Now that we’ve explained all that, we can solve our very first question which was, “What are we essentially?”
What we are in essence is the very thing everything else is, which is a ratzon l’kabel — no more and no less.
Our will, some would say need, to take-in all the time is ubiquitous, boundless, utterly normal, and not to be denied. What differentiates us from each other, though, is just what we want.
Some want only the bare minimum, others want more, and others want the maximum. Some who want the bare minimum want it for healthy reasons, others for unhealthy ones; and the same is true of those who want more and the most. Some only want material things, others want some combination of material and spiritual things, and some only want God. But even someone who wants God alone wants Him and for his own reasons, and thus is no less “wanting” than the person who wants as much material delight as he can get, though the first person’s Object of desire is far more sublime.
There’s very much to be remark about this, needless to say, but suffice it to say that Ashlag’s point is that we each want, and are rarely willing to give (unless we get more in return, the way we’re all willing to pay to get the things we want, though no one who gives money in such an instance would likely be termed altruistic). And anyone who thinks he or she is indeed and utterly altruistic is either a hypocrite, an innocent or naïf, or a liar (though we each can be altruistic to degrees).
That’s not to say that altruism isn’t attainable, because it is; it’s just not yet in our midst.
But we’re not (comprised of a ratzon l’kabel as) the ratzon l’kabel manifests itself now, in the second era, as a desire to take-in and for our own benefit alone; but rather as it manifested in the first era in God’s Infinite Being, which is to say, in its eternal form of a willingness to take-in in order to gratify our Creator.
What we said above notwithstanding, still-and-all humankind isn’t essentially selfish. We’re only selfish “for now”, i.e., for the 6,000 years that comprise this second era. What we are at bottom and deep within is selfless, and only willing to take-in so as to give in return — but again, that’s not how we know humankind and ourselves to be now. Yet we’re to know that we’ll eventually be so selfless that the only reason we’d ever accept anything (from God, from Whom everything comes at bottom) would be to give it back (to God), one way or another.
And even though we haven’t yet actually arrived at the third era and won’t for some time, that doesn’t blemish our essence, for the third era is an inevitable consequence of the first (as we learned).
For (there’s a Talmudic axiom to the effect that) “Everything due to be repaid is considered to be repaid already” (see Ketubot 81a); so our not having yet arrived at the third era would only be a problem if there were a question of our fulfilling what we’d have to in order to arrive at it. But since there’s no question, it’s as though we’d indeed arrived at it already.
“Everything due to be repaid is considered to be repaid already” means to say that every debt is considered to have already been repaid since it will be, in the process of time … absent some sort of mitigating circumstance. So, since absolutely nothing will thwart the arrival of the third era, it has already come for all intents and purposes.
As such, the body (i.e., self) that has been granted us in its present corrupted tsurah doesn’t blemish our essence, since it and all its effects stand ready to be annihilated along with the whole impure system from which it originates. That’s also (true) because (there’s another, equivalent Talmudic axiom to the effect that) “everything due to be burned is considered burned already” (Menachot 102b) and is regarded as never having existed.
“Everything due to be burned is considered burned already” means much the same as the above axiom to the effect that “everything due to be repaid is to be considered repaid already”. The difference lies in the fact that while “everything due to be repaid … ” allows us to assume the third era is here for all intents and purposes, while “everything due to be burned … ” allows us to assume as well that nothing but the third era has ever existed for all intents and purposes!
Indeed, the soul that’s attired in our body is also essentially a ratzon. But (it’s different, in that) it’s a ratzon l’hashpia, which has been bestowed upon us from the four worlds of the holy-A.B.Y.A. (see 10:2). And it’s eternal, for the tsurah of a ratzon l’hashpia is in essential affinity with the Life of All Lives and is in no way mutable.
His point is that at bottom, everything and everyone, God included, has a ratzon: a will to do, have, bestow, etc. one thing or another. Some instances of ratzon are more beneficial than others, though. The least beneficial of all is a ratzon l’kabel, which our mortal and mutable bodies and selves have inherited from the defiled-A.B.Y.A.; while the most beneficial is a ratzon l’hashpia, which immortal and immutable God expresses intrinsically, and our immortal and immutable souls have inherited from Him through the immortal and immutable holy-A.B.Y.A.
(c) 2011 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman
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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).