Correct Use of the Ego
Revolutions and social changes have come and gone, but all have failed because balance can only be acquired by correctly combining the full power of reception with the full power of bestowal. An article by Rav Michael Laitman, PhD
Throughout history, humanity has tried numerous ways to annul the ego or artificially reduce it in order to reach equality, love, and social justice. Revolutions and social changes have come and gone, but all have failed because balance can only be acquired by correctly combining the full power of reception with the full power of bestowal.
The common law for all living organisms is the altruistic connection among egoistic elements. These two contradicting elements - altruism and egoism, giving and receiving - exist in every matter, creature, phenomenon, and process.
On the material level, the emotional level, or any other level, you will always find two forces, not just one. They complement and balance one another, and manifest in a variety of ways: as electrons and protons; a negative charge and a positive charge, rejection and attraction, acid and basic, and hate and love. Every element in Nature maintains a reciprocal relationship with the system supporting it, and these relationships consist of harmonious giving and receiving.
Nature aspires to bring us to perfection, to unlimited bliss. Hence, Nature has instilled in us a desire to enjoy. There is no need to cancel the ego; we need only correct it, or more accurately, change the way we use our desires to enjoy, moving from an egoistic approach to an altruistic one.
The correct evolution uses the full power of the desire to enjoy within us, but in its corrected form. Moreover, since the ego is our Nature, it is simply impossible to counteract it or restrain it indefinitely, because that would be going against Nature. If we try to do that, we will discover that we are unable to do so.
Although our present state does not indicate that Nature wishes for us to enjoy, it is because, unlike every other degree in Nature, our egos have not completed their development.
This is how Baal HaSulam explains it in his essay, The Essence of Religion and Its Purpose:
From all of Nature’s systems, presented before us, we understand that in any being of the four types - still, vegetative, animate, and speaking, both as a whole and in particular, we find a purposeful guidance, meaning a slow and gradual growth by way of cause and effect. This is similar to a fruit on a tree, guided to a favorable purpose of finally becoming a sweet and fine-looking fruit. And go and ask a botanist, how many phases the fruit undergoes from the time it becomes visible until it is completely ripe. Not only do its preceding phases show no evidence of its sweet and fine-looking end, but as if to vex, they show the opposite of the final shape: the sweeter the fruit is at its end, the more bitter it is in the earlier phases of its development.
The truth is, Nature’s perfection is not apparent in any creature before it reaches its ultimate form. In the case of humans, our present state is not the complete and final state. This is why our state seems negative. However, just like the fruit on the tree, there is nothing within us that we need to ruin, or it wouldn’t have been placed within us to begin with.
The ego’s force is a wonderful thing. It brought us this far, and thanks to it, we will also reach our perfection. It is the ego that pushes us forward and facilitates unlimited progress. Without it, we would not have evolved as a human society, and we would not be fundamentally different from animals. Finally, thanks to our egos, we are now arriving at a situation where we are no longer willing to settle for ephemeral, familiar pleasures, but want to have what lies beyond them.
The trick is to find the best and wisest way to use our ego to progress toward altruistic bonding with others. And the method that enables us to do that is the wisdom of Kabbalah. This is also the origin of its name. “Kabbalah” means “to receive.” Hence, the wisdom of Kabbalah is the wisdom of how to receive the perfect pleasure, in the perfect way.
Kabbalah does not require that we suppress our natural egoistic drives. On the contrary, it acknowledges their existence and explains how we can best and most effectively use them to reach perfection.
During our evolution, we are required to combine all the inclinations and elements within us harmoniously, and harness them to the process. For instance, we normally think of envy, lust, and honor in negative terms. There is even a well-known maxim that says, “Envy, lust, and honor bring a man out of the world” (Avot, 4:21).
What is not so familiar, however, is the deeper meaning of this maxim. The world that envy, lust, and honor bring us from is this world; but the world they bring us to is the spiritual world, a higher degree of Nature. However, there is a condition: it happens only if we channel these natural inclinations in a positive and beneficial direction, enabling us to attain balance with Nature’s altruistic force.
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