Chapter 2: I Want, Therefore I Am
Life as an Evolution of Desires
In the previous chapter, we said that the name, Ysrael (Israel), combines the words Yashar (straight) and El (God). We established that the name came about when Abraham assembled people who wished to reach the Creator, to discover God, and who were named “Israel” after that desire. In this chapter we will discuss the formation of desires in general, and the formation of the desire for the Creator, namely Israel, in particular. To do that, we need to examine reality as an evolution of desires.
In 1937, Baal HaSulam published Talmud Eser HaSephirot (The Study of the Ten Sephirot), a monumental commentary on the writings of the ARI, author of Tree of Life. In the commentary, the author goes into great detail explaining that, at the foundation of reality lies the desire to give, which he calls “the will to bestow,” which then created the will to receive. This is the reason, explains Baal HaSulam, why our sages testify that “He is good and does good,”[i] and speak of “His desire to do good to His creations.”[ii]
In Part 1 of The Study of the Ten Sephirot, Baal HaSulam explains why the will to bestow necessarily created the will to receive, and why the two desires are the foundation of the whole of Creation. In his words, “As soon as He contemplated the creation in order to delight His creatures, this Light [pleasure] immediately extended and expanded from Him in the full measure and form of the pleasures He had contemplated. It is all included in that thought, which we call ‘The Thought of Creation.’ …The Ari said that in the beginning, an upper, simple Light had filled the whole of reality. This means that since the Creator contemplated delighting the creations, and the Light expanded from Him and departed Him, the desire to receive His Pleasures was immediately imprinted in this Light.”[iii]
To underscore the assertion that the will to bestow, the Creator, created the will to receive in order to give it pleasure, Baal HaSulam labels that section, “The will to bestow in the Emanator necessarily begets the will to receive in the emanated, and it [the will to receive] is the vessel in which the emanated receives His Abundance.”[iv]
Ashlag was not the first to refer to the will-to-bestow’s creation of the will to receive, albeit he did so more implicitly. Rabbi Isaiah HaLevi Horowitz (The Holy Shlah) also wrote that “Since He favored to do good to His creations, He wished to benefit them with the real benefit, as with the matter of the creation of the evil inclination [will to receive, egotism], which is in favor of the creations.”[v]
Similar to the two above-mentioned sages, Rabbi Nathan Sternhertz writes in Likutey Halachot [Assorted Rules], “The Lord magnifies His mercies and kindness, as He wished to benefit His creations in the absolute best of all the best.”[vi]
Thus, the will to bestow—the Creator—wishes to bestow upon us, His creations, and we are meant to receive that benefit, the bestowal. Yet, what is that benefit, the good we are meant to receive?
In his “Introduction to the Study of the Ten Sephirot,” Baal HaSulam writes that the benefit we are meant to receive is the attainment of the Creator, just as Abraham did almost 4,000 years ago. In Ashlag’s words, “[upon attainment] one feels the wonderful benefit contained in the Thought of Creation, which is to delight His creatures with His full, good, and generous hand. Because of the abundance of benefit that one attains, wondrous love appears between a person and the Creator, incessantly pouring upon one by the very routes and channels through which natural love appears. However, all this comes to a person from the moment one attains and onwards.”[vii]
To attain the Creator, we must have similar qualities to His, or in Baal HaSulam’s terms, we must obtain “equivalence of form” with Him. In the “Introduction to the Book, Panim Meirot uMasbirot [Shining and Welcoming Face],” Ashlag writes, “Thus, how can one attain the Light … when one is separated and in complete oppositeness of form … and there is great hatred between them [Creator and person]? …Therefore, one … slowly purifies and inverts the form of reception into being in order to bestow. You find that one equalizes one’s form with the system of holiness, and the equivalence and love between them returns … Thus, one is rewarded with the Light … since he entered the presence of the Creator.”[viii]
Four Levels of Desire Shape Reality
When examining reality from the perspective of the evolution of desires, Kabbalists discovered that the will to receive we’ve just described contains four distinct levels—still (inanimate), vegetative (flora), animate (fauna), and speaking (human). Ever since the ARI mentioned the division of reality into those four levels back in the 16th century,[ix] numerous scholars and Kabbalists have discussed those four levels. The MALBIM (Meir Leibush ben Iehiel Michel Weiser),[x] Rabbi Pinhas HaLevi Horovitz,[xi] and the RABaD (Rabbi Abraham Ben David), who wrote, “All of the world’s creatures are still, vegetative, animate, and speaking,”[xii] are but three of numerous sages referring to reality as consisting of those four levels.
Yet, no sage or scholar is as descriptive as Baal HaSulam. His writings, which he explicitly intended for everyone to read and comprehend, systematically and elaborately detail the structure of reality the way Kabbalists and Jewish scholars have perceived it throughout the ages. In his essay, “The Freedom,” he explains the structure of the still, vegetative, animate, and speaking desires under the section, “Law of Causality.” He explains that all the elements of reality are connected and emerge from one another. In his words, “It is true that there is a general connection among all the elements of reality before us, which abide by the law of causality, by way of cause and effect, moving forward. And as the whole, so is each item for itself, meaning that each and every creature in the world from the four types—still, vegetative, animate, and speaking—abides by the law of causality by way of cause and effect.
“Moreover, each particular form of a particular behavior, which a creature follows while in this world, is pushed by ancient causes, compelling it to accept that change in that behavior and not another whatsoever. This is apparent to all who examine the ways of Nature from a pure scientific point of view and without a shred of bias. Indeed, we must analyze this matter to allow ourselves to examine it from all sides.”[xiii]
[i] Babylonian Talmud, Masechet Berachot [Treaties Blessings] p 44a; Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, “Rules of Blessings,” Chapter 8, Rule 14; Rav Moshe Cordovero (the Ramak), An Orchard of Pomegranates, Gate 23, Chapter 5; and numerous others.
[ii] Rabbi Isaiah HaLevi Horowitz (The Holy Shlah), Masechet Pesachim, Sixth Interpretation, (27); Rabbi Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl, Maor Eynaim [Bright Eyes], Lech Lecha [Go Forth], Rabbi Tzadok HaCohen of Lublin, The Thoughts of the Diligent, item 19, and many others.
[iii] Yehuda Ashlag, Talmud Eser Sefirot (The Study of the Ten Sefirot), Part 1, Histaklut Pnimit (Inner Reflection), Chapter 2, items 10-11 (Jerusalem: M. Klar, 1956), 17.
[v] Rabbi Isaiah HaLevi Horowitz (The Holy Shlah), Masechet Pesachim, Sixth Interpretation, (27).
[vi] Rabbi Nathan Sternhertz, Likutey Halachot [Assorted Rules], “Rules of Tefilat Arvit [Evening Prayer],” Rule no. 4.
[vii] Yehuda Ashlag, Talmud Eser Sefirot (The Study of the Ten Sefirot), Part 1, “Introduction to the Study of the Ten Sephirot,” items 104-105 (Jerusalem: M. Klar, 1956), 31.
[viii] Rav Yehuda Leib HaLevi Ashlag (Baal HaSulam), The Writings of Baal HaSulam, “Introduction to the Book, Panim Meirot uMasbirot [Shining and Welcoming Face]” (Ashlag Research Institute, Israel, 2009), 150.
[ix] Rabbi Itzhak Luria (the Holy ARI), Tree of Life, Gate 39, Article no. 3.
[x] Rabbi Meïr Leibush ben Iehiel Michel Weiser (The MALBIM), on 1Kings, 8:10, Section, “Explanation of the Matter.”
[xi] Rabbi Pinhas HaLevi Horovitz, Sefer HaMikneh [The Deed Of Purchase], Masechet Kidhushin [Treatise Betrothal], p 82a.
[xii] Rabbi Abraham Ben David, (The RABaD), The RABaD Commentary on The Book of Creation, Chapter 2, Study no. 2.
[xiii] Rav Yehuda Leib HaLevi Ashlag (Baal HaSulam), The Writings of Baal HaSulam, “The Freedom” (Israel: Ashlag Research Institute, 2009), 415.