Human Nature and the Nature of Our World: A Basic Kabbalistic Understanding
This article aims to present an introductory Kabbalistic understanding of human nature and the Nature of our world. By achieving comprehensive understanding of human nature and the Nature of our world, we will be able to provide a single, comprehensive resolution to all negative phenomena we experience.
If we acquire a better understanding of human nature and the Nature of our world, with all their rules and facets, we will be able to see where we are erring. Thus, we will also be able to first end the predicaments in our lives, and subsequently advance toward a much brighter future.
Studying various substances reveals that the primal desire of all matter and every object is to preserve its existence. Yet, this focus is expressed differently in each substance. Solid objects have a shape that is fixed and defined, making it difficult to penetrate their “boundaries,” while other forms guard themselves by movement and change. Thus, we must ask ourselves what makes each substance behave in a certain manner and be separated from other materials? What is it that dictates the actions of each form of matter?
The behavior of substances is somewhat similar to a computer screen. We may be impressed with the picture on the screen, but a computer professional treats the same picture simply as a combination of pixels and colors. This technician is interested only in the diverse parameters that create the picture. Computer people understand that the computer picture is merely the superficial appearance of a particular combination of these forces. They know which elements need mending to yield a clearer, brighter, and sharper picture, and this is what they focus on.
In much the same way, every object and system in reality, including humankind and human society, reflects its unique, inherent combination of forces. To cope with any particular problem that arises, one must begin by understanding matter-behavior at its various levels. And for this to happen, we must reach deeper into the inherent force that designs and shapes matter.
The Will to Exist
The inherent force within each matter and object is generally referred to as “the will to exist.” This force designs the shape of the substance and defines its qualities and comportment. There are infinite forms and combinations of the will to exist, which is at the basis of all the substance in the world. A higher degree of substance reflects a greater desire to exist, and the differing desires in each of the degrees of substance - the still, vegetative, animate, and the speaking (human) - shape the various processes unfolding within it.
The desire to exist follows two principles:
1. Keeping its present shape, meaning continuing to exist; and
2. Adding to itself anything it senses is necessary for its existence. The desire to add something to itself is what distinguishes between the various degrees of matter.
First Level of Desire: Still
Let us look at this a bit more closely. At the still level is the smallest desire to exist. This is because the wants of the still are small and it does not need to add anything exterior to itself in order to exist. Its only wish is to preserve its present shape, its structure, and its qualities. Additionally, it rejects anything alien. Because its only wish is to not change, it is called “still.” At the vegetative level, there is a stronger desire to exist. It is fundamentally different from the still’s desire in that the vegetative changes and the still does not.
Second Level of Desire: Vegetative
The vegetative doesn’t “settle” for preserving its existence, like the still, but undergoes certain processes. Thus, the vegetative attitude toward the environment is active. For example, plants move toward the sun, and send their roots to sources of moisture. The vegetative is dependent upon the environment - the sun, the rain, temperature, moisture, and drought - for its existence. The vegetative receives its necessities for sustenance from the environment, decomposes them, and constructs from them everything it needs. Then it secretes what is harmful to it and grows. Thus, the vegetative form is much more dependent on its environment than the still.
The vegetative has its own life cycle - plants live and die. Nevertheless, plants of the same kind grow, blossom and droop by the same rules. In other words, all the plants of a certain kind operate in the same way, and specific elements in the species do not have singularity of their own.
Third Level of Desire: Animate
The greater a form’s will to exist, the more it depends on the environment and its sensitivity to it. This connection becomes clearer at the animate degree, where the will to exist is greater than in the vegetative. For the most part, animals live in groups, packs. They are very mobile and must constantly roam in search of food and suitable living conditions. Animals eat other animals or other plants, and relate to them as a source of energy for their sustenance.
The animate degree manifests a certain level of development of personality, which prompts individual sensations and emotions, and lends a unique character to each animal. Every animal senses its environment on a personal level, brings itself closer to the beneficial, and moves farther away from the detrimental. The life cycle of animals is also individual. Each lives and dies in its own time, unlike plants, whose life cycle is dictated by the season in the year.
Fourth Level of Desire: Human
The greatest degree of the will to exist is the human degree. Man is the only creature completely dependent upon others, and only man senses the past, present, and future.
Humans affect the environment, and the environment affects them. Consequently, we human beings change ceaselessly, and not only because we are happy or unhappy in our present state, but because of our awareness of others, which makes us want everything others have.
Moreover, we want to have more than others have, or that others will not have, thus improving our state relative to others, as well as our sensation of self-gratification.
This is why, in man, the will to exist is called “ego,” “desire to enjoy,” or “will to receive delight and pleasure,” which Kabbalists refer to as the “will to receive.”
Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag, known as Baal HaSulam, says about that: “The will to receive is all the substance of Creation, from beginning to its end. Thus, all the numerous creations, their multitude incidents, and the ways by which they are conducted, that have appeared and that will appear are only measures and changes in the values of the will to receive.” (Baal HaSulam, Preface to the Wisdom of Kabbalah, item 1. This quote is also available in M. Laitman, The Science of Kabbalah - Pticha, 2005, Laitman Kabbalah Publishers, p. 87.)
Humans are not only a slightly more evolved living creature; they are fundamentally different from the animate degree. At birth, a human being is a helpless being. But as we grow, we rise above all other creations. A newly born calf and a mature bull are distinguished primarily by their sizes, not by their wisdom. A human infant, however, is practically powerless and totally helpless. But gradually, over many years, it grows and evolves. Hence, a young animal’s development is very different from that of a human toddler. Our sages put it this way: “A day-old calf is called an ox.” (Babylonian Talmud, Baba Kama, 45, 72.) It means that as soon as a calf is born, it is considered an ox because hardly any substantial qualities are added to it as it grows.
Humans, unlike all other creatures, need many years to evolve. When a baby is born, it hardly wants anything. But as it grows, its will to receive intensifies and evolves tremendously. When a new desire surfaces, it produces new needs, which the human being feels compelled to satisfy. To satisfy the new needs successfully, the brain evolves, as we begin to contemplate ways to satisfy the new desire. It follows that the brain’s intellectual and conceptual evolution is a consequence of the intensification of our desire to enjoy.
We can observe how this principle works by examining how we bring up our children. To help them grow, we create challenging games for them, and their desire to succeed in the game makes them contemplate new ways of coping, which facilitates their progress. From time to time we make the game more difficult to help them evolve and continue their progress. Hence, unless one feels that something is missing, one will never be able to evolve. It is only when we want something that we begin to activate our intellects and ponder how we can obtain our desires.
The fact that a human being is comprised of both intellect and emotion enhances our will to receive, as the mind and the heart complement each other and increase our ability to perceive things that can induce pleasure. For this reason, our willpower is not limited by time or place. For example, we cannot feel events that happened a thousand years ago, but we can (and do) understand past events, which compensates for our inability to sense them. Thus, through our intellect we can bring ourselves to the point that we can actually experience them.
The opposite is also possible: if we sense something and want to examine how this might affect us, positively or negatively, we can analyze the situation with our intellect and join it to our sensation of the object. Thus, the mind and the heart expand our perception of time and place until we become unlimited. Therefore, a person living in a certain time or place might want to act like someone he or she had heard of, even if there was a great distance from the object of such admiration, either in time or distance. This is why people sometimes want to be like great historic figures.
When our will to receive is satisfied, we experience it as pleasure. When we cannot satisfy our desires we feel empty, frustrated, and even begin to suffer. Because of that, our happiness depends on the presence or absence of fulfillment of our desires. Any act we may perform, from the simplest to the most complex, is done to achieve but one thing - intensification of pleasure or diminution of pain. In fact, these are two sides of the same coin. In his essay, “The Peace,” Baal HaSulam states, “It is well known to researchers of nature that one cannot perform even the slightest movement without motivation, meaning without somehow benefiting oneself. When, for example, one moves one’s hand from the chair to the table it is because one thinks that by putting one’s hand on the table one will thus receive greater pleasure. If one would not think so, one would leave one’s hand on the chair for the rest of one’s life without moving it an inch, and all the more so with great efforts.”
Desires surface in us one-by-one in a variety of combinations, and direct the course of our lives. In fact, the internal engine that propels us forward and induces the processes that unfold in human society is actually our desire to enjoy. The evolution of our desires is ceaseless, and designs both our present and our future.
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