R’ Ashlag’s “Introduction To The Zohar”: Ch. 31

1.

Ashlag now cites a dictum that seems out of place on the surface. But as we’ll quickly see, it lends credence to what’s to follow.

It’s said about the verse, “The leech has two daughters (named) ‘Give’ (and) ‘Give’” (Proverbs 30:15), that “the leech stands for Hell, where all the wrongdoers stranded there cry out ‘Give! Give!’ like dogs; Give us all the riches of this world and of The World to Come!’” (Tikkunim Chadashim 97B).

That’s to say that since the Jewish sages argue that it’s greedy, lowly, and wrongful to want to be fulfilled on both a worldly and other-worldly level, it would seem wrong to foster both a material and a spiritual ratzon l’kabel as spoken of in the last chapter, wouldn’t it?

And yet it’s a very much higher level than the first.

That is, even though acquiring a spiritual ratzon l’kabel is an amplification and expansion of our inborn material ratzon l’kabel, and would thus seem to be an even more inherently selfish and lowly desire, it’s ironically loftier.

For aside from acquiring a full measure of ratzon l’kabel and using it for all the material things we’d need to engage in, in our Divine service (as we’re asked to do), (we’re also asked to realize a spiritual ratzon l’kabel, because achieving) that level is what leads us to (achieving) the level of (doing things) altruistically.

We’re thus taught here that while we’ve indeed been created selfish and self-serving, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. What’s asked of us is to use that inclination for good ends, though, and to thus set out to accrue things — as we’re prone to — for Godly purposes.

And so we’d do well to set aside the fine foods we crave for the special, sanctified Shabbat meals, when we serve God by purposely eating well and heartily. We’re then asked to transcend that, too, by acquiring the spiritual ratzon l’kabel we spoke of before. But, how do we get from one to the other?

As our sages said (about doing that), “One should always (initially) observe Torah and mitzvot for self-serving purposes, since by doing that we (eventually) come to observe it for altruistic reasons” (Pesachim 50B).

The Jewish sages had long grappled with the tension between the very-human inclination to do things — both holy and profane — for self-serving purposes, and the Torah ideal of being altruistic.             Accepting the reality of the tension, they decided that the solution lies in using the flawed inclination to achieve the ideal one — in observing Torah and mitzvot for self-serving purposes at first, so as to eventually observe it for altruistic ones. It’s often equated with rewarding a child with a trinket when he or she does something important and noble on the assumption that the child will continue doing those sorts of things later on, on his own, once he understands how inherently important it is to be principled.

In our context that comes to this. As we’ve learned, it’s vitally important for us to foster a willingness to bestow (which is the ideal; see 11:2), yet we’re born with a contradictory very human ratzon l’kabel. So, how do we achieve a willingness to bestow? Again, by using the flawed inclination to achieve the ideal one: that is, by indeed observing Torah and mitzvot for self-serving purposes but with an eye toward eventually observing it for altruistic ones. And by then striving to only want to bestow.

Understand though, as Ashlag emphasizes any number of times, it’s actually impossible for us to turn our natures around like that on our own. The only way we could ever achieve a willingness to bestow is with God’s direct intercedence. What’s asked of us is to pray for that to happen, and to fulfill His mitzvot and learn His Torah for that end, and for no other.

That explains why this level which we (only) achieve after we’re thirteen is deemed holy.

… even though it would seem at first to be inherently selfish. For while it’s indeed a ratzon l’kabel, it’s still rooted in holiness and it will eventually lead to an altruistic willingness to only bestow (see 30:2).

2.

For our observing Torah and mitzvot for self-serving purposes (that way) is (likened to being) a pious maidservant serving her mistress, the holy Shechina, since it leads to an altruistic level which then enables us to merit having the Shechina dwell in our midst.

That is, the process of doing things for self-serving purposes at first so as to eventually do them altruistically is termed “a pious maidservant” because despite appearances of enjoying the prestige of being the maidservant of so lofty and venerated a mistress as the holy Shechina, the maidservant — this process — is still-in-all piously and selflessly executing its mistress’ bidding.

But we need to fulfill all the means necessary to arrive at altruism; because if we don’t, and don’t arrive at (true) altruism, then we’ll plunge into the abyss (which is the realm) of the impure maidservant, the polar opposite of the holy maidservant, whose role is to confuse us (and convince us that) we’ll never observe Torah and mitzvot altruistically by (first) observing them for self-serving purposes. For she has been termed the, “maidservant who is heir to her mistress” (Proverbs 30:23), since she won’t let anyone near the holy Shechina, her mistress.

The seemingly noble idea that we should start out by trying to do things altruistically is actually quite naive. For while the heart knows only too well how wrong and unfair selfishness is, the mind knows just as well how fetching and urgent our impulses are, and how important it is to use every ruse we can to mollify them — like starting out with selfish intentions. There’s simply no other way to succeed.

The ultimate reach in that would be falling madly in love with God, and acting like someone who’d long for a beloved he couldn’t take his mind off of the whole day long. As the poet expressed it, “I can’t sleep, thinking of Him (all the time)” (Selichot for the Ten Days of Repentance).

For when one falls madly in love with someone, longs for her, and can’t take his mind off of her the whole day long, he wants nothing better than to fulfill her every wish selflessly when he encounters her.

(Succeed at that, and) the phrase, “a desire that is fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12) would then be ascribed to you. Because the five levels of the soul, termed N.R.N.C.Y., are The Tree of Life that endured for 500 years — 100 years each level; and you’d have come to earn all five of them in the third stage, as we’ll explain.

(c) 2011 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Feel free to contact me at feldman@torah.org

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Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has also translated and commented upon “The Path of the Just” and “The Duties of the Heart” (Jason Aronson Publishers).

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