness, even if it means going into debt for a few months or years.

However, there is something very precious at stake here. Begin to close your eyes to the world and believe you possess an inner treasure much greater than anything in the world—more wonderful than anything you could possibly buy or acquire. An inner power of tranquility and contentment already exists inside of you, since true joy and satisfaction do not come from external things. This treasury can only be discovered through the realization that your essential being is a perfect and complete soul, and that it is only the desire for something outside of you that causes unhappiness.

People search the world over for the secret to happiness. If there was a special pill that turned happiness into sadness, would anyone take it? Obviously not, but many take such a pill countless times in the course of a single day. The name of the pill is “desire”.

We want without limit. Our entire life is built on an ideology that causes us to run away from the soul, surrounding us from the first moments of life. It accompanies us until the end of life, unless we catch ourselves in time to reverse the process. If you made a list of everything you want, how many pages would you fill? These desires are actually the road to personal destruction.

THE MINIMUM IS THE MAXIMUM

Our sages call this idea, “Bread with salt you will eat, water by measure you will drink, on the ground you will sleep, a life of discomfort you will live. Happy you will be in this world and prosperous in the World to Come” (Avot 6:4). Most people find this difficult to understand. “Happy in this world? What can I say, at least it will be good for me in the next world. I do good deeds, I learn a little Torah, I’ll be rewarded in the next world.” But this is not the intention of the Mishnah, since it says, “You will be happy in this world…” Yet, it remains illogical to first state, “…a life of discomfort you will live,” and only afterwards write, “Happy you will be in this world…” What kind of happiness is that? You may say, “After all, I have a decent salary, so what’s the problem? What is so wonderful about striving for the minimum?” But this is exactly the point we have been discussing until now.

A person takes another little piece of cake. It tastes sweet and feels good on the palate, bringing momentary calm. What harm is there in a little piece of cake? In and of itself, we know it is nothing, at least almost nothing. Even from a nutritional standpoint, no doctor will say that eating a certain food only once is poison merely because it doesn’t follow nutritional guidelines. The problem is not the eating per se, rather the desire for it—wanting something beyond one’s inborn state of contentment. These desires are effectively banishing you from your inner source of joy and contentment, and robbing you of the knowledge that there is another reality entirely.

We are not discussing other-worldly theories here, rather we are referring to happiness in this world. There is another definition of happiness, joy, and pleasure beyond what we have known until now. If you are unaware of the existence of such an inner treasure, then you’ll search for it on the outside. If you do know it exists, then there is no race to acquire something beyond your essential self.

LIFE VS. THE WORLD OF DESIRES

G-d said to Adam, “…on the day you will eat from [the tree], you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:17). Yet, Adam didn’t die on the same day, he lived for 930 years. Nonetheless, the Torah writes that on that day he will certainly die. The problem here was Adam’s essential desire which commenced a process of death from the moment he wanted to eat from the tree. If you realized a process of self-death is set into motion the moment you begin to want something, no matter how small, you would say, “Thanks, but I’ll do without the cake, I prefer life.” It would be clear that it is not worth trading a piece of cake for the connection to an inner world of perfect joy. This perspective should accompany a person throughout life. Of course, a piece of cake is only a minor example of this principle.

A person is driving along the highway and suddenly sees smoke billowing out of the engine. They immediately stop on the side of the road and escape the car in the nick of time before it goes up in flames. Unfortunately, the car insurance just expired yesterday—they fully intended to renew it, but figured one day wouldn’t matter. Alas, $15,000 up in smoke. A normal thought would be, “How can I cover $15,000?! If I had renewed my insurance on time yesterday, I’d have the money in hand today!”

However, if you’d ask the same person that if they needed a life-saving operation costing $15,000, would they spend the money on it? Obviously, they would run to get the money in any possible way. This is because when speaking about life itself, $15,000 is nothing. Yet, a person wouldn’t generally make a connection between this type of financial loss over a car and losing life. One needs to think, “By desiring this $15,000, I have entered into a world of desires that will effectively uproot me from the inner experience of true life and happiness.” Which is preferable? To give in on the desire for the $15,000 or lose life over it?” The answer is obvious.

The truth of such an outlook is known and proven with those who have tried it. A day doesn’t normally go by without some unexpected and unwanted occurrence. Who can claim a full week has gone exactly according to plan? Your upstairs neighbor made a racket all night, you get up in the morning and the baby is sick, you miss work, the car needs to be towed, etc. Choosing and accepting one’s current situation is relevant every time something doesn’t go the way you want, no matter how small and insignificant.

FORGING A NEW PATH TO THE HEART

Our sages define suffering as anything that opposes our desire. As the Talmud states, one who desires a certain coin from their pocket, but takes out another instead, experiences suffering. Begin identifying even the smallest desire for something that causes a tiny pang of unpleasantness in the heart, and ask yourself, “Why am I feeling uncomfortable right now? Is it because I believe that if my desire was fulfilled, I would feel better? Am I unhappy only because my desire has not materialized? Is it really worth it to uproot my entire life over this desire?” Reprogramming ingrained thought patterns takes persistence, since even after you let go of the desire, there is no immediate gratification of feeling inner contentment. At first, one needs a level of faith to believe they have a soul which inherently contains all pleasure and enjoyment. Then, by proceeding with basic faith, one will slowly become accustomed to a certain level where desires are weakened. A feeling of enjoyment will begin to be experienced from an entirely different place.

To illustrate, as long as one has no children, they are unable to comprehend the pleasure they bring, since there is no pathway to that inner point of pleasure. Likewise, someone who has never married is incapable of truly grasping what it means to stand under a chuppah. They could have attended 200 weddings and understand the concept of marriage intellectually—even enough to lecture on the topic—but have no first-hand familiarity with it. Only through making the connection to the inner experience can one know the feeling of what it means to be married.

This is the same for one who has never experienced a desire-free world. They have no source in their soul to fathom the happiness and satisfaction waiting behind the door. Once it is experienced however, the value in giving up desires to access an unparalleled source of inner pleasure and joy will be obvious.

Fears come from the multitude of common desires encountered by the soul on a daily basis, where there is a fear of their loss. Life swings constantly between desire and the fear of not acquiring what it desires. It is far more preferable to give up desire than lose the inner world of the soul. Even when grappling with the fear of death, when there is faith that a world of happiness exists beyond this world, then there is no fear, even of death. Many people do not think in this way, but a person is not afraid of dying when they are already familiar with the experience of inner joy coming from a place of no lack.

THE ULTIMATE TIKKUN

All blemishes begin to fall away when a person works to repair the root point of desire in the soul and gradually enters into a world of authentic happiness and contentment. Without this effort, one searches in all the wrong places for happiness and life is very difficult.

All destruction in the world comes from desire. People attempt to satisfy their desire, if not willingly, then by force. Everyone builds their entire lives around their desires. Somebody wants one thing, someone else wants the opposite, and suddenly a world war erupts. If everyone worked on nullifying their desires, not a single war would have occurred in the world.

The tikkun of the world depends upon revealing a world of no desires. According to the prophet Isaiah, in the future, the wolf will dwell with the lamb (Isa. 11:6). This is because when the wolf has no desire for the lamb, they can co-exist. But when the wolf desires the lamb, the lamb becomes lamb chops. As long as we are filled with desire, we are like wolves, consuming everything around us.

We spoke about the tikkun of the emotional world and its proper balance, arriving at the innermost point of desire (ratzon). When this point is repaired, the entire emotional realm is fixed as well. To the extent the force of desire can be quieted, there will be satisfaction and happiness in life. Since desiring what is beyond the essential self is the source of all personal and global problems, the solution is to uproot this type of desire to access the inner soul where all true contentment and joy reside. ♦


Translated and adapted with special permission from the author. Tzaddik Magazine is solely responsible for the translation.

R’ Itamar Schwartz, shlita, lives in Israel and is author of the popular “Mishkan Bilvavi Evneh Series.” More of his shiurim can be found at www.bilvavi.net.

,

THE RESCHEDULED REDEMPTION

Every once in a while, a unique and remarkable soul is sent into the world to renew mankind with a previously unrevealed light.

Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, known as the Arizal, was one such soul. During his brief two years in Tsfat five hundred years ago, he succeeded in revolutionizing the understanding of the Zohar, the classic work of kabbalah. The constellation of kabbalah, the Arizal and Tsfat, made redemption almost irresistibly imminent. Against the historical backdrop of the Spanish expulsion and widespread messianic expectation, everyone living in Tsfat at the time awaited the final redemption. The only problem was, at the last moment, it was suddenly rescheduled for some unspecified date in the future.

Today, much mystery and misconception surrounds Jewish mysticism, the wisdom of the kabbalah, as well as those who profess knowledge of its secrets. The Zohar, the most famous book of kabbalah, was authored by R’ Shimon bar Yochai, who lived two thousand years ago during the Second Temple era. According to Rebbe Nachman of Breslev, every word of the holy Zohar has but one theme: how the upper worlds connect with each other in order to draw down shefa, the “oil of abundant holiness” into the world. Shefa is the fundamental spirtual vitality upon which the entire physical world depends for its sustenance. In order to understand the significance of the Arizal’s time in Tsfat, we must understand a little about the true nature of kabbalah and the anatomy of redemption.

THE SOURCE OF THE KABBALAH

Many people think kabbalah is a mysterious book of magic used by Jewish wonderworkers. The truth is, kabbalah is an ancient body of wisdom that was primarily transmitted orally.

However, Sefer Yetzira, a kabbalistic work that predates even the Zohar, was attributed to the patriarch Abraham. Later, the wisdom of kabbalah was handed down directly from God to Moses on Mount Sinai as part and parcel of the Torah. It was then maintained as a secret oral tradition passed from teacher to student for generations under the strictest of guidelines for fear of its holy power being misused. This tradition took written form during the era of the Second Temple when R’ Shimon bar Yochai garbed its wisdom within the book called the Zohar, literally meaning the “Book of Splendor.” In so doing, he drew the holy light of kabbalah further down into the world. Some time later, the book disappeared and remained concealed until the late thirteen century when it was rediscovered by R’ Moses de Leon, and much controversy arose about its disappearance and reappearance. The Zohar itself was originally a collection of midrashim which was later organized according to the weekly parsha. Thus today, it is a detailed commentary on the Five Books of Moses and contains extensive discussion on the elements that comprise life in this world. It speaks about creation, the soul’s anatomy, the Messiah, suffering, the destruction of evil, reincarnation, tikkun, the Shechina, the system of ten sefirot, fulfillment of the 613 commandments, and Torah study. One of the benefits of learning Zohar is that it gives a person the desire to learn all parts of the Torah (Sichot HaRan 108). After the Zohar resurfaced, it became more widely available and thus more difficult to understand correctly for those lacking a high level of Torah knowledge. When the Arizal arrived in Tsfat for his brief sojourn, he introduced an entirely new system to understand the complexity of the Zohar, today know as “Lurianic Kabbalah”. He succeeded in condensing and systemizing the wisdom of the kabbalah even further, making it more accessible to a greater range of people. For this reason, the Arizal was considered the greatest kabbalist since the days of R’ Shimon bar Yochai.

THE ARIZAL

R’ Yitchak Luria was given the appellation “Ari”, which means “lion” in Hebrew. The final three letters “zal” represent a Hebrew acronym, zichrono l’vrocha, “may his memory be a blessing”. “Ari” is also an acronym standing for “Eloki Rabbi Yitzchak”—the godly Rabbi Yitzchak. Concerned that this name might be taken out of context, later generations said that the Hebrew letter aleph at the beginning of the acronym stood for Ashkenazi, a reference to his family’s Germanic roots.

The Arizal was born in Jerusalem in 1534 and moved to Egypt in his early childhood. By the time he was eight years old, he was recognized as a prodigy, expert in all areas of the revealed Torah including the Bible, Mishnah, Talmud, Midrash, and Aggada. At the age of seventeen, he obtained a written manuscript of the Zohar and spent days, even weeks, engrossed in a single passage until he had grasped its deepest meaning.

In time, after tremendous exertion, he understood the conversations of both trees and birds, as well as the speech of angels. By looking at another’s face, and even by one’s odor, he could discern everything the individual had done and what they would do in the future. He knew people’s thoughts, often before the thought even entered their minds. He knew the future, and was aware of everything happening here on earth, as well as what was decreed in heaven. He knew the mysteries of reincarnation, who had lived previously, and who was here for the first time.

The life story of the Arizal took a intriguing turn when he made his appearance in the Holy City of Tsfat. It was here a relationship was forged between him and another fascinating individual that was meant to catalyze nothing less than the redemption of the world.

R’ CHAIM VITAL

Concealing his gifts completely, the Arizal moved to Tsfat from Egypt during the summer of 1570. He came with the express purpose of teaching a young scholar by the name of R’ Chaim Vital who, the Arizal knew, was to become his main student and disciple. It wasn’t until six months after the Arizal arrived in Tsfat that R’ Chaim Vital finally met him. R’ Chaim, an acknowledged master in kabbalah himself, later wrote that one reason it took so long to meet his master was because he initially thought his own knowledge of kabbalah surpassed that of the Arizal. R’ Chaim Vital was a most unusual individual, an esteemed Torah scholar and an outstanding expert in alchemy, astronomy, astrology, and kabbalah, even before he met the Arizal. At the time of their first meeting, R’ Chaim was only twenty-seven years old; the Arizal was thirty-six.

It is astounding that according to his own account, R’ Chaim was a disciple of the Arizal for less than eighteen months, yet during this brief period, he managed to gain an astonishing mastery of the Arizal’s kabbalistic system. Given their short-lived relationship, the amount of information that must have passed between them defies imagination. Like many great masters, the Arizal rarely, if ever, recorded his own teachings, instead entrusting the task to a close follower. In this case, R’ Chaim Vital. He was the great organizer of the Arizal’s system and spent decades writing, organizing, rewriting and reorganizing countless versions and editions. R’ Chaim’s writings comprise over a dozen large volumes, each intricately compiled and written in an extremely terse style. Known collectively as the Kitvey HaAri, the volumes include the Etz Chaim (Tree of Life) and Pri Etz Chaim (Fruit of the Tree of Life), as well as the Shemoneh Shaarim (Eight Gates), and deal with everything from Torah commentary to Divine inspiration and reincarnation. The sheer quantity of R’ Chaim’s writings is immense, and if not for him, little if any, of the Arizal’s teachings would have survived.

One of the biggest challenges posed to R’ Chaim, was that the Arizal would suddenly start revealing secrets to him with no introduction, or clear sequence. Since the key in learning kabbalah is knowing where and what is being discussed—which world, which construct—the Arizal’s revelations were a dizzying mass of cryptic unorganized material. R’ Chaim was the only one who was able to successfully present the entire system with proper introduction and sequence. Even so, he intentionally wove into the text stumbling blocks to prevent the uninitiated and unworthy from improper understanding.

Kabbalists are extremely careful to use only the writings of R’ Chaim Vital. A relatively contemporary kabbalist from Yemen, R’ Shalom Sharabi (known as the “RaShash”, d. 1777) was particularly strict, warning in extreme language to completely avoid anything other than the writings of R’ Chaim Vital, since among all the students of the Arizal, only he understood his master’s teachings properly.

THE RESCHEDULED REDEMPTION

Yet, the relationship between the Arizal and R’ Chaim Vital possessed an even deeper dimension. Sometimes, when two people unite in a relationship, one of them may experience a personal redemption. In some cases, both sides experience the same. There are also relationships which effect the redemption of a town, a people, or even a country. In the case of R’ Chaim Vital and the Arizal, their union was meant to catalyze the redemption of the entire world, the advent of the Messiah, and the ultimate perfection of mankind. It was all meant to happen in the city of Tsfat.

R’ Chaim Vital could be termed a “microcosmic man”. He was what the kabbalists call a neshama klalit, a general all-encompassing soul. Usually, a Jew is spiritually from one of the original twelve tribes, the sons of Jacob. But a neshama klalit, or all-inclusive soul, has the spiritual root of all twelve tribes encompassed within one soul. This is a specific quality found in certain souls, and it was true in the case of R’ Chaim Vital. The repair, or tikkun, of R’ Chaim’s soul would blaze a spiritual pathway back to God through which others would be perfected. In this way, the entire world could be drawn back unhindered to God in repentance, ushering in the Messianic era. He was the mysterious paradigm upon which all mankind depended, without anyone knowing. This was the secret to the world’s redemption during the time of the Arizal and the significance of the deep relationship between these two extraordinary individuals.

Since the Arizal had come into the world only to teach and perfect the soul of R’ Chaim, he repeatedly cautioned R’ Chaim not to reveal his teacher’s greatness to anyone. If the Arizal’s true greatness was revealed prematurely, it would prevent him from accomplishing what was needed with R’ Chaim. Untold damage would be caused not only to him and R’ Chaim, but to the entire world. Yet feelings of unworthiness persisted within the heart of R’ Chaim. He felt compelled to reveal his teacher’s sublime level to the great leaders in Tsfat at the time, who were older than he, including R’ Moshe Alshich, R’ Moshe Cordovero (the Ramak) and R’ Yosef Karo, author of the Shulchan Aruch.

As the Arizal’s fame quickly spread, he was sought by those far and wide for the wonders he performed and spiritual guidance he provided. Others were seeking rectification for their souls. Because of the Arizal’s humility he refused no one.

The Arizal continued to plead with him to be more discreet, even revealing awesome secrets about R’ Chaim’s soul in an attempt to convince him that their relationship served a unique purpose in the world, but to no avail. R’ Chaim was unable to overcome his feelings of inadequacy and continued to publicize the Arizal’s greatness. Within a short while, his time spent with R’ Chaim was greatly compromised.

ALL TOO SOON a deadly plague struck the idyllic holy city. At a mere thirty-eight years of age the Arizal passed away suddenly in the summer of 1572 (5 Av 5332), only two years after the Arizal arrived in Tsfat. No one understood the true significance of the loss more than R’ Chaim. The redemption had been foiled, the dream shattered, at least for then.

During the funeral, Rabbi Chaim almost went mad with grief. When the Arizal’s body was lowered into the grave, he jumped in as well, clinging to it tightly. With great difficulty, others separated him from his master’s body and lifted him out from the grave.

R’ Chaim later wrote, “In my transgression, I wanted to be a ‘foolish chassid’ so I said to my master, ‘If these great scholars aren’t able to learn from you, then neither will I. I want no accusations in heaven leveled against me that I was concerned only for myself and not for these great tzaddikim who also want to learn from you.’”

After the death of his master, R’ Chaim often saw him in dreams, but as the years passed, these visits became less frequent. He settled in Damascus in 1594, teaching and inspiring Jews to return to a Torah-based life, but he was plagued until the end of his life with profound regret and sorrow that the final redemption had not yet come. With the exception of occasional visits to Tsfat, R’ Chaim remained in Damascus until his own death in 1620.

TWO EARTHQUAKES and a series of plagues subsequently devastated the city, and Tsfat went into a deep spiritual and physical slumber, essentially freezing her healing redemptive powers for another time in the future.

Thus the gates of redemption temporarily closed in sixteenth-century Tsfat, home to some of the greatest tzaddikim in Jewish history. Although the Arizal’s time in Tsfat was brief, the spiritual levels attained during this period sustain us until today, as we await the final redemption when we are destined to reach these levels and beyond.

SOURCES: Shivchei HaAri; Shivchei R’ Chaim Vital
, ,

WHAT IS MAN? : R. Gedaliah Aharon Kenig

I would like to explain the concept of Man, Adam, according to the kabbalah and the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev. There are two things in the world in which everyone is familiar. One is a matter of belief, and the other, a matter of perception. The matter of belief is that there is a Creator of all, Whose existence is absolute. There was never a time when He did not exist. The matter of perception is that we perceive that creation exists. The creation’s existence is based on “possibility” because there was a time when it did not exist. These two things are opposites.

On one hand, the Creator is without end. He is One in the most absolute sense of oneness and there are no limitations to Him. On the other hand, creation is limited by both time and space. It is known that between any two opposites, there is a connecting midpoint. For example, the colors of black and white stand at opposite ends of the color spectrum. The midpoint between them is the color sky-blue, techelet, which combines both black and white. Likewise, in the concept of space, there is a midpoint between right and left, as well as up and down. So too with the Creator and creation. There is a midpoint which connects them both.

This midpoint is called the Shechina, the feminine aspect of God that dwells within creation. The Creator, Who exists as a unity unlimited by space or time, decreed that in order for the creation to receive the abundance of life and blessing from Him, called shefa, the Shechina will act as the intermediary to transmit this abundance from an unlimited to a limited realm. In this way, all the separate worlds that exist beneath Him, limited by time and space in all of their complexity and detail, are able to be nourished and supported.

The Shechina is the mother and root of the one all-inclusive Soul, which is the storehouse for each individual soul. This individual soul, which comes from the storehouse of the Shechina, was given to the last thing created in this world, man, known in Hebrew as Adam. Our soul yearns for us to be conscious of the tremendous favor and goodness the Creator has granted us. It wants to tell us about our awesome ability and power to unite from this lowly and limited world with our Creator, Who is One, endless and unlimited. Just as the Shechina is the intermediary between the Creator and creation, so is her daughter, the soul, a midpoint between good and bad, holiness and impurity.

Impurity is an extremely fine and subtle concept to understand, since impurity itself actually comes from a pure source. For this reason, it is easy to be confused and think that impurity is holiness, even though it is, in fact, impure. Therefore, the concept of purity, the opposite of impurity, is related to the soul. This is expressed every morning in our prayers when we say, “God, the soul you have given me is pure.” The soul serves as a protective fence to purity since it acts as the midpoint between holiness and impurity. In other words, the fact that we have a pure soul, which stands midway between holiness and impurity, means we have the ability to choose between the two.

THE POWER OF FREE CHOICE

Mankind possessed the ability to choose between holiness and impurity immediately after God breathed the soul into the body of the first man. If one wants, a person can choose to become one with everything good and holy. Or one can choose to become a partner and slave to all that is bad and impure.

If he decides to bind himself with goodness and holiness, then from this lowly world he can ascend to the highest of heights, even rising above the angels with the authority to rule over them. However, if he hands himself over and enslaves himself to that which is bad and impure, he descends to the lowest of depths. He sheds his beautiful spiritual clothing and becomes darkened. At this point, even the smallest and lowliest creature in creation is above him and can be the messenger to bring judgment upon him.

At the beginning of creation God wanted man, who is limited by space and time, to choose goodness and holiness. He wanted man to bind himself to his Creator from this lowly physical world, elevating himself above the entire creation, and rule over it. What happened back then is history. Man was not able to pass the test. Unable to overcome the obstacles, he sinned and fell from his lofty level. Afterwards, he felt tremendous regret and repented, still mankind has not yet achieved the will of God which was to unify Him with His creation. Yet God’s will can never be nullified since it is eternal and without limitation. Therefore, His desire that man ultimately elevate himself will come about in the future when he will become purified. The time will certainly come when man will be elevated above the entire creation, even ruling over the angels.

Delving a little deeper, we can discern that the will of the Creator exists even now. From our limited view we perceive that we have fallen and that our ultimate perfection and purification has been delayed to another time in the future. However, the Creator is above time and exists in a sphere where past, present, and future are one. What we perceive as the future, is for Him the same as the present. This means that our eventual completion and perfection exists now. But to us, bound to the realm of time, we live temporarily amidst awesome pressures coming from two opposite sides: holiness and impurity, light and darkness, good and evil.

As we have said, man has free choice. He is built with strength as well as weakness. With his strength he has sufficient power to overcome all tests, even the most difficult. Yet in his weakness, he can fall from the breath of the smallest wind, from the push of a leaf, and stumble over the most meaningless things.

HOPE FOR THE FUTURE

What can give man hope and strength? When he looks deeply forward into time and yearns greatly for the shining future destined to come, it can vitalize him even now by inspiring him to overcome every obstacle and remove them from his path. As a person progresses step by step, winning another battle with his evil inclination, he becomes further purified and shines more and more. He then tastes everlasting life right now in the present. Furthermore, he has the capacity to purify and enlighten his fellow man, bringing to them the taste of eternal life as well. In contrast, if he becomes influenced by temporary brilliance and things which bring only momentary pleasure, his horizon is narrowed and he enters into a type of prison where he lives with great difficulty, confusing others. His portion in life is then only anger and pain. When he finishes his life, he leaves behind nothing.

It is very hard to describe exactly what spiritual satisfaction means to the person who lives with his soul as opposed to one who lives with his body. However, it is easy to understand when looking at one’s way of life. The first allows his body to control his soul. The second makes his soul dominant over his body. The man whose body controls his soul, dims her light, empties her of all content, and removes her glory. She becomes enslaved and is forced to eat the bitterness of moral impurity. The end of this is only nothingness. But the person whose soul dominates his body, polishes and purifies his soul, revealing her radiant points. He elevates his soul to the Garden of Eden, illuminating her with a wondrous upper divine light until even the physical radiates with light and is attached to everlasting life.

RETURNING TO LIFE

This is the secret of the resurrection of the dead. At that time, those whose bodies were vessels for the soul and acted according to the Will of their Creator, will rise from the grave together with the soul. They will be purified and ready to serve the Creator forever. Therefore, even those living presently who make their bodies subservient to their souls, and act in accordance with God’s Will, can taste eternal life now. When the time comes for them to die, they are not frightened and it does not cause them pain. On the contrary, they are happy because they know that this is the Will of the Creator, and that the time has come for them to return the gift that was entrusted to them—the soul. Likewise, their burial in the earth does not frighten them because they understand that it is like one who goes from one room to another, a narrow room to a much wider one. By entering the grave, he enters into a type of “laboratory” designed to purify his body from all of its gross physicality, removing all vestiges of impurity. In this way, he will be able to come to life again in order to completely serve his Creator.

This is the meaning of the word Adam, man. The complete Man is one who has reached perfection by purifying the physical matter of his body with divine light while in the world, just as it was in the Garden of Eden.

UNMASKING HAMAN

It is easy to villainize others. Global wars are waged because of this. On a more intimate level, a simple personal affront can besiege the victim’s heart for years with quiet burning anger. Both levels, collective and individual, are part of a single whole, since everything has an outer and inner reality—a physical and spiritual aspect. Every created entity in the world has a root from which it draws vitality. Anything formed after the root, draws its sustenance from it. Consider a plant: pluck its flower and it is cut off from its source, quickly withering away. Uproot the plant entirely and it dies. The same is true in the spiritual realm, since anything material has a spiritual source. This is one reason why the wisdom found in the Kabbalah is significant, since it identifies the spiritual root of everything in creation.

In mystical writings, Amalek is described as the fundamental root of impurity and the antithesis of faith. When Amalek is condemned in such harsh terms, modern-day sensibilities cringe. On Purim, there is a special commandment to remember who he is—even more importantly, what he is beyond a mere characterization. Yet, in order to remember something, it must be clearly identified.

Haman, the arch-villain of the Jews in the Purim saga, is rooted in the force called “Amalek” (of whom he was an actual descendant). This is why we speak of “Haman-Amalek” in the same breath, since it is the same power. There is no other force in creation that is so unrelenting in its evil. At the highest level, it is considered the antithesis of the Jewish people because it is the spiritual force that actively seeks to obstruct Divine light and blessing to the world. When this happens, it brings a sense of estrangement from G-d, Who is the source of life.

The root of Amalek’s power is deeper than even the first human being, since it precedes creation entirely. The genesis of Amalek originated in the vacuum of the “Vacated Space” that came into being before the world was formed. For this reason, Amalek is called “first”. “Amalek was first among the nations” (Numbers 24:20). The void of the Vacated Space is the source of all doubt and negative characteristics that drive evil in the world. The primordial nature of the Amalek energy is what imbues it with the extraordinary ability to climb so high and “grasp the throne”, so to speak.

The first mention of Amalek in the Torah occurs in Genesis 14:7, when a battle takes place that causes mass destruction by obliterating a large civilian population. This occurred in a location called the “Plains of the Amalekites” despite the fact that Amalek himself would not be born for over a century later. The Midrash explains that death and destruction on such a large scale could only take place on a site connected to Amalek.[1]

On a physical level, the force of Amalek entered the world through Esau, Yaakov’s twin brother, who was blessed with the power of the sword: “By your sword you shall live” (Genesis 27:40). Eliphaz, the oldest son of Esau, had a concubine named Timna who gave birth to Amalek. Haman was a descendant of Agag, king of the Amalekites in the time of King Saul. During the days of Mordechai and Esther, Haman distinguished himself through his intricate plan to exterminate the Jews in the kingdom of Achashverosh.

Cycling through generations, the spiritual force of Haman-Amalek operates anywhere ambitions of large-scale genocide and annihilation rear their head. Although modern-day examples are not difficult to find, what is less known are the inner characteristics of Haman-Amalek. Why is this important? Because despite being rooted elsewhere, a person can be nursing vitality from an entirely different place without even knowing it. We are affected by Amalek’s influence any time we entertain negative thoughts or are party to evil actions, even in the smallest way.

Herein lies the work of every individual to begin to identify these characteristics as alien to goodness in order to disengage and separate from them. Since their influence on the mind and heart can be extremely subtle, the first step is to become more aware of their existence and identify them for what they are.

  • There is no greater trademark of Haman-Amalek than anger, self-importance, and arrogance—different expressions of a single attribute. An arrogant person angers easily, particularly from personal affronts and insults to their honor.
  • Feelings of jealousy and hatred.
  • Status-seeking and being obsessed with “only the best.”
  • Extreme materialism expressed as love of money and material objects, particularly the quality of hoarding.
  • Haman-Amalek seeks to hide and obscure the good point.[2] Feelings of worthlessness are the biggest symptom of this effort. Stubbornly seeking the positive in yourself and others in difficult situations is the only antidote. This also includes finding the good point in any given moment, even in the lowest of places. On a higher plane, it is manifested as forgetting there is purpose to life.
  • Just as Amalek attacked the weary and enfeebled Jews on their journey through the wilderness in the time of Moses, in every generation the same force repeatedly targets and pursues those who are “lost” and on the fringes, injecting them with a sense of hopelessness and despair.
  • It includes the following thoughts: “Everything is the ‘same old story,’” “Prayer is pointless,” and most of all, “There is no hope.”
  • Haman-Amalek is the source of all subtle thoughts of doubt and denial of G-d, including lack of faith in oneself. The name “Amalek” bears the same gematria (numerical value) as the Hebrew word for doubt, safek.

Anytime these things are felt, one is subject to the influence of Haman-Amalek. The main spiritual work in life is to realign oneself and draw vitality from the source of light, life, and goodness. This is not only possible but mandatory, and called tikkun olam.

The tenacity of “Haman-Amalek” comes from the fact that its influence is woven into the fabric of creation itself, because it predated the world—well before the advent of humanity. Although the work of uprooting this force entirely is ultimately G-d’s war, everyone must do their part by eradicating the “Amalek” within. When it is finally nullified in the world, all barriers to perceiving the Divine will automatically fall away. What was previously concealed will then be revealed for every eye to see, which is the essence of the messianic tikkun.

1. Breishit Rabbah 42:7

2. Otzar HaYirah, Purim 38