A question I received: I have a question about the sages of the past. I have heard you mention that they used to sleep on the ground and restrict themselves in many ways. I was wondering why this was so, because we learn that only the Light can change us and also that Kabbalah forbids things such as starving ourselves, running away to a monastery, and so on. The way they behaved in the past seems just like Eastern teachings.
My Answer: It’s because the development of egoism (which determines all human development) is a process, and back then egoism was developed only on a small level. To attain correction, it was sufficient to limit oneself physically and study the Torah, as Baal HaSulam writes in the “Introduction to Talmud Eser Sefirot“: “Eat bread with salt, drink little water, sleep on the ground, and labor in the Torah. If so you do, happy you will be; happy in this world and happy in the world to come.” This shows that no one revoked the correction by the Upper Light, because initially it is written: “I created egoism and I created the Torah for its correction, because its Light returns one to Me.”
However, later, during the destruction of the Temple (about 2,000 years ago), there was a sudden jump in the development of egoism, and people fell into egoism (the Temple was destroyed). Kabbalists then performed a special correction in the system of the Upper Worlds that govern us, so that instead of using restrictions, we would also use the Upper Light (Ohr Makif).
Hence, when a person with great egoism fasts (limits himself), then he usually begins to take pride in his actions and moves away from the goal even more. He thinks that by increasing the limitations and the details of observance, he will become more righteous. This is why Kabbalists completely canceled the outer, physical conditions, actions and limitations, and by so doing they moved away from religion even more. This was done because a person can get confused and think that physical actions amount to correction.We Shouldn't Fight Egoism [2:03m]: Play Now | Download