“The Path to the Good” is a spiritual developmental model which lies at the heart of the educational method of Or Pnimi. This model is constructed according to the teachings of Rabbi Ashlag, mainly according to his writings, “Matan Torah” (the giving of the Torah) and “Introductions”.
Underlying everything is the understanding that inside each of us is the “will“(ratzon), or desire, which is given to us when we are born. Man is able to recognize and know that will, to understand it and also to direct it as he or she wishes. This “will” is unformed, pristine, and capable of being molded and directed.
This force naturally tends to serve man’s self-interest, however, it can be directed to serve others. According to Rabbi Ashlag, man should go through three different stages in his life which are related to his will. The main factor which defines each stage is the type of will or desire which is expressed and revealed. The following are the stages in the development of the will.
1. The egotistical and natural will: to receive in order to receive.
When a person is born, there is only one force and that is the will to receive pleasure for the sake of self–interest,(for himself alone) without taking into consideration the needs of other people at all. The concept of “pleasure” refers to the satisfaction received from fulfilling a person’s self–interest. This is particularly striking in the case of babies. The baby is only interested in breastfeeding, and has no awareness of, and does not care about his mother’s needs, whether his mother has the time or energy to feed him, for example. In the words of Rabbi Ashlag (the author of the “Sulam”,or ladder):
“… man is born as a wild donkey, in a state of degradation and impurity, which means that he is full of self love which has been imprinted in him. He revolves around himself and everything he does revolves around receiving for himself alone, without any spark of influencing others at all. (Matan Torah)
This initial stage comes from the natural egotism within man. The state of the will is the will to receive (the means) in order to receive (an end). For example, I want money (the means) in order to get pleasure (an end). The one who does this is called a trampler, one who is concerned with his own pleasure even at the expense of trampling others. His level is one of self-love. This is the law of the jungle, survival of the fittest, achieved by the strong controlling those who are weaker.
Most religions and philosophical movements opposed this social and moral blight, seeing in it a flawed moral reality with potential for destruction and evil taking over the world.
2. The egotistical social will: to give (to influence) in order to receive
Along with a child’s development, he becomes aware that most of his pleasure comes from others. He needs family, especially his parents, in order to provide him with food, clothing, shelter and warmth.
If he tries to get those necessities by means of his natural egotistic will, without taking into consideration the needs of members of his family, he will reap anger and rebuke.
Gradually, he realizes that in order to receive pleasure from others, he needs to give pleasure to others. Underlying every person’s education is the aspiration to change the egotistic will to receive, to give it a new form: the social will to receive. What does this entail? In order to receive something, one must obey basic social norms: to give something in return, reciprocity.
We learn that in order to get something, one first to give respect to the giver. (We say please)
We learn that after you get something, you express gratitude. (We say thank you)
We learn that in order to purchase something, we must give pleasure to the seller. (We pay him)
This is how Rabbi Ashlag describes it:
“As a child grows and develops, so he will receive from his environment partial lessons in “giving to others”. This is definitely dependent on the values regarding development existing in that society ”(Matan Torah)
Why is it only a partial lesson of giving to others? Because, in the final analysis, giving to others at this stage is not really altruistic, rather it is a necessary means of getting something desired for selfish reasons.
This second stage is called the egotistic social will. The state of this will is the will to give (as a means) in order to receive (an end). For example, I am willing to give money to the seller (a means) in order to get pleasure (an end).
The one employing this kind of will is called “a merchant” i.e. one who, gives pleasure to others as a means of receiving pleasure for himself. This level is called “love which is dependent on something”.
According to Rabbi Ashlag, this kind of will applies not only in our relationship with people, but also is true about our relationship with the Creator.
The most common type of service of G-d is based on a system of reward and punishment. In other words, even in our conduct towards the Creator we behave as if we were buying and selling in the marketplace, willing to give (take on the yoke of Torah and commandments) in order to get something in return (reward in this world and in the world to come). In the words of Rabbi Ashlag:
“And therefore we begin to educate the child towards the keeping of Torah and Mitzvot (commandments, precepts) for self-love, because of reward in this world and in the world to come. That is called, “Not for its own sake”, because it is impossible to educate in any other way (in the beginning) (Matan Torah)
That is, this stage, “not for its own sake” or “for the sake of receiving reward” is an intermediate stage which is inevitable as it stems from man’s nature. The problem is if we get stuck in this stage for the rest of our lives. That is the immediate danger, i.e. that we will not get to the endless vistas of the third stage- the stage of “For its own Sake”.
Most people fluctuate between the first two stages. At times, they behave as utter egoists (trampling) but usually they have a civilized “give and take” relationship with others.
A person who stays in the first stage of the development of his will, is marginalized in society, suffers from loneliness, or is punished for his many transgressions.
One who has reached the second stage, and acts in accordance with his social will, is accepted in the family and in the community as a decent, normative person. However, as mentioned above, his sole motivation remains self-interest, even if cloaked with pleasant polite behavior.
On the surface, the social will enables us to live a respectable life. However, the gratification of his social will can only provide pleasure or transitory satisfaction, which necessitates pursuit of those same pleasures again after a short while. In other words, this will is incapable of bringing man the true fulfillment and joy for which his soul yearns.
This is the existential paradox of western society: Mankind has reached an unprecedented and undreamed of state of economic and technological development. Yet, despite the fact that our affluent society can provide most people with almost all their needs, the sense of emptiness and alienation has, not only not diminished, it has even intensified. At the same time, the search for truth and happiness has become
more urgent and more widespread.
3. The altruistic spiritual will: to receive in order to influence
In order to get out of the egoistic will (both natural and social) a person must transform how he uses his will. The wisdom of the Kabbalah does not advise us to abolish our natural will to receive, as it is the driving force ,i.e. the fuel, so to speak , which enables us to receive pleasure. For example, if I really want to hear a talk given by a renowned teacher, I will receive great pleasure during the talk. However, if I am not interested in that teacher or in the topic of the lecture being given (i.e, there is no will/ desire) I will only be bored and not feel pleasure.
Thus, the kabbalah does not suggest that the egoistic will (desires) be abolished, rather it advises that it be used as a means and not as an end. Instead of striving towards fulfilling the goal which is “natural” (the fulfillment of selfish interests and needs) we should set for ourselves a new goal: the good of others.
Rabbi Ashlag gives the following analogy: A guest comes to visit. The host is anxious to provide his guest with food and the guest feels shame and embarrassment in his being in the position of taking. The host keeps importuning the guest until the guest feels obliged to eat in order to please his host. In this example, the guest agrees to receive in order to influence, i.e, to give pleasure. He is using his will to receive (the food) in order to give pleasure to his host. (who wants to feed him)
We must transform the will and turn it into a channel. This is no easy task for it requires effort which goes against our nature and our habits and contradicts accepted social norms.
The path is strewn with obstacles and pitfalls, however with every step forward free of egotism, we feel an inner satisfaction and unique and lasting joy.
This transformation effects deep changes within the structure of the soul- from the way a person sees himself and his relationship with others, to the way he sees life itself. For the believer, this opens a new path to serving G-d, and towards resolving many contradictions and doubts.
This third stage is called the altruistic spiritual will or desire. The state of this will is the desire to receive (a means) in order to influence (a goal) For example, I am willing to eat (a means) in order to have the strength to take care of my family (a goal). One who employs this will is called “one who loves”. This is an individual who strives to meet the needs of other people and to give them pleasure. He uses the powers of life within him to do that. This stage of love is called “unconditional love”’. It is the doorway to the spiritual vistas which bring true happiness.