The Necessity of Altruism
In this article, Rav Michael Laitman, PhD describes altruism as the fundamental law of nature, and humanity's role in relation to it. Rav Laitman uses the wisdom of Kabbalah to describe three basic stages of human relationships: (1) our initial interconnectedness (altruistic relationships); (2) our "breaking" into separation from one another (egoistic relationships); and (3) our present-day opportunity for correction (Tikkun) of our separation and re-realization of our interconnectedness (from egoism to altruism).
From One to Many
Originally, all people were internally connected. We felt and thought of ourselves as a single human being, and this is exactly how Nature treats us. This “collective” human being is called “Adam,” from the Hebrew word, Domeh (similar), meaning similar to the Creator, who is also single and whole. However, despite our initial oneness, as our egoism grew we gradually lost the sensation of unity and became increasingly distant from each other.
Kabbalah books write that Nature’s plan is for our egoism to keep growing until we realize that we have become separated and hateful to one another. The logic behind the plan is that we must first feel as a single entity, and then become separated into egoistic and detached individuals. Only then will we realize that we are completely opposite from the Creator, and utterly selfish.
Moreover, this is the only way for us to realize that egoism is negative, unfulfilling, and ultimately hopeless. As we have said, our egoism separates us from each other and from Nature. But to change that, we must first realize that this is the case. This will bring us to want to change, and to independently find a way to transform ourselves into altruists, reconnected with all of humanity and with Nature - the Creator. After all, we have already said that desire is the engine of change.
Altruism - The Law of Nature
Actually, altruism is not an option. It just seems as if we can choose whether to be egoistic or altruistic. But if we examine Nature, we will find that altruism is the most fundamental law of nature. For example, each cell in the body is inherently egoistic. But to exist, it must relinquish its egoistic tendencies for the sake of the body's well-being. The reward for that cell is that it experiences not only its own existence, but the life of the whole body.
We, too, must develop a similar connection with each other. Then, the more successful we become at bonding, the more we will feel Adam’s eternal existence instead of our passing physical existence.
Especially today, altruism has become essential for our survival. It has become evident that we are all connected and dependent on one another. This dependency produces a new and very precise definition of altruism: Any act or intention that comes from a need to connect humanity into a single entity is considered altruistic. Conversely, any act or intention that is not focused on uniting humanity is egoistic.
It follows that our oppositeness from Nature is the source of all the suffering we are seeing in the world. Everything else in Nature - minerals, plants, and animals - instinctively follow Nature's altruistic law. Only human behavior is in contrast with the rest of Nature and with the Creator.
Moreover, the suffering we see around us is not just our own. All other parts of Nature also suffer from our wrongful actions. If every part of Nature instinctively follows its law, and if only man does not, then man is the only corrupted element in Nature. Simply put, when we correct ourselves from egoism to altruism, everything else will be corrected, as well - ecology, famine, war, and society at large.
There is a special bonus to altruism. It may seem as if the only change will be putting others before ourselves, but there are actually far greater benefits. When we begin to think of others, we become integrated with them, and they with us.
Think of it this way: There are about 6.5 billion people in the world today. What if, instead of having two hands, two legs, and one brain to control them, you had 13 billion hands, 13 billion legs, and 6.5 billion brains to control them? Sounds confusing? Not really, because all those brains would function as a single brain, and the hands would function as a single pair of hands. All of humanity would function as one body whose capabilities are enhanced 6.5 billion times.
Wait, we’re not done with the bonuses! In addition to becoming superhuman, anyone who becomes altruistic will also receive the most desirable gift of all: omniscience, or total recall and total knowledge. Because altruism is the Creator’s nature, acquiring it equalizes our nature with His, and we begin to think like Him. We begin to know why everything happens, when it should happen, and what to do should we want to make it happen differently. In Kabbalah, this state is called “equivalence of form,” and this is the purpose of Creation.
This state of enhanced perception, of equivalence of form, is why we were created in the first place. This is why we were created united and were then broken - so we could reunite. In the process of uniting, we will learn why Nature does what it does, and become as wise as the Thought that created Nature.
When we unite with Nature, we will feel as eternal and complete as Nature. In that state, even when our bodies die, we will feel that we continue to exist in the eternal Nature. Physical life and death will no longer affect us because our previous self-centered perception will have been replaced with a whole, altruistic perception. Our own lives will have become the life of the whole of Nature.
The Time Is Now
The Book of Zohar, the “Bible” of Kabbalah, was written approximately 2,000 years ago. It states that toward the end of the 20th century, humankind’s egoism will soar to unprecedented intensity.
As we have seen before, the more we want, the emptier we feel. Therefore, since the end of the 20th century, humanity has been experiencing its worst emptiness ever. The Book of Zohar also writes that when this emptiness is felt, humanity will need a means to cure it and to help people become fulfilled. Then, says The Zohar, the time will come to present Kabbalah to all of humanity as a means of acquiring fulfillment through similarity with Nature.
The process of acquiring fulfillment, the Tikkun (correction), will not happen all at once and not simultaneously for everyone. For a Tikkun to occur, a person must want it to happen. It is a process that evolves out of one’s own volition.
Correction begins when a person realizes that his or her egoistic nature is the source of all evil. It is a very personal and powerful experience, but it invariably brings one to want to change, move from egoism to altruism.
As we have said, the Creator treats all of us as a single, united created being. We have tried to achieve our goals egoistically, but today we are discovering that our problems will only be solved collectively and altruistically. The more conscious we become of our egoism, the more we will want to use the method of Kabbalah to change our nature to altruism. We did not do it when Kabbalah first appeared, but we can do it now, because now we know we need it.
The past 5,000 years of human evolution have been a process of trying one method, examining the pleasures it provides, becoming disillusioned with it, and leaving it for another. Methods came and went, but we have not grown happier. Now that the method of Kabbalah has appeared, aimed to correct the highest level of egoism, we no longer have to tread the path of disillusionment. We can simply correct our worst egoism through Kabbalah, and all other corrections will follow like a domino effect. Thus, during this correction, we can feel fulfillment, inspiration, and joy.
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