The Ari writes in the book The Tree of Life (16th century) that upon exiting the animal world through the transitional stage of apes, we acquired the human form. This occurred both on the physical, bodily, level, and on the emotional, spiritual one: We develop within the desires of the still, vegetative, and animate nature until we arrive at the egoistic desires of the fourth, human, degree. The human degree is also subdivided into these four levels, but as a whole, humanity is distinct from the rest in its unique pattern of development.
Previous development proceeded at the material level, limited to absorbing and excreting substances. The still nature is almost always restricted to internal processes; the vegetative one exchanges substances with the surrounding environment: It breathes, consumes, and secretes, but only to a tiny extent.
Given all that, the vegetative level of nature wholly depends on the external conditions; it doesn’t move from its place and is subject to the cycling of the seasons. The animate nature has fewer restrictions: Its representatives move from place to place, possess a more developed desire, have specialized ways of producing offspring, and can better consume nourishment and excrete waste. And this, in essence, is the conclusion of the external, material, development.
From this point on a special fourth degree becomes added to it. But first let us ask ourselves: Why couldn’t the process be completed at this level? Why couldn’t the third phase of the Direct Light become the final one?
Keter, also known as the root, zero phase, created the desire to receive, the first phase (Behina Aleph) and filled it. Then this desire longed to become like the upper one, which is already the second phase (Behina Bet), the will to bestow. In order to perform bestowal upon the upper one, the second phase makes a decision: “I must receive.” Then from the center of Bina it forms a new state for itself, the third phase (Behina Gimel), Zeir Anpin, which receives in order to bestow.
What, then, is missing here? Seemingly, the third phase has everything? It has everything except its independence, self-awareness, and perception of the upper one, everything except its own “I.” It lacks the inner development relative to the upper one. In other words, it requires a connection with its root, the one thing that would allow it to continue on its path.
It is here that the fourth phase arises (Behina Dalet) or Malchut. This is a unique phase, characterized by inner, qualitative development.
Up to this point the desire has already developed in its due course. We see this in our world, which has more than enough egoism. And now we have to develop qualitatively in order to attain the upper root. The world has already realized its egoism and understood what can and cannot fulfill it. All forms have been tried, as a result of which we grew up and destroyed everything. The only thing that remains now is the question of connection with the upper one, the Creator: Where do I come from and where am I going?
And this precisely is the fourth phase: the degree of true development of man, accompanied by the desires of the other phases. From here it is necessary to understand what “religion” is in the context of development. It is a special mechanism, a special method that allows us to grasp the distance between me and the Creator. And it pertains only to the human degree.
Who, then, can start doing this work? The one who senses the separation from the Creator, who feels the inclination towards this. In other words, it is only those who have the point in the heart. All the rest are in the previous stages of development: still, vegetative, and animate.
This is why we perceive this difference, the separation, the pressure, the drive towards something. It develops within us the feeling of recognition of evil.
What is this evil? Perhaps I am experiencing negative sensations because I wasn’t able to steal something and escape unnoticed? Or is it because I am aware of the evil relative to the Creator? Thus, “religion” in this sense is a school of internal and external education, which reveals to me how distant I still am from the Creator and how I can overcome this abyss.
This has absolutely no connection with the traditional notions of “religion.” There is man, and there is the upper force. The question is only in recognition of how opposite we are and in overcoming this gap.
From the 4th part of the Daily Kabbalah Lesson 11/29/2011, “The Essence of Religion and Its Purpose”