Concepts in Spirituality

Basic Principles of Faith (Axioms)


These principles of faith underlie everything:

1. There is a Creator to the Universe

2. The Creator is perfect, lacking nothing. He needs nothing, therefore He receives nothing from anyone.

3. The Creator is the ultimate and eternal good.


Spiritual Laws


1. There is neither “time” nor any concept of lack in the spiritual world.


2. The law of alignment of form:

In the spiritual world, two things are called close if they are similar (similarity or alignment of form). If they are totally similar, they are called “cleaved together” or in dveikus. Two things are called far apart when they are different in form. If they are very different, they are called extremely far apart, at opposite poles from each other.


3. The law of the branch and the root:
Every branch wants to be like its root –according to the law of the form to the image– wanting to get close. The act of getting closer to the root enables the branch to get all that it needs and all that the root wants to give.


The connection between two things depends on the level of closeness (similarity) between them. In order to obtain something from the other, there needs to be at least one point of similarity between them. For example, the cow wants to give milk and the calf wants to suckle, but in order for that to happen, there needs to be a place and time where they can meet. If they are in the same place, but not at the same time, they cannot meet. (similarity of form in time and place).


A Spiritual Perspective on Reality


After reviewing the fundamental principles and axioms of faith and the spiritual laws of the universe, we can begin to develop a spiritual world view.


 The Thought behind Creation


It is the nature of the good to do good, therefore the aim of Creation (in the words of Kabbalah), “the thought behind Creation or the thought in creation is only to do good to the creations and to grant them the greatest possible joy (pleasure). Thus, G-d created man and all his creations in order to bestow goodness to them. (There is no king without subjects). In our case, the sole function of the subjects is to receive all the goodness and bounty which their King has prepared for them.


The Desire to Receive Pleasure


There is no pleasure in something unless there is a desire for it. For example, the hungrier someone is, the greater his pleasure in eating. If he is full, he will not enjoy the food and may even feel sick and suffer when he eats it. Therefore, the Creator has given us the desire to receive pleasure so that we can feel pleasure in His bounty. 


Desire and its calculations


It is written in Kohelet, “G-d made man upright and honest but man has many calculations”. The Creator has planted in every one of his creations the desire to receive with each receiving in a different amount and type. We see all kinds of desires among people, some loftier, some more base; one wants material possessions, another honor and appreciation, a third desires learning and achievements.  Even within man himself there are many different desires. Sometimes, man is motivated by a higher desire and sometimes by a more superficial one. Therefore, man is always calculating, “Is it worth it?”  In other words, every action should lead to as much pleasure as possible and the least amount of pain. Every decision should result in a positive calculation: as much pleasure as possible. Sometimes a person is willing to suffer temporarily in order to get greater pleasure in the end. For example, “I am willing to study hard at the university (suffering) in order to get a good job (pleasure).


Creation Ex Nihilo 


Creation is something entirely new, something separate from the Creator. The word, creation, in Hebrew “Bria” is related to the Aramaic word “Lavar”, meaning, outside.  Creation is a reality outside of the reality of the Creator.    

According to the principle of “Similarity of Form”, as explained above, the separation between the Creator and the creation stems from the difference in form between them. In other words, we must understand that there is a difference of form within creation that does not exist in the Creator, for otherwise they would not be separate.


The Creator is perfect and lacks nothing. We must determine what it is which exists in Creation yet does not exist in the Creator. The answer is: the desire to receive. There is no desire to receive within the Creator, because from whom would He receive? There is only the desire to bestow good, consequently, the only new thing which was created was the desire (or will) to receive. In other words, in everything which was created there are only two elements:


1. The will to receive, which determines precisely which bounty is accepted by an individual (a person receives only that which he wants to receive).

2. The bounty which a person receives (which comes to him as a result of his will to receive).


The distinction between the two elements which make up a human being, namely, the body and the soul, can best exemplify this idea. The body is the part which was created and is the greatest will to receive in all of creation. The soul is the bounty (shefa) that fills the body and is enclosed within it. 


This idea finds expression in the name of man (Adam) himself. His name can be divided into A, Aleph, a symbol the divine spirit which exists in the secret of unity and Dam (the Hebrew word for blood), the physical earthly part of man. Also, the word, Adam, is similar to Adama, the earth in Hebrew. The same letters also can be read as Adame’ which means: “I will be similar to” symbolizing man’s spiritual desire to be like the Creator. 


The will to receive is that new element which does not exist in the Creator and is therefore called Ex Nihilo (yesh mi ayin) (“Something from Nothing”) The bounty (or Divine life flow) which fills that will to receive is what comes from  the Creator and is given to His creations. It is called (yesh mi yesh) or, (Something from Something) in that was already something in existence in the Divine.


The Paradox of Creation


We have seen that the will to receive, which is a basic element of all reality, comes from the goodness of the Creator who wants His creations to have a means (Kli, way, instrument, vessel) to feel pleasure when G-d’s bounty is received. For, as we have seen, there is no pleasure or joy without the will to receive it.

However, the existence of the will to receive causes a radical change of form between the Creator and those whom He has created. This change of form causes a great distancing from G-d. According to the principle of the branch and the root, in order to receive the bounty (shefa) the one who receives must be close to the Creator, i.e., similar.  However, that same will to receive which exists in order to enable him to experience the pleasure of the bounty, also distances him from G-d and consequently prevents him from getting that pleasure. In other words, the more I desire pleasure or joy, the less I will receive. This is known as “The Happiness Paradox”.  Philosophers and psychologists have found that the pursuit of happiness does not bring happiness, and indeed, the opposite is true: the pursuit of happiness often brings frustration and a feeling of emptiness.


Resolving the paradox


The key to resolving the paradox lies in the possibility of being close to the Creator (similar to Him) and at the same time to use the will to receive in order to feel the goodness that He wants to grant us. How is that possible?


If we thought that we could be similar to the Creator by nullifying our will to receive, we must realize that this is against the “thought behind Creation” which is to do good to man and all of Creation. The will to receive is therefore vital. Rabbi Ashlag  proposes a simple yet surprising answer: We must keep the will to receive but instead of using it to satisfy our own egotistic needs, “to receive in order to receive”, we must transform that will and utilize it in order to do good, “to receive in order to influence”,  to do good to others.(influence= to give) In that way, we are utilizing two opposite forces which complement one another: receiving and giving.
And if we ask:  “Isn’t the will to receive, which is now directed towards giving, still   an obstacle to getting close to the Creator ? “Rabbi Ashlag zt”l explains that when a person uses his will to receive in order to give, the receiving  part is cancelled out  in the act of giving. There is then no obstacle in receiving. 


Take for example the case of a man who comes home from work after having eaten a big sandwich on his way home. He is not hungry but his wife has prepared  a special dinner. Would it be right for him to refuse to eat the meal she has prepared on the grounds that he isn’t hungry.  His wife would probably be annoyed. He wants to make his wife happy. So, of course, he sits down and eats with her.


This brings us back to the pursuit of happiness. Victor Frankel, in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning explains that happiness cannot be pursued.  It comes as an unintended  by-product  of man’s dedication  to a  cause greater than himself, or of his dedication to others.